So where do we end up?
Initially, it really looks like the Jehovah’s Witness is right. The word firstborn most obviously describes someone who has been born, who has come into existence at a point in time. And because that’s the word’s basic meaning, that’s the way it’s usually used—97% of the time, it’s to be taken literally.
The deity of Christ, which has been the tortoise in this little exegetical race, has outrun the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ hare, decisively.
OK, time to ‘fess up.
This series wasn’t really about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was it?
Sure, we considered a single verse that the JWs use to allege that Jesus was a created being, but that verse would be worth studying even if there were no Jehovah’s Witnesses involved. And as a survey and refutation of Witness theology, this series is seriously lacking. There’s a lot more that needs to be said; that’s why there are whole books on the subject.
So what was the series really about?
It was about how to study the Bible—about how to find out what a biblical passage means by what it says.
It was a part—an important part—of what we call the exegetical process. It was about figuring out what the key questions are in a given passage and seeking to answer those questions—to the extent that we can answer them by digging further into the meanings of the words the Bible uses.
There’s a lot more to that process. But I’ve included this much of it here for two reasons:
- I want to emphasize how important it is that we take the Scripture seriously and handle it carefully. The Scripture contains all that we need to know about God and our relationship with him. (We call that principle the “sufficiency” of Scripture.) And it tells us those things in a way that we can understand. (We call that the “perspicuity” of Scripture.)
But that doesn’t mean that everything’s lying right there on the surface, to be picked up by every casual reader. As with gemstones, so it is with the gems of biblical truth. Sometimes you just need to dig. The good stuff will often call for some effort from us.
I often tell my students that spiritual exercise is like physical exercise: there’s some benefit to almost any intensity of exercise, but if you want to build muscle, you’re going to have to put some weights on the machine. A casual reading of the Scripture will do you some good; the Scripture has a power all its own (Heb 4.12). But there are truths there that will yield themselves only to diligent investigation. You’re going to have to work at it.
Eight blog posts for just part of one short verse. But the effort was worth it, wasn’t it?
- Equally important, to my mind, is the fact that you can do this kind of study. You don’t need a seminary education, or a knowledge of Greek or Hebrew or Latin, or Logos Collector’s Edition, to do this kind of work.
Sure, we talked about Greek a bit—I mentioned the Greek word prototokos, but I didn’t use Greek letters, and I used it to make a point about etymology that I had already made clearly (I think) in English. The Greek was just a pleasant diversion. (NB: Sure, there’s benefit to having Greek. But my point is that the truths of the Bible are readily available to people who don’t have that knowledge.)
What you need is the awareness to ask the right questions—and if you’ve read this series of posts, you now should have that—and the willingness to do it.
That means devoting the time, and the energy, to studying the Bible at the depth required to get the answers you need.
And take heart from the fact that you have a powerful helper, a Comforter, one standing alongside you to help you understand. Paul tells us that the believer has the Spirit of God, who of course knows the mind of God perfectly, to reveal God’s truth to us (1Co 2.6-16). We have a powerful advantage over the unbeliever (the “natural person,” 1Co 2.14).
So. There’s a universe of truth waiting to be discovered in this Book. Sit down, focus your mind, and get to work.