Beginnings

John D. Barry

In the beginning, God subdues the greatest symbol of chaos in the ancient world: the waters. He also creates light—something that the ancients thought ruled everything. Even darkness, which they deeply feared, is now ruled by Him.


The ancients were in the middle, asking, “God, where are you in the midst of this chaotic world?” He answers them with a story about beginnings. In this story, we find that God establishes order in a chaotic world. He rules other gods. He rules the light. He rules the night. It’s as if God said, “Why are you afraid? I’m here. I’m working it out.”


Matthew 1–2 gives us another beginning—a child born in humble circumstances. But it’s through this child, Jesus, that the world itself was first created. And that’s not all: in Him and through Him everything is brought together. Chaos is made orderly: “Because all things in the heavens and on earth were created by him … and he himself is before all things, and in him all things are held together” (Col 1:16–17). If we want to truly understand our origins, we need this frame of reference.


Like the ancients, we too are in the middle. We worry that evil and chaos will reign, but we must let Christ take control. He can bring order to our unruly lives. We need a new beginning. In Genesis, God wants us to see Him taking back what He created—and that includes us.

What chaos do you fear? We often feel in the middle, but our beginnings suggest that Christ is holding everything together. What areas of your life still need God’s order? Where do you need Christ to step in and hold everything together?

Barry, J. D., & Van Noord, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Why the Dove?

Author John D. Barry

Ambrose of Milan on Jesus’ Baptism

Ambrose (ca. 333–397 AD) was the bishop of Milan, as well as St. Augustine’s teacher. He is most well known for his defense of the Holy Spirit as a divine part of the Trinity.

WhytheDove

“ ‘[H]eaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove’ [Luke 3:21–22]. Why like a dove? For the grace of the washing requires simplicity, so that we may be ‘innocent like doves’ [Matt 10:16]. The grace of the washing requires peace, as in an earlier image the dove brought to the ark that which alone was inviolable by the flood [Gen 8:10–11]. … In that branch, in that ark, was the image of peace and of the church. In the midst of the floods of the world the Holy Spirit brings its fruitful peace to its church. David too taught [about] the sacrament of baptism … with the Spirit of prophecy, [saying,] ‘Who will give me wings like a dove?’ …

Because the Father did not wear a body, … the Father wished to prove to us that he is present in the Son, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased’ [Luke 3:22]. If you wish to learn that the Son is always present with the Father, read the voice of the Son saying, ‘If I go up into heaven, you are there. If I go down into the grave, you are present there’ [Psa 139:8].”[1]

[1] St. Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke with Fragments on the Prophecy of Isaias. Translation by T. Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), pgs. 76–77. Translation amended by A. A. Just, Luke. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament  Vol 3. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), pgs. 66–67.

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Figuring out the “Firstborn” in Colossians 1:18

Author Andrew B. Perrin In Col 1:18 Paul describes Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead.” How can this be when Lazarus was resurrected before Jesus (John 11:44)? To understand what Paul meant here, we must investigate the meaning of the Greek word behind the English word “firstborn.”

Step 1: Make the Switch to Greek and Establish a Preliminary Definition

FiguringOutFirstborn

The easiest way to pinpoint the Greek word translated as “firstborn” is to use The ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament. This resource aligns the English translation with the corresponding Greek text. When we look directly below the English word “firstborn” in this resource we find the word prōtotokos.

From here we can use a Greek lexicon to formulate a working definition. If using print resources, take note of the number 4416 in the reverse interlinear, and look this number up in the Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary appended to Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. In Logos Bible Software, I simply double-click on prōtotokos in the reverse-interlinear and am directed to the appropriate entry in my preferred Greek lexicon, which is A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testamentand Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG). Both resources tell us that prōtotokos refers to birth order—in the first century, this signifies rank, or status.

Step 2: Briefly Track the Word through Greek Literature

Since the New Testament was written in a Greek culture, investigating how words were used in other Greek writings is an integral component of our study. Through concise survey articles, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNTA) plugs us into this Greek context.

Looking up “firstborn” in the Table of English words in TDNTA directs us to the article on page 965. In Logos Bible Software, this resource is a double-click away. TDNTA states that prōtotokos is rare in Greek literature; in its place authors often used the synonym prōtogonos meaning “first in rank.”

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, prōtotokos was applied to humans (Gen 38:6) and animals (Gen 4:4), both of whom God uniquely claimed as His own (Exod 13:2). The term also functioned as a national designation for Israel as the object of God’s special favor (Exod 4:22). Closer in time to the New Testament, Philo, a Greek Jewish Philosopher (20 BC–50 AD), described Cain as a prōtotokos since he was very literally the first human physically born (Gen 4:1)—who had a special rank as Adam’s heir. In all of these usages, the term denotes the special rank of the “firstborn” in relation to others.

Step 3: Survey the Usage of the Word in the New Testament

We can narrow the scope of our study by focusing on the New Testament uses of prōtotokos. This can quickly be done using Logos Bible Software’s speed search, or manually by looking up the word “firstborn” in Strong’s and counting all of the occurrences listed with the number 4416. Both methods reveal that prōtotokos occurs eight times in the New Testament.

Six of these occurrences refer directly to Jesus. At the most basic level, Jesus is described as Mary’s “firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). Just as Philo referred to the physical birth and rank of Cain, Luke refers to Jesus as the first child of Mary.

In Col 1:15 Paul states that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation.” Paul may be referring to Jesus being the “first” eternal, divine being made flesh and born into the created order. Paul may also be referring to Jesus’ rank as head of creation. Jesus is the preeminent one who entered into the created world (Heb 1:6). The phrase “firstborn of the dead” occurs twice (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), alluding to the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, not the timing of the resurrection. Because of this event, Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29).

Step 4: Revisit the Passage to Find the Meaning of the Word in Context

Assuming that theology is conveyed at the level of single words is a danger associated with word studies. However, the true indicator of the author’s intended meaning is how the word fits within the immediate context; for us this is Col 1:15–20.

Paul’s use of prōtotokos twice in this short section suggests that the “firstborn” is an important concept for the passage as a whole. The wider context of other New Testament writers, like John, who affirm Jesus’ pre-existence and eternality, also helps us understand what Paul is saying and not saying by this term.

Although Paul’s first usage of prōtotokos evokes the idea of rank and chronology, the second occurrence of “firstborn of the dead” refers to the idea of rank and not chronology. We know this precisely because Lazarus was raised from the dead—making Col 1:18 about the “special status” of Jesus. Col 1:18 extends this priority from creation to re-creation in light of resurrection. As “the firstborn of the dead” Jesus is the resurrected one that guarantees new life for those who follow Him. This understanding is the basis for Paul’s message of reconciliation that is fully dependent on Jesus’ preeminence as prōtotokos (Col 1:17, 20).

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Thorns, Thistles and Toiling

Author Jeannine Seery

“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’

To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life’” (Gen 3:16–17, NIV).

Thorns, Thistles and Toiling

Perhaps it’s because of the immense joy and pain I’ve experienced being a parent that I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how the actions of Adam and Eve, our first parents, influence our daily lives.

As I’ve read it and heard it preached, the curse itself seems to be pretty straightforward: Women will toil in childbirth while men toil in work. I find myself wondering, though, how is this ancient curse evidenced in our modern existence, as we seek to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

At the very core of the curse is the act of rebellion against God. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with what their Father had given them and deemed it necessary to follow their own interests. They chose to look outside of their relationship with God for fulfillment, instead of trusting that He would satisfy their every need. In doing so, they broke relationship with Him. The rest is history.

I’m not sure if the curse, as seen in 21st century America, is only the actual pain of childbirth and hard work. I believe that we are cursed also (perhaps even more) by our desire to find satisfaction, identity and meaning in our children and work, rather than our relationship with God.

Male and female, it seems that we are endlessly striving to make a name for ourselves—whether that would be in reaching the top of the corporate ladder, or parenting the next Albert Einstein. Take a look at the shelves of your local bookstore: You’ll find countless resources on how to become a more effective, successful person in the world of work. A quick search on the internet can yield a wealth of information on how to best meet the physical and emotional needs of your child, even before birth.

The creators of these resources appeal to our deepest insecurities and deceive us into believing that if we can somehow find the secret formula, our success will be guaranteed.

People typically aspire to be the absolute best at what we do, which in and of itself is a noble pursuit. Our problems begin to arise when we seek to measure our intrinsic value by our successes and failures. Contrary to what we’ve been told, we are not what we do. It has never defined the essence of who we are, and it never can. We have been created by a loving God to bring glory to His name in all the circumstances of our lives. And often the very circumstances that bring Him the most glory are the times of our greatest failure, times when we give up trying to work in our own power and instead allow His power to be made perfect in our weakness.

The Word of God says in Eccl 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” While our daily struggles may not appear in the same form as our first parents’, their essence is quite similar. We often find ourselves dissatisfied with the path that God has ordained for us, which leads us to pursue our own agenda. Instead of taking our confusion and dissatisfaction to the one who knows us best, we are tempted to look outside of our relationship with God to find answers to our failures and disappointments. We toil, not against actual thorns and thistles, but against “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things [that] come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19 NIV). We seek the forbidden fruit of this world that will never satisfy, while God waits for us to come and walk with Him in the cool of the day. He can meet our every need, if only we would let Him.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.