Re: PRWTOTOKOS (was col 1:15 greek help)

Date: Sun Nov 08 1998 - 00:43:59 EST

Dear Jonathan:

I wrote:

<< >Regarding PRWTOTOKOS, it was said that definitions for it include, "the
>standard sense, pertaining to a first-born child; pertaining to existence
>prior to
>something else, ╬existing first, existing before'; and finally, ╬superior in
>status.'" Appeal was made to the lexicon by Louw and Nida in support of
>definitions. However, the lexicon gives no example, other than Col. 1:15,
>its non-temporal definitions! Thus, they beg the question.

To which you replied:

<< Because this passage was not written primarily to answer the question that
 is being asked of it, i.e. whether Jesus is part of creation or not, we're
 stuck trying to interpret shades of meaning to evoke an answer. >>

Regardless of what the primary purpose of this description was, in our efforts
to interpret the words and sentences we should try to do so within the bounds
of the known semantic range of the word(s) in question, and not add a new
meaning to that range that is not articulated by the author of the passage,
simply because the known semantic range does not fit with one's preferred
theology (yours or mine). I know you agree with this, but I am simply
restating the matter for clarity, as it is important that we eliminate such
methodologies upfront, so that a smooth (yeah, right!) consideration of the
text might take place.

<<That's always just a little dangerous, and can lead to long debates without
 answers. The main thrust of Colossians 1:15-20 is the preeminence of
 Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all
 creation, the one in whom all things were created, who is before all things
 and in whom all things hold together. He is the head of the body (the
 church), the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself
 will have first place in everything.>>

Well said.

<< I think the real question is whether PRWTOTOKOS here refers to the status
 of being firstborn, i.e. preeminent, or to historical sequence, i.e. being
 born first. >>

One cannot have the status of the "firstborn" unless one *is* the firstborn,
or unless one is *given* the position enjoyed by the firstborn, which would
signify a figurative interpretation; the latter view is not evident from this
passage, the way it is in the few OT passages where this term is used in a
figurative sense (Ps. 89:27 [note the use of TIQHMI]; Exod. 4:22; al). If we
take the reference to Christ as figurative in this text (Col. 1:15), then who
is the true firstborn of God? Would not (should not) this one be given the
preeminent position, being the one who is actually *in* the preeminent
position by right?

 ADELFOIS, it's clear that Jesus is one of the many brethren of whom he is
 the firstborn, and that he is preeminent among these brethren. In this
 passage, chronological sequence is also strongly implied. So you are
 essentially arguing that PRWTOTOKOS is used in the same way in Colossians
 1:15, which seems reasonable. >>


<< However, in Colossians 1:16, when it says EN AUTW EKTISQH TA PANTA..., AUTW
seems to clearly point to Jesus as being the one in whom all things were
 created, in heaven or on earth, things seen and things unseen... (I find it
 a bit of a stretch to say that AUTW refers to God rather than to Jesus
 since the predominant subject at the time this clause rolls around is
 Jesus, who is also the subject last referred to.) >>

That's okay, for I do not take AUTW in reference to God, but in reference to
Christ. However, I view PASHS KTISEWS as a reference to the entire created
order which receives life from the Father (cf. John 6:57), and TA PANTA as a
reference to the "through-him [Christ]" things. TA PANTA is mentioned only
after reference is made to Christ as the one EN AUTW EKTISQH TA PANTA and the
equated with TA PANTA in this verse, as far as I can see. That is why Christ

 <<Now if you want a strictly logical answer to whether Jesus is part of
 creation, verse 16 implies that he is not, unless he is an exception to the
 rule that all of creation was made in him; >>

Again, verse 16 does not say that all "creation" was made in him, but that TA
PANTA was made in (passive recipient) and through (mediatorial agent) him.

<<verse 15 seems to imply that he
 is. >>

This verse implies that he is part of KTISIS, not TA PANTA.

<< Neither really makes a clear statement about this question. One way to
 resolve this is to say that PRWTOTOKOS is used to stress the preeminence of
 Christ, which is, after all, the main topic of this whole passage. Another
 way to resolve it is to say that in verse 16, Jesus is the one exception to
 the statement that all things were created in him. Which you choose
 probably depends on your theology.
 Jonathan >>

I think you have made some fine observations, but overall I believe it is best
to take PRWTOTOKOS in its normal temporal sense, since we do not have
articulation at the hands of the author who uses the term to do otherwise.
But, as you point out, theology (ours and the author's) now becomes an issue,
and this board it not a place for either one.


Greg Stafford

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