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note: All Scripture quoted is from the King James translation.

I have noticed that Paul referred to Jesus as the firstborn numerous times:

Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Colossians 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

Hebrews 11:28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

Hebrews 12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

I am especially interested in the phrase "firstborn from the dead" from Colossians 1:18. Was Paul referring to being dead to sin or being dead physically and being resurrected to eternal life, Something even more elusive to me?

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In a family, the firstborn son had special privileges that set Him above all others.

Jesus, in ushering in the resurrection for all, had the privileges of that firstborn son.


Note: For a long time, I used to think of this strictly in chronological terms - but it isn't warranted. Elijah & Elisha resurrected dead people. Lazarus and Jairus' daughter were also raised before Jesus' resurrection - so it can't simply be a matter of being the first raised to physical life.

As to eternal life, which Jesus ushered in, sure - but not physical.

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The Greek word for ‘firstborn’ does not always apply to one born first, and Jesus certainly was not the first human to be resurrected from the dead. In Colossians 1:15 & vs 18 the Greek word Prototokos is used with reference to Jesus Christ. This noun (#4416) refers to a parent's firstborn child. As an extension of this literal meaning, it can also refer to a person who holds a special status as pre-eminent. There is another Greek word - Protoktistos - which means 'first created'. Nowhere in the Bible is that word ever applied to Jesus Christ.

Consider also how Ephraim is blessed as 'firstborn' when he was the second-born son of Joseph. But Jacob blessed him as the firstborn (Genesis 48). The other meaning of priority is meant. So with Jesus being the firstborn from the dead. This cannot be taken literally as he was not the first human to be raised from the dead, but it is meant to be taken symbolically, as the one who has total pre-eminence over all other resurrections, for His resurrection was utterly unique and has the priority.

This other Greek word needs to be considered - Monogenes (#3439). It means 'unique, one and only'. It refers to something that is the only representative of its kind, being special or extraordinary in some way. That word is used in John 1:18. Of Jesus it is said that He holds the first place in all things - but not because He was ever 'born' as a 'firstborn'. That is clear from Protoktistos - which means 'first created' - never being used in the Bible anywhere to apply to Jesus Christ.

This is not speaking of first in time, but of pre-eminence, priority and uniqueness. Jesus was the unique one because He died without sinning, thus death could not hold Him (death can only claim sinners), so Jesus had to arise in triumph from the grave, having conquered it!

That is why Romans 1:1-4 states that the proof of Jesus being the unique, uncreated Son of God is in His resurrection from the dead. We can declare Jesus to be this Son of God because He was raised to life in an utterly unique way – the first ever to be so raised. He was the Son of God prior to His resurrection (as the gospel accounts show) but after His unique resurrection, Christians had the proof of that claim being true. Only Jesus’ resurrection gives the guarantee of the resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous on the Day of Judgement, and that all who are raised as believers in Him will share in His resurrection to eternal glory (1 Corinthians 15:20-26). I suggest that this is what Paul meant in Colossians 1:18.

  • Prototokos is from tokos, usury. Tokos is an instalment of money rendered to investment. Protokos is the first instalment, therefore the first indication of a successful and fruitful instalment. Such is Christ's rising from the dead - the first token of a successful venture. It is very rare to see an appreciation (such as yours) of the terms Protokos and Monogenes. Upvoted here (and elsewhere). – Nigel J Apr 4 '18 at 23:59
  • You might also like to look at the Stack Exchange site called Bible Hermeneutics. Don't be put off by the name, it is just the disciplined examination of scripture and your answers here (in my view) indicate that BH could well be for you, also. – Nigel J Apr 6 '18 at 7:52
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Romans 8:29

To Paul, resurrection makes us all sons of God, but Jesus was the first. We see this in Romans 1:4, where Paul tells us Jesus was the Son of God by the fact of his resurrection:

4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

Paul promised his followers that they would all be resurrected, saying that the resurrection of Jesus came first and that others would soon follow:

Romans 6:4-5: Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

The Corinthians rejected the idea of a physical resurrection, which is what they thought Paul had been talking about. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-13, he assured them that there would be a resurrection, saying that their faith in the resurrection of Jesus was evidence of that:

1 Corinthians 15:12-13: Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:

This now makes the meaning of Romans 8:29 clearer:

For whom he [God] did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Paul says that Jesus became the son of God by his resurrection, which means he was the "firstborn," but those who were in the general resurrection to come would be "conformed to the image of his Son" - sons of God, but of course not firstborn, because this was Jesus.

Colossians

The theology of Colossians differs somewhat from that in Paul's undisputed epistles (including Romans and 1 Corinthians), reflecting the general view of critical scholars that Colossians was written in the 70s of the first century and not by Paul himself. Here, Jesus was firstborn because he existed at the time of creation:

Colossians 1:15-18: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by 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 might have the preeminence.

Hebrews

It has long been accepted that Hebrews was not written by Paul, although the second-century Church Fathers preserved the book in the belief that Paul had written it. The theology of Hebrews 1:6 is consistent with that in Colossians, except that here Jesus may not have been present at creation, with the angels already there to worship him at his birth:

Hebrews 1:6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

Hebrews 11:28 would appear to be referring to God's act in killing the firstborn in Egypt during the Captivity and the time of Moses, as we can more readily see by looking at the preceding and following verses, and so has nothing to do with Jesus as firstborn:

Hebrews 11:24-29: By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.

  • It is noteworthy to remember that Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law, and to also remember that he said that all the prophets had written about him. Jesus life on earth was truly a complete reflection of Old Testament, and all that is recorded about his life is traceable back to the old testament and especially the Prophets. Just as God breathed the breath of life into man, Jesus breathed eternal life into the souls of his followers. – BYE Apr 21 '15 at 11:26
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Was Paul referring to (A) being dead to sin or (B) being dead physically and being resurrected to eternal life ?

I think the answer is B, but need a little bit detail.

Others who already dead physically and have been resurrected before Jesus resurrection, it seems to me that one day they are going to die physically again. Jesus not like that.

So, the "firstborn" applied to a resurrection body which will not die again.
Jesus is the first one who experience this.

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What did Paul mean when he called Jesus the “firstborn from the dead”?

It is about a way of living. The story about Jesus is the link between the Old and the New Testaments. The message is that through the cross the old becomes new. Thus, the principle is that crucifixion of the flesh results in going from death-ness to newborn-ness.

Gal 5:24 (NIV) Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

2 Cor 5:17 (NIV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!

  • Jacob's prophetic cross-hand-act would have been a reflection of this. The younger of the two brothers symbolising newborn-ness. And the older brother the old defective way of living. – Constantthin May 20 '18 at 1:54
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You have the answer indicated in your citations.

It simply means first born of the New Creation.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 

Being born again is being joined to Jesus Christ by the Spirit.

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Jesus was firstborn from the dead. Others had been resurrected prior to him, but they were revived back into this world and died again. For example, Lazarus(John 11, 41-44; KJV) :

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Jesus was the first who was resurrected into the kingdom, so to speak, which was necessary for him to be eligible to be the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek and allowing him to be both high priest and king. In the order of Melchizedek, one is a priest until his death, and since Jesus will not die again, he is a "priest forever according to that order."

  • Welcome, RKise. If you could please provide some support for that last part of your answer (scriptural prophecy that was fulfilled, a teaching from your faith community) which I am sure is available as I've seen similar, that would greatly improve your answer. I provided a scriptural citation as an example, and to "show by doing." – KorvinStarmast Feb 18 at 15:49

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