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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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(ἀπαρχή, class. Gr. usually ἀπαρχαί from ἀπάρχομαι, ‘offer firstlings or first-fruits’)

The word occurs six times in the Pauline Epistles, once in James, and once in Revelation. Its significance depends largely on the belief, which the Hebrews shared with many ancient nations, that first-fruits were peculiarly sacred, and on the custom which prescribed them for the services of Jahweh. The offering of first-fruits made the rest of the crop lawful. In Septuagint ἀπαρχή is the usual equivalent of רַאשִׁית. On the Jewish institution of first-fruits, see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 10f.; Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vi. 46f.; and Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] ii. i. [1885] 237-242.

The reference to this institution is best seen in Romans 11:16 : ‘and if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump,’ where the allusion is to the heave-offering mentioned in Numbers 15:16-21. The Pauline argument is what Jowett has called ‘an argument from tendencies’-‘as the beginning is, so shall the completion be; as the cause is, so shall the effect be; as the part, so the whole’ (Epp. of St. Paul to Thess., Gal., Rom., 1855, ii. 273). There is exegetical difficulty here, for ἀπαρχή and ῥίξα seem to denote different phases of the argument; but there is little doubt that St. Paul refers to the future when mankind shall be redeemed, a future that is foreshadowed by the present conversion of individuals.

In the same manner other passages are to be interpreted, though they have not obvious references to Hebrew customs. In James 1:18 Christians of apostolic times are called ἀπαρχή τις, ‘a kind of firstfruits.’ From Clement of Rome’s Ep. ad Cor. xlii., we learn that the apostles, during their missionary journeys, appointed their ‘firstfruits,’ when they had approved them, to be bishops and deacons; and it is interesting to find that St. Paul mentions two men who were outstanding in their helpfulness-Stephanas and Epaenetus. Thus 1 Corinthians 16:15 : ‘Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have set themselves to minister unto the saints.’ In Romans 16:5 the same words are used, though here ‘Achaia’ should be ‘Asia,’ i.e. proconsular Asia, with the addition of εἰς Χριστόν. These men, with all likeminded, were the first-fruits of a new creation achieved by the spirit of Christianity, and they were the pledge of others who would follow their inspiring example.

In Revelation 14:4 the reference is to a specially favoured class who have been ‘purchased from among men, the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb.’ Romans 8:23 speaks of Christians who have already been blessed by the Spirit, and who have the sure hope of a greater harvest of blessing when mankind shall be fully sanctified.

The most notable passage is 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23, where Christ is called the ‘Firstfruits.’ There may be in 1 Corinthians 15:20 a reference to the offering of a sheaf of ripe corn on the second day of the Feast of Passover (cf. Leviticus 23:10-11); but even without that reference the exegesis is plain. Just as the first-fruits are the earnest of later harvesting, so the Resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of our resurrection. ‘Christ is risen! we are risen!’, and we shall rise.

In the early Church the custom and doctrine of first-fruits were used to support the practice of levies on behalf of the priesthood (see Didache, § 13).

Archibald Main.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'First-Fruit'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​f/first-fruit.html. 1906-1918.
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