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In Revelation 2:5, what is the meaning of τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα ποίησον (ta prōta erga poiēson; the first works you-do)?

I am suspicious of the phrase "τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα" because I don't see an explanation of what "the first works" are. I wonder if it is a revision of "first principles", like constructivism in mathematics. Perhaps it is related the Pauline disputes over salvation (the letter vs the spirit of the law) and religious fundamentalism (Judaizers)?

The imperative "μετανόησον" (reconsider) makes it seem that there may have been a prior agreement that is being broken. Perhaps it is part of the reminder "μνημόνευε οὖν πόθεν πέπτωκας" (remember then whence you have fallen). Perhaps "τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα ποίησον" is part of a contractual obligation do -or build- something, since "ποίησον" is also the word for construction or manufacture. (Were any early Christian sects tasked with rebuilding the temple?)

Here are the strong numbers and gloss from BibleHub:

3421  μνημόνευε    mnēmoneue     Remember              V-PMA-2S
3767  οὖν          oun           therefore             Conj
4159  πόθεν        pothen        from where            Adv
4098  πέπτωκας*,   peptōkas      you have fallen,      V-RIA-2S
2532  καὶ          kai           and                   Conj
3340  μετανόησον   metanoēson    repent,               V-AMA-2S
2532  καὶ          kai           and                   Conj
3588  τὰ           ta            the                   Art-ANP
4413  πρῶτα        prōta         first                 Adj-ANP
2041  ἔργα         erga          works                 N-ANP
4160  ποίησον·     poiēson       do.                   V-AMA-2S
1487  εἰ           ei            If                    Conj
1161  δὲ           de            however               Conj
3361  μή,          mē            not,                  Adv
2064  ἔρχομαί      erchomai      I am coming           V-PIM/P-1S
4771  σοι          soi           to you,               PPro-D2S
2532  καὶ          kai           and                   Conj
2795  κινήσω       kinēsō        I will remove         V-FIA-1S
3588  τὴν          tēn           the                   Art-AFS
3087  λυχνίαν      lychnian      lampstand             N-AFS
4771  σου          sou           of you                PPro-G2S
1537  ἐκ           ek            out of                Prep
3588  τοῦ          tou           the                   Art-GMS
5117  τόπου        topou         place                 N-GMS
 846  αὐτῆς,       autēs         of it,                PPro-GF3S
1437  ἐὰν          ean           if                    Conj
3361  μὴ           mē            not                   Adv
3340  μετανοήσῃς.  metanoēsēs    you should repent.    V-ASA-2S
1

Other versions (RSV, ESV, NASB, NIV) chose to translate τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα as the works you did at first:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance ... But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first ... (Revelation 2:2-5)


One interpretation is that the works you did at first, or first works, represents the love of neighbor, because of the preceding reference to the love you had at first. This, at least, is the interpretation in the earliest comprehensive commentary of Revelation, by Andrew of Caesarea in the 6th century:

He praised the hard work and patience for the faith and estrangement from the wicked ones ... [but] complained that the love of neighbor and beneficence had grown lukewarm, and he called her to return to this (love) by those (words) which follow, on account of which he says, do the works you did at first.1


Others interpreted this as simply referring to good works in general that the Ephesians had done earlier, before they lapsed. Cyprian of Carthage (210-258) wrote:

But I wonder that some are so obstinate as to think that repentance is not to be granted to the lapsed, or to suppose that pardon is to be denied to the penitent, when it is written, Remember whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works which certainly is said to him who evidently has fallen, and whom the Lord exhorts to rise up again by his works, because it is written, Alms do deliver from death (Tobit 4:10; cf. Revelation 20:12, 22:12) and not, assuredly, from that death which once the blood of Christ extinguished, and from which the saving grace of baptism and of our Redeemer has delivered us, but from that which subsequently creeps in through sins.2


1. Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation (Ph.D. Thesis, Universitė Laval, 2008)
2. Epistle LI (tr. in Ante-Nicene Fathers series)

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  • 1
    Expanding the phrase to "do the works you did at first" isn't very helpful because it's still unclear what "the works you did at first" is referring to. Also, having "first" modify "do", as well as inserting an extra "do", seems to be a bit of a translational stretch (which would be acceptable if it actually clarified anything). – 習約塔 Nov 13 '18 at 22:19
  • Referring back to 2:4 makes things more confusing. Among other things, how do you "do" your "first love"? (I'm assuming "do" is intended non-sexually, though a prostitute is mentioned later in the text.) The meaning of "first love" is also not clear. How was it dismissed or abandoned? Etc. – 習約塔 Nov 14 '18 at 3:08
  • It's rather obvious that this letter would be understood by the church it was written to: they would know themselves how they lived beforehand. – Sola Gratia Apr 14 '19 at 13:21
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Peace.

The hint about the identity of the “first works” to consider is that the church of Ephesus had “fallen” from its place.

Revelation 2:5 KJV (5) Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

In 2nd Peter 1:10, we are told that “if you do these things, you shall never fall”.

2 Peter 1:10 KJV (1*0) Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:*

“These things" of 2nd Peter are the “first works” referred to in Revelation 2:5.

The “first works” are: add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness LOVE (“charity”). This is the “first love”.

2 Peter 1:5-8 KJV (5) And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; (6) And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; (7) And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

If these things (all of the “first works” including the first love) be in you and abound (to do, increase) , then we shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge…the full knowledge…. of our Lord Jesus Christ. We shall then be effective witnesses (the lamp stand) to others with His full knowledge.

Without all of these things in us (and abounding) which leads up to and includes the “first love”, then our preaching of His knowledge will not be effective as no one will hear.

If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and have all faith (some of the first works but not all of them) and have not LOVE, then I am nothing as no one will hear what I speak: the full knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(8) For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our witnessing of His full knowledge (the Word of God spoken in the Spirit of Truth) to others is not effective without all of these things as the “candlestick” gets removed out of his place quickly except we change our minds about these things and do them.

This is the judgment of those who have His revelation knowledge of the Scriptures but are not mindful of doing all of the “first works”. It falls on deaf ears as no one will listen if we speak His hidden mysteries without all of these things accompanying us….especially first, LOVE. The candlestick gets removed out of his place by the Lord Himself every time we speak without these first works.

Revelation 2:5 KJV (5) Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

If I have all faith (one of the “first works”) so I could remove mountains and have all knowledge, and all kindness (giving all to feed the poor) and have not LOVE, then I am nothing.

No one will hear. I will have become as a “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal” to others in their hearing of His knowledge that I will speak to them.

Without love, the witness (the lamp stand = witness) of His knowledge (the Word of Truth) to others will not shine towards them as the lamp stand gets removed every time I try to speak to others about the mysteries of the kingdom.

The witness of Jesus Christ our Lord will get removed every time by Him as no one will hear it. They will not be illuminated by what we speak as they will not hear.

1 Corinthians 13:1-6 KJV (1) Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (2) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (3) And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (4) Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, (5) Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; (6) Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Even though the church of Ephesus declared His knowledge to others in perseverance (“borne” = figuratively, “declare”) and had patience and did labor for His name’s sake and had not fainted, they did these things without love for their enemies (the false apostles that they had identified). They became weary in well doing and counted them as enemies

We must love our enemies as well as those who love us.

Revelation 2: KJV (2) I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: (3) And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. (4) Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

Love even our enemies…..including those who are falsely claiming that they are sent (apostle = sent)by the Lord but are not.

Matthew 5:43-48 KJV (43) Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. (44) But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (45) That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (47) And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (48) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

We must not “cut off” the right ear of the enemies. If we identify the false apostles who come to deceptively take Jesus (the keeping of His daily sacrifice)out of the lives of others, then we must not use our tongues as “swords” towards them as then others will not hear us (as symbolized by the right ear being cut off) because of our railing upon them.

The servant of the high priest had a name….Malchus (meaning “king”). We must not directly attack specifically someone by name. They are rulers over the churches of men. Don’t name names or others will not hear then.

John 18:10-11 KJV (10) Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. (11) Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

The only way to be effective in the full knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in the hearing by others (and win their souls...their thoughts of the heart) is to have these “first works”…with first love…..and abound in them. Others will then hear. They will be illuminated by what we speak….the Word of Truth. We shall win souls with His knowledge.

To those who can overcome, He will give to eat of the tree of life. They will then be able to enjoy the fruit of it by being effective with His knowledge….not barren nor unfruitful with it. They will then win souls for Him and rejoice in it.

Revelation 2:7 KJV (7) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. They will be able to then win souls with the full knowledge of God. They will then be able to enjoy being effective with His knowledge as others shall hear and be enlightened by the Word of Truth.

Proverbs 11:30 KJV (30) The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.

The false apostles were identified by the church of Ephesus.

The false apostles always glory that they are sent by Christ….that they are the true apostles (sent) of Christ. They are “super apostles” because they abound in their claims of being an apostle of Christ…and there are many of them doing so.

But according to Paul they are deceitful workers.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15 KJV (12) But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. (13) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. (14) And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. (15) Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

They come preaching “another Jesus”….their “Jesus” the antichrist…instead of the real Jesus the real Christ. They come preaching “another gospel”…the keeping of the handwriting of dogmas…in the spirit/breath of the antichrist.

2 Corinthians 11:4-7 KJV (4) For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. (5) For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. (6) But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things.

They…the false apostles… can be identified by the preaching of the gospel of God for money’s sake and their refusal to stop doing that. They will refuse to freely give.

(7) Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?

The true apostles of Christ worked with their own hands to support their own earthly necessities which enabled them to preach the true gospel…the true good news.

They did not use flattering words nor a cloak of covetousness as false apostles do. Their exhortation was not of deceit nor of uncleanness (greed) nor in guile. Guile was not found in their words. They are the example for us to follow.

1 Thessalonians 2:3-12 KJV (3) For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: (4) But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. (5) For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: (6) Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. (7) But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: (8) So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.

They labored night and day with their own hands to support their own earthly necessities so that they may preach the gospel of God freely to others. In doing this, we bring glory to God from the outside world that will then have no opportunity to speak evil of us and the good news.

9) For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. (10) Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: (11) As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, (12) That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

We are commanded in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to withdraw ourselves from every brother that does not work with his own hands to support his own necessities who will continue to walk disorderly and not according to the transmission that we have received from the true apostles of Christ.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 KJV (6) Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. (7) For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;

The true apostles did not eat any man’s bread for nothing but did labor and travail night and day so as not to be chargeable to any.

(8) Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:

They…the original apostles…had the power to partake of others’ bread in their preaching of the gospel but did not. They made themselves an example to follow after.

We have no power to do today what they refused to do back then. We must work with our own hands to support our own earthly necessities….what to eat, drink, wear.

(9) Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. (10) For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. (11) For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. (12) Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

The false apostle will not listen but will continue to walk “disorderly” and not according to the commandment of the true apostles of Christ who worked with their own hands to support themselves.

But we must not be weary in well doing.

(13) But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.

If any man (the one claiming to be an apostle of Christ) does not obey the word by this letter, note that man, and have no company with him….

(14) And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

…..yet count him not as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.

(15) Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

The church of Ephesus did not do this (admonishing as brothers) when they had identified the false apostles whom they treated as enemies. They became weary in well doing (the first works) toward the false apostles that they had tried and found them as liars.

They left their first love by treating them as enemies and therefore weren’t being effective as a witness in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

We must overcome so that we may be effective in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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