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He Is Before All Things — Col. 1.17

A few religious organizations deny the eternality of the Lord. Instead, they contend that Jesus was the first created being.

However, there exists an abundance of biblical evidence which substantiates his immortal nature. Some passages overtly affirm it (Isa. 9.6; Micah 5.2; etc.). Others, however, are more subtle.

Take, for instance, Colossians 1.17. In the context, the Lord is referred to, among other things, as the “son of his love” (v. 13) who “made peace through the blood of his cross” (v. 20). There is no doubt that Jesus is the subject under consideration here.

Regarding Jesus, then, the inspired author observes that “he is before all things.” How does this statement affirm the eternality of Christ?

The preposition, before, most likely suggests a time element — that is, he precedes all things (see Vincent, p. 471) — since the prior verse takes us back in time to the creation.

However, given the broader context, it is also possible, as grammarian, Daniel Wallace, observes, that “a double nuance is intended” involving not only a time element, but also an allusion to rank or priority. Since he created all things, he must be both precedent to (ahead in time) and superior to (ahead in rank) all things (see Wallace, p. 379).

In that light, if Jesus was a created being, then did he create himself? And, if so, is he therefore precedent to and superior to himself? The absurdity of this point of view should be evident.

That said, take note of the verb form in this sentence: “he is before all things.”

First, the original language takes an emphatic construction — it is as if Paul had emboldened the subject and predicate: “Before all things: HE IS.” Stress is thus placed on the preexisting preeminence of Jesus over every created thing. While everything else was created (i.e., had a beginning), Paul’s emphasis declares that Jesus simply is. There is no before for Jesus!

Second, the present tense is especially noteworthy. To our ears, Paul should have said: “he was before all things” — since he was speaking of a time prior to an event in the past (i.e., the creation of the universe). That is, before he created the universe, he was already there.

However, Paul’s verb selection is most deliberate. In the original language, the present tense suggests “continued action…the action of the verb is shown in progress, as going on” (William Davis, p. 25).

In this case, it hints at his ever-existing, ever present reality. Before he created the universe, he is going on. Thus, he is both precedent to and superior to every created thing because he ever is — a timeless being, self-sustaining and in need of nothing.

In short, he is the eternal “I am” (Jn. 8.58; Ex. 3.14; cf. Heb. 7.3) — never a thing of the past, because eternally present!

Davis, William. Beginner’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1923.
Vincent, Word Studies In the New Testament: Vol. 3, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids: MI, 1973.
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1996.


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