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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Primogeniture

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(denoted in Hebrews by בְּכיֹרָה : Sept. πρωτοτόκια, Genesis 25:31; Genesis 25:34; Genesis 27:26; Deuteronomy 21:17; 1 Chronicles 5:1; in the New Test. only in Hebrews 12:16; A. V. "birthright"). Πρωτότοκος, always rendered "first-born" in the English version, is found in the Sept. in Genesis 4:4; Deuteronomy 21:17, and several other passages of the Old Test., as the representative of the Hebrew בְּכוֹר, signifying "one who openeth the womb," whether an only child, or whether other children follow. "Primogenitus est, non post quem alii, sedl ante quem nullus alius genitus" (Pareus). Πρωτότοκος is found nine times in the New Test. viz. Matthew 1:25 (if the passage be genuine, and not introduced from the parallel passage in Luke); Luke 2:7; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 1:6; Hebrews 11:28; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 1:5. Except in the Gospels, and Hebrews 11:28, the word always bears a metaphorical sense in the New Test., being generally synonymous with heir or lord, and having, in Hebrews 1:6, an especial reference to our Lord's Messianic dignity. In Hebrews 12:23, "the assembly of the first-born," it seems to be synonymous with "elect," or "dearly beloved," in which sense it is also used on one occasion in the Old Test. (Jeremiah 31:9).

In the 4th century, Helvidius among the Latins, an. Eunomius among the Greeks, wished to attach a signification to πρωτότοκος, in Matthew 1 and Luke 2, different from the Old-Test. usage, maintaining, in order to support their hypothesis-viz. that Joseph and Mary had children after the birth of our Lord-that the word πρωτότοκος, by reason of its etymology, could not be applied to an only child. Jerome replied to the former by appealing to the usage of the word in the Old Test. (Adv. Helvid. in Matthew 1:9). The assertion of Eunomius was equally refuted by the Greek fathers Basil (Hom. in Nat.), Theophylact (in Luke 2), and Damascenus (De Fid. Othod. 1. 4). In reference to this controversy, Drusius (Ad difficiliora loca Num c. 6) observes: "Sic sane Christus vocatur Πρωτότοκος, licet mater ejus nullos alios postea liberos habuerit. Notet hoc juventus propter Helvidium, qui ex ea voce inferebat Mariam ex Josepho post Christum natum plures filios suscepisse." "Those entitled to the prerogative" (viz. of birthright), observes Campbell (On the Gospels), "were invariably denominated the first-born, whether the parents had issue afterwards or not." Eunomius further maintains, from Colossians 1:15, that our Lord was "a creature;" but his arguments were replied to by Basil and Theophylact. Some of the fathers referred this passage to Christ's pre-existence, others to his baptism. In Isaiah 14:30, the "first-born of the poor" signifies the poorest of all; and in Job 18:13. the "first-born of death" means the most terrible of deaths. It is noteworthy that in our Lord's genealogy the line is frequently- carried through a younger son (Seth, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, Solomon, Nathan, etc.). (See FIRST-BORN).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Primogeniture'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/p/primogeniture.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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