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Colossians 1:15-20 is often cited by Trinitarians as evidence that Jesus is God, because they tend to believe it is describing Jesus as creating all thing and holding all things together in an unbracketed sense. Who can do that but God?

Yet, the section begins with the phrase

"The Son is the image of the invisible God"

Normally, an image of something is not that thing. If I say something is an image of Bob, I mean it isn't Bob.

The Greek word here is εἰκὼν (eikōn), meaning

"Strong's 1504: An image, likeness, bust. From eiko; a likeness, i.e. statue, profile, or representation, resemblance."

Do Trinitarians here understand this passage as saying "The Son is the image of the Father," so 'God' here is meant only to refer to one person of the Trinity? Or do they understand 'image' in a different way from the normal sense? What is a standard exegesis of this line according to Trinitarianism?

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    The Son is specifically the perfect image of God; an image is a likeness of the source and yet distinct. The more perfect an image is, the closer the likeness is to the source, so the Son as the perfect image would "reflect" all the aspects of God.
    – eques
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:55
  • @eques So 'God' in Col 1:15 is taken to refer specifically to the Father on this reading? Or is he a 'reflection' in the sense of being an instance of a more general type? Also, is there a specific scriptural reference you have in mind for the idea of the Son being a perfect image? Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:58
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    "Image of God" has a new interpretation in recent decades, which probably impacts the way Col 1:15-20 is used to support the doctrine of Trinity. Two resources I would definitely consult: 1) John Piper's article representing traditional understanding, which includes an excellent review of OT terms as well as "image of God" as a systematic theology category and 2) Peter Enns's article representing the new understanding in light of Ancient Near Eastern studies. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 18:13
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    Yes, but Jesus, as the head of the body (the church) understood as new, completed, humanity, needs to give us divine grace so we can become priests manifesting God's character and presence. Before Jesus, we have failed to fulfill the charge that God gave Adam. The only way we can become new human (culminating in glorified body) is to become united with Christ (Rom 6) so the Holy Spirit can transform us into the image of Christ. It's Christ's divine nature that imparts this grace to us, while Christ's already perfect human nature (no sin / corruption) becomes a paradigm for us. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 19:29
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    Another excellent resource is 3) J. Richard Middleton's encyclopedia article Image of God containing historical overview up to the latest Cultic-Priestly motif, a sacramental interpretation of cosmos as temple. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 19:33

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"The Son is the image of the invisible God."

In English, there is an idiom that uses the words spitting image. If, for example, I say of Eddie, "Boy, Eddie is the spitting image of his dad," or "Wow! Ruth is the spitting image of her mother," I am saying that the similarity between son and father and daughter and mother is uncanny.

Well, Jesus is the spitting image of his Father.

Philip, one of Jesus's disciples, asked the Master, “'Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.' Jesus answered: 'Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" (John 14:8-9 NIV).

Jesus's disciples, both then and now, needed to be reminded that God the Father is invisible. Jesus reinforced that idea in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well:

"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

Christians are, however, able to see the Father, with eyes of faith, by looking at Jesus. Some of the first-century believers had the privilege of seeing Jesus with their physical eyes. Subsequent generations of believers were/are not afforded that privilege. They can, however, appeal to the Father through the Spirit of Jesus--again, through eyes of faith.

Jesus the Son is not God the Father; otherwise, why would Jesus address God as his Father? Jesus is, however, fully God and fully man. To this day, Jesus retains his humanity as he sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Colossians 3:1; Mk 16:19; Lk 22:69; Heb 1:3 and 13; 10:12; and 12:2) . Like the servant of old who loved his master and did not desire to be freed by his master (see Deuteronomy 15:16-17; cf. Psalm 40:6), Jesus had more than his ears pierced with an aul; he sacrificed his very life at the cross, shedding his blood for the remission of sins. In doing so, he pleased his Father, not as a slave would please his master but as an obedient Son would please his Father (John 8:29).

REVISED CONCLUSION

In conclusion, a person who is less than God has neither the right nor the ability to take away the sins of the world (see John 1:29 and 35). As the sinless and spotless Lamb of God, only Jesus in his full divinity and singular sinlessness could make atonement for sin. Jesus' critics were correct in their belief that only God can forgive sins, but Jesus did just that on more than one occasion (see, for example, Luke 5:20-26, which is echoed in Matthew 9 and Mark 2).

To believe otherwise is to be guilty of heresy of the worst kind. The belief that Jesus had a beginning flies in the face of the belief in a God of love (see 1 John 4:16), since the "love affair" between the Son and the Father is and forever shall be eternal. It has no beginning and no end. To believe otherwise is the fall into the trap of Islamic theology that teaches that Allah is one person and one only, with Jesus being relegated to the status of only a teacher and prophet.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 18:02
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The Apostle Paul here describes Christ as "the image of the invisible God." The Bible states in several locations that the essence or substance of God is invisible to human beings (Romans 1:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:27).

It also states that no man can ever see God, an obvious reference to the Father, but that Christ has made the Father known (John 1:18; John 14:9).

"Image" expresses two crucial points. First, it suggest "representation, likeness." Hebrews 1:3 reflects the same idea through another Greek term that was translated "exact representation" of His nature, (NASB).

Paul also described Christ as "the firstborn of every creature. "Firstborn" (prototokos) does not imply that Jesus is part of creation, but rather indicates His priority and sovereignty over all creation."

Colossians 1:16 backs this up. "For (or because) by or through Him were all things created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and through Him."

Not only did Jesus always exist (John 1:1; John 8:58), but He holds all creation together. (Colossians 1:17). So, just as Jesus is supreme over the natural creation, He is sovereign over the new creation, the New Testament Church of which He is head.

Verse 18 establishes the ground for Christ's vital headship of the Church. He is the "beginning" (arche) or "source" or "origin." Jesus is not only the "source/origin" of the Church, He is the origin of creation as confirmed by Revelation 3:14. We get our English word "architect" from the Greek word "arche."

Finally, He is the "firstborn" (prototokos), the first to rise from the realm of the dead in a permanent fashion (Revelation 1:5). On the basis of all these achievements, one can see why Jesus Christ is the "Preeminent One."

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  • +1 So you would take 'God' here to refer the the 'substance' of God, not the Father? Re 'firstborn', do you take the second use of 'firstborn' (1:18) to refer to the resurrection in specific, or to also refer to a more general sense of priority over 'all creation'? Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 18:39
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    @OneGodtheFather I decided to incorporate your question in my answer based on the flow of the context. To me it fits nicely.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:44
  • FYI, I don't believe the Greek has 'exact' Heb 1:3 has it been added in to help promote the construct of a Jesus who is supposed to be God? χαρακτὴρ charaktēr. Jesus began existing when he was conceived in Mary - he was not 'in the beginning'. John 1:1 is NOT talking about Jesus.
    – steveowen
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 22:12
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    @steveowen Okay, the next time I meet with the people at Strong's Lexicon for lunch I'll be sure and tell them your not satisfied with their work by using the word "exact." Would you accept the word "precise" or "express" image? biblehub.com/greek/5481.htm Btw, if you read the rest of Hebrews 1 you should be able to notice that at vs8 God the Father identified the Son as God. The Father also credited the Son with creation at vs10. "Thou Lord, in the BEGINNING did lay the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Thy hands." It's the Bible that promotes Jesus as God.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 13:48
  • I know how you love to appropriate the bible to fit your dogma - ignoring the fact that the son didn't exist until the logos was made flesh ~2000 years ago. So how could he be in the beginning? the Father identified the Son as God - there you go again - making your own facts - it says no such thing. Jesus, our Lord, sits NEXT to God. Your God Jesus still has a God, making too many Gods. That's why he is the image - the likeness, the representative who died (!!!) and is now exalted and made heir to everything BY God. If as you say he made everything, then it is all a colossal farce!
    – steveowen
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 21:13
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God not The Father
There are three reasons why God as it is used here should not be understood as The Father.

  • God as used in the OT
  • God and Father as used in the NT
  • God and Father as used in this letter

The Old Testament makes no mention of God the Father in the sense it is used in the New. Therefore, passages drawing upon the Old Testament (see below), should not qualify God using the new expressions. For example, Paul uses three phrases to specifically identify God as Father. Most common is θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν, God our Father. Less common is θεοῦ πατρὸς, God-Father, and on a few occasions he employs Sharp's Rule saying, ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ, the God and Father. None of these terms are used in the LXX. They are New Testament terminology employed to make specific reference to the Father. Therefore, having developed new phrases for the sole purpose of making specific reference to the Father, one must conclude the failure to use the new terminology indicates Father is not intended.

The new terminology is used elsewhere in Colossians:

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae; Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:2 ESV)

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

In addition, the New Testament practice of distinguishing between God and God as Father, or simply Father, is also evident in the passage in question:

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1)

Therefore, a proper exegesis of image of God, ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ, should recognize Paul's terminology, τοῦ θεοῦ (the God) cannot be understood as a specific identification of the Father.

image of God - εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ
In other letters, Paul compares Jesus to the first man:

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5)

The expression image of God was used to describe the first man:

And God made man, according to the image of God he made him, male and female he made them. (LXX-Genesis 1:27)
καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον κατ᾽ εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς

In Colossians, by employing the phrase image of God, Paul has made another Adam/Jesus comparison. The first man was made according to the image of God. But Jesus is the image of God. Furthermore, by using the general expression of God, Paul eliminates understanding image of the Father, which could be seen as contradicting the equality between Jesus and the Father as stated in the Fourth Gospel. That is, image of God is in harmony with equality with the Father, but image of the Father would imply inequality.

As with his other statements equating Jesus and God, Paul does not "fill in the blank." He does not enumerate the qualities. This lack of specificity is no different than the Hebrew term Elohim. No explanation is given to explain why the singular God is most often identified using the plural Elohim. In a sense, it must simply be accepted as stated. Nevertheless, a lack of "full disclosure" is hardly reason to reject the literal meaning of the text. Paul and other New Testament writers all agree on the most significant God-like quality. Jesus was without sin; He is holy.

Finally, in making this comparison to Adam, Paul had the ideal opportunity to make a more precise comparison to Adam by saying Jesus was made. Yet, not only does Paul avoid language which could imply Jesus was a created being, he makes the point Jesus is. Then he immediately follows with a list of actions the Old Testament states are reserved for God.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

My Trinitarian Conclusion
First, the expression in the context of the letter demonstrates God is no longer an adequate term to describe divine interaction with mankind. Unlike the Old Testament, theos is not self-explanatory. New Testament writers are compelled to distinguish between God, and God the Father. This change in terminology is exactly what I would expect if those educated under the Old Testament understood the more complete revelation of God as found in the New Testament. In other words, from the Old Testament vorlage, God the Father only makes sense from a Trinitarian understanding of God. Otherwise the New Testament burdens the reader with unnecessary terminology.

Second, by stating Jesus is the image of God, Paul distinguishes between the pre-existent uncreated Son and Adam who was created according to the image of God.

Third, by following image of God with a list of divine actions, Paul reinforces the pre-existent uncreated status of the Son. Moreover, he implies the Son was active in making the first man according to the image of God.

Finally, in addition to other New Testament passages which describe Jesus using God-like terms such as glory or radiance, considering image of God in light of equality with the Father, leads me to conclude Colossians could also be understood as He, the Father, is also the image of God.

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    @eques I do not see that to be the case. Up-voted +1. The writer of the answer specifically rejects the concept you infer.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 12:16
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    "The first man was made according to the image of God; Jesus is the image of God." +1 Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 12:47
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    And let's not forget Hebrews 1:3, "And He/Jesus Christ is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His/the Father's nature," Like the impression made in wax by a signet ring, He is the exact expression of God's character in human form. There is not one feature of God's character that is not displayed in His Son. "And upholds all things by the word of His power." By His powerful utterance, He upholds the universe, that is, He carries it along to its final destiny. In short, by Himself as our Redeemer He effected the cleansing and removal of the believer's sins.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 13:32
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The Son is the image of the invisible God because he reflects the eternal good will and character of God in the flesh. The perfect character and attributes of God are manifested through the person of Jesus Christ through his suffering and death on the cross. God is blameless in all His ways and so was Jesus during his time here on earth. This perfection of character that Jesus exhibited from birth to death is the reflection of the eternal character of God. It is written that no one has ever seen or can see God but the Son, Jesus Christ has made Him known to you.

John 1:18

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

To see the Christ is to see God, that is why Jesus is being referred to as the image of the invisible God.

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  • If you could provide some references / quotes to back up your claim, that would take your answer out of the realms of personal opinion and into evidence, which this site seeks to obtain. You would also need to cite trinitarian sources to actually answer the question. There is nothing so far to link your comments to a trinitarian view.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 17:28
  • @Anne, Hi, are biblical references a must for every answer, this one looks straight forward. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 3:38
  • As a Bible verse is being asked about, and there are loads more Bible verses that deal with this, appropriate biblical references would be helpful. Also, quotes from other sources could help, if relevant. A problem with a very brief answer, as this, is leaving the impression that any person reflecting God's good will and character could attain perfection of character. Many people who do not believe in the pre-incarnate existence of the eternal Son think that. So, for clarity, more points could be made.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 15:22
  • @Anne, those who deny that Jesus is God should read the Gospel of John chapter one where it says that Jesus was in the beginning with God and Jesus was God and everything in the world was made through Jesus and Jesus was in the world and the world knew him not. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 15:26
  • @Anne Jesus is God and he was not created alongside the Holy Spirit. They have always existed with God in eternity. Everything else was created. Glorifying the Son is glorifying God and also glorifying the Holy Spirit is still glorifying God. This is the mystery of the Godhead. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 15:36

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