Re: Firstborn in Col 1:15

From: Mitchell Andrews (
Date: Tue Oct 15 1996 - 23:42:27 EDT

> Ruiz de Pe~a in his valuable TEOLOGIA DE LA CREACION p72
> defends the meaning "born before all creation".

> I think it is more likely that the key concept here is BEKOR from
> Of 130 uses of prototokis in the Lxx, 111 translate BEKOR and 6 more
> translate related terms; BEKOR is almost always translated prototokos.
> Michaelis points out that etymologically BEKOR has no relation to "be
> born" nor to "be first" (be before) 6:873.

I appreciate the reference to TEOLOGIA DE LA CREACION. Voy a investigarlo
cuando puedo. Muchisimas gracias.

Here is the BDB Lexicon entry for BEKOR ...
01225 rAkB. n.m. first-born -- 1. men and women: a. , individuals. b.
coll. c. pl. d. rwkb lk. 2. animals: a. , individuals. b. coll. c. pl. 3.
figurative, of relation twm
rwkb , first-born of death (deadly disease); ~yLid; yreAkB. first-born ,
of the poor (the poorest); Israel is the first-born of Yahweh among the
nations; and the seed of David among dynasties. (pg 114).

When considering what relation BEKOR has with PRWTOTOKOS, we must clarify
the issue. The issue is not the meaning of BEKOR in isolation vs.
PRWTOTOKOS in isolation, nor at issue is the etymology of BEKOR vs. the
etymology of PRWTOS/ TOKOS. The issue is meaning. We must compare the
meaning of PRWTOTOKOS + genitive with the use of BEKOR <of a group or

When we do, we see that BEKOR does have the primary meaning of first in
time among the group. This is the primary meaning of the word in this
context as well as its most frequent use in the LXX. The issue is not the
meaning of BEKOR in isolation, but the meaning of BEKOR of [a group]. I
would therefore agree with Michaelis' observation. However, the etymology
is not the point when comparing with PRWTOTOKOS + <genitive> in Col.
1:15. What we are after is the meaning in context.

When we examine the occurrences BEKOR <of a group> and its translation by
the LXX translators, we find the meaning to be the same. The BEKOR is
consistently part of the group. The BEKOR enjoyed a preeminence among the
group, but this was due to being the eldest, the first in time. Thus,
the rAv rAkB (read from right to left) of Numbers 18:17 translates as
PRWTOTOKA MOSKWN <the first-born of calves - translation Rahlf's>. The
firstborn cow did not rule over the other cows but it did enjoy a special
status, namely, to be poured out. This usage also applies to humans. In
Numbers 26:5 we find the expression laerfyI rAkB beWar translated as
ROUBHN PRWTOTOKOS ISRAHL <Ruben was the first-born of Israel - Rahlf's>.
We do not understand this to be Reuben as firstborn "over" Israel. Reuben
did not rule over his brothers nor his Father. He had the special right
of primogenitureship (which he lost), but this preeminence was because he
was first in time, he was the eldest. He was the first of the group of
sons that Israel had. And he was a part of the group.

The translated LXX uses of BEKOR [of group] to PRWTOTOKOS + partitive
genitive show that the use of first in time is sound. The numerous
examples in the LXX of this expression supply ample evidence that this is
the clear unambiguous meaning of the expression, including Paul's use in
Col 1:15. I cannot justify searching extra-biblical material centuries
away from the Koine to find a usage of PRWTOTOKOS + <genitive> that will
justify a departure from the numerous scriptural uses of the expression
(at least well over 30 times, not including the Apocrypha).

For those wishing a detailed explanation of *why* a genitive of relation
does not fit well here, please see the Commentary on
Philippians/Colossians by Heinrich Meyer. Meyer cites several scholars
who also take PASHS KTISEWS in Col. 1:15 as a partitive, although he
prefers a genitive of comparison (Christ was born first in comparison
with all other creation, who were not first).

Paul's calling Jesus the PRWTOTOKOS PASHS KTISEWS calls attention both to
Jesus' birth, first in time, AND to Jesus' preeminence since he is the
eldest among the group of all creatures. It therefore fits quite well
contextually in v.16. Christ as AGENT (EN AUTW, not EX AUTW as of the
Father in 1 Cor. 8:6) was used to create all things (cf. John 1:3) after
he [Christ] was born complements rather than contradicts Christ being

Mitchell Andrews

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