Saturday, February 26, 2011

Coptic Colossians 1:15 and the "Genitive of Subordination"

Some modern English versions of Colossians 1:15 translate it according to what some scholars call the "genitive of subordination," i.e., "firstborn over all creation. This attempts to remove the firstborn mentioned here from among the creation of God. By this means the verse is used by some to "prove" that the Firstborn, Jesus Christ, is not a part of the creation of God.

However, not all New Testament scholars agree that Colossians 1:15 in the Greek is representative of a "genitive of subordination," but rather, a partitive genitive, "firstborn of all creation," including the firstborn mentioned there as part of the creation.

The Sahidic Coptic translators performed their work with a background of 500 years of Koine Greek history, and at a time when Koine Greek was still a living, spoken language.

So it is instructive to note what the Coptic translators saw when they rendered the Greek text into Coptic. Did they see a "genitive of subordination," or a partitive genitive?

The Sahidic Coptic translators rendered the Greek text's πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως as ΠϢΡΠΜΜΙСЄ ΝСШΝΤ ΝΙΜ.

The use of Ν.СШΝΤ marks this clearly as a partitive construction in the Coptic.

"N- marks...partitive relationship (the relationship of individual to class...)" --Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, p. 164

Therefore, the Sahidic Coptic text of Colossians 1:15 says "the firstborn of all creation." -- George W. Horner, volume 5

"Over" is expressed in Sahidic Coptic with the use of ЄϪΝ-, which is not used at Colossians 1:15 in the Coptic text.


  1. the "genitive of subordination" requires that verbal action be implicit in the head noun. The only idea implicit in 'firstborn' is "being born first" compare Col 1:18 where the -tokos element is clearly present considering the application of Psl. 2:7 to Jesus in his resurrection (which also shows firstborn is not being used figuratively).

    Jesus is 'placed as firstborn' in his resurrection, notice the three fold allusion to Psl. 89:27,37 in Revelation 1:5.

    I would also point out that PRWTOTOKOS PASHS KTISEWS would be the only gen. of subordination with an anarthrous head noun in all the examples given by GGBB.

  2. Excellent points, showing the fallacy of rendering this as "firstborn over all creation."

    That translation is an obvious case of special pleading.


  3. Do you think 2 Cor 4:4 and Acts 13:17 are examples of the Gen. of Subordination "the god over this age" and "the god of...Israel" or something closer to a possessive genitive.

    Wallace (GGBB 104) tries to cite these as counter to "most examples... involve a verbal head noun," and to my knowledge there is no cognate verb for theos or prwtotokos

  4. I'm late to the party here (almost a full five years since the above comments and original post). I agree that Colossians 1:15 contains a partitive genitive, and I think the information you present above about the Coptic translation and how they marked the genitive type is fascinating. I was not aware of any of this before tonight. To read more about the research I did to argue for a partitive genitive in Colossians 1:15, please visit