How Colossians 1 Combated Erroneous Teaching in the Church

The Supremacy of Jesus Christ over All Creation

by on
Share:

Introduction

Today we are seeing the rapid decline of the church all over the Western world. While different influences have played their part in this, we cannot overlook the fact that this decline has come about largely as a result of the church’s acceptance of the day’s philosophy: evolution and millions of years.1 The appeal to the church to accept the philosophy of the day, however, is not new to modern times. The Apostle Paul understood the challenge that philosophy posed to the church in his day. In his Epistle to the Colossians, Paul wrote to them so that no one would “deceive [them] with persuasive words,” (Colossian 2:4) and to warn them not to be taken captive by “philosophy” (Colossians 2:8).2

In order to combat the erroneous teaching that was infiltrating the church in Colossae, Paul reminded them of the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished for us:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossian 1:15–20)

Paul used “the language . . . as his christological ammunition in fighting the false teachers.”3 It is, therefore, imperative that we understand what Paul is saying about Jesus in these verses. Just as they answered the philosophy that was leading the church astray in Paul’s day, these verses also help answer the philosophy of evolution and millions of years that are being used to persuade the church to reject the Bible’s teaching on creation in the book of Genesis.

Jesus Christ: Image of the Invisible God

Paul begins in verse 15 by telling us who Jesus is: “He is the image of the invisible God.” According to the Old Testament, no one could see God (Exodus 33:18–23); however, now through the incarnation of the Son (John 1:14), the invisible God can be seen and known in Jesus (John 1:18, 14:8–9).

By telling us who Jesus is, Paul indirectly answers the question, “Who am I?” From an evolutionary perspective, of course, as the famous atheist Bertrand Russell said, we (mankind) are simply the “outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.”4 However, Paul’s language of “image” takes us back to Genesis 1:26–28 where God made the first man and woman in His own “image.” From a biblical perspective, mankind is not just a random accident but is the crowning glory of God’s creation (Psalm 8:3–9). That “image,” however, has been defaced by the Fall. Yet, through the proclamation of the “gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), that image in the life of the Christian is “being renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).

Jesus Christ: Firstborn Over All Creation

Colossian 1:15 then describes Jesus as the “firstborn of all creation.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that He was created, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and teach today?

The ancient Colossian heresy that Paul had to combat certainly resembles the view of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Colossian false teachers advocated the idea that Jesus was the first of many other created mediators between God and men. However, by using the specific Greek word prōtotokos, “firstborn,” Paul rules out the idea of Jesus as a created being. “Firstborn” does not mean “first created.” Rather, Paul uses a term that was based on the ancient designation of the authority, or preeminence, metaphorically given to the firstborn (Genesis. 49:3–4). This is why Israel can be called God’s “firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). King David is also spoken of as “My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27).5 Furthermore, if Paul had wanted to describe Jesus as a “created being,” he could have used the Greek word protoktistos, which means “first created.”6So why didn’t he use it? Because Paul did not believe Jesus was created. By describing Jesus as the “firstborn over all creation,” Paul is saying that He is the absolute ruler over all creation.

Jesus Christ: Creator of All Things

The evidence that Jesus is supreme over all creation comes further in Colossians 1:16. Here the idea that Jesus is a “created being” is absolutely ruled out since He is presented as the Creator of the entire universe which came into existence by His creative power (John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2). The reason Jesus can “create all things” is that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The Greek word for “Godhead,” theotēs, refers to “the state of being God.”7 It is only God who can create (Isaiah 42:5, 44:24, 45:18).

Scripture clearly tells us that Jesus created the world by the spoken word.

Scripture clearly tells us that Jesus created the world by the spoken word (Psalm 33:6; John 1:1–3; Hebrews 11:3) and it also reveals how this took place: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). The New Testament bears witness to this through the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. His first miracle revealed His glory as the Creator, when He turned water into wine (John 2:1–11). We see the instant nature of His miracles very clearly in His encounter with the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:5–13 where the centurion’s servant was healed the very moment Jesus commanded it. In fact, all His miracles were instantaneous (e.g., Mark 10:52; Luke 18:42–43). So when Jesus, the Word, spoke the divine command “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), we have very good reasons to conclude that it did not take millions of years for it to come into existence.

Furthermore, since Jesus is the one who created the world and everything in it, He has something to say when it comes to science, history and philosophy. The reason Paul emphasises the centrality of Jesus in the life of the church is that he wants them to know it is in Him that “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). For Christians, this is a statement relevant to all other philosophical statements regarding origins. Paul is saying that all knowledge, not just spiritual knowledge, is to be found in Jesus. Therefore, Jesus triumphs over all other claims of wisdom and knowledge because of the fact that He is the Creator of all things and therefore knows all things.

In the midst of the false teaching that took place in Colossae, Paul wanted his readers to recognize who Jesus is and what he has done. Why? Because this is the only way that we will not be deceived by persuasive arguments based on the philosophy of the world. The only philosophy we are to be taken captive by is the philosophy that is “according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Jesus Christ: Head of the Church

As well as being ruler and creator of the world, Jesus is also the head of the body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22, 4:15, 5:23). The headship of Jesus over His church is a truth that is still being assaulted today.8 As the head, Jesus is the one who governs, controls, and provides for His body.9

All true Christians must know that they are under the head of the church and, as the head of the church, this means that Jesus is Lord. Jesus never offered Himself as anything less than an absolute ruler to those who belong to Him (John 13:13). Because Jesus is the head, Christians must bow the knee to Him. We do this by listening to the One who created all things, who now rules His church through the spoken word, the Scriptures. This is the way Jesus expresses His headship to His Church, and we show our love for Him through our obedience to His teaching (John 14:23, 15:10; 1 John 2:4–5).

So if we claim Him to be Lord, then Jesus’s beliefs about creation should be extremely important to us. How can we hold a different view to the one who is our head as well as our creator? Jesus had the highest view of Scripture (Matthew 5:18; John 10:35, 17:17) and clearly regarded the Creation account (Matthew 19:4–5; Mark 10:6) and the global Flood in Noah’s day (Matthew 24:37–39) as impeccable, accurate, and reliable. Jesus also made a strong connection between Moses’s teaching and His own (John 5:45–47). Moses clearly understood in the Ten Commandments, which he says were penned by God’s own hand, that everything was created in six, 24-hour days (Exodus 20:9–11, 31:17–18). Therefore, if we confess Jesus as our Lord, we must submit to His teaching as the head of the church. However, by replacing or synthesising Genesis 1–11 with the philosophy of evolution and millions of years, the church has failed to submit to the teaching of the head of the church.

Jesus Christ: Reconciler of All Things

The death of Jesus not only reconciled sinners to God (Romans 5:10), but it also made total and complete reconciliation of “all things” in the universe.

The phrase “all things” occurs four times (twice in Colossians 1:16 and once in verses 17 and 20), and in verse 18 we find “in all things.” By these words Paul informs us that redemption is cosmic in scope. In the sentences before his statement in verse 20, Paul specifically refers to the entire created order (verses 15–16), and in verse 20 Paul refers to “things on earth or things in heaven.” Christ’s atoning work is as extensive as creation itself and, therefore, He is restoring and reconciling all creation through the Cross and bringing all things back under his Lordship.

In Romans 8, Paul also talks about a time when God’s very good creation will be restored (Romans 8:21) because the whole of creation “was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20–22).

Redemption and reconciliation are linked by the atoning blood of Christ, and it was necessary to atone with blood because reconciliation is achieved by an atoning sacrifice (Exodus 12:13). The Greek word translated “reconcile” is ἀποκαταλλάσσω (apokatallasso), which presumes that a state of hostility exists. It is contrasted here with blood, which implies violence and death. However, this surely makes no sense in an evolutionary worldview where violence and death have been around from the beginning. To accept millions of years of human and animal death before the Creation and Fall of man undermines the teaching about the full redemptive work of Christ.

The Christian message to our fallen world filled with death and suffering is one of redemption and reconciliation.

The plan of God in Scripture speaks of a restoration of the whole creation in the future to eliminate the effects of the curse brought on it through Adam’s rebellion (Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:19–25). This restoration and reconciliation of all things comes about because of Christ’s work on the Cross, which has brought peace (shalom–wholeness), bringing an end to the hostility that exists in creation. Given that theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists believe that death and suffering have always been a part of creation, they must be able to explain what creation will be restored to. Will it be restored to a state of continuing death and suffering?

The Christian message to our fallen world filled with death and suffering is one of redemption and reconciliation. The gospel message offers our reconciliation to God through our faith in Christ. Christ came to redeem and reconcile not only a fallen humanity but also a fallen creation, which awaits its restoration (Romans 8:21; Colossians 1:20). The Fall and its consequences as well as Christ’s redemption and reconciliation of all things are respectively the foundation and blessed hope of the gospel message. Because of man’s disobedience toward his Creator, God brought death into the world. But it was by the death of His Son that we can gain our salvation so that we are not condemned to live forever in a fallen world.

Conclusion

God’s people have often fallen into tragedy because they have forgotten who He is and what He has done for them. In order to combat the philosophy that was leading the church at Colossae away from Jesus, Paul reminded them who He is and what He has accomplished in His death and resurrection. When we truly understand that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, the creator of all things, the head of the church and has reconciled all things, then we will not be deluded by the arguments and philosophy of evolution and millions of years.

Footnotes

  1. For example of how the teaching of evolution and millions of years has affected the church and Christian Colleges, see: Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009); Ken Ham and Greg Hall with Britt Beemer, Already Compromised (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2011).
  2. Many scholars have discussed the nature of the false teaching Paul is addressing in Colossians. New Testament professor Craig Keener states, “A great number of backgrounds have been proposed for the error at Colossae: mystery cults, broader Hellenistic mysticism, Hellenistic Judaism, Qumran-type Judaism and so on. The merit of considering these sources is that they all reflect some broader cultural ideas that played into problems Paul confronted in Colossae.” Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1994), 569.
  3. Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon: Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), 110.
  4. Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 107.
  5. David was not the firstborn but the youngest of eight sons.
  6. See Bruce M. Metzger, “The Jehovah’s Witness and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal,” Theology Today 10, no. 1 (April 1953): 77.
  7. Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 288.
  8. In Roman Catholic theology the Pope is seen as the head of the church. See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12260a.htm.
  9. New Testament scholar Douglas Moo says of the meaning of “head”: “In the ancient world, the head was conceived to be the governing member of the body, that which both controlled it and provided for its life and sustenance.” Douglas J. Moo, The Letters To The Colossians and to Philemon, 128.

Newsletter

Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390