Jesus, Michael And Jehovah’s Witnesses

In Watchtower’s “What Does The Bible Really Teach?” Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that “the Bible indicates that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, before and after his life on earth.”(Watchtower 2005: 218) They maintained:

While there is no statement in the Bible that categorically identifies Michael the archangel as Jesus, there is one scripture that links Jesus with the office of archangel. In his letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul prophesied: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) In this scripture Jesus is described as having assumed his power as God’s Messianic King. Yet, he speaks with “an archangel’s voice.”(Awake! 2002: 17)

Does the Bible really indicate that Jesus is archangel Michael? Contra to Watchtower’s theology, I contended in this series of articles that 1 Thessalonians 4:16 does not indicate that Jesus is an archangel Michael but the Lord God himself (Psalm 47:5; Micah 1:3; Zech. 9:13; Isa. 27:13;). I explored the meaning of this text, how early Church(ca. 30- 325 A.D.) understood it to mean and Angelology.

Bird iView: 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Context

Paul assured the Thessalonians not to be distressed over the dead, for the Lord himself will come down and the dead will indubitably not miss the parousia, the glorious coming of the Sovereign Lord, because He will descend “with a loud command”, “with the voice of archangel” and “with the trumpet call of God”. The dead in Christ will rise to join the Lord prior to the one living (verse 15). All in Christ will meet Him in the air to be with Him forever (verse 17).

Jacob W. Elias gave a wonderful word-tree (Elias 1995: 173):

Watchtower’s Absurd Reasoning

Jehovah’s Witnesses hub on the second phrase “with the voice of archangel” in this three virtually simultaneous phrases that herald the personal return of the Son of God, and concluded that Jesus is archangel Michael (Jude 9) since He speaks with “an archangel’s voice.”

I believe Watchtower eisgete (reading into the text, and not exegete) in reasoning that Jesus is an archangel because He descended, not speak, ἐν φωνή  ἀρχάγγελος (MSS Trl: en phōnē archangelouwith the voice of an archangel”). If we eisgete 1 Thessalonian 4:16, then I believe we are to grant that Jesus is also God since He descended ἐν σάλπιγγι θεόῦ(MSS Trl: en salpingi theou “with the sound of trumpet call of God”).

Exegesis: With the Loud Command, With the Voice of Archangel, And With the Trumpet Call of God.

With the Loud Command

The first phrase is “en keleusmati”. A cry or a command that must be obeyed. George Milligan expounded that “[i]t is not stated by whom the κέλευσμα in the present instance is uttered, perhaps by an archangel, more probably by the Lord Himself as the principal subject of the whole sentence.”(Milligan 1908: 60)

Shadowing Milligan’s evaluation, Michael Martin echoes:

Neither the origin nor the nature of this particular command is clear. The command could be issued from Jesus to the dead to arise (cf. John 5:28–29), from Jesus to his entourage to proceed (cf. 2 Thess 1:7), or from the archangel as either a cry of announcement (like the trumpet, cf. Rev 1:10) or an order to the heavenly host.” (Martin 1995: 151)

Gene L. Green also resonated that the “text does not indicate who issues this loud command” but proposed God as a probable candidate of the one “who orders the dead in Christ to rise “(Green 2002: 224). Therefore we can only speculate who issued this loud command, which herald the personal descending of the Lord himself.

In the next article, I attempted to deal with phrase: “with the voice of archangel” as used in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, showing that Watchtower reasoning is not Biblical warranted and is at odd with early Christians understanding between ca. 30-325 A.D.

Question To Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jewish and early Christians taught that there are more than one archangel. What reason(s) could be offer to argue that there is only one archangel?

Next: With the Voice of Archangel

Bibliography:

Awake! 2002 August 2th: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

Elias, J. W. (1995). 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.

Green, G. L. (2002). The letters to the Thessalonians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos.

Martin, D. M. (1995). Vol. 33: 1, 2 Thessalonians. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Milligan, G. Ed. (1908) St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians. 1908 Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament. London: Macmillan and Co., ltd.

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Arianism: Origins of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Arianism is a doctrine that was taught by Arius of Alexandrian (ca. 280-336), which viewed preexisted Son of God as a first created creature before and above all other creatures. He is not out of the essence but the will of God the Father.

Arianism perceived pre-existed Son of God as the perfect image of the Father and the executor of God the Father’s thoughts. Thus preexisted Christ Jesus is “capable of being called in a metaphorical sense God, and Logos, and Wisdom.”(Schaff 1997: n.p)

Shedd and Gomes explained that “Arius taught that God created a rational spirit creature called the ‘Son-Logos.’ At the incarnation the created Son-Logos assumed bodily form.”(Shedd & Gomes 2003: 952)

Arius and his fellows, applied Origen’s (ca. 185- ca. 254) teachings, viz., ontological Platonic categories of attributing hypostasis and subordination to God the Father, to an extreme of asserting that only God the Father is “unbegotten, eternal, and without beginning or change. Christ is distinct from God, created out of nothing by the will of God”( Fahlbusch & Bromiley 2003: 121)

Athanasius of Alexandria (ca.295-373) contended that Arianians have contra Scriptura invented a doctrine that asserted:

God was not always a Father, but there was a time when God was not a Father. The Word of God was not always, but originated from things that were not; for God that is, has made him that was not, of that which was not; wherefore there was a time when He was not; for the Son is a creature and a work.( Schaff & Wace 1892: 70)

Athanasius depicted Arianians position that the Son of God is neither like the Father in essence, nor true Wisdom and natural Word of the Father. The Son of God “originated by the proper Word of God, and by the Wisdom that is in God, by which God has made not only all other things but Him also.”(ibid: 70)

Steven Lawson pointed out that “Athanasius mounted his response to Arius by expounding the eternality of the Son. The natures of the Father and of the Son are identical, he said—both are eternal.”(Lawson 2011: 150). Athanasius addressed the difficult passages that Arianians used (Acts 2:36; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:14) and “cites almost all the familiar proof-texts which ascribe to Christ divine names, divine attributes, divine works, and divine dignity […]”(Schaff 1997: n.p)

Arianism was anathematized at the ecumenical council of Nicea (A.D.325) because it destroyed the whole doctrine of salvation, borrowing Athanasius words. As Schaff explained “For if the Son is a creature, man remains still separated, as before, from God; no creature can redeem other creatures, and unite them with God. If Christ is not divine, much less can we be partakers of the divine nature and children of God”(ibid: n.p)

All 318, except Theonas and Secundus of Alexandria, bishops present in Nicaea I, the first ecumenical council summoned by the Emperor Constantine in A.D.325, affirmed the Deity of Christ Jesus(Schaff: 1994: 623-9), namely Jesus is begotten of the Father before all worlds, very God of very God, begotten, not made, and His being is of one substance with the Father. They anathematized the teachings of Arius as heresy.

Reestablishing Arius’ Christology, in our contemporary time, are the followers of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Question For Jehovah’s Witness:

What Bible passages convinced you that Jesus is not God but angel Michael? Give reasons.

Bibliography

Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999-2003). Vol. 1: The encyclopedia of Christianity (121). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill.

Lawson, S. J. (2011). Vol. 2: Pillars of Grace (AD 100–1564). A Long Line of Godly Men. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing

Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1997). History of the Christian church. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

__________________(1994), History of the Christian Church,Vol. III; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

__________________(1983) The Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1: The History of Creeds. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

__________________(1892) Athanasius Deposition of Arius: A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume IV: St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. 1892 (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic theology (3rd ed.). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

God The Father, The Son and Early Christians

An anonymous Letter to Diognetus, named The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, which is probably written ca. 80-130 A.D by  unknown author who called himself “a disciple of the Apostles”, captures the early Church understanding of God the Father and Son relationship. In  Chapter 7: The manifestation of Christ in  Philip Schaff’s (1819-1893) Ante-Nicene Fathers, which can be found in public domain at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, of this epistle to Diognetus, we encounter this wonderful descriptions:

For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.

He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things—by whom He made the heavens—by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds—whose ordinances all the stars faithfully observe—from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily course to be observed—whom the moon obeys, being commanded to shine in the night, and whom the stars also obey, following the moon in her course; by whom all things have been arranged, and placed within their proper limits, and to whom all are subject—the heavens and the things that are therein, the earth and the things that are therein, the sea and the things that are therein—fire, air, and the abyss—the things which are in the heights, the things which are in the depths, and the things which lie between.

“[A] disciple of the Apostles” explained that Almighty Creator of visible and invisible, the true God sent not an angel or a ruler but the very Creator and Fashioner of all thing. This is the doctrine that  was delivered to them, probably from the 12 Apostles themselves. The disciple of the Apostle continued to explain:

This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?

This messenger, the very Creator and Fashioner of all thing, is a Son of God and very God. He explained that as a king sends his son, who is also a king, God send his Son who is also God. “[A] disciple of the Apostles” gives us an early understanding of the relationship the Father who is God sending his Son who is also God.

How could early monotheist Christians claim that the Son is God and the Father is God yet there is one True God? It is from this doctrine,(and the deity of Holy Spirit), that led the early Christians to progressively formulate the doctrine of a Tri-une God viz., One and Only true God  in three distinct Persons.

Question: Do you agree with “a disciple of the Apostles” that Jesus is God? Give reasons.

Source: Christian Classics Ethereal Library public domain documents

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (27–28). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Related:

Early Church’s Understanding of the Holy Spirit: Irenaeus( c. 120- 28th of June 202 A.D) and Clement of Alexandria(c.150 – c. 215)

Who Is Christ Jesus? Answers From Clement(ca. 150- 215 A.D.)

Who is Christ Jesus? Answers From Irenaeus(c. 120-202 A.D)

Is Christ Jesus God? Answers From Ignatius(ca.30-107 A.D)

Early Church’s Understand of Genesis 1:26

Early Church’s Understanding Of Isaiah 9:6

Early Church’s Understanding Of John 1:1

Early Church’s Understanding Of Isaiah 9:6

In Against Heresies Book II chapter 19,  Irenaeus( c. 120- 28th of June 202 A.D), a bishop of Lyons, taught by a claimed disciple of apostle John, Polycarp ( c.69 – 155 A.D) the bishop of Smyrna, we find early church’s understanding of Isaiah 9:6, to which I wish to share:

For this reason [it is said], “Who shall declare His generation?” since “He is a man, and who shall recognise Him?” But he to whom the Father which is in heaven has revealed Him, knows Him, so that he understands that He who “was not born either by the will of the flesh, or by the will of man,” is the Son of man, this is Christ, the Son of the living God.

For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth.

Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin, the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him: also, that He was a man without comeliness, and liable to suffering; that He sat upon the foal of an ass; that He received for drink, vinegar and gall; that He was despised among the people, and humbled Himself even to death; and that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.

Source:
The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (449). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. (paragraphs added)

Early Church’s Understanding Of John 1:1

In my previous article: Who Is Christ Jesus? Answers From Clement, I shared Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150 – c. 215) of Alexandria’s understanding of who Christ Jesus is. In the fragments of Clemens Alexandrinus, Clement of Alexandria recorded that that Christ Jesus is “ the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreate[d]“,(Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1885, p.574) in his commentary of the Gospel according to John 1:1.

In this article I would like to share more of Clement’s commentary of John 1:1 found in Exhortation To The Heathen. I pick this part because it gives us a clue of the early church’s understanding of John 1:1.

In line with historical documents, the early Church believed that Christ Jesus is the Lord and Saviour, who did signs and wonders in Egypt and in the desert, the I Am in the burning bush and the cloud that led Israel through the desert. They believed that He was the Lord Himself that spoke with Isaiah and Elias and when time had full come, He ““who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but humbled Himself,”—He, the merciful God, exerting Himself to save man.”(p.174).

In seeing Christ Jesus in Old Testament, Clement view the paternal counsel of God, which fired the zeal of David; Christ Jesus who is of David and yet before him, despising the lyre and harp, lifeless instruments tuned by the Holy Spirit, making a melody that cured the demon plagued King Saul(1 Sam 16 and 19).

He goes on to describe this all-harmonious music:

A beautiful breathing instrument of music the Lord made man, after His own image. And He Himself also, surely, who is the supramundane Wisdom, the celestial Word, is the all-harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God. What, then, does this instrument—the Word of God, the Lord, the New Song—desire? To open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf, and to lead the lame or the erring to righteousness, to exhibit God to the foolish, to put a stop to corruption, to conquer death, to reconcile disobedient children to their father. The instrument of God loves mankind.

Clement pronounced that believers, the elect, are in God’s promise, we have His’ love and partaker of His grace.  Because: “He has now assumed the name Christ, consecrated of old, and worthy of power, he has been called by me the New Song. This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for He was in God) and of our well-being, this very Word has now appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man—the Author of all blessings to us; by whom we, being taught to live well, are sent on our way to life eternal.”(p.173)

In a Pauline-Ephesians 1:3-11 way, Clement argued that the elects were called and destined to be found in Christ Jesus.

But before the foundation of the world were we, who, because destined to be in Him, pre-existed in the eye of God before,—we the rational creatures of the Word of God, on whose account we date from the beginning; for “in the beginning was the Word.” Well, inasmuch as the Word was from the first, He was and is the divine source of all things; but inasmuch as He has now assumed the name Christ, consecrated of old, and worthy of power, he has been called by me the New Song. This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for He was in God) and of our well-being, this very Word has now appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man—the Author of all blessings to us; by whom we, being taught to live well, are sent on our way to life eternal. For, according to that inspired apostle of the Lord, “the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for the blessed hope, and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

The God of Israel, the I Am, the Creator, the Son of God, the Emmanuel has appeared to accomplish our redemption:

This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning; and before the beginning. The Saviour, who existed before, has in recent days appeared. He, who is in Him that truly is, has appeared; for the Word, who “was with God,” and by whom all things were created, has appeared as our Teacher. The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends. He did not now for the first time pity us for our error; but He pitied us from the first, from the beginning. But now, at His appearance, lost as we already were, He accomplished our salvation.

From this document we can conclude that the early Church believed that Son of God Christ Jesus, the Logos that was with God(Father), is  the God of Israel, the Lord and Saviour who is the I Am of the burning bush in Moses time and the God who spoke to Isaiah.

Source:

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire). 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (172-4). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Who Is Christ Jesus? Answers From Clement(ca. 150- 215 A.D.)

Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150 – c. 215) of Alexandria is among the early Christian theologians who defended Christian teachings against Jews and Greeks. I find some of Clement of Alexandria’s writing tough, but worth it if you are interested in knowing the belief of early Christians.

The part I wish to share is Clements commentary of 1 John 1:1, found in the fragments of Clemens Alexandrinus: He wrote:

Chap. 1:1. “That which was from the beginning; which we have seen with our eyes; which we have heard.”

Following the Gospel according to John, and in accordance with it, this Epistle also contains the spiritual principle.

What therefore he says, “from the beginning,” the Presbyter explained to this effect, that the beginning of generation is not separated from the beginning of the Creator. For when he says, “That which was from the beginning,” he touches upon the generation without beginning of the Son, who is co-existent with the Father. There was, then, a Word importing an unbeginning eternity; as also the Word itself, that is, the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreate[d]. That He was always the Word, is signified by saying, “In the beginning was the Word.”

But by the expression, “we have seen with our eyes,” he signifies the Lord’s presence in the flesh, “and our hands have handled,” he says, “of the Word of life.” He means not only His flesh, but the virtues of the Son, like the sunbeam which penetrates to the lowest places,—this sunbeam coming in the flesh became palpable to the disciples. It is accordingly related in traditions, that John, touching the outward body itself, sent his hand deep down into it, and that the solidity of the flesh offered no obstacle, but gave way to the hand of the disciple.

“And our hands have handled of the Word of life;” that is, He who came in the flesh became capable of being touched.

Who is Christ Jesus? Clement of Alexandria answered: ” the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreate[d].”

Source:

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire). 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (574). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.(emphasis and paragraphs added)

How is Christ Jesus the Firstborn?

In Watchtower’s What Does The Bible Really Teach? page 41, Who is Jesus Christ? Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that:

Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son—and for good reason. He is called “the firstborn of all creation,” for he was God’s first creation. (Colossians 1:15) There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the “only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16) This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things. (Colossians 1:16) Then, too, Jesus is called “the Word.” (John 1:14) This tells us that he spoke for God, no doubt delivering messages and instructions to the Father’s other sons, both spirit and human.(2005)

Is this true? Are Jehovah’s Witnesses correct in their reasoning that Jesus is called prōtotokos (firstborn) because he is first created creature? I do not think so. In this article I would show both the understanding of the Greek term prōtotokos and how it does not follow that preexistent Christ Jesus(Logos) is a creature regardless of which understanding of term “firstborn” one holds.

Understanding πρωτότοκος, ον(prōtotokos, firstborn)

The Greek word prōtotokos(firstborn) is found 8 times in the New Testament, mainly with reference to Christ Jesus, 131 times in LXX and 4 times in Apostolic Fathers writings. By and large this term carries two prevailing meanings, which could be divided into three sets.

Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains expound πρωτότοκος, ον(prōtotokos) as:
a. Firstborn:

πρωτότοκοςa, ον: pertaining to being a firstborn child (normally in contexts speaking of people but also used in reference to domestic animals)—‘firstborn.’ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον ‘she gave birth to her firstborn son’ Lk 2:7.
In Jewish society the rights and responsibilities of being a firstborn son resulted in considerable prestige and status. The firstborn son, for example, received twice as much in inheritance as any other offspring.

The use of πρωτότοκος ‘firstborn’ does not imply in Greek that other children were also born to a woman, though in a number of languages one would never use ‘firstborn’ unless other children followed. Such an individual would be spoken of merely as ‘the only child.’ It is also frequently necessary to employ an appropriate qualifier for ‘firstborn’ in order to mark clearly the fact that it is ‘a firstborn son’ rather than ‘a firstborn daughter.’
The figurative meaning of πρωτότοκος in the messianic title πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως ‘firstborn of all creation’ (Col 1:1 may be interpreted as ‘existing before all creation’ (see [b]) or ‘existing superior to all creation’(see [c])

b. Existing before:

πρωτότοκοςb, ον: pertaining to existing prior to something else—‘existing first, existing before.’ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως ‘existing before all creation’ or ‘existing before anything was created’ Col 1:15. It is possible to understand πρωτότοκος in Col 1:15 as ‘superior in status’ (see [c]). See also discussion at [a].

c. Superior:

πρωτότοκοςc, ον: pertaining to existing superior to all else of the same or related class—‘superior to, above all.’ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως ‘existing superior to all creation’ Col 1:15. For another interpretation of πρωτότοκος in Col 1:15, see [b]; see also discussion at [a].

Newman’s A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament agrees with the three sets:

πρωτότοκος , ον first-born, first; first-born Son (of Christ); π. πάσης κτίσεως existing before all creation or superior to all creation (Col 1:15)

In the Old Testament, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint helps us see how prōtotokos(πρωτότοκος,-ος,-ον) is used in LXX:

firstborn (of pers.) Gn 10,15 (mostly rendition of בכר); id. (of Israel in a transferred sense, expressing a close relationship to the Lord) Ex 4,22; id. (of anim.) Gn 4,4; highest in rank, chief (of Israel’s king) Ps 88 (89),28; τὰ πρωτότοκα the firstborn (as well of pers. as of anim.) Nm 18,15
*1 Chr 8,38 πρωτότοκος αὐτοῦ his firstborn-בְּכֹרוֹ for MT בֹּכְרוּ Bocheru, see also 9,44; *1 Chr 26,6 τοῦ πρωτοτόκου (Ρωσαι) of his firstborn (Rosai) transl. of הממשׁלים? (followed by translit. of its syn. ראשׁי (not in MT) heads of) for MT הממשׁלים chiefs

And last, Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained adds: ““Firstborn” can also be used figuratively to denote the most or best of something. For example, the expression “firstborn of the poor,” (Isa. 14:30, NRSV) means one who is supremely poor, or the poorest of the poor.”

From this we can draw to a close two prevailing meaning of the Greek term πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos):

  1. first in order of time, as a first born child(e.g. Luke 2:7) and
  2. first in order of place,[as preeminent in rank/supreme/dearness (e.g. Davidic king in Ps 88:28 LXX (=Ps 89:27 ESV), Israel (Exodus 4:22); Ephraim(Jer. 31:9))].

How does Paul use the term in Colossians 1:15-20 & Romans 8:28-30?

I believe that the contexts to which “firstborn” is used lean more towards first in order of place than first in order of time because this passages deals with Christ Jesus’ preeminence and supremacy over all.

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 were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before[firstborn of] all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.(Col 1:15–20, ESV emps added).

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Ro 8:28–30, ESV emps added)

Paul shows that Christ Jesus is the most exalted promised Davidic king, the one in Ps 89:27 “I will also appoint him my firstborn (πρωτότοκον), the most exalted of the kings of the earth,” the Lord of all creation because all things were created through him and for him. All the passage leads us to the conclusion that “he[Christ Jesus] might be preeminent“. The Lord of all, the living and the dead(firstborn of the dead cf. Rev 1:5). Everything is his/ “for him”.

Moreover over, if we collect John 1:3 “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” and Paul’s Col 1:16: “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 were created through him and for him.” and Rom 11:33-36 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”, we can conclude that Christ Jesus is a co-participant in the creation and not among the created beings.

It’s for these reasons I believe that Paul used the Greek term πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) in Davidic messianic sense viz. Christ Jesus’ kingdom, first in order of place.

What if it “first in time”? Would it then make preexistent Christ Jesus a first created creature?

Even if we accept that Christ Jesus is firstborn in the sense of time, we are not warranted to conclude that preexistent Christ Jesus (Logos) is first created creature. From Ps 89:27 “I will also appoint him my firstborn (πρωτότοκον), the most exalted of the kings of the earth,” we can see that God the Father’s Messiah is appointed firstborn.

It correct to deduce that πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) applies to the Son of God taking on flesh (John 1:14), Logos in morphē theos(in form of God) became God the Father’s appointed firstborn by pouring out (kenoō) himself through taking morphē doulos (in form of servant, Phil 2:6-7) . Therefore, the term firstborn, if used in a sense of time, has to do with Logos in flesh, in form of men and not in his form of God(theos). This understand make sense in light of “the firstborn from the dead”(Col 1:18 and Rev 1:5) and “the firstborn among many brothers.”(Rom 8:29 cf Hebrew 12:23)

So even if we accept Jehovah’s Witnesses understanding of firstborn, we are not warranted to conclude that preexistent Christ Jesus is a first created creature.

N.B: NWT unwarrantably add “other(allos)” in Col 1:15-20 because they assume the chronological sense of “firstborn”. Moreover the idea of “a god” and “the God”, is not found in Jewish monotheism, they had “false gods” and “true God”. The devil, Baal, idols et cetera were in group of false gods(adonai).

Sources:

Newman, B. M. (1993). A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. (157). Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies.
Lust, J., Eynikel, E., & Hauspie, K. (2003). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint : Revised Edition. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart.

Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained (281). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 2: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (214). New York: United Bible Societies.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)