Death can’t be the first cause since dying requires material existence in the first place.
Consider, though, the opening of the Hymn of the Firstborn [my translation]:
- He is the icon of the invisible God,
firstborn of all creation.
- For in him all things were created,
- in heaven and on earth,
- visible and invisible,
- whether thrones, whether dominions, whether rulers, whether authorities—
- all things through him and for him have been created.
- And he is before all things,
- and all things in him hold together.
[numbers for reference]
Start with line 2, the bold word: the Greek is πρωτότοκος (proe-TOH-toh-kos), “prototokos”, and it’s not just any word, it’s a very specific philosophical term with a root meaning of “first” (πρῶτος) + “brought forth” (τίκτω, I bring forth), (thus “firstborn” as of a child) and so “prototype” of things that are made – note here that Joseph was a τέκτων (TEK-tone), a builder, so the word carries the meaning of “first-built”. The concept is used philosophically for “opener of the way”, which indicates not merely that something or someone forged a path (through some barrier) but that opening that way imparted the way/passage with the opener’s shape or form, such that every single thing which comes through that way takes on something of the form of the opener. So Jesus as “firstborn of all creation” is the One Who opened the way for anything and everything else to be created – and as a result, everything that has been created takes on something of His “shape” or form.
And that’s where the terms in 3, 7, 8, and 9 that I put in italics come from: they are expanding and expounding on the title Πρωτότοκος, Prototokos: “in Him” cast in a mold; “through Him” as through a die or mold; “for Him”, or more literally “into/unto Him” as into the realm He shaped; “before all things” (or “before the entirety”) because He is/was the first; “in Him [they] hold together” because since He gave them form it is He that maintains their form and thus their existence.
Now, in terms of temporal sequence this appears to be nonsense unless one goes the route that Arius took and reduced Christ to a mere creation – which he did as an attempt to force the scriptures to fit Greek philosophy, but he erred by conceiving of a “prototokos” as the first of a set of manufactured items, something that only works if you ignore all of creation except humans! so Arius wasn’t just a bad exegete (interpreter of scripture) but a bad philosopher as well.
But we get a clue in the fact that Christ is referred to as having been “slain from before the founding of the world”: in terms of time, Christ wasn’t slain until the Cross, but plainly time doesn’t bind Him, and the perspective from within time is not the important one, the perspective from eternity is. So if Christ was slain before the foundation of the world, then the Cross came before Genesis, and thus since Christ was the “prototokos” of all creation then the Incarnation came before Genesis (I know; this sounds like time machine stuff, but it’s really just trying to see things from the perspective of eternity).
So the Incarnation was the first moment of Creation, regardless of the timeline and our limited mortal perspective.
Bonus note: Christ being before all things makes Him the Alpha; all things being for/unto Him makes Him the Omega – “Alpha and Omega” gets translated as “First and Last” but philosophically it’s more accurately “Source and Goal”! Christ is where we come from, and Christ is where we’re headed! And the means of coming from Him and getting to Him is being “in Him”… which happens to be one of Paul’s favorite ways of describing our status before God!
Isn’t it awesome how Paul’s theology is all one ‘piece of cloth’?