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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
    Aug 1 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? Aug 1 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. Aug 1 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. Aug 1 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. Aug 1 at 19:33

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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'? Aug 1 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
    Aug 1 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
    Aug 1 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
    Aug 2 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
    Aug 2 at 21:13
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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 desire his freedom (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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    Aug 4 at 18:02

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