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Wes Williams and Rob Bowman discussion concerning Prwtotokos:

Response 1 to Bowman on PRWTOTOKOS

: Wes wrote:

: *****************

: >>>Much of what you say is correct about the expression "firstborn of [a name]" and I you will find me in agreement with you on a pragmatic plane of understanding (the field of linguistics dealing with sense). . . .

: The central issue here is that Rob is arguing that the way a word is used changes its basic core meaning. I argue firmly that it does not except in figurative language.>>>

: *****************

: This is indeed a problem. You believe that a word has a "basic core meaning" that cannot change via usage "except in figurative language." But this belief is false. Words can have a variety of meanings in different contexts, as used by different authors, or in different periods or regions. Think about all the different meanings of such words as "board" or "trunk." While a word's range of meaning is not infinite, the idea of a "basic meaning" which applies everywhere except in overtly "figurative" language is a semantic fallacy. See further D. A. Carson, _Exegetical Fallacies_, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 28-33, 57-61. I believe this matter is also discussed in Moises Silva's book _Biblical Words and Their Meanings_, which you cited later in your post, but I don't have a copy handy.

Rob, I respectfully suggest you consider D. A. Carson in _Exegetical Fallacies_, 2d ed., 28-33, 57-61 more closely. His examples and your assertion miss the point I was making. But I do appreciate why you may have misunderstood me. In pp. 28-31, Carson is talking about the etymological fallacy, which is remote to my argument (e.g. I would use this argument against someone who tried to argue PRWTOS + TOKOS did not mean "firstborn"). On pp. 57-61, Carson discusses homonymy (words with multiple meanings due to different "symbols"), which in his examples of "board" and "trunk" are true, but is NOT true with BeQoR and PRWTOTOKOS. You need to observe caution here with Carson's words. They do NOT support your point. Cotterell & Turner _Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation_ , 1989, pp. 139-140 reproved Carson's argument on the very point your are citing him (p. 57)! BeQoR/ PRWTOTOKOS have ONE meaning and are not homonyms as are "board" and "trunk." They also have a connotation, a "figurative sense." Also, ITT (Illegitimate Totality Transfer) has no bearing on our discussion since I am not transferring all of the meaning of BeQoR/ PRWTOTOKOS into a sense is a particular marked (unusual) context. The meaning is one, the etymology is one for BeQoR and for PRWTOTOKOS.

Here is what I am saying Rob: PRWTOTOKOS has a single meaning, namely, born in temporal priority. Increased inheritance, preferential treatment, etc., is a CONNOTATION that came to one who was born first. But none of these are MEANINGS of the biblical "firstborn." These remain CONNOTATIONS and not MEANING. Thus, the firstborn of Israel enjoyed Increased inheritance, preferential treatment, etc. (connotation) because he was born first, or firstborn (meaning). To apply connotation without meaning as in the case of figurative language is not to apply a different meaning. It is to apply a different SENSE. The meaning is one. (cf. Cotterell & Turner _Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation_ , 1989, pp. 139-140)

(I see from reading your post that you do take your stand on a figurative meaning of "firstborn" at Col 1:15. You thus apply the sense of connotation without meaning. Interesting. I will return to this.)

: However, even if I conceded this premise of yours, I would not have to agree with your conclusion, as I shall shortly explain.

: Wes also wrote:

: ******************

: >>>In addition to our own knowledge of the world (Rob's leap above), words themselves carry force. In other words, the word "firstborn" (Greek: PRWTOTOKOS) MEANS something. The LEXICAL and biblical meaning of the word "firstborn" requires a comparison with something else. A comparison with what? A comparison with others who come later in time. The very meaning of the Hebrew BaQaR (verbal form of "firstborn") is "to be born first." Therefore, LEXICALLY, the phrase "firstborn of" requires:

: (1) temporal priority over others in a given group and

: (2) that the firstborn is A MEMBER of the very group that he preceeds in time>>>

: To illustrate, there is a lexical difference between the expressions:

: Ruben, the son of Jacob and

: Ruben, the FIRSTBORN of Jacob.

: On a pragmatic level (what makes sense to us), they both express that Jacob parented Reuben.

: However, on a LEXICAL level, the latter requires that Reuben's birth PRECEED in TIME any other sons Jacob had or may have AND that Rueben is himself one of the sons of Jacob!>>>

: *******************

: I reply: Wes, "the firstborn of Reuben" would mean the first son of Reuben, but this is not lexically, semantically, or pragmatically (take your pick) parallel to "the firstborn of all creation."

But Rob, this is precisely where we disagree. Pragmatically it is not the same. But lexically the structure is parallel. To deny the lexical force of PRWTOTOKOS + [a genitive collective noun] is to take a position so remote to scriptural usage that a great burden of proof falls on you to justify your position with exceptional evidence. You appeal to "sense" considerations (fatherhood) but these do not remove the lexical force of the grammatical structure. Since you position yourself that PRWTOTOKOS is figurative at Col 1:15, I will look intently and eagerly for your LEXICAL justifications as to how you arrive at this conclusion WITHOUT theological considerations on your part.

I respectfully submit to you that because you do not discriminate between lexical considerations and pragmatic ("sense") considerations is the PRECISE, exact reason for the exegetical fallacy you are making here.

: Obviously you are right in saying that the word "firstborn" conveys an understanding that goes beyond, or differs in some way, from the word "son." And yes, very often the meaning "first one born," with its implication of temporal priority, does apply. But this is not the only possible meaning of "firstborn."

Well, since we need precision here, I will only offer the following minor adjustment in terminology; there is only one possible meaning of "firstborn." There are several connotations, such as pre-eminence, increased inheritance, preferential treatment, etc. There is basis in scripture, albeit rare, that the connotation is applied without the meaning.

: Even if I were to grant everything you have said, it is still possible to deny that temporal priority is meant in Colossians 1:15 on the basis that the usage is figurative. Since you yourself have allowed this as an exception to your "lexical" rule, I can't see any _a priori_ way you can deny that possibility. The question will have to be settled on _a posteriori_, exegetical grounds.

Yes Rob, it is true that one can deny temporal priority at Col 1:15 on the basis that use is figurative. However, and this is important, you are still faced with a strong grammatical (lexical) structure of "firstborn of [a collective noun]." This, I will maintain without exception, grammatically REQUIRES that the PRWTOTOKOS is a member of that collective noun (in this case, "creation") regardless of the figurative sense you offer for PRWTOTOKOS. Thus, the figurative PRWTOTOKOS is still a member of creation. The lexical force of PRWTOTOKOS + [a genitive collective noun] without a partitive is without exception in scripture.

Rob, the way I see it at this point is that your back is against the wall. One possibility for you is to suggest a redefinition for "creation." But this I have not seen you suggest. Below, you attempt to offer a pragmatic reason for your resistance to a literal firstborn, which I deal with.

: Wes also argued:

: ********************

: >>>Therefore, the very word "firstborn" REQUIRES, LEXICALLY, (1) a temporal comparison with others of Jacob's sons AND (2) that "firstborn" is himself ONE of JACOB'S SONS! The lexical force of the word phrase "firstborn of" is UNCHANGED by pragmatics, i.e. our understanding of how the firstborn relates to the object of the preposition (e.g. "Jacob" or "creation"). Thus, "firstborn of all creation" still requires that the firstborn has temporally priority over the rest of creation AND that the firstborn himself is a member of "creation." This is true even though the nature of the noun changes in "the firstborn of [noun]." The only time this is not true is in the case of figurative language.>>>

: *******************

: Again, how do you know that Colossians 1:15 is not using PROTOTOKOS in a figurative sense? I would argue that you must admit that it is, since you don't believe that Jehovah literally gave birth to or sired Jesus.

I maintain the normal and unmarked meaning of the word Rob, that Jesus indeed has temporal priority within class "creation." I suggest nothing different. If it is _you_ on the other hand, who suggest a figurative meaning, then the burden of proof is on _you_ to demonstrate why your use is very different than the normal use in scripture.

In Hebrew idiom, "birth" was viewed as a kind of creative act. Thus, the idiom of Ps 90:2 "Before the mountains themselves were born" naturally and poetically meant that the mountains were created. Another proof I offer is that of Wisdom Personified. In Prov 8:22 LXX she is "created" (Greek: EKTISEN). In verse 25, she is "begotten" (Greek: GENNA). And, to use your words, I "don't believe that Jehovah literally gave birth to or sired" Wisdom Personified. However, the Hebrew notion of "birth" and "creation" overlap in their semantic domains.

Thus, the expression "firstborn" was quite natural enough to express the idea of Jehovah's first created Son. No Rob, the biblical facts of birth/creation are against you here, STRONGLY. Very strongly I hasten to add.

Therefore, to conclude this point, a literal "siring" of Jesus is NOT a reason to even imagine that the PRWTOTOKOS of Col 1:15 is figurative because of the semantic overlap between birth and creation.

The burden of proof is on you Rob, and the reason you suggested is a reason rejected on scriptural grounds. I am taking the word in its normal sense of temporal priority and I submit to you that any exegesis you offer at this point will be theologically driven. But, I will await.

: Surprisingly, Wes thinks I take the word literally in Colossians 1:15 --

Yes. I am surprised and thank you for sharply clarifying your position. Still, this places on you the large task of justifying your departure from the literal meaning, which is overwhelmingly the normal biblical use of the term, as I have demonstrated above and in my post outlining the scriptural usage in the LXX.

: ****************

: >>>These requirements consistently and unyieldingly cry "first in time" and "part of the group" from Septuagint usage. And the sense relations between "firstborn" and "creation" do not change this lexical requirement, Mr. Bowman. Unless you take the position that the "firstborn" at Col. 1:15 is figurative, which I believe you do not.>>>

: ******************

: I am mystified as to how Wes arrived at this belief. I do consider PROTOTOKOS to be used figuratively in Colossians 1:15. Unless I'm very much mistaken, so does he.

I am mystified that you would depart from the overwhelming use of the grammatical structure of the LXX. In the expression at Job 18:13 we have BeQoR used figuratively with the partitive genitive, where Job cries out that he is "the firstborn of death." (Interestingly, the LXX translators avoided PRWTOTOKOS here). However, what lexical clue drives us to know this is figurative? It is because "Death" is an abstraction.

However, at Col. 1:15, "all creation" is not an abstraction. It is a collective noun, just like "The first-born of thy sons" at Exodus 22:29. In short Rob, I submit that you lack the following evidence:

(1) Any support at all from the LXX where PRWTOTOKOS + a collective noun supports the idea that the PRWTOTOKOS is NOT a member of the group represented in the collective noun.

(2) Any LEXICAL (non-theological) evidence for your assertion that PRWTOTOKOS is figurative in this context.

Even if you did proffer a single line of evidence Rob, remember that it is you who is suggesting exceptional usage here. For this reason, your evidence must be substantial. Thus far, you have offered nothing except the rationale that a literal "firstborn" must imply a literal birth, which was scripturally overcome.

: --Rob Bowman

To summarize this thread,

- Rob has not overcome the objection that a word has a central, core meaning. He appealed to D.A. Carson's _Exegetical Fallacies_ but the argument Carson was making did not apply.

- Rob denies that the expression "firstborn of Reuben" is not lexically parallel to "firstborn of [all] creation." In this statement, Rob makes an exegetical fallacy of failing to discriminate between pragmatic concerns and lexical concerns. Lexically, "firstborn of" requires that the following genitive [the "of" noun] be partitive in BOTH cases]. Pragmatically, the first is about fathering and the second about being a sharer of group "creation." Rob's fallacy is brought home by Moises Silva, p. 169, that "sensitivity to lexical structures ... can have a direct and significant effect on exegetical decisions."

- Rob issued a reason for rejecting a literal "firstborn" at Col 1:15 because he claimed this would require a view that Jehovah literally "sired" Jesus. In this he failed to appreciate the Hebrew idiom of birth and creation and their sematic overlap, reflected in Ps 90:2 and Prov 8:22,25.

- Rob unequivocally stated his clear position that the "PRWTOTOKOS" of "firstborn of all creation" of Col 1:15 is figurative. I maintain unequivocally in return that to demonstrate this on lexical (non-theological) grounds, Rob is without precedent since all LXX examples of PRWTOTOKOS + a collective noun show the PRWTOTOKOS to be part of the group. "Creation" is not an abstract noun and offers no support for his position. Furthermore, the burden of proof is on him to demonstrate this exceptional usage, which is without precedent is the face of over 50 verses in the LXX with this construction.


Point for Rob Bowman to prove:


I maintain that the word PRWTOTOKOS followed by a group (in the Greek genitive) grammatically REQUIRES that the PRWTOTOKOS is part of that very group. I maintain that this requirement derives from the lexical force of PRWTOTOKOS, and it is so powerful that this is true even though Rob claims a figurative sense for PRWTOTOKOS. Proof?

- I submit every example of PRWTOTOKOS + a group in the LXX as proof. No exceptions in over 50+ examples.

- I submit a parallel example in English. The word "one" in English followed by "of" + a group REQUIRES a partitive genitive (that the "one be a part of the group).


One of the sons (the "one" is himself in the group of "sons")

One of the created things (the "one" is itself a created thing)

Rob Bowman has gone on record stating that the relationship of the genitive noun to the head noun ("firstborn") overrides this lexical requirement of denotation by "firstborn." I submit that the above examples and proof are fatal to his argument. Any resistance at this point, I believe, is theologically driven.

In the light of these clarifications Rob, I maintain my appeal to you for a prayerful and meditative reconsideration of the presuppositions you have held on this verse. I believe I have amply provided convincing scriptural, scholarly, linguistical, and logical evidence for you to reconsider your view based on what the words of Col 1:15 say. I am confident that a man in your position will not only understand the power of this testimony and not adopt a meaning of the phrase "firstborn of" that corresponds to a preconceived concept beyond the lexical force of the phrase.


Wes Williams

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