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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.

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  • 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
  • hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/44634/11555. I asked this question on BHSE after reading this answer. – Kris Jan 18 '20 at 16:09
  • @Kris Thank you, Kris. I have looked at your question and note Nigel's answer. – Anne Jan 20 '20 at 16:43
  • Is there any evidence you can point to that shows Protoktistos in use prior to Clement’s writings which were long after Paul’s writings? – Kris Jan 25 '20 at 17:26
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peace be with you!


I would like to address your question in two parts:

Was Paul referring to being dead to sin

Let's make it perfectly clear that Jesus committed no sin, so it's not referring to dead to sin here, as the scripture states in so many various places, including but not limited to:

1 Peter 2:22 ESV He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

Hebrews 4:15 ESV For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 John 3:5 ESV You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

Romans 8:3 ESV For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

1 Peter 1:19 ESV But with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Hebrews 9:14 ESV How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.


or being dead physically and being resurrected to eternal life, Something even more elusive to me?

In the context of Colossians 1:18, Paul was saying that Jesus was the first example of a true resurrection, hence:

that in all things he might have the preeminence

To explore what Paul meant here, let's discuss the following:

1. Raised-from-death events (excluding Jesus) and why God allowed them:

Helper Subject Verse Outcome
Elijah Widow of Zarephath's Son 1 King 17:17-24 The woman declared the prophet a man of God and his words to be the truth.
Elisha Shunammite Woman's Son 2 Kings 4:18-37 She fell and bowed to the ground in worship
Dead man who touched Elisha's bones 2 Kings 13:20–21 The story was spread far and wide
Jesus Widow of Nain's Son Luke 7:11–17 The crowds recognized Jesus to be a prophet similar to Elijah and Elisha
Jesus Jairus' Daughter Luke 8:49–56 Parents were astonished (presumably believed although not stated in the Bible)
Jesus Lazarus John 11:1-44 I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.
Many holy people who had died Matthew 27:51-54 They went into the holy city and appeared to many. Many believed that Jesus is the Son of God
Peter Tabitha (named Dorcas in Greek) Acts 9:36-42 Many people believed in Jesus because of it
Paul Eutychus Acts 20:7–12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

As we can see here, most (if not all) raised-from-death events recorded in the Bible resulted in more people believing in God / Jesus, they are more used as testimonies of what God is capable of doing / plans to do. Some of those are foreshadowing the resurrection of Jesus and making people believing in Jesus.

2. Transfiguration of Jesus

Jesus showed his transfigured body to Peter, James, and John. You can read the description of the transfigured body in the Synoptic Gospels. There is no other accounts in the Bible that applies the same description to people other than Jesus.

There is no explicit account that states this was the resurrected version of the body that I were able to find, but it's very clear that it's quite related to resurrection.

Matthew 17:11 NIV As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Let's not focus on the argument whether this was the "demo" of a resurrected body, but let's look at what we do know about the body through the script:

3. What Jesus did after his resurrection

There is something supernatural after the resurrection of Jesus, such as

John 20:19 WEB When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be to you."

That was an account that was never mentioned prior to the crucifixion and has never been used to describe anyone who was raised from the death.

4. The difference between raised-from-death and a true resurrection.

First of all, there are clear statements saying that Jesus was the first one resurrected ever (Acts 26:23, Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), and obviously there are already accounts of raised-from-death in the Old Testament, and clearly the resurrection happened after the crucifixion, that means being raised from death is a different concept to resurrection .

Resurrection is a big topic and you can find most information about resurrection by reading the Pauline Epistles, pray for the guidance from the Holy Spirit and He will teach you all things you need to know, as promised in the scripture.

Now you may wonder the last point here:

5. Where did Paul get the knowledge of resurrection.

I did not find any account in the Bible explaining where Paul got all his knowledge, but there were a few things that are certain through reading the scripture:

  • Jesus spoke to Paul about what exactly he needed to do (Acts 9:6).

  • Paul had the Holy Spirit with him and the Holy Spirit will teach us everything at the right time.

  • Paul's knowledge originated from God and Jesus and are inline with what Jesus taught (recorded in the Gospels).

  • Paul had deep theological teachings that are not found outside his Epistles in the New Testament.




Now thanks for bearing with so many details, let's finally try to address your second part of the question:

or being dead physically and being resurrected to eternal life, Something even more elusive to me?

  • Being resurrected isn't only about physically being raised from our deaths.

  • Jesus was the first one being resurrected ever.

  • Jesus had some supernatural body after the resurrection / transfiguration.

  • Whether we would have the same resurrected body wasn't explicitly taught in the Bible, but clearly Jesus was the first one, the example, and that's the Hope all Christians have and are willing to suffer (or even, like the ones in the Bible, martyr) for.

Lord we praise you for giving us the great promise and hope, and the mercy to save us through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Lord we have things that we do not yet understand but please constantly help us, strengthen our faith. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!

God bless you and hope that helps with your question.

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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.

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  • 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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We know that Jesus is the only means of salvation. There is no other way of salvation outside of Him(Acts 4:12). When he died at the cross, there was a point at which the sins of the world were "laid" on Him. He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us(2 Cor. 5:21). He was transformed from a sinless God-man into one who was covered with the filth of your and my sin. Just before He physically died, he asked God, the Father, why He had forsaken Him, indicating that God, due to the sin, was unable to be in fellowship with Jesus at that point(Matt 27:46).

There was a separation, just like what would have happened permanently to us if we had died lost. When he gave up "the Ghost" (Mark 15:39), He was taken to a place(Acts 2:31) where he was punished by God, the Father(PS.88 and Is53:10-12) in our place.

When God finished punishing Him, He was resurrected as the first "human" to come back from the dead(spiritual separation which Adam had initiated the moment he fell). Others had been resurrected from the dead(like Lazarus), but none had been fully judged with our judgement and come back from the dead as the head of a new "race" of humans(just like Adam was the head of the old race.).

Thus "the Firstborn".

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  • Jesus was not forsaken, nor punished, nor was he made sin. Just explaining why my -1. – user47952 Mar 10 at 4:28
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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!

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  • 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."

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  • 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 '19 at 15:49
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Jesus is truly the firstborn from the dead - in that He was raised never to die again.

Unlike the others who were resurrected in the mortal body and who eventually died, Jesus resurrected with an immortal body, like the Saints who will resurrect at His second coming.

Rom 6:9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.

Jesus said:

John 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

There is one person who resurrected to gain immortal life before Jesus - that is Moses. We find Moses in the mount of transfiguration talking with Jesus. Jude confirms that Moses was resurrected by Michael, the archangel.

Jude 1:9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

But even Moses was resurrected in Christ.

John 5:21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.

John 5:25-29 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

And again Jesus said:

Rev 1:17,18 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

In Christ, in the promise of Christ's victory over death and hell, Moses was resurrected.

1Cor 15:12-19 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: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.

In other words, everyone who is resurrecting to eternal life will resurrect only because Christ has resurrected from the dead and has won the keys of hell and death. He is the one who has been given the authority to resurrect the saints. Thus, Christ is indeed the firstborn of the dead. Those who sleep in Him will be resurrected by Him in the last day.

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  • Such a great start and then Moses!? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven John 3:13 It was a vision, not a reality. When they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” Matt 9:17 – user47952 May 9 at 6:07

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