From: Lee R. Martin (
Date: Thu Feb 20 1997 - 11:32:32 EST

Edgar Gerard Foster wrote:
At any
> rate; my question is: Can anyone tell me whether any *modern* scholars,
> besides Thayer, propose that PROTOTOKOS--as used in Col. 1:15--could
> connote, or denote _'first-created'_? I know that Col. 1:15 has been
> discussed before here, but looking at the archives didn't help much with my
> question.
Dear Edgar,

I have attached a file for your perusal. Greek and transliterations may
not come through the text format.

Lee R. Martin
Part-Time Instructor in Hebrew and Biblical Studies
Church of God Theological Seminary
Cleveland, TN 37311
Pastor, Prospect Church of God

A WORD STUDY OF PRWTOTOKOS with Special Concern for Colossians 1:15 and 18 By Lee R. Martin

I. ETYMOLOGY A. Prototokos is a masculine adjective, formed by the combination of "protos" and "tokos" (verb form, "tiktw," Thayer, pp.555). 1. Protos means "first." It can denote first: a. In regard to time b. Of rank or degree, prominent c. Of space, anterior, outer d. In a sequence (BAG, 732,733) 2. Tokos is a masculine noun meaning "interest on money loaned." In Classical Greek it was also used in the sense "offspring" (BAG, 829). The verb form, "tikto" means "bear, give birth to" (BAG, 824). B. Prototokos means "firstborn," sometimes literally, and sometimes figuratively (BAG, 734)

II. DEVELOPMENT A. Classical Usage 1. Prototokos as the passive "firstborn" does not occur prior to the LXX. 2. It does occur in the active sense "bearing for the first time," used in Homer for both animals and men. 3. Common for "firstborn" in Homer and afterwards is protogonos. Protogonos can mean "first in rank" as well. Protogonos is more common than prototokos outside Jewish writings, but it is found only once in the LXX (Micah 7:1) and not at all in the New Testament (TDNT,6:871). 4. Early Doric used "pratotokos" in the active sense. Homer (Illiad 17.5) speaks of a heifer having borne her firstborn. 5. Plato (400 B.C.) uses prototokos in the active sense: "And if I abstract and expose your first-born, because I discover upon inspection that the quarrel with me on hat account, as the manner of women is when their first children are taken from them. (Theaetetus. 151c) A similar symbolic use is found in 161a. 6. See also Theocritus 5.27 (280 B.C.), Aristoteles HA 546a12, 564a30 (347 B.C.).(Liddell and Scott, p. 1338). B. Hellenistic Usage 1. General Hippolytus (Elenchus 5, 10, 1) includes an originally pagan Naassene psalm where it is uncertain whether the force of the element "tokos" is still felt at all (BAG, 734). 2. Jewish Greek Writings a. Septuagint. Prototokos occurs 130 times in the LXX. In 117 cases the Hebrew word is "becor" or a cognate of "becor." The other Hebrew words are: "peter" (twice), "rosh" (twice), and "rishon" (once). The other occurrences of prototokos have no corresponding word in the Hebrew text (Hatch and Redpath, p.1237). Prototokos is used of animals (Gen.4:4; Ex. 34:19), and of men and animals together (Ex. 11:5; 12:12; Nu.18:15). It is used as a neuter singular noun (Ex.12:29; 13:2). When referring to men it is either an adjective with "huios" (Gen. 25:25; 27:32) or as a substantive without "huios" (Gen. 10:15; 22:21; 25:13). All male firstborn of men and animals were holy to the Lord. The LXX, however, uses "protogennema" when referring to this obligation. The firstborn also took precedence in the family. Prototokos seems to have been chosen by the LXX translators when indicating this advantage. Becor and prototokos seem to be equivalents, because becor is almost always translated with prototokos. The Hebrew becor is used synonymously with prototokos, but becor is not related to the Hebrew word meaning "to give birth,"(yalad) or to the word meaning "first," (ehad) or to the word meaning "head" (rosh). The meaning of prototokos, therefore, must not have rested on its etymology during the time of the LXX. In addition to the usual meaning, becor also is used figuratively: Job 18:13 speaks of a deadly disease as the "firstborn of death," thus indicating primacy. Isaiah 14:30 refers to the poorest person as the "firstborn of the poor" (BDB, 114). These two examples demonstrate that becor can express a relationship of prominence. The basic meaning of prototokos is suggested also in the other Hebrew words used to translate it: Gen. 25:25 speaks of Esau: "Now the first [rishon] came forth red, all over like a hairy garment." Rishon can mean: (1) First in regard to time, or (2) First in regard to rank, "chief" (BDB, 911).The sacrifice of the firstborn in commanded in Ex. 34:19,20. The Hebrew word is "peter," meaning "that which opens the womb" (BDB, 809). In both 1 Chron. 5:12 and 1 Chron. 11:11, the Hebrew word in question is rosh. And in both cases the wider meaning of prototokos is expressed: "Joel was the chief" (5:12); "Jashobeam, the chief of the thirty" (11:11). Rosh basically means "head," and it is commonly used to indicate superiority of position or authority (BDB, 910,11). Other LXX references that have a bearing on the New Testament usage of prototokos are: 1. Exodus 4:22, "Israel is my son, my firstborn." This is a figurative use, indicating a special relationship between God and Israel. "The firstborn here is not seen, then, in relation to other brothers but solely as an object of the special love of his father" (TDNT, 6:874). 2. Psalms 89:27, "I also shall make him firstborn, the the most high above [para] the kings of the earth." Whether this refers to David or the Messiah, or both, it clearly establishes prototokos as a term indicating preeminence. This is especially true if the two lines are viewed (in terms of Hebrew poetry) as synonymous parallels. "Firstborn" would then be synonymous with "most high." Three facts are of special note here. First, it is not in relation to others that the king is called firstborn. He is in a unique relationship, without any contrasting entity. Second, the king is not the highest among the kings of the earth but the one most high above the kings of the earth. Third, this verse does not set forth the idea of even a figurative birth; "thesomai" rules that out, suggesting adoption instead. b. Apocrypha 1. Tobit 5:13. "anapherontes ta prototokos." 2. Wisdom of Solomon 18:10 "But there sounded back in discord the cry of the enemies, and a piteous voice of lamentation for children was borne abroad [epi to ton prototokon olethro]." 3. Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach 36:17. "`on prototoko `omoiosas." 4. 4 Maccabees. 15:18. "ou metetrepse se prototokos apopneon." 5. Psalms of Solomon 13:9. "paideia autou `os prototokou." 6. Psalms of Solomon 18:4. "huion prototokon monogene." The juxtaposition of prototokos and monogenes indicates that the emphasis here is on a special relationship. 7. 4 Esra 6:58 expresses the fact that Israel is especially dear to God: "firstborn, only one, elect and beloved." c. Other Jewish Writers (1) In Rabbinical Judaism the Torah is the firstborn of the way of Yahweh. The same is said of the sanctuary, with reference to Jer. 17:12. In both cases, prototokos is used in a fig. sense to express the special love of God for the Torah and the sanctuary (Colin Brown). (2) A Jewish Burial inscription (5 B.C.) reads: "in the travail at the birth of the firstborn destiny brought me to the end of life" (TDNT, 6:872) (3) Philo (1st century A.D.) used prototokos when referring to Cain as the first man born into the world. The idea of birth is prominent in Philo, therefore, he never calls the logos prototokos, using instead protogonos. (On the Cherubim, 54). (4) Josephus (1st Century A.D.) refers to the sacrificial requirements when he says, "anthropou de prototokou pente siklous" (and for the firstborn of man five shekels). Antiquities 4,71. See similar usage in 1,54 and 5,31. 3. Pseudepigrapha a. Sibylline Oracles, 3,626 "sacrifice to God hundreds of bulls and firstling lambs." b. Jubilees 24:3; 18:15 calls Isaac Abraham's firstborn son. In 18:2 and 19:28 firstborn is equivalent to beloved. In 2:20 Jacob is called God's firstborn son. 4. Non-literary Hellenistic sources (papyri). Deissmann cites a pagan, undated sepulchral inscription from Trachonitis: "I am a priest by the rites of the firstborn". Also Deissmann refers to Christian epitaph from Rome of the 2nd or 3rd Cent. A.D. that mentions a firstborn "sun-child" (one born on Sunday) who died at the age of 2 (LAE,p.91,92). A Sacrificial decree of c. 200 B.C. (in Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum. ed. W. Dittenberger, Leipzig, 1888-1901. 615) mentions "`un enkumona prototokon" (M-M, p.557). Michaelis, however, disagrees that it means "firstborn," saying the proper translation is "a sow which is pregnant and giving birth for the first time" (TNDT, 6:871). A decree of adoption of A.D. 381 (in Griechische Urkunden der Papyrussammlung zu Leipzig I.Ed. L. Mitteis. Leipzig, 1906. 598:15) reads "pros to einai sou huion gnesion kai prototokon how ex idiou haimatos gennethenta soi," and the magical statement: "labon prototokou kriou omphalion" (300 A.D.) is found in Papyri Osloenses.I. Magical Papyri, ed. S. Eitrem. Oslo, 1925.. I:312. (M-M: p.557).

III. NEW TESTAMENT USAGE A. The New Testament as a whole. Prototokos is used eight times in the New Testament: Luke 2:7; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6; 11:28; 12:23; and Revelation 1:5. The TR also uses prototokos in Matthew 1:25, but this is probably a gloss, under the influence of Luke 2:7. Prototokos is a variant reading also in Revelation 2:8, probably because of Revelation 1:5. 1. Luke 2:7, "and she gave birth to her firstborn son...." This is a literal biological reference to Jesus as the firstborn son of Mary. 2. Hebrews 1:6, "and when he again brings the firstborn into the world, he says, and let all the angels of God worship him." Prototokos is used here in the eschatological sense. It was a title given to Jesus at ascension, enthronement of the risen Lord. (Colin Brown). 3. Hebrews 11:28, "by faith he kept the passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn might not touch them." This is a literal usage, parallel to the LXX of Exodus 11:5. 4. Hebrews 12:23, "to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." This verse describes the saints, who stand in a special relation-ship to God as though firstborn sons. Such is the blessing of salvation; it makes one fellow-heir with Christ (IDB, 2:272). 5. Revelation 1:5, "Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth." This verse does not simply refer to priority in time. The succeeding "`o archon ton basileon tes ges" (chief in relation to the kings of the earth) is reminiscent of Psalms 89:27. Rev. 1:5, then, refers to the rank of firstborn which accrues to Jesus with his resurrection. B. In Paul's Writings Romans 8:29 "For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." This refers to an eschatological transfiguration when those who have been foreknown and chosen out are made like him (Colin Brown). Christ is like his brethren but above them in rank and dignity, since he remains their Lord (TDNT, 6:877). C. In Colossians 1. Col. 1:15,16; "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him were all things created." Jesus is the mediator of creation (Colin Brown). The description of Christ as firstborn of all creation is based on the `oti clause in v. 16. Christ is the mediator at creation to whom all creatures owe their existence. "Firstborn" does not only denote the priority in time of the pre-existent Christ, but it describes Christ as the preeminent one over all creation. There are several reasons for taking this viewpoint: (1) Although the etymology and classical usage of prototokos emphasise the birth aspect, the LXX usage of prototokos emphasizes the special relationship and privileges of the firstborn, not birth itself. Exodus 4:22 and Psalm 89:27 are especially relevant here (see discussion above). (2) The idea of a special relationship to God is indicated by "beloved son" in v. 13. The same words (beloved son, firstborn) are joined also in Psalms of Solomon 13:9. (3) In the New Testament, prototokos does not emphasize birth, but rather position (with the exception of Luke 2:7) (4) If vv. 15 and 16 speak of Christ as the mediator of all creation, they cannot at the same time be saying that Christ was the first created being. (5) If birth were in view, it would conflict with the concept of creation. How could Christ be firstborn and also first-created? The two concepts are not synonymous. Some have suggested that Christ alone was begotten but all others were created. Prototokos, however, does not mean "only-begotten." (6) If Paul had wished to identify Christ with the created beings he probably would have used the word "protoktistos." Therefore, what is meant in Col. 1:15 is that Christ stands in a unique and supreme position over all creation as mediator of that creation. 2. Col. 1:18, "he is the head of the body, the church; who is the preeminent one [arche], the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself might come to have first place in all things." Priority in time is involved here, but there is more. This verse carries with it a reference to the superior rank and dignity of Christ, the more so as the succeeding "hina" clause has this implication, and the preceding "arche" points in the same direction. Furthermore, the preceding prototokos (v.15) supports a hierarchical understanding. As Christ is the prototokos in relation to every creature, so he is the prototokos especially as the risen Lord (TDNT, 6:878).

IV. PATRISTIC USAGE Polycarp's letter to the Philippians 7:1 figuratively refers to a heretic as the "firstborn of Satan" (BAG, 734). Irenaeus 3,3,4 (BAG, 734). 1 Clement 4:1 in a literal usage mentions the firstborn of the sheep (BAG, 734). Justin Martyr, (c. A.D. 165) Dialogue with Trypo the Jew. 84:1; Firstborn of Egypt (111:3) Homilae of Clementina (3rd c.A.D.).2:16; Melito Sardensis (A.D. 190).Homily on the Passion of Christ.22 p.4:8. Methodius Olympius(A.D. 311),"`e p. panton sophia,"Symposium seu convivium virginum. 9:3; Eusebius Caesariensis(A.D. 339), Demonstratio evangelica.d.e. 4:2; The following speak of logos as prototokos: Lc. 1:35; Just. I apology. 33:6; Tatianus(A.D. 172) .oratio ad Graecos.5; These use prototokos of Christ, (1) as son, Just. I Apology. 23.2; Clemens Alexandrinus (A.D. 215).Protrepticus sive Cohortatio ad Gentes. 9: Eusebius, d.e.(A.D. 339) 5:1; (2) as son of God and son of man, Hippolytus Romanus (A.D. 235).Commentary on Daniel,4:11:5; Cyrillus Alexandrinus (A.D. 444).Epistle.67; (3) of homo assumptus, Concilium Sardicense anno circa 343, Catholic epistle.ap.Theodoretus Cyrrhensis,(A.D. 458)History of the Church. 2:8:44; Theodoretus, eranistes.1; Eutherius Tyanensis(A.D. 434) confutationes quarundam propositionum.16; The following make comment regarding Col.1:15; a.of Christ as typified by Israel, Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 125:3; Christ as typified by Noah "prototokos pases ktiseos on,kai arche palin allou genous nenone;" Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 138:2; b. Of Christ as eternal son, Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 84:2; as logos, "prototokon pases ktiseos," Theophilus Antiochenus (A.D. 181), Autolycum.2:22; Clemens Alexandrinus (A.D. 215) "prototokon de pases ktiseos," 19; There are numerous other Patristic references, mostly discussing the person of Christ, esp. in relation to the Arian controversy. I could spend weeks studying all the patristic uses. (Lampe, pp.1201,2).

V. CONCLUSION One of the major questions in Colossians 1:15,18 is the meaning of prototokos. Although the the etymology of prototokos would indicate "first to be born," its development and synchronic usage leads to the meaning "preeminent," or "standing in a special relation." Another question is the syntax of "pases ktiseos" (all creation). Some have suggested that it is a partitive genitive, meaning that Christ is firstborn of all creatures, Christ himself being one of those creatures. Arius took this position when he declared that Christ was a created being, not eternally existent. A more plausible interpretation is that the genitive is one of relation. Christ is the firstborn (preeminent one) in relation to all creation. Christ himself is not a part of the creation, but is Lord over the creation. Col. 1:15 may have its roots in Psalm 89:27 where a similar construction is used of the king of Israel, Messianically interpreted as Jesus. Colin Brown gives an especially profound description of Jesus as the prototokos: As a title of honour for Jesus , protokos expresses more clearly than almost any other the unity of God's saving will and acts: "the firstborn of all creation", "the firstborn from the dead", "the firstborn among many brethren." Creator and redeemer are one and the same, the all-powerful God in Jesus Christ, "the first and the Last", the beginning and the end," who brings his own to himself from all eternity, and is their surety for salvation, if they abide in him. This goes beyond the limits of what can be logically asserted: the man Jesus of Nazareth is the mediator of creation; he who was executed on the cross as a criminal is the first to experience resurrection and the one who leads us into life. This would have been reason enough for the New Testament witnesses to look back to the language of myth, in order to over step the limitation of the Old Testament and orthodox Judaism, and to express the inexpressible in the form of a confession. For in Jesus God has in fact made the impossible true. In the man Christ Jesus, the prototokos, God has brought his divine power and glory to its climax (Col. 1:19) and has given a share to the church.


Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 4th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. Hebrew and English Lexicon. Lafayette, Indiana: Associated Publishers, 1978.

Charles, R. H. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English. 2 vols. Oxford: At The Clarendon Press, 1913.

Deissmann, Adolf. Light From the Ancient East. Translated by Lionel R. M. Strachan. New York: Harper and Brothers, n.d.

Dictionary of New Testament Theology. S.v. "Firstborn," by Colin Brown.

Edman, Irwin, ed. The Works of Plato. In The Modern Library. New York: Random House, n.d.

Hatch, Edwin and Henry Redpath. A Concordance to the Septuagint and other Greek versions of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Oxford: At The Clarendon Press,1897.

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. S.v. "Firstborn," by V. H. Kooy.

Josephus. Jewish Antiquities, Books I-IV. In The Loeb Classical Library. ed. T. E. Page. Cambridge,Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1930.

Lampe, G. W. H. A Patristic Greek Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.

Liddell, H. G. and R. Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. 8th ed. Oxford: At The Clarendon Press, 1897.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. The Apocrypha of the Old Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Moulton, J. H. and George Milligan. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. New York: Hodder and Stroughton, 1930.

Moulton, W. I., and A. S. Geden. A Concordance of the Greek New Testament.

Philo, Judaeus. The Essential Philo. ed. Nahum N. Glatzer. New York: Shocken Books, 1971.

Plato. The Dialogues of Plato. Translated by B. Jowett. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1937.

Thayer, J. H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. S.v. "Prototokos," by Wilhelm Michaelis.


A. 1. a. b. c. d. 2. B.


A. Classical Usage 1.

B. Hellenistic Usage

1. General


2. Jewish Greek Writings

a. Septuagint b. Apocrypha c. Other Jewish Writers (1) Philo (1st century A.D.) (2) Josephus, Antiquities (1st Century A.D.) (3)

3. Pseudepigrapha

4. Non-literary Hellenistic sources (papyri)


A. The New Testament as a whole

B. Paul's Writings

C. Colossians


A. B.


VI. CONCLUSION prwto,tokoj / 6

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