When dealing in Colossians 1 with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, verse 16 is an obvious key to demonstrating the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ as the creator of “all things” and therefore, very God of very God. However, there is a rescuing device that the Witness will fall back on and that device is found in verse 15 where it is stated that Jesus is the “firstborn” of all creation. The faithful Witness will, in this situation, claim that the word “firstborn” here in the text is speaking about Christ (Michael) being the first-created, which is indeed one of the meanings of the word “firstborn.” However, there is another meaning to this word which comports perfectly with the context of the passage; a meaning which does not totally strip away Paul’s intent of calling Jesus the creator “all things” (without exception) in verse 16.
The word in question here is the Greek word “prototokos,” which can indeed speak to the first-born or “first-birthed” brought forth in a family. However, “prototokos” can also mean one who is highly exalted or heir and this contextually is how Paul is using this word. Lets take a look at the verse.
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 have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:15-16 ESV)
Clause one of this verse speaks of Jesus being the “image of God.” This clause perfectly comports with Hebrews 1:3 where the text proclaims that Jesus is the “exact representation of the essence of God.” The Greek in this verse reads “χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ,” or, “copy of his essence.” The interesting thing about the word χαρακτὴρ, or, “copy,” is that it is NOT a verb which means that there was never a point where Jesus was created or made to be a copy of Yahweh. Rather, He is an exact image of the essence of God and with that, has in Himself, all of the Divine attributes of God, to include his eternality. The second clause of Col. 1:15 proclaims that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation.” Verse 16 prohibits the rendering of 1:15b as first-created because it proclaims that Jesus created everything, which would have to include Himself if the Witness rendering were correct. Rather, this word “firstborn” is speaking about Jesus being the exalted heir or preeminent one of all creation, because “everything was created through Him and for Him” (v. 16d). Verse 18 further explains the meaning of “firstborn” and confirms the orthodox understanding of this verse when it states;
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18, ESV
Here the text speaks of Jesus being the head of the church and the “firstborn” (prototokos) from the dead (the first to resurrection life) and because of this (but not only this, because He is YHWH), He is the heir or preeminent one of the entire creation. Meaning, Jesus has the rights and privileges of the firstborn because the creation is His and for His exaltation. The word “preeminent” in the text means the following;
πρωτεύω(cp.πρωτεῖος; Pla., X.et al.; ins, incl.IMagnSip[IKVIII, 32, 3f]; pap, LXX; Ath., R. 24 p. 78, 4) to hold the highest rank in a group,be first, have first placeἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύωνthat he might come to have first place in everything Col 1:18
(Arndt, William ; Danker, Frederick W. ; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000, S. 892)
This understanding fully comports with the meaning of “prototokos” has the heir off all things, rather than, as the Witnesses claim, first-created, as seen below (the area marked in blue would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses rendering – the area marked in red is the orthodox and contextually consistent rendering of the verse);
πρωτότοκος (πρῶτος, τόκος; Sb 6647 [5 b.c.; s. WMichaelis in 2a: p. 314f]; Kaibel 460, 4; 730, 3; PLips 28, 16; PGM 36, 312; Anth. 8, 34; 9, 213; LXX; TestReub, JosAs; SibOr 3, 627 Philo, Cher. 54 al.; Jos., Ant. 4, 71; Just., Tat., Mel., Iren.) ‘firstborn, heir apparent’.
① lit. pert. to birth order, firstborn ὁ υἱὸς ὁ πρ. (PLips loc. cit. υἱὸν γνήσιον καὶ πρωτότοκον; Gen 25:25 al. LXX; JosAs 1:11; Σὴθ τρίτος, οὐ π. ἐστίν Did., Gen 147, 7) Mt 1:25 v.l.; Lk 2:7 (JFrey, La signification du terme πρ. d’après une inscription juive: Biblica 2, 1930, 373–90; CIJ II 1510, 6; Boffo, Iscrizioni 156–65; New Docs 163); cp. B 13:5 (Gen 48:18). τὰ πρ. the firstborn=all the firstborn (τὰ πρ. Ex 22:28; Num 18:15 al.; Just., D. 84, 1; 111, 3) Hb 11:28 (cp. Ex 11:5). τὰ πρ. τῶν προβάτων the firstborn of the sheep 1 Cl 4:1 (Gen 4:4). The special status enjoyed by a firstborn son as heir apparent in Israel is an implicit component of πρ. in ref. to such a son and plays a dominant role in
② pert.to having special status associated with a firstborn,firstborn, fig. ext. of 1
ⓐ of Christ, as the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified, as its exalted Lord is glorified πρωτότοκος ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς Ro 8:29. Also simply πρωτότοκος Hb 1:6; cp. Rv 2:8 v.l. This expr., which is admirably suited to describe Jesus as the one coming forth fr. God to found the new community of believers, is also used in some instances where the force of the element-τοκος appears at first glance to be uncertain, but s. comment on status at end of 1 (cp. the originally polytheistic Naassene psalm in Hippol., Ref. 5, 10, 1 and also Ex 4:22; Ps. 88:28) (ὁ) πρ. (ἐκ) τῶν νεκρῶν Col 1:18; Rv 1:5.πρ. πάσης κτίσεωςCol 1:15 (cp. Orig., C. Cels. 6, 17, 38; Theoph. Ant. 2, 22 [p. 154, 18]; s. JGewiess, Christus u. d. Heil nach d. Kol.: diss. Breslau ’32; ECerny, Firstborn of Every Creature [Col 1:15]: diss. Baltimore ’38; Romualdus, Studia Cath. 18, ’42, 155–71; WMichaelis, D. Beitrag d. LXX zur Bedeutungsgeschichte von πρ.: ADebrunner Festschr. ’54, 313–20, ZST 23, ’54, 137–57; AArgyle, ET 66, ’54, 61f, cp. 124f, 318f; NKehl, D. Christushymnus im Kol., ’67, 82–98).(Arndt, William ; Danker, Frederick W. ; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000, S. 894)
So, I hope this has been helpful in some fashion in regards to your view of our God Jesus and in your defense of the faith. Also, it is apparent that those in the WTB&TS have a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to the word “firstborn,” because, their interpretation of this word does not at all comport with the context of the verse. I leave you with the words of Norman Geisler and Thomas Constable on this issue;
Though it is grammatically possible to translate this as ‘Firstborn in Creation,’ the context makes this impossible for five reasons: (1) The whole point of the passage (and the book) is to show Christ’s superiority over all things. (2) Other statements about Christ in this passage (such as Creator of all [1:16], upholder of Creation [v. 17], etc.) clearly indicate His priority and superiority over Creation. (3) The ‘Firstborn’ cannot be part of Creation if He created ‘all things.’ One cannot create himself. (Jehovah’s Witnesses wrongly add the word ‘other’ six times in this passage in their New World Translation. Thus they suggest that Christ created all other things after He was created! But the word ‘other’ is not in the Gr.) (4) The ‘Firstborn’ received worship of all angels (Heb. 1:6), but creatures should not be worshiped (Ex. 20:4-5). (5) The Greek word for ‘Firstborn’ is prototokos. If Christ were the ‘firstcreated,’ the Greek word would have been protoktisis. (Constable, Thomas L. Notes On Colossians: 2007 Edition. 19 Sept. 09
First-born” (Gr. prototokos) may denote either priority in time or supremacy in rank (cf. v. 18; Exod. 4:22; Ps. 89:27; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:15). It may also denote both of these qualities. Both seem to be in view here. Christ was before all creation in time, and He is over all creation in authority. In view of the context (vv. 16-20), the major emphasis seems to be on His sovereignty, however.48 What “first-born” does not mean is that Christ was the first created being, which ancient Arians believed and modern Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. This is clear because verses 16-18 state that Christ existed before all things and is the Creator Himself. Other passages also affirm His responsibility for creation (cf. John 1:3; 3:16; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:6; 11:28; 12:23). (Constable, pg. 14)