Was Jesus Created?

Several years ago, I saw a person in a parking lot who was standing next to his car with its hood up. As that’s pretty much the universal signal for car trouble, I approached him with the aim of trying to offer some help. Somehow though, the conversation shifted from his engine troubles to the subject of the Deity of Jesus Christ. I can’t remember exactly how that happened, but I’m glad that it did as this man had a much bigger problem than whatever was going on with his car. He was a member of a denominational church that denies the Deity of Jesus Christ.

Some denominational churches teach that Jesus Christ is a created being. They look at passages like Colossians 1:15 which describes Jesus as the “firstborn over all creation” and emphasize “born” to the extent that they envision Jesus as having a beginning instead of being eternal.

The man I was talking to though had a different prooftext for his belief, one that at the time caught me off guard. I had brought out a Bible from my own car as the conversation progressed, so he asked me to turn to the Old Testament and read Proverbs 8:22-31. He said, “That’s talking about Jesus.” I’m ashamed to say that in those days I wasn’t quite as familiar with the book of Proverbs as I am now. I had to redirect the conversation back to the New Testament where it was before and pledge to look more closely at Proverbs 8 later.

People have been applying that passage from Proverbs to Jesus at least since the time of Arius (256-336 AD). However, it’s worth noting that Arius was a man marked by most professing Christians of the time as being a heretic. It didn’t take me long after I left that parking to see why Arius was regarded this way and why the reading couldn’t possibly reference Jesus.

Bible verses do not exist in contextual vacuums. Before taking a passage in the Old Testament and applying it to Jesus, it would be good to see if textual clues even allow for such a possibility. In the case of Proverbs 8:22-31, there’s sort of a contextual sandwich that should prevent such an application from even being considered.

If you’ll notice, the speaker of the text is identified using the pronoun, “me.” If you’ll follow the personal pronouns back, you’ll find the speaker is identified as, “I, wisdom” (Proverbs 8:12). Keep moving back in the context and you’ll see that wisdom is introduced before its speech with 3rd person pronouns. Note the gender of these pronouns: “…her voice… she takes her stand… she cries out” (Proverbs 8:1-3). The last statement is the one that introduces wisdom’s monolog. It should be noted that neither Jesus, the Father, nor the Holy Spirit are ever referenced using feminine pronouns in either the Old or New Testaments. They are always referenced using masculine pronouns.  

The other side of the passage in consideration is much the same. If you keep reading after Proverbs 8:31 as people would have done before there were chapter divisions, you’ll find the monolog ends with this statement: “Wisdom has built her house…” followed by a number of 3rd person feminine pronouns (Proverbs 9:1ff). The conclusion is inescapable: no Person of the Godhood could be referenced by Proverbs 8:22-31. Instead, the passage is about wisdom which is frequently personified as a woman throughout Proverbs 1-9.

 So, what about those passages that describe Jesus as being firstborn? I’ll be the first to admit that this language, like all of the language surrounding the Godhood, can be challenging. Some try to explain Jesus’ status as firstborn through the concept of eternal begetting, i.e., that Jesus somehow is eternally God’s Son. I personally believe that Jesus was not begotten at all until He was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), existing from eternity instead as the Word of God (John 1:1-5). Further, I believe that “firstborn” speaks to Jesus’ preeminence instead of His birth. When believers are added to the church that belongs to Jesus, the Hebrews author says they have become a part of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). Firstborn there is a plural term in Greek referencing all members of the church; it therefore has nothing to do with birth order and everything to do with status. I believe it’s used in a conceptually similar way when describing Jesus.

In any event, as with Proverbs 8:22-31, there are sometimes contextual clues when “firstborn” is used that keep us from seeing it as an indication of Jesus’ beginning. Take Colossians 1:15 for example. Besides the immediate clue that the word is being used in connection with position (“firstborn over all creation”), there’s this statement found in the very next verse: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). There’s not a lot of wiggle room there; if Jesus created “all things” that were created, then it stands to reason that He Himself was not created.

Affirming the Deity of Jesus is the same as denying that Jesus was created. So, the next time you meet someone in a parking lot (or anywhere else) that believes that Jesus was created and believes that the Bible teaches that, try to help them see the importance of viewing biblical statements in their context.
-Patrick Swayne