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Is Jesus Christ God’s first creature?

Answers to Jehovah’s Witnesses #8

Imperial Gate Mosaics

Imperial Gate Mosaics

Imperial Gate Mosaics (ca. 10th cent.), former basilica Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (Istanbul), depicting the emperor Leo VI bowing before Christ Pantocrator (Creator of all), with images of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel.

Summary: The Watchtower Society teaches that Jesus Christ is the first and only direct creation of Jehovah God, citing a number of biblical proof texts in support (especially Proverbs 8:22; Colossians 1:15-16; and Revelation 3:14). However, none of these proof texts actually teaches that God created Jesus Christ, and the New Testament in many other places teaches that Christ is God’s eternal, uncreated Son.

This article is one of a series of articles explaining in detail the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses and showing why those teachings are not in harmony with the facts and teachings of the Bible. For an overview, see our article on what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe

What the Watchtower Teaches

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that Jehovah God, the Father, created the Word (Greek, Logos, mentioned in John 1:1, 14) as his “firstborn spirit Son”1 in heaven before anything else was made. Then God instructed and empowered his Son to make everything else:

Jehovah’s first creation was his “only-begotten Son” (Joh 3:16), “the beginning of the creation by God.” (Re 3:14) This one, “the firstborn of all creation,” was used by Jehovah in creating all other things, those in the heavens and those upon the earth, “the things visible and the things invisible.” (Col 1:15-17) …As wisdom personified, this One is represented as saying, “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way,” and he tells of his association with God the Creator as Jehovah’s “master worker.” (Pr 8:12, 22-31)2

The Watchtower likens the relationship between Jehovah and his Son in the work of creation to the relationship between an architect and the contractor he hires to get a building made:

So Jehovah, the Creator, worked through his Son, the Master Worker, to bring every other creation into existence…. In some respects, we might liken this cooperation between Father and Son to that of an architect working with a builder, or contractor, who specializes in bringing the architect’s ingenious designs to reality.3

Elsewhere the Society has described the Son’s role in creation as like that of a “junior partner”:

So it was by means of this master worker, his junior partner, as it were, that Almighty God created all other things.4

Biblical Response

To support their teaching that Christ was God’s first creature, the Watchtower cites a number of proof texts, especially Proverbs 8:22, Colossians 1:15-16, and Revelation 3:14. We will consider each of these three proof texts in turn.5

Proverbs 8:22

There is considerable debate today about just how to translate Proverbs 8:22. Does it quote wisdom as saying that the LORD “possessed me” (ESV, NASB, NRSV), or should the verb be translated “acquired” (CSB), “begot” (NAB), “brought forth” (NIV), or “created” (NET)? All of these renderings have been proposed for the Hebrew text.

The controversial Hebrew verb here is qānāh. A fair if ambiguous translation in English would be “got”: “The LORD got me.” In the vast majority of occurrences in the Old Testament, qānāh means “buy” or “acquire.”6 This is the case in all of the other 13 occurrences in Proverbs. Moreover, in all but one of those 13 occurrences, what a person is said to buy, acquire, or get is wisdom or another intellectual virtue such as understanding or knowledge (1:5; 4:5, 7; 15:32; 16:16; 17:16; 18:15; 19:8; 23:23). Since Proverbs instructs its reader repeatedly to “acquire wisdom” (Prov. 4:5, 7; 16:16), when we find the same language used for wisdom in Proverbs 8:22 it makes sense to translate it the same way: “The LORD acquired me” (CSB).

Whatever precise translation we use, the verse appears to be saying that the Lord “got” wisdom. The Watchtower argues on this basis that the passage must be speaking about Christ. They argue that since the character quality of wisdom “never began to exist because Jehovah has always existed and he has always been wise,” Proverbs 8:22 must be referring to something other than God’s attribute of wisdom. Since the New Testament calls Christ “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), they conclude that Proverbs is referring to Christ.7

The main problem with this argument is that it assumes that Proverbs 8:22 should be understood literally to mean that God “got” a wisdom that he previously lacked. This assumption ignores the context. In Proverbs 1-9, Solomon describes wisdom using the literary device of personification, in which something that is not literally a person is described as if it were. Personification was a familiar rhetorical device in the Old Testament.8 Jehovah’s Witnesses should take this point seriously: the Watchtower’s own publications have made this point when they were not focused on using Proverbs 8:22 as a proof text about Christ:

Personification is another figure of speech. We use this when we speak of something inanimate as if it were alive. For example, the Bible tells us, “Death ruled as king from Adam down to Moses”; “grief and sighing must flee away”; “true wisdom itself keeps crying aloud in the very street.” (Romans 5:14; Isaiah 35:10; Proverbs 1:20) Death, grief, sighing and wisdom cannot really rule, flee or cry out. But speaking as if they did, the Bible paints vivid mental pictures, easily visualized and remembered.9

This statement is exactly right. Wisdom is personified not just in a verse here or there (like Proverbs 1:20), but in a sustained way in three passages: Proverbs 1:20-33, 8:1-36, and 9:1-12. In all three passages, Wisdom speaks in the first-person singular, as in the following examples:

  • “I have called and you refuse to listen” (1:24).
  • “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence” (8:12).
  • “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed” (9:5).

Jehovah’s Witnesses treat Proverbs 8:22-31 as a discourse in which the speaker is actually Jesus Christ (prior to becoming a man), but the surrounding material in the same passage (8:1-21, 32-36) as figurative personification of the attribute or character quality of wisdom. Chopping up the passage in this way is simply indefensible. Proverbs 8 personifies other intellectual virtues besides wisdom. For example, it personifies understanding in the opening lines of the passage: “Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice?” (Prov. 8:1). If wisdom is a person here, then “understanding” must also be a person. Anyone taking this passage to be referring to “Wisdom” as a person will also have to explain who “Prudence” is in 8:12, since that verse says that Wisdom dwells with Prudence!

If we read Proverbs 8:22-31 in the broader context of Proverbs 1-9 as a whole, what we find is that Solomon was extolling wisdom as something God “had” and showed or demonstrated in all of his created works. Wisdom’s poetic statement “The LORD acquired me at the beginning of his way” is a verbally artistic way of saying that God made wisdom the foundation of his work of creation (see the clearly parallel statement in Prov. 3:19-20). It is not saying that God made an angel before he created anything else and then sat back while the angel did the rest of the work of creation.

There is nothing wrong with reading Proverbs 8 as teaching us something about the wisdom that the New Testament says is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:2-3). However, it is a mistake to apply Proverbs 8:22 to Christ in a wooden, literalist fashion. Proverbs 8 was not intended to tell us who Christ is but rather to teach us that wisdom is essential to all of God’s works.

Colossians 1:15

In Colossians 1:15, the apostle Paul calls God’s Son “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Jehovah’s Witnesses contend that the expression “the firstborn of all creation” means that Christ was the first creature that God made. This may seem like the plain or obvious meaning of the text until we consider one thing: Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves cannot take this statement literally. That is, they do not believe that the preexistent Christ (whom they believe was a great angel, the archangel Michael) was literally born at all. Thus, they must agree that Paul was using the term figuratively. The question, then, is what Paul meant by it. Here is Paul’s statement in its preceding context:

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. (Col. 1:12-15 ESV) 

The idea here is that the “beloved Son” is the primary heir of this “inheritance” from “the Father,” and yet those redeemed in Christ are graciously invited “to share” in that inheritance. It is in this context of Father, Son, and inheritance that we should understand the word firstborn. In ancient Israel and in the ancient Mediterranean world generally, the firstborn son in a family was customarily the father’s primary heir, inheriting the largest or best portion of his estate (and sometimes all of it). In the context of the preceding explicit reference to an “inheritance” and the use of the titles Father and Son, this significance of firstborn as the primary heir is clearly the point of the term “firstborn.”

This understanding of Paul’s meaning is amply confirmed by what immediately follows:

15 He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
16 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.
17 And he is before all things,
and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:15-17 ESV) 

Immediately after calling the Son “the firstborn of all creation,” Paul says that by the Son (literally “in him”) “all things were created.” Paul here distinguishes the Son from “all creation” by stating that “all things were created” in the Son, which means he was not one of the members of those created things. Rather, Paul explains, “all things were created through him and for him.” Now Paul has distinguished the Son from the created things using three similar phrases: all things were created “in him…through him and for him.” The last part of this statement about the Son closely parallels what Paul says about God in another epistle:

“…all things through him and for him were created” (Col. 1:16b).
“…through him and for him [are] all things” (Rom. 11:36). 

If all things were created in, through, and for the Son, then the Son is not one of the created things. It is that simple.10

In verse 17 Paul adds two more statements distinguishing the Son from the created order, stating that the Son “is before all things” and that “in him all things hold together.” Here Paul emphasizes that the Son exists prior to the existence of all created things and that everything is held together in the Son.

In order to circumvent the clear teaching of verses 16-17 that the Son Jesus Christ is not part of the created world, the New World Translation adds the word “other” four times in these two verses:

…because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist. (Col. 1:16-17 NWT, emphasis added)

Jehovah’s Witnesses defend these insertions by pointing to other places in the Bible, such as Luke 13:2, 4, where modern English versions commonly add the word “other” where it seems to be required by the context.11 It is true that the word “other” can sometimes be implied or even added to a translation to make for more idiomatic or smoother English, as in Luke 13:2, 4. However, the issue is whether it is proper to add the word in order to make a text say the opposite of what it would mean without it. That is what the NWT does in Colossians 1:16-17. Where Paul says that all things were created in, through, and for the Son, the NWT attempts to convey the idea that the Son is one of the things that were created.

In Colossians 1:16-17, Paul uses the specific expression ta panta, the neuter plural form with the definite article (“the all [things]”). Although this expression can be used in other contexts, when it is used in the context of creation (as is explicitly the case here), it is a standard Jewish expression referring to the totality of God’s creation (Gen. 1:31; Neh. 9:6; Jer. 10:16; Wisdom 1:7, 14; 9:1; Sirach 18:1; 23:20; 43:26; Acts 17:25; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 3:9; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 4:11).12 By placing the Son outside the category of “the all” that was created, Paul excludes the notion that Christ was the chronologically first of all creatures.

Revelation 3:14

In John’s seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor, he says that the angel of the church in Laodicea told him to write the following:

“Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the archē of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14).

English versions render the word archē—to which the Watchtower appeals to prove that Christ was a created being—in what may seem like surprisingly different ways:

  • beginning (ESV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NLT)
  • head (BBE, WEB)
  • source (NAB)
  • origin (GNT, NRSV)
  • originator (CSB, LEB, NET)
  • ruler (CEB, CJB, NIV)

All of these renderings are linguistically and contextually plausible. Moreover, none of them means or implies that Christ was the first creature God made. The only wording that might seem to carry that implication is “the beginning of the creation of God,” but even this wording falls short of making such an idea clear. Three considerations make it virtually certain that John did not mean that Christ was the chronologically first being that God created.

First, in the New Testament the noun archē when used of a person or persons everywhere outside the Book of Revelation means something like “ruler” (Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15; Titus 3:1; see also Luke 12:11; 1 Peter 3:22). This includes one other reference to Christ (Col. 1:18). This is the basis for the translation “ruler” in the NIV and other versions, as well as the similar rendering “head.”

Second, the meaning of “ruler” nicely fits the context of the Book of Revelation. In the immediate context, Christ promises a place on his throne to those who conquer through their faith in him (Rev. 3:21). The titles of Revelation 3:14 noticeably overlap the titles of Christ in the opening of the book:

  • “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler [archōn] of the kings of the earth” (1:5).
  • “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler [archē] of the creation of God” (3:14)

Since archōn definitely means “ruler” and archē regularly has this meaning in the New Testament, the parallels between these two texts (both of which contain three titles for Christ) give strong support for interpreting archē as meaning something like “ruler.”

Third, the word archē in the Book of Revelation is used only two other times, and in both cases it refers to God:

“I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6).
“I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13).

It cannot be mere coincidence that Christ is also called “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8). The three expressions found in Revelation 22:13 are synonymous (alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega is the last letter). Indeed, there is a strong case to be made that in Revelation 22:13 Christ is speaking.13 Obviously, though, these synonymous titles as applied to God in Revelation 21:6 do not mean that God was created or had a beginning in time. Nor should Revelation 3:14 be interpreted with that meaning.

Although Revelation 3:14 does not mean that Christ was the first creature God made, it might be referring to Christ as part of creation—though in a very special sense. Specifically, it may be designating Christ as the “head” or ruling member of creation by virtue of his redemptive work. In New Testament teaching, Christ is the divine Son who humbled himself to become a man, thereby joining himself permanently with his own creation (John 1:9-14; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 2:14-18). As the resurrected and glorified Son exalted in heaven, Christ is still a man (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:47; 1 Tim. 2:5; see also Luke 24:36-43; Acts 2:24-32).14 As such, Christ is not the first creature made but the preeminent member of the new creation. There are several reasons for thinking this interpretation is the best explanation of Revelation 3:14. 

  • The context of the similar titles in Revelation 1:5-6 focuses on Christ’s redemptive work (“the firstborn of the dead…has freed us from our sins by his blood”).
  • In the letter to the Laodicean church, Christ states that he sat on the throne with his Father after he “conquered” by his death and resurrection (Rev. 3:21).
  • In Colossians 1:18, the parallel use of archē refers to Christ’s headship in the new creation, especially because it is immediately followed by the title “the firstborn from the dead” (a clear parallel to Rev. 1:5).
  • The primary background to the three titles in Revelation 3:14 is most likely Isaiah 65:16-17, which twice refers to the Lord in Hebrew as “the God of ’amēn” (usually translated “the God of truth”). Not only is the Greek word amēn in Revelation 3:14 a direct transliteration of the Hebrew word in Isaiah 65:16, that Hebrew word can mean both “faithful” and “true”—the two descriptions in the second title in Revelation 3:14. The “blessing” that this faithful or true God promises is that he will “create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17). This expression referring to the new creation also is used in that sense in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:1, 2). It is also anticipated in the immediately preceding context of Revelation 3:14, where Christ speaks of “the new Jerusalem” that will come down from God (Rev. 3:12). Thus, the reference to “the creation of God” in Revelation 3:14 in context likely is focused in the new creation that God is making.15

Let us summarize the key points of this explanation of Revelation 3:14. “The creation of God” refers to the creation as God is renewing it to become “the new heavens and the new earth.” Christ is its “beginning” (archē) in the sense that he is the head, the ruling member of the new creation, by virtue of his death and resurrection to immortal, glorious life and exaltation to the very throne of God. The text is not saying that Christ was created at or as the beginning of the original creation of the universe.

Did God Contract Out the Work of Creation to an Angel?

The Watchtower’s doctrine that Jesus Christ was the first creature God made cannot be separated from its doctrine of how all creation came into existence. As we saw at the beginning of this article, in Watchtower theology Jehovah God made Jesus directly but made nothing else himself. Instead, after making Christ, God commissioned Christ to make everything else. This idea runs counter to the consistent teaching of the Bible that God created and made all things (Gen. 1:1; 2:7; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 95:5-7; 102:25; 104:24-30; Is. 44:24; Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Acts 4:24; 14:15; 17:25, 28; Rom. 11:36; Heb. 2:10; Rev. 4:11). In Isaiah 44:24, Jehovah even insists that he made the world by himself, that is, without any assistance.

In their zeal to avoid attributing the status of God to the Lord Jesus Christ, ironically, Jehovah’s Witnesses credit the preincarnate Christ with doing the work that the Bible repeatedly and emphatically credits to Jehovah God alone. The idea that Christ acts as God’s “agent” in creation—and in virtually everything else—ends up with the notion of a remote Supreme Being who is like the owner of a business who never does any of the work. The “junior partner” or “contractor” is the only deity who actually gets involved in making, redeeming, and ruling the creation. Such an idea is a radical departure from biblical theology. The traditional Christian position is still the only doctrine faithful to Scripture: the Son, who made the world, who made redemption for us by his death, and who is bringing all things to their consummation, is himself no less than God. As such, he was not God’s first created being, but God’s eternal Son (John 1:1-18; Col. 1:12-20; 2:9; Heb. 1:1-13).

 

NOTES


1. “Working Together With God—A Cause for Rejoicing,” Watchtower (Jan. 2016): 29.

2. “Creation,” in Insight on the Scriptures (1988, 2015 printing), 1:527.

3. “Come Be My Follower” (2007, 2012 printing), 130–31.

4. Should You Believe in the Trinity? (1989, 2006 printing), 14.

5. On these verses, see also Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 104–109.

6. The verb occurs 85 times in the Hebrew OT, and other than Proverbs 8:22 the meaning “buy” or “acquire” clearly fits all but two places (Gen. 4:1; Ps. 139:13).

7. “Come Be My Follower” (2007, 2012 printing), 131; “Questions from Readers,” Watchtower (Aug. 1, 2006): 31.

8. Ernest C. Lucas, Proverbs, Two Horizons OT Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 262.

9. “The Bible’s Vivid Figures of Speech,” Watchtower (June 1, 1984), 19, boldface emphasis added. See also Insight on the Scriptures (1988), 2:1019, 1161.

10. On these prepositional phrases, see further Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 190–91.

11. “Trinity,” in Reasoning from the Scriptures (1995), 408.

12. See Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 31–32.

13. Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 179–80.

14. Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that Jesus Christ ceased to be a man when he was put to death and that he was resurrected as an angel. For a detailed critique of the Watchtower’s arguments for this false doctrine, see Robert M. Bowman Jr., Jehovah’s Witnesses, Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 38–49.

15. See G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 1999), 297–301.