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Revelation 3:14 (KJV)

14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

Most translations say "the beginning of God's creations" or "the beginning of the creation of God." A few translations say something such as "the chief of God's creation."

Is "the beginning of the creation of God" the most correct? Is it saying that Christ was created by God?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Translation

From the Apostolic Bible:
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Your first question is in regards to the translation. It seems that all three would be pretty valid translations. The original Greek for "the beginnings" here is arche:

Strings G746
1. beginning, origin
2. the person or thing that commences, the first person or thing in a series, the leader
3. that by which anything begins to be, the origin, the active cause
4. the extremity of a thing a) of the corners of a sail
5. the first place, principality, rule, magistracy a) of angels and demons

So, "the beginnings" seems to be a valid translation. Personally, I like the translation that the Apostolic Bible gives there: "the source of the creation of God"

Was Jesus created?

No, it's saying that Jesus was the source of all created things. It reflects back on this verse:

John 1:1-3 (NASB)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

Summary

This isn't saying that Jesus was created. It's saying that Jesus was the source of creation. He was the beginning of all things. It's showing that through him, all things were created.

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1  
I'm interested that you quote John 1.1 without mentioning that the second word of the verse is αρχη. It rather confirms your point, I think! –  lonesomeday Nov 24 '11 at 21:16
    
I appreciate the interpretation in light of the wider body of John's writings. +1 –  Kazark Apr 3 '12 at 14:35

Christ is both Not-created AND created.

Using methods of sensus plenior:

Jesus is the light

Jn 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 ¶ And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Jn 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

He is self-existent

1 ¶ In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

The word 'Elohim' for 'God' has a pun 'alo khoom' meaning 'not dark'. The 'not dark' or 'the light' existed before creation hidden in God.

And he is created

Ge 1:3 ¶ And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. Jhn 1:14 And the Word (which is the life and light) was made flesh, and dwelt among us...

Contradictions are riddles In sensus plenior, contradictions speak of different aspects of the same truth. they are riddles. Jesus is the Only begotten Son AND the Unbegotten Only Son.

Christ as the Light represents the Holiness of God:

Heb 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin.

Since Holiness expresses a separateness, and the Godhead was unified in Love, Holiness waited for creation to be expressed. Immediately after the heavens and the earth were created God declared, "Let there be Light" and His holiness was made manifest.

Therefore we can say that Christ was created, that he is the firstfruits of creation [1] without fear of treading on his divinity.

He is both the Creator and a created man. That is the essence of incarnation.

[1] 1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

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There are, though, passages from the Greek translation of the Hebrew, the LXX, that might be mentioned. They are:

Gen.10:10; "beginning of the kingdom of him"-"arche tes basileias autou."

Gen.49:3 ; "first of the children of me"-"arche teknon mou."

Deut.21:17;"first of the children of him"-"arche teknon autou."

Hos.1:2 "beginning of the word of Lord"-"arche logou kuriou."

and from the New Testament:

Mat. 24:8."beginning of pangs of birth-"arche odinon."

Mark1:1 "beginning of the good news"-"arche tou euggeliou."

Phil.4:15 "at the start of declaring of the good news"- "arche tou enaggeliou."

These all contain the word "ARCHE" as does Rev.3:14 followed by a noun in the genitive case. What should be done is not look at the word "ARCHE" only but we must look at similar constructions which we have above. All the examples above show that the one, ones or events are the results of the action of another one. It is a passive meaning we have here, not in the sense of causing the action/results. They have the meaning of "the start of," or "the first of." Hence we would be on scriptural grounds entirely to say that the meaning of "arche", "beginning," at Rev.3:14 was also with that meaning. He, Jesus Christ, was the "first of" God's creation. Or, as Edward Harwood's translation of 1768 puts it; "The very first Being that the Deity called into existence."

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Hello, and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Thank you for your contribution. I made a few minor edits for typos and formatting. Please also remember to properly cite the text by including the English translation or Greek version you are quoting. (I suspect you may be translating your own LXX here, which is fine; just say that.) –  Susan Oct 4 at 3:17

Having researched and discussed this verse in depth a few years ago for 4-5 months, I would say yes, that is exactly what the verse is saying, though many are far too quick to reach for an alternate reading.

In order to properly understand this verse, a few things need to be understood...

First, when we look to the lexical field (or sometimes called the semantic field) of a given word, the various meanings attributed to it, while not necessarily being synonymous, typically relate to a specific phenomenon or basic idea [1]. It is typically with reference to this central phenomenon that the lexical field of a word shifts over time, either adding or losing meanings. When it comes to the word arche, the phenomenon described by its lexical field can basically be described as "being the outermost point of something". All of the uses of the word arche described this phenomenon in some fashion.

Second, when translating a word from source language A into target language B, we must be careful not to assume that the entire lexical field of the word in language B can be read back into the original word in language A. In translation, words are often chosen because of semantic overlap rather than semantic equivalence. This means that source word A could have implications not present in target word B, and target word B could have meanings that are not properly within the lexical field of source word A.

When it comes to Rev. 3:14, as you've noted, most translations choose to render it along the lines of "the beginning of the creation of/by God". Some, however, finding the implications of this rendering unacceptable, reach for a different translation, commonly choosing "ruler" (NIV), "source" (Apostolic Bible, God's Word Translation) or, similarly, "originator" (HCSB, ISV, NET Bible), in place of "beginning". In considering whether these are appropriate renderings, there are a few things that should be taken into account.

Within the NT, as I recall, the word arche appears approximately 60 times. Setting aside the disputed verse of Rev. 3:14 for a moment, in every single other case, arche always refers to the outermost point or extremity of something, whether a beginning in relation to some time period, the first in some series, the principalities of rulership within some community, or, rarely, the corners or extremities of a sail. The usage of arche in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) also stays within these boundaries. If you accept the traditional and ancient view that both the gospel of John and Revelation were written by the same person, then John is responsible for roughly 40% of the occurrences of arche in the entire NT. In every single case outside Rev. 3:14, John uses arche to mean either the beginning part of a time period or the first member of a series. Furthermore, every single time that arche appears as the head noun in a genitive statement in the NT, the genitive statement is properly classified as a "partitive genitive" [2], which means that the arche is part of the noun or noun phrase to which it is being related, being in some way the outermost part or example of it. And again, this pattern follows throughout the LXX as well.

Having observed this consistent precedent up to the point of Rev. 3:14 and finding in that verse that arche appears as the head noun in a genitive statement, it is clear that the most precedented translation of verse 14 is "the beginning of the creation of/by God", where "beginning" holds the meaning of 'first member in the series' or "first-created". BAGD [3] originally gave this meaning as being a linguistic possibility, but subsequently upgraded it in BADG [4] to "linguistically probable", even though they (not unexpectedly) still opt for a meaning of "first-cause".

And yet, as I've mentioned, some appeal instead to a rendering of "ruler" or "source". And, in fact, even when rendered as "beginning", many who find the idea of Christ as a creation unacceptable read "beginning" as though it means "source". So let's consider these alternatives.

Those who opt for a reading of "ruler" at this verse appeal to certain of the meanings like those given by Strong's Concordance, specifically:

  • the person or thing that commences, the first person or thing in a series, the leader
  • the first place, principality, rule, magistracy

The problem here is that arche does not have the meaning of a personal ruler. The preferred term for that is archon, which is what John consistently uses to convey that meaning. Rather, when arche was used on occasion (in plural or with "all/every" and along with other words of rulership and authority) to refer to rule and leadership, it was with reference to the primacy of rank of some group of persons in relation to contextual contemporaries, explicit or implied. In these cases, it is generally best to render it as "principalities", as it refers to the members of a community who are in a position of leadership or authority with respect to the other members of that community. In other words, it is consistent with the central phenomenon described by arche's lexical field, and though general leadership is being indicated, it is leadership by those who are part of the community that they lead. But again, it is not used to reference a personal ruler as would be the case if arche were rendered "ruler" at Rev 3:14. So "ruler" is not a viable option at Rev. 3:14, and even if it were, it would not remove the partitive aspect from the word arche or remove the arche from membership in "the creation of/by God".

The impossibility of "ruler" is recognized by Coffman's Commentary on this verse:

The beginning of the creation of God ... Plummer pointed out that the words here bear two possible interpretations:

The two meanings are: (1) that which would make Christ the first created thing of all things God created, and (2) that which would understand Christ as the Source of all the things God created.

Plummer and many other able scholars declare the second meaning to be the one intended here.

So, Coffman's Commentary recognizes that "ruler" is not a viable option here. They note that the only two possible meanings are "first-created" and "source". So let's move on to the "source" option.

It's interesting to consider Trinitarian Albert Barnes commentary on this verse:

The phrase used here is susceptible, properly, of only one of the following significations, namely, either:

(a)that he was the beginning of the creation in the sense that he caused the universe to begin to exist - that is, that he was the author of all things; or.

(b)that he was the first created being; or.

(c)that he holds the primacy over all, and is at the head of the universe.

It is not necessary to examine any other proposed interpretations, for the only other senses supposed to be conveyed by the words, that he is the beginning of the creation in the sense that he rose from the dead as the first-fruits of them that sleep, or that he is the head of the spiritual creation of God, axe so foreign to the natural meaning of the words as to need no special refutation. As to the three significations suggested above, it may be observed, that the first one - that he is the author of the creation, and in that sense the beginning - though expressing a scriptural doctrine John 1:3; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16, is not in accordance with the proper meaning of the word used here - ἀρχὴ archē The word properly refers to the “commencement” of a thing, not its “authorship,” and denotes properly primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. The two ideas which run through the word as it is used in the New Testament are those just suggested.... The word is not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to have an existence.

Barnes allows three possible meanings for the word arche, which are 1) Source, 2) First-Created, and 3) Ruler.

The first, "source", he dismisses, because arche does not properly carry this sense anywhere in scripture.

Regarding the meaning of "first-created", Barnes says:

As to the second of the significations suggested, that it means that he was the first created being, it may be observed ... that this is not a necessary signification of the phrase, since no one can show that this is the only proper meaning which could be given to the words, and therefore the phrase cannot be adduced to prove that he is himself a created being. If it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact. But it cannot be made out from the mere use of the language here; and as the language is susceptible of other interpretations, it cannot be employed to prove that Christ is a created being....

The third signification, therefore, remains, that he is “the beginning of the creation of God,” in the sense that he is the head or prince of the creation

This is all rather telling.

Barnes's rules out "source" as a possibility, since the meaning as it would be intended here is utterly unprecedented in scripture. As for the meaning of "first-created", he finds it permissible to rule it out only because he thinks it is not the only possible reading. But the alternative reading that he thinks is still available to him is the equivalent of "ruler", which actually is not possible here, as we've already seen. In fact, where John means to call Christ "ruler" or "prince" as Barnes suggests, he does so using archon, as at Rev. 1:5.

So, while Plummer (via Coffman's commentary) points out the two possible meanings of arche at Rev 3:14 as “first-created” and “source”, Barnes, who is also a Trinitarian, claims the two possible meanings are “first-created” and “ruler”, explicitly ruling out “source” as having no basis in the entirety of scripture and ruling out any attempt to limit the meaning to the ‘new creation’ as being so foreign to the context that it requires no special argument in refutation. Barnes chooses “ruler” because it allows him to avoid choosing “first-created”. But Plummer rightly doesn’t allow for that possibility. That leaves Barnes with “first-created” as the only possible meaning. And Barnes leaves Plummer with “first-created” as the only possible meaning.

But the situation still gets quite a bit worse for the "source" rendering. You'll recall that at the start of this post I mentioned the issues of lexical field and semantic overlap versus semantic equivalence. We'll now return to these issues as they relate to the rendering of "source".

While the lexical field of arche did expand to incorporate a meaning like "source", there are a few things that need to be said about this. First of all, it could properly be considered a specialized meaning of the word. It was introduced, seemingly by the Greek philosopher Anaximander, within the context of specific philosophical speculations. The sense of "source" was not a typical or common meaning of the word arche, and there's no reason at all to think that John's readers would have thought of this meaning when reading Revelation, especially considering that such a reading would have so thoroughly departed from the consistent usage of the word in the NT, and in John's writings specifically, and from the sense of the grammatical construct, which everywhere else in the NT and LXX acted as a partitive genitive, identifying the arche as part of the genitive substantive. This meaning of something like "source" didn't really enter into Christian usage until it was picked up by non-Jewish Christians who were influenced by earlier Greek philosophers, and even then it was not very common. To attribute this meaning to John at Rev. 3:14 in light of the context in which he was writing could in some sense be said to be anachronistic, but more than this, it is simply implausible to think that his readers would have understood him to be making use of a relatively obscure and specialized meaning of arche that was so foreign to his common usage, to the usage throughout the NT, and to the usage in the LXX, which is the version of the OT that the NT writers typically used and quoted from.

But that's far from the only problem, and this is where we come back to the issue of semantic overlap versus semantic equivalence. While arche can in some cases be translated by the English word "source", the lexical field of "source" includes meanings that fall outside the lexical field of arche. More specifically, while the English word "source" can refer either to an intrinsic, related, partitive source or an extrinsic, unrelated, non-partitive source, the Greek arche only refers to the former type of source, not the latter.

In private correspondence with Dr. Jason BeDuhn of Northern Arizona University, he described the situation like this:

Arche's range of meaning covers beginning, origin, source, primacy IN CONTINUITY AND ONGOING CONNECTION WITH that which is derived or dependent or subordinate to it.... It means "source" in the sense of a fountainhead, not unrelated cause.... [There are] tensions between the definition of arche given in some of the lexicons, and their own examples, all of which contain the idea of what we might call an organic connection between the particular arche and that which comes from it or follows it in order of existence or depends upon it as its root or master. Even in the technical philosophical use of the term, the concept is one of continuity and outflow from the "source" to its dependent forms in the world.... [They] would have had to choose different phrasing to suggest something different, such as a "ruler" or "cause" disconnected and apart from that which is ruled or caused -- something Christian writers were quite capable of doing when they wanted to. So when they use arche we must assume that they are comfortable with the typical connotations of the particular aspect of its meaning that fits the context

If the implication of BeDuhn's comment isn't clear, allow me to elaborate.

When people appeal to a meaning of "source" at Rev. 3:14, they are intending to render the statement in a way the makes Christ separate from creation rather than part of it, making him an uncreated being who is the external, disconnected source of creation who is apart from the created order. Arche does not allow for this type of source. It only allows for a source that corresponds to the central phenomenon described by its lexical field, which is the outermost point of something. So arche was, at times, used to mean the outermost or first example of something that in some way or sense gave rise to the rest, but it was not used to mean the unrelated cause or source of some thing or group of things that would fall into a different contextual classification than the arche itself. So the arche of the creation of/by God, if it was to be viewed as the "source" of that creation, would itself need to be part of "the creation of/by God". To instead interpret the statement as calling Christ the external, uncreated source of God's creation would be to appeal to a meaning that is not only unprecedented in scripture (both the NT and LXX), but unprecedented in all of Greek literature, including technical philosophical literature.

We can examine the use of arche in the sense of something like "source" in the Greek literature of the ancient world, from Anaximander through to Aristotle, Philo, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Josephus (and perhaps a few others I'm not recalling off the top of my head), and when they use arche with a meaning something like "source" they consistently do so with the sense that the arche is part of or is to be grouped with that which it gives rise to in the context. And while Aristotle in particular gives meanings of both an immanent and non-immanent source, he must be understood in the specific context of metaphysics, where he uses 'immanent' to mean something that is literally indwelling in a larger whole (e.g. the foundation of a building; the heart or brain of an animal), and non-immanent to mean something that has individual existence, even though it is to be classified in the same contextual category as that which it gives rise to (e.g. a human father as the arche of his human son; the first angry words in a discussion as the arche of the resulting argument).

Over all this time, and throughout all these sources, there is no clear or even particularly plausible instance where arche is used to mean the kind of external or unrelated "source" or "cause" that people intend when they use such words to translate arche at Rev. 3:14. And if by some chance there was, in fact, some case somewhere that somebody happened to use it this way, it would have to be considered so exceedingly rare that such a meaning could not possibly be accepted as John's meaning at Rev. 3:14 and it must be considered implausible in the extreme that the readers of Revelation would have understood it this way. In fact, it might even be reasonable to consider such a case as a possibly mistaken use of the word by the author.

It is for these types of reasons and more that BeDuhn says that however one wants to translate arche at Rev 3:14, including such options as "source, principle, top, pinnacle", it must be considered "in every case inclusive within the genitive 'of creation,' not separate."

It also will not do to attempt to evade this issue by suggesting that Christ was part of creation because he joined it when he took on a human body, but was also the uncreated source of God’s creation. The language of the statement necessitates that it is in his role as the arche of the creation by God that Christ is a part of that creation. It simply will not do to claim that Christ is the uncreated, unrelated source of creation but that arche can be used because he later took on a human body.

When the NT writers wanted to identify some person or thing as the unrelated cause of something else, they had simple ways of doing so, but the whole structure of the statement was different, making use of an adverb like "pothen" or a preposition like "ek". This appears to be the consistent pattern of the entire NT and of John himself, who does so around a dozen times. Where an English translation has a statement in which "source" is used as a noun, like "What is the source of your teachings?" the original Greek reads something closer to "whence come your teachings?" This is simply how the idea of some separate source or origin of a thing was expressed by the writers of the Greek scriptures. Alternatively, they would use the preposition, ek, such as when the Father is identified as the source of all creation at 1 Cor. 8:6, the one out of whom all creation proceeds. Again, from Dr. BeDuhn:

Greek was quite capable of referring to a cause or an external creator without muddling it with an organic source or root of something.

So, considering all this, even if one chooses to translate arche at Rev. 3:14 with the scripturally unprecedented rendering of "source", this would not allow for an escape from the 'first-created' implication. At most, it would merely make Christ the first-created being who then gave rise to the rest of creation. This is, in fact, the Biblical teaching, but it is gratuitous to read that as the intended meaning here.

There is yet another problem with the rendering of "source", however. In light of the phenomenon that is described by the lexical field of arche (the outermost point of something), identifying Christ as the arche = source of the creation by God essentially reverses the order explicitly laid out in 1 Cor. 8:6. If we take the words, "the source of the creation by God," for what they logically mean, it makes Christ the origin of the creative works and God the intermediate agent. This is especially so if arche is applied to Christ in the same context as God is mentioned (i.e. Christ being on the creator side of the equation rather than the created side), since that would directly identify Christ as the first and outermost point of the creative process. Rather than the sequence of God > Christ > creation shown in I Cor 8:6, it would now be Christ > God > creation. This should be reason enough to reject this reading of John's words.

Additionally, from very early on Rev. 3:14 was recognized as a reference to Prov. 8:22, with Christ being identified as the personified Wisdom in that passage. There, in the LXX, Wisdom explicitly says: The Lord created me, the beginning of his ways for his works.

Again, it must be recalled that the LXX is the version of the OT that was used and quoted by the NT writers. So, in referencing Prov. 8:22, John was specifically referencing a passage where the personified Wisdom that Christ is related to is explicitly identified as having been created. And so we have...

Prov. 8:22 - "The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways"

Rev. 3:14 - "The beginning of the creation by God"

Finally, the closest parallel to this verse in the NT is found at Mark 13:19, where arche is used to mean the beginning part/time of God's creation, not its source:

"For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created (ἀρχῆς κτίσεως ἣς ἔκτισεν ὁ θεὸς) until now, and never will be." - ESV

So, when all the evidence is considered, it seems quite clear that there is only one precedented way to translate and understand Rev. 3:14, which is to read it as identifying Christ as the first creation of God. It is the only meaning that is even recognized as being possible by all people on both sides of the debate. Among those who find an identification of Christ as the first creation to be unacceptable, there is no agreement on which alternative reading is actually allowable or plausible here. On the one hand we have some who recognize "source" to be entirely unprecedented and implausible in this setting (not to mention that it simply doesn't allow for the meaning of a non-partitive source) and who opt instead for "ruler", but on the other hand we have those who recognize that arche cannot actually mean a personal ruler at all and who opt instead for "source". And yet, there is no disagreement that "first-created" is a perfectly valid meaning and that if Christ were, in fact, the first created being, this would be a perfectly appropriate way of expressing that idea. Those who recognize this fact and find both alternatives to be unacceptable here but who are committed to not allowing Christ to be identified as God's first creation attempt to limit the context only to Christ's resurrection and the "new creation", but as Barnes points out in his commentary on this verse, the idea "that he is the beginning of the creation in the sense that he rose from the dead as the first-fruits of them that sleep, or that he is the head of the spiritual creation of God, axe so foreign to the natural meaning of the words as to need no special refutation."

I therefore say again that, yes, Rev. 3:14 says Christ was created by God, and I concur with Dr. BeDuhn when he says of the contrary position:

The opposing argument depends on special pleading and is led by theological assumptions of what the verse must say to be consistent with a certain concept of Jesus, rather than by the trend of the evidence.

-----------------------

FOOTNOTES

[1] Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication, Adrian Akmajian, Richard A. Demers, Ann K. Farmer, Robert M. Harnish, pg. 240

[2] http://www.bcbsr.com/greek/gcase.html

[3] Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker by Arndt and Gingrich (abbreviated as BAGD)

[4] Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, Walter Bauer, Frederick W. Danker, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, (abbreviated as BDAG)

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Please do not forget to include appropriate references that you used to get your conclusions. –  Paul Vargas Nov 11 at 6:56
    
Hi Paul. Unfortunately it's a little difficult to do that since I'm limited to two links and many of the sources are easiest to reference with a direct link. –  HeKS Nov 11 at 20:39

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