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Wes Williams' Response to Dr. Keay on "Firstborn of all Creation."

Here Wes Williams responds to Dr. Keay concerning "PRWTOTOKOS." Unfortunately, Dr. Keay decided this was a good time to end the conversation and failed to respond to Mr. William's points.


Message Added: Response to Dr. Keay on "Firstborn of all Creation"

The following information was added to the message board:

Name: Wes Williams
E-Mail: weswilliams@usa.net
Subject: Response to Dr. Keay on "Firstborn of all Creation"
Body of Message:

: I forwarded Mr. Williams comments to Dr. Keay, should he care to respond. The following was sent to me and is worth sharing with the Board.
: >

It is a pleasure to interact with Dr. Keay on his work with PRWTOTOKOS that someone earlier posted. Dr. Keay reflects incomplete understanding of my position however, for he addressed the wrong point in his response. I will clarify my position for him in this response and invite him to respond.

: Posted by Wes Williams on August 07, 1998 at 16:54:19:
: >
: > Keay, Ph.D. posted by
: > Dave Sherrill on August 07, 1998 at 07:09:28:
: >
: > Keay starts off with the proper word meaning, with which we agree, when
: he
: > says: "When "firstborn" is related to birth order
: > it refers to the oldest child in a family, the first child born, either
: > male (Gen. 22:21; 1 Chron. 2:25) or female (Gen.
: > 19:31,33,34,37; 29:26; 1 Sam. 14:49). "
: >
: > However, later he errs when he says:
: > The firstborn in Israel had a highly significant symbolic role in the
: > nation. As a representative of the whole nation, the firstborn
: > represented the redemption of the nation from servitude and bondage in
: > Egypt as well as the promise that the nation would
: > ultimately bring salvation to mankind through the Messiah. In later
: > Israelite history usage of the term "firstborn" revolved around
: > this covenantal-redemptive-representative significance of the word. "
: >
: > Keay cites relatively rare symbolic usage of the term and makes a case
: > for word meaning, which is undefendable. Still, even
: > if "firstborn" WERE symbolic at Col 1:15 (there is nothing in context to
: > indicate metaphor), this type of figurative use would
: > NOT override the fact that Jesus is "part of" the creation.
: >
: > Keay ignores this fact.

Dr. Keay sets up a straw-man argument and proceeds to tear it down, which is unfortunate. The problem is that his straw man is not my argument. He says:

: The fact that these examples are relatively rare NUMERICALLY does not
: overthrow their importance in the theological mind-set of the nation. The
: examples I cited are highly significant theologically because they are
: covenantal and messianic.

Dr. Keay admits that his exegesis rests on examples that are "relatively rare NUMERICALLY." Dr Keay justifies this by means of theological considerations. However, Dr. Keay is arguing the wrong point for nowhere do I argue that the majority of usage NUMERICALLY mandates a particular exegetical understanding in another place. However, neither do I ignore such (his work deals extensively with the rare exceptions to buttress his argument). I advocate an honest use of scripture. I will clarify for Dr. Keay what the argument is so that he can address the true point. Perhaps Dr. Keay's misunderstanding is due to the fact that he was not forwarded the earlier posted comments in this thread? Perhaps his misunderstanding in justifiable since my comments were brief on his piece.

Counting numerically is indeed foolish, but since this is not the basis for exegesis by Jehovah's Witnesses, his counter argument is meaningless to the point at hand.

Perhaps the anonymous individual [Dave Sherill?] who copied Dr. Keay would have performed a service by also copying Dr. Keay the more extensive post to Mr. Bowman. I will re-post for Dr. Keay's consideration.

I said in my first post, to which I firmly stand:

: > Further, like Bowman, he confuses pragmatic considerations of meaning with
: > lexical semantics in his paragraph on "Firstborn is always part of the group."

: > This leads to a faulty exegesis. See my response to Rob Bowman earlier on this board.
: >
: > Sincerely,
: > Wes Williams

: Apparently he is saying that "lexical semantics" demands that the word
: "firstborn" be understood in the sense advocated by himself, and that I
: choose to ignore 'lexical semantics", preferring instead a more "pragmatic"
: interpretation.

No Dr. Keay, I do not choose a sense 'advocated by myself.' I choose the *biblical* MEANING (not sense) of the word as the MEANING (not sense) in Col 1:15. The meaning I defend is a biblical meaning, not one advocated by myself. Even you mentioned this meaning when you said:

: > "When "firstborn" is related to birth order
: > it refers to the oldest child in a family, the first child born, either
: > male (Gen. 22:21; 1 Chron. 2:25) or female (Gen.
: > 19:31,33,34,37; 29:26; 1 Sam. 14:49). "
: >

However, Let us explore further the distinction between meaning and sense. Dr Keay continues:

: All I can say about this is that "lexical semantics" is not
: on his side. I would have to accuse him of being the pragmatic one, for he
: still has not dealt with the lexical argument that I put forth in
: determining the meaning of the word; instead he has opted for the standard
: JW response--a pragmatic response, to be sure [given the difficulty of
: being a JW who disagrees with the Watchtower].

Dr. Keay,

I sense a confusion between pragmatics with lexical semantics. Let me explain:


The word PRWTOTOKOS (`firstborn`) is a partitive word. It has an intrinsic partitive force (for laypersons, this means that the firstborn is a part of the following implied group). 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`.

Dr. Keay steps outside of lexical semantics into pragmatics when he argues that Jacob gave birth to the firstborn. While this pragmatic point may be true, the lexical point is NOT dismissed by this pragmatic, and it is precisely this: The "Firstborn of Jacob" was a part of the group of Jacob's sons. Reuben remained the firstborn, the eldest son, even though the right of primogenitureship passed to Joseph (cf. Gen 49:3 Reuben, you are my firstborn, my vigor and the beginning of my generative power"). Reuben was the firstborn although he lost the right of firstborn (cf. 1 Chron 5:1 "And the sons of Reu'ben the firstborn of Israel-for he was the firstborn; but for his profaning the lounge of his father his right as firstborn was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he was not to be enrolled genealogically for the right of the firstborn.")

I have been through all the occurrences of PRWTOTOKOS in the LXX. I present the following usage for proof behind my point:

27 examples of partitive genitive (the firstborn is a part of the group): 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 Chr 1:29; 2:3,13; 2:25,25,27,42,50; 3:1,15; 4:4; 5:1,3; 8:1,30,38,39; 9:5,31,36,44; 26:2; Psalm 134:8; Mica 6:7; Jer 38:9

There are no example of other genitives.

Lexical semantics, therefore, sans theology, give one meaning to PRWTOTOKOS, and this meaning is intrinsically partitive. Philologically speaking, all genitives with the word uphold the partitive meaning.

Dr. Keay and others: This is overwhelming evidence!

Immediate Context: Nothing in the immediate context forbids that Jesus is a creature who mediated in creation, but he is not included in TA PANTA.

Theology: Dr. Keay believes that other passages speak for the trinity and that is the real motive for his arguing for seeking another meaning. I do not. Therefore, his argument is weak because he has to argue for an alien sense (a non-partitive sense) for the word firstborn at Col 1:15, which places an extreme exception on his doorstep!

Another point of lexical semantics I need to make clear is the difference between MEANING and CONNOTATION. After a long winter, when we see trees budding, days getting longer and warmer, bird chirping, we may say: "Ahh.. Spring!" However, none of these things are the MEANING of spring, "the first three months following the primal equinox." These are CONNOTATIONS of "spring." They naturally follow.

Likewise, "firstborn" MEANS "one born first in time." In Hebrew Society, the firstborn received certain privileges, such as increased inheritance, preferential treatment and his Father's blessing, but these things are CONNOTATIONS from being firstborn. None of them are MEANING. So, Dr. Keay cannot claim another meaning for firstborn when he argues that a connotation is meaning. The firstborn was entitled to increased inheritance, preferential treatment and his Father's blessing BECAUSE he was born first in time.

So, when Dr. Keay argues in favor of a connotation of firstborn as meaning, he commits an error of lexical semantics, a quite common one in several theological commentaries. But let us persist in following the argument. Even if, as Dr. Keay argues, that only the connotation is applied to Christ, but not the meaning, it remains that Jesus is a "part of" creation, which is lexically required by the partitive force of "firstborn." Dr. Keay must produce a counterexample to support the collapsed argument, and this he has not done. Thus, whatever connotation Dr. Keay or Rob Bowman wish to proffer for Col. 1:15, the fact still remains that Jesus is a part of creation. Frankly, Jehovah's Witnesses agree that Jesus is preeminent within the group of created beings! This is the conclusion to which Lexical Semantics leads Dr. Keays pragmatic argument.

: I hope that I have made myself clear [at least to anyone who honestly wants
: to understand what I have argued]. I suspect that Mr Williams is not as
: interested in understanding what the text says as he is interested in
: defending himself.

To the contrary Dr. Keay, I have demonstrated an exegesis of the text that limits arbitrary theological understandings. An exegesis of the text that argues that (1) connotation is meaning, and (2) ignores the partitive force of PRWTOTOKOS (`firstborn') and (3) dismisses the overwhelming use of the partitive in the Septuagint on the basis of pragmatics is a faulty exegesis.

It is not necessary for you to resort to shading me ('I am not interested in understanding what the text says') in order to advance your argument. I do understand your argument and I understand mine. I merely point out where your exegesis is lacking. Jehovah's Witnesses do not need to seek another meaning as you are attempting to do.

As a learned scholar, I trust that you will appreciate this feedback even though you are a Trinitarian and I am not. It is my hope and prayer that you reconsider your article in light of the above clarifications.

I will repost the examples of PRWTOTOKOS from the LXX behind this post.

I look forward to a civil, scholarly, and most of all, biblical exchange with you.

Wes Williams

Added on Date: 13:09:11 8/10/98

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