Is the deity of Christ relative or absolute? Some teach that Christ being “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1: 15) means that He was just the first created and is only God to those He created. In their eyes His deity is thus only relative.
Those that teach the relative deity of Christ often point to John 10: 34 to prove their case: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods”. They say that this shows that the Lord only claimed to be God in a relative sense. Certainly it is true that men are addressed as gods in the OT in this way. Thus “And Jehovah said to Moses, See I have made thee God to Pharaoh” (Ex. 7: 1). Moses and Pharaoh were both men but God made Moses God to Pharaoh––that is he had that relative position. Again, God applied the word Elohim to men in the sense of judges acting in His stead (see Ex. 21: 6). However, when in John 10: 34 the Lord quotes from Ps. 82: 6 it is not to show that, like created man, His deity is relative, nor in fact to prove His deity in any sense, but to show the injustice of the argument of the Jews. They would stone Him because “thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (v33). Yet in their law, men were called gods as representing God. How unreasonable and illogical to call it blasphemy when Jesus referred to Himself as Son of God! [For the term Son of God (like Spirit of God) is a relative term and assumes a scene where there are other sons but He is God’s Son.] Thus while John 10: 33–36 may not prove that the Lord’s deity is absolute, neither does it prove that it is relative. It is not meant to do either!
Some argue from 1 Cor. 8: 6 “yet to us [there is] one God, the Father” that the Father alone is God in the absolute sense. If the argument is that the Father alone is God because He is spoken of as one God, then to be consistent it must follow that Christ alone is Lord because the verse goes on to speak of one Lord, Jesus Christ! This cannot be as Christ Himself addressed the Father as Lord in Matt. 11: 25. To understand 1 Cor. 8: 6 it is useful to know something of the background against which it was written. In Corinth there were two levels of deities among the many idols: the top tier were classed as gods; the lower tier as lords. In contrast to that multiplicity of gods and lords, Paul says that to us Christians there is one God, the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ. It is perfectly true that in the general presentation in Scripture whenever One of the Godhead is identified with deity it is the Father and when One of the Godhead is identified with lordship it is the Son. Yet this does not negate either the deity of the Lord nor the lordship of the Father. The point is the oneness in Christianity in contrast to the multiplicity in paganism.
What then of this idea that when the term firstborn is applied to Christ it carries its literal sense of the first to be born, and thus when He is called the “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1: 15) it means He was first to be created? Read the following verse. If firstborn here referred to time and means that He was the first to be created, then this verse says that ‘He was the first to be created because all things were created by Him’––which is nonsense. Again, if firstborn refers to time then the Bible is made to contradict itself for Christ is called “firstborn from among the dead” (v18)––but Lazarus was previously “raised from among [the] dead” (John 12: 1)!
In the OT the son that was born first and called the firstborn had certain privileges that no other family member had. He had the birthright and a distinctive place which among other things involved a double portion (see Deut. 21: 15–17). It is this distinctive place that is referred to when Christ is spoken of as the Firstborn. There are examples of this in the OT: Israel was referred to as God’s firstborn (Ex. 4: 22) as having privileges that no other nation had and David, although the youngest in his family was made God’s firstborn (Ps. 89: 20–27). When applied to the Lord the title firstborn is a question of rank not time. Whatever sphere the Lord Jesus is pleased to enter, then, by virtue of who He is, He must always take the first place. If He enters creation as man, He must have the first place; if He is raised from the dead, again, He must have the first place. As Col 1: 18 goes on to say “that he might have the first place in all things”.
What Scripture proves Christ’s deity as absolute? Acts 2: 32 says that it was God that raised Jesus from the dead. Yet the Lord says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2: 19) and the inspired writer adds “But he spoke of the temple of his body” (v21). Thus as it was God, in the full and absolute sense of deity, that raised Jesus from the dead, and as the Lord raised His own body from the dead, then the Lord is God in the full and absolute sense.