RE: More power to the readers

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Mar 03 1997 - 19:19:22 EST

S.M. Baugh wrote regarding Col 1:15:

<Although the partitive meaning would be plausible in other
<contexts, here Paul's meaning is explained in v. 16 as
<dealing with Christ's pre-incarnate *status* (not ontology
<per se). prwtotokos in v. 15, then, recalls the status of
<the firstborn in the patriarchal society as lord
<and owner of the inheritance (e.g., Jacob and Esau). Hence,
<"Firstborn over all creation" is the preferred rendering
<taking the genitive as a noun of "ruling" (like arcwn) and
<the genitive is objective (the realm). The use of ek in the
<parallel phrase in v. 18 [despite textual variant] is
<important. If original Paul felt the notion of separation
<in that phrase should be made explicit by ek.

Dear friend,

What you write is coherent and clearly a possible
interpretation. But how do you know? Could you have come to
this explanation if you completely had dropped dogma and
only have relied on lexical semantics, grammar and syntax?
I ask because I for some time have studied Bible translation
from the viewpoint of the reader, and realize how widespread
it is to translate in a way as to force upon the reader a
particular interpretation where a neutral alternative is
available. I dont think we should teach sincere truth
lovers to read the Bible in the light of dogma, but rather
read dogma in the light of the Bible. In this way they can
learn to build up their own faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
without unduly influence.

I do not advocate the abandonment of theology or religious
teaching, and clearly see the need for in many instances to
take the whole NT into account, or even the whole Bible.Some
verses can only be understood in the light of this greater
context. My point, however, is that the reader should be
helped to differentiate between what the text says and what
is interpretation. In other words: More power to the reader!

Regarding Jesus we must take the whole NT into account.
However, relying on philology alone and not using any
premise rooted in dogma, those believing that Jesus is a
creature have a much stronger case when using Col 1:15-20
than those believing that Jesus is etarnal.

(1) If v 15 did not refer to Jesus but to somebody else,
there would have been no question, the genitive would have
been partitive, and the person a part of creation. But it
refers to Jesus so ...Right, but this is not the point, if
we want to start with language rather than with theology.

(2) Using the rules of lexical semantics, the contemporary
use of PRWTOTOKOS is of primary importance, and there is no
clear example in the NT of anything else than the normal OT
meaning `the child who is born first`
When you speak of `Christ's pre-incarnate *status*`and that
this `recalls the status of the firstborn in the patriarchal
society as lord and owner of the inheritance (e.g., Jacob
and Esau)`, thus we get the preferred rendring `"Firstborn
over all creation"` this is not philology, but pure theology
which presumes the christological dogma.
You are of course free to use these arguments, but the
reader should be notified that they are based neither on
lexical semantics,nor on grammar or syntax.

(3) The reason why the most natural rendering `firstborn of
all creation` is not choosen is said to be `the context`:
Jesus is the creator and cannot therefore be a part of
creation. (a) The passive verbs of v 16 explicitly show that
God is the creator and not Jesus, and (b) These verbs also
show that God and Jesus as two different persons. (c) The
premise for the `context argument` is that TA PANTA has the
same reference as PASHES KTISEOS, but this is highly
questionable. If this cannot be proven, there is nothing in
the context forbidding that Jesus is a creature, the first
child of God, who was used as a mediator in the creation of
the others.

I would like to stress that what is written above are not
religious arguments in favour of Jesus being a crature. But
they are philological arguments showing that this text
suggests just that. After having found this, we of course
must review the whole NT, and then our view possibly will
change, but this is the second step. What I advocate, is
that we should strictly differentiate between theological
and philological arguments, and always serve the interets of
the readers by informing them of the premises we are using.
I therefore return to my question: If you completely drop
all theological premises, how much of your interpretation
above can be substantiated?


Rolf Furuli
Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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