From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Mar 12 1997 - 08:47:40 EST

Dear S.M.

Thanks for your post of 6.3.97. After some extremely busy
days I give some comments:

<(i.e., Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
<was the same old stuff to us when it burst on others like a
<bombshell.) In other words, I am keenly aware of the
<importance of this thing you call "dogma" (why not
<"theological convictions"?) in the exegetical process.

I know that the Westminster Seminary for a long time has
been engaged in critical scholarship. I once subscribed to
your journal and still enjoy reading it. My point, however,
was that the trinity doctrine is a PARADIGM in the Kuhnian
sense; it is used as an axiom and almost never questioned.
The consequence of this is that in an interpretation of Col
1 it is taken for granted and it is read into the text.

When I started with Semitic languages I came from a study of
natural science, and I brought with me the methodology of
breaking down everything in the smallest possible entities,
and study these, each at a time. As you know, if there are
four variables in a system (say tense, aspect, mood and
Aktionsart) and each may have 4 functions, there are 4x4x4x4
= 1024 possible combinations. To interprete a phrase or a
sentence all at once without breaking it down, really is
hazardous. In my study of Hebrew I found that noone had ever
produced a study where each of the four mentioned factors
had been studied alone and in interaction with each other.
As to Greek, I only found one such study on the thesis
level, and that was Fanning.

Sincere truth-seekers are dependent upon Bible translations
and commentaries, and I find the same lack of systematic
differentiation between different parameters to help the
reader make his own decisions. He or she just has to accept
the opinion of the author. I have made a study of particular
biblical passages, not to find the `correct` translation,
but to see how the theology of the translators influence the
readers. I use a three-stage approach: I (the most
important): word studies, philology and lingustics, II: the
immediate context which may be the whole book, and III: the
whole Bible, parallels, quotes and allusions, theology and
knowledge of the world.

Let me apply this to Col 1:15

<I assure you, my interpretation of PRWTOTOKOS was and
<always will be just as firmly based on sound philological
<principles and as inevitably mixed with sound
<presuppositions (= dogma) as yours. Let me show you; you
<>But what about Col 1:15? As S M Baugh correctly pointed
><out, the crucial point is the lexical meaning of ><PRWTOTOKOS.Because there is an overwhelming evidence for ><`the child who is born first` which suggests a partitive ><genitive, the rendering `firstborn over all creation` , ><though grammatical possible, is based upon dogma.
<Now where is the "overwhelming evidence" you mention except
<your own "dogma"? i.e., your own "basic conviction"?

Both you and I are biased as to our beliefs, and this will
influence our collection of data and how we interprete it.
If we, however, look at the situation from the point of view
of the reader, with the intention of making as few
decisions as possible on the part of the reader, and arrange
the material in order to help him make his decisions, we may
perhaps achieve some calibration of our own bias.

How shall we help the reader to answer the question: `Who is
Jesus Christ?` `Is he eternal and co-equal with the Father,
or was he created by God and then used as a mediator in the
creation of everything else?` (The preeminence of Jesus is
not at stake). As a matter of fact, the first view was
officially expressed 300 years after the days of Jesus, and
it is important that it is not smuggled into the text of the
Bible through translation, but that the reader is helped to
see whether or not the Bible teaches a trinity doctrine.

Regarding Col 1:15, we know that Greek genitive is
ambiguous. However, the rendering `the firstborn above the
creation of God` while grammatically possible, it leaves
the reader without any choice. The only conclusion the
reader can draw is that Jesus is separated from PASHS
KTISEWS, thus suggesting the trinity doctrine. And
`firstborn` is used in a sense other than `the child who is
born first`. Let me show you my `overwhelming evidence`
against this:

<Anyway, I dug out my old notes and can at least report that
<Michaelis (in TDNT 6:476-81, with carefull lexical argument
<agrees that PRWTOTOKOS was a 'hierarchical' term conveying
<"rank" not just "birth" in the OT, NT, and later Judaism.
<He really is very clear (and not overly dogmatic)
<on this and has some important things to say. (Footnote to
<all: I know that since Barr's heavy-handed critique of
<TDNT/TWNT scholars have been reticent with it. Yet it is
<stuffed with valuable basic data and many of the
<contributors were linguistically competent. Michaelis is

The discussion of Michaelis (TDNT 6:876-81) being
theologically based, is strongly hit by Barrs criticism,
and he does not give any conclusive evidence for another
MEANING of PRWTOTOKOS than `firstborn`. His views of `word
meaning` is antiquated (See previous discussion: `
PROTOTOKOS`, `More power to the reader` and `Sign, sense,
concept an reference` in the Archives Feb/March 97). He
builds on the questionable premise ( without telling the
reader) that TA PANTA and PASHS KTISEWS have the same
reference, and has a curious argument about synonymity
whithout differentiating adequately between sense, concept
and reference. I still want to see one or a few examples of
PRWTOTOKOS with another MEANING ( not reference, or
connotation or figurative use) than `firstborn. As long as
this is not clearly establised, I feel the evidence for the
one meaning is strong.

<Hence, "Shepherd of the sheep" (Heb. 13:20) does not denote
<"the shepherd part of the sheep", but "the Shepherd over
<the sheep." That the lead substantive and the genitive
<substantive may be part of the same group (partitive) is
<not indicated by some "basic meaning" of the genitive, but
<determined by lexis and the specific contexts (I usually
<use "context" with a *very* broad meaning to include
<author's style,linguistic conventions, regionalisms, social
<background, as well as various textual contexts [the
<pericope, the book, LXX, etc.).

Your observation about shepherd` is correct. Similarly the
English word `firstborn` has an intrinsic partitive force.
It is an adjective qualifying an implied substantive. `The
firstborn of the sheep` is the `firstborn sheep of the
sheep` `the firstborn of Jacob` is the firstborn son of
Jacob`. I have been through all the occurrences of
PRWTOTOKOS in the LXX with the following results.
27 examples of partitive genitive: Gen 4:4; 25:13;Ex 11:5;
13:13,15;22:28;34:19,19;34:20,20; Num
3:40,41,41;3:45,46,50;8:16;18:15,15; Deut
12:6,17;14:23;15:19; Neh 10:37,37; Ezek 44:30.

42 examples of possessive genitive, such as `my
son`,implying membership of the group of sons: Gen 49:3; Ex
4:22; 4:23; 6:14;11:5; Num 1:20; 18:17,17,17;26:5;Deut
21:15,16,17; 33:17;Judg 8:20;2 Sam 3:2; 2 Sam 13:21; 1 Kings
16:34; 1
9;9:5,31,36,44;26:2; Psalm 134:8; Mica 6:7; Jer 38:9

There are no example of other genitives.

Stage I: Lexical semantics, therefore, sans theology, give
one meaning to PRWTOTOKOS, and this meaning is intrinsic
partitiv. Philologically speaking, all genitives with the
word uphold the partitive meaning. This I find overwhelmin!.
Stage II. Nothing in the immediate context forbids that
Jesus is a creature who mediated in creation, but he is not
included in TA PANTA. Stage IIi: You believe that other
passages speak for the trinity, I dont.

In conclusion I will mention Phil 2:6. Lexical semantics
strongly speaks for the meaning `seizure` for hARPAGMoS.
Because of the context (stage II) and my view of the whole
NT (stage III) I took hARPAGMOS as direct object and the
infinitive as an apposition, while Carl took the infinitive
as direct object and hARPAGMOS as a predicate accusative.
When it was pointed out that the classical use og double
accusatives strongly supports Carls position, I got a
problem. This is philology, stage I, and if a cannot show
examples supporting my suggestion, it is tantamount to
special pleading. I believe that this systematic way of
thinking, putting word studies, lingusitics and philology
high above theology, is the best way to help the reader of
the Bible to decide for himself.


Rolf Furuli
Ph.D candidate of Semitic languages
Onuversity of Oslo

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