on Colossians 1 :15
Who is the image of the invisible God - The counterpart of God Almighty, and if the image of the invisible God, consequently nothing that appeared in him could be that image; for if it could be visible in the Son, it could also be visible in the Father; but if the Father be invisible, consequently his image in the Son must be invisible also. This is that form of God of which he divested himself; the ineffable glory in which he not only did not appear, as to its splendor and accompaniments, but concealed also its essential nature; that inaccessible light which no man, no created being, can possibly see. This was that Divine nature, the fullness of the Godhead bodily, which dwelt in him.
The first-born of every creature - I suppose this phrase to mean the same as that, Philippians 2:9 : God hath given him a name which is above every name; he is as man at the head of all the creation of God; nor can he with any propriety be considered as a creature, having himself created all things, and existed before any thing was made. If it be said that God created him first, and that he, by a delegated power from God, created all things, this is most flatly contradicted by the apostle's reasoning in the 16th and 17th verses. As the Jews term Jehovah בכורו של עולם becoro shel olam, the first-born of all the world, or of all the creation, to signify his having created or produced all things; (see Wolfius in loc.) so Christ is here termed, and the words which follow in the 16th and 17th verses are the proof of this. The phraseology is Jewish; and as they apply it to the supreme Being merely to denote his eternal pre-existence, and to point him out as the cause of all things; it is most evident that St. Paul uses it in the same way, and illustrates his meaning in the following words, which would be absolutely absurd if we could suppose that by the former he intended to convey any idea of the inferiority of Jesus Christ.
on Colossians 1 :15
Who is the image of the invisible God - εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου eikōn tou Theou tou aoratou. The objects. here, as it is in the parallel place in Ephesians 1:20-23, is to give a just view of the exaltation of the Redeemer. It is probable that, in both cases, the design is to meet some erroneous opinion on this subject that prevailed in those churches, or among those that claimed to be teachers there. See the Introduction to this Epistle, and compare the notes at Ephesians 1:20-23. For the meaning of the phrase occurring here, "the image of the invisible God," see the Hebrews 1:3, note, and 2 Corinthians 4:4, note. The meaning is, that he represents to mankind the perfections of God, as an image, figure, or drawing does the object which it is made to resemble. See the word "image" - εἰκὼν eikōn - explained in the notes at Hebrews 10:1. It properly denotes that which is a copy or delineation of a thing; which accurately and fully represents it, in contradistinction from a rough sketch, or outline; compare Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Corinthians 15:49.
The meaning here is, that the being and perfections of God are accurately and fully represented by Christ. In what respects particularly he was thus a representative of God, the apostle proceeds to state in the following verses, to wit, in his creative power, in his eternal existence, in his heirship over the universe, in the fulness that dwelt in him. This cannot refer to him merely as incarnate, for some of the things affirmed of him pertained to him before his incarnation; and the idea is, that in all things Christ fairly represents to us the divine nature and perfections. God is manifest to us through him; 1 Timothy 3:16. We see God in him as we see an object in that which is in all respects an exact copy of it. God is invisible. No eye has seen him, or can see him; but in what Christ is, and has done in the works of creation and redemption, we have a fair and full representation of what God is; see the notes at John 1:18; John 14:9, note.
The first-born of every creature - Among all the creatures of God, or over all his creation, occupying the rank and pro-eminence of the first-born. The first-born, or the oldest son, among the Hebrews as elsewhere, had special privileges. He was entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. It has been, also, and especially in oriental countries, a common thing for the oldest son to succeed to the estate and the title of his father. In early times, the first-born son was the officiating priest in the family, in the absence or on the death of the father. There can be no doubt that the apostle here has reference to the usual distinctions and honors conferred on the first-born, and means to say that, among all the creatures of God, Christ occupied a pre-eminence similar to that. He does not say that, in all respects, he resembled the first-born in a family; nor does he say that he himself was a creature, for the point of his comparison does not turn on these things, and what he proceeds to affirm respecting him is inconsistent with the idea of his being a created being himself.
He that "created all things that are in heaven and that are in earth," was not himself created. That the apostle did not mean to represent him as a creature, is also manifest from the reason which he assigns why he is called the first-born. "He is the image of God, and the first-born of every creature, for - ὅτι hoti - by him were all things created." That is, he sustains the elevated rank of the first-born, or a high eminence over the creation, because by him "all things were created in heaven and in earth." The language used here, also, does not fairly imply that he was a creature, or that he was in nature and rank one of those in relation to whom it is said he was the first-born. It is true that the word "first-born" - πρωτότοκος prōtotokos - properly means the first-born child of a father or mother, Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7; or the first-born of animals. But two things are also to be remarked in regard to the use of the word:
(1) It does not necessarily imply that anyone is born afterward in the family, for it would be used of the first-born, though an only child; and,
(2) it is used to denote one who is chief, or who is highly distinguished and pre-eminent. Thus, it is employed in Romans 8:29, "That he might be the first-born among many brethren." So, in Colossians 1:18, it is said that he was "the first-born from the dead;" not that he was literally the first that was raised from the dead, which was not the fact, but that he might be pre-eminent among those that are raised; compare Exodus 4:22. The meaning, then, is, that Christ sustains the most exalted rank in the universe; he is pre-eminent above all others; he is at the head of all things. The expression does not mean that he was "begotten before all creatures," as it is often explained, but refers to the simple fact that he sustains the highest rank over the creation. He is the Son of God. He is the heir of all things. All other creatures are also the "offspring of God;" but he is exalted as the Son of God above all.
(This clause has been variously explained. The most commonly received, and, as we think, best supported opinion, is that which renders πρωτοτοκος πασης κτισεως prōtotokos pasēs ktiseōs; "begotten before all creation." This most natural and obvious sense would have been more readily admitted, had it not been supposed hostile to certain views on the sonship of Christ. Some explain πρωτότοκος prōtotokos actively, and render "first begetter or producer of all things," which gives, at all events, a sense consistent with truth and with the context, which immediately assigns as the reason of Christ being styled πρωτότοκος prōtotokos, the clause beginning ὁτι εν αυτω εκτισθη hoti en autō ektisthē, "For by him were all things created." Others, with the author explain the word figuratively, of pre-eminence or lordship. To this view however, there are serious objections.
It seems not supported by sufficient evidence. No argument can be drawn from Colossians 1:18 until it is proved that "firstborn from the dead," does not mean the first that was raised to die no more, which Doddridge affirms to be "the easiest, surest, most natural sense, in which the best commentators are agreed." Nor is the argument from Romans 8:29 satisfactory. "Πρωτότοκος Prōtotokos," says Bloomfield, at the close of an admirable note on this verse, "is not well taken by Whitby and others, in a figurative sense, to denote 'Lord of all things, since the word is never so used, except in reference to primogeniture. And although, in Romans 8:29, we have τον ρωτοτοκος εν πολλοις αδελφοις ton prōtotokos en pollois adelphois, yet there his followers are represented not as his creatures, but as his brethren. On which, and other accounts, the interpretation, according to which we have here a strong testimony to the eternal filiation of our Saviour is greatly preferable; and it is clear that Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:18 are illustrative of the nature, as Colossians 1:16-17 are an evidence of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ.")
on Colossians 1 :15
1:15 Who is - By describing the glory of Christ, and his pre - eminence over the highest angels, the apostle here lays a foundation for the reproof of all worshippers of angels. The image of the invisible God - Whom none can represent, but his only begotten Son; in his divine nature the invisible image, in his human the visible image, of the Father. The first begotten of every creature - That is, begotten before every creature; subsisting before all worlds, before all time, from all eternity.