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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


One of the fundamental ideas with regard to Jehovah in early Israel was that of His being owner of the land, and consequently lord also of all that the land brought forth and of all that lived upon it ( Leviticus 25:23,  Psalms 50:10-12). Closely connected with this idea was a further one to the effect that the land was held in tenure; Jehovah was the landowner, His people the tenants; but their tenancy depended solely on the will of Jehovah ( Deuteronomy 30:20 etc.).* [Note: This OT conception is illustrated in the Gospels by the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen,  Matthew 21:33 ff. and parallel passages; cf. also  Mark 13:34.] As lord of the land and giver of all that it produced, tribute was due to Him; this tribute took the form of the offering of first-fruits.† [Note: It will, of course, be understood that this was adapted to agricultural life from the earlier nomadic life with its flocks and herds (cf. Nowack, Heb. Arch. ii. p. 147 ff.).] Not only, however, was the land Jehovah’s possession, but the people who lived upon it, and upon its produce, were likewise His; this would follow naturally by virtue of Jehovah’s overlordship. Therefore, just as Jehovah, being owner of the land, received the first-fruits of its produce as tribute due to Him, so, being also owner of the people, did He receive the firstborn as, in the same way, a tribute due to Him. This is not definitely stated in the Bible, but the notices of child-sacrifice lead us to infer that at some early period the rite of the sacrifice of the firstborn was performed, and the analogy of the offering up of the firstlings of the flock points to a similar usage with regard to man ( Exodus 13:2;  Exodus 22:29;  Exodus 34:20); moreover, the prevalence of the practice among ethnologically allied races‡ [Note: e.g. the Moabites,  2 Kings 3:27; the early Arabs (Wellhausen, Reste2, pp. 115, 116); the Canaanites (PEFSt, 1903, passim); the Phœnicians (Rawlinson, Hist. of Phœnicia, ch. xi.); cf. the story of the attempted sacrifice of Isaac; see PSBA xxiv. p. 253 ff.] makes it in a high degree probable that originally the descendants of Abram sacrificed their firstborn as a tribute to the Deity (see below, ‘Redemption of the firstborn’). As the firstborn are spoken of as being particularly the possession of Jehovah, one would expect to find them occupying the position of His special ministers; it is possible that this was the case originally (cf. Hannah’s vow,  1 Samuel 1:11),§ [Note: There is a Talmudic tradition (Zeb. 112b), according to which the firstborn acted as officiating priests in the wilderness until the erection of the tabernacle, when the office was given to the tribe of Levi (Jewish Encyc. v. 396).] especially as in  Numbers 3:12 it is said: ‘Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be mine’ (cf.  Numbers 3:45); as a matter of fact, however, the earliest Code commands the redemption of the firstborn: ‘All the firstborn of man among thy sons shalt thou redeem’ ( Exodus 13:13, cf.  Exodus 13:15;  Exodus 34:20).

From the foregoing one can understand that the term ‘firstborn,’ πρωτότοκος (that which, as the most precious, belonged, in the first instance, to Jehovah), came to be one of particular honour (cf.  Exodus 4:22,  Jeremiah 31:9), and it is used as such in reference to Christ ( Romans 8:29,  Colossians 1:15;  Colossians 1:18).

The only occurrence of the term in the Gospels is in  Luke 2:7 καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν τὸν πρωτότοκον,* [Note: In  Matthew 1:25τὸν πρωτότοκον is read by DC and the OL version only; it must therefore be rejected in this passage.] and apart from its significance to the Jewish mind as outlined above, its importance lies in its bearing upon the question of the perpetual virginity of the mother of Christ. The term does not necessarily suggest the subsequent birth of other children; for, in the first place, as a title of honour it would naturally be mentioned in connexion with Christ by the Evangelist; and secondly, to Jews the significance of ‘firstborn’ lay in the special sanctity which attached to such;† [Note:  Hebrews 1:6, where τὸν πρωτὸτοκον means ‘only-begotten.’] this is clear from what has been said in the previous section; indeed, St. Luke directly implies as much when he quotes, in substance, from  Exodus 13:2;  Exodus 13:12 ‘Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’ ( Luke 2:23).

Redemption of the firstborn .—In the passage  Luke 2:22 ff. two distinct ceremonies are referred to: the presentation to the Lord, and the redemption; the former of these implies the actual dedication of the child to God (cf.  1 Samuel 1:28); from what has been said above, this ceremony must be regarded as the fulfilling in spirit of the primitive act of literally devoting (sacrificing) the firstborn son to the Deity. The distinction between the two ceremonies may be illustrated by the practice of modern orthodox Jews. The father of the child first presents his firstborn to the cohen , and makes a declaration ending with the words: ‘It is said, Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is mine.’ This is a definite act of presentation to God, of renunciation on the part of the father,—the child is no longer his. This part of the ceremony corresponds to  Luke 2:22-23;  Luke 2:27-28. Then the father places fifteen shillings (five sclaim or shekels) before the cohen , who thereupon asks: ‘Which wouldst thou rather, give me thy firstborn son, the firstborn of his mother,‡ [Note: The law of the redemption of the firstborn ‘applies to the firstborn of the mother and not of the father. Hence the husband of several wives would have to redeem the firstborn of each one of them, while the husband of a woman who had had children by a previous marriage need not redeem her child although it was his firstborn’ (Jewish Encyc. v. 396). Moreover, the first male child of a woman need not be redeemed if a female child has been born before him.] or redeem him for five selaim , which thou art bound to give according to the Law?’ The father replies: ‘I desire rather to redeem my son, and here thou hast the value of his redemption, which I am bound to give according to the Law.’§ [Note: The money is sometimes returned, but the Jewish authorities do not look upon this with favour.] This ceremony corresponds to  Luke 2:24.|| [Note: | See The Authorized Daily Prayer-Book6 (ed. S. Singer), pp. 308, 309.] This redemption of the firstborn¶ [Note: According to  Exodus 13:13-15 the redemption of the firstborn was instituted as an abiding act of thanksgiving to Jehovah for having spared the firstborn males of the children of Israel in Egypt. Concerning the connexion between the offering of the firstborn and the Passover, see Nowack, op. cit. § 99.] (פִּדִיוֹןהַבֵּן) took place thirty days after birth ( Luke 2:22; cf.  Leviticus 12:4,  Numbers 18:16),** [Note: * The same custom is kept up by modern orthodox Jews; if the day falls on a Sabbath or a Holy Day, the ceremony is performed on the following day.] and the price of redemption was, according to  Numbers 3:47;  Numbers 18:16, five shekels; in  Exodus 13:13 the command to redeem the firstborn is given, though the price of redemption is not mentioned, while in Leviticus 12 there is no mention at all regarding the redemption of the firstborn, reference being made only to an atonement which has to be made for the purification of the mother; it may be owing to Leviticus 12 that in  Luke 2:22 ‘their’ purification is spoken of, i.e. of the child as well as of the mother; at any rate v. 24 seems to point to an amalgamation of the offerings due from the mother for purification, and on behalf of the child for redemption;* [Note: Among modern orthodox Jews, priests and Levites are exempt from the law of redeeming their firstborn; this applies also to those whose wives are daughters of priests or Levites.] in the modern service of prayer of thanksgiving for women after recovery from childbirth no provision is made for any offering.

Literature.—See the authorities referred to in the foot-notes.

W. O. E. Oesterley.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [2]

First, Firstborn

I should not think it necessary to detain the reader with any thing by way of explanation to these terms, being in themselves sufficiently obvious, but only when applied to the person of Christ, considered with an eye to him, they merit attention.

We are told by the apostle to the Colossians, ( Colossians 1:18) that he who is the Head of his body the church, and who is the beginning, was also the first-born from the dead, that "in all things he might have the pre-eminence." It is astonishing to what minute circumstances every thing in the church of the Old Testament had a reference, by way of typifying the Lord Jesus Christ in this pre-eminency of character, as the first, and first-born, and first-fruits, and the firstlings of the flock, and of the herd. As if (and which in reality is the case), JEHOVAH would have every thing shadow forth and bring forward somewhat either by allusion, or by direct type, concerning him who is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, and sum and substance of all things, in the ordinance of God for salvation. We find this beginning even in the patriarchal age. So that Jacob, when a-dying, though he set aside Reuben from the right of primogeniture, for his particular offence against his father, yet still speaks of the dignity of it."Reuben (saith he) thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength; the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power."Then follows the sentence of degradation,"Thou shalt not excel;" that is, thou shalt not retain the right of heirship. ( Genesis 49:4) And at the formation of the church, at the Exodus by Moses, while the first-born of the Egyptians, both of man and beast, were all killed, the Lord declared, that all the first-born of Israel, both of man and beast, should be consecrated to him. ( Exodus 12:29; Exo 13:2)

I do not presume to speak with any confidence upon the subject; but I would very humbly ask, Is there not somewhat wonderfully striking in this appointment of the Lord? The Passover that was then observed, we have authority to say, was altogether typical of Christ; for God the Holy Ghost declared by Paul the apostle, that Christ, "our passover, was sacrificed for us." ( 1 Corinthians 5:7) And as this Passover, in the sprinkling of the blood of the lamb of the first year, without blemish, and without spot, on the houses of the Israelites, become the only cause of safety, to make all the difference between the first-born of Israel and the first-born of Egypt; are we not taught herefrom, that the year of Christ's redeemed is no less the day of Christ's vengance? ( Isaiah 63:4) God will have a sacrifice of judgment in the firstlings of his enemies, as well as of mercy in the firstlings of his people. So much will JEHOVAH in all things honour his dear Son, as the first, and first-born, and only begotten of his Father, that at the forming of the church there shall be a destruction in the first-born of those that hate him. I do not presume to speak decidedly on this point; but I cannot but conceive, that there is somewhat very striking on this ground is the difference here shewn between Israel and Egypt. ( Exodus 11:7)

And if the reader will pursue the subject through the Bible, in the several types by which Christ the first-born is set forth, he will, I am persuaded, be wonderfully struck, as he passeth through the sacred volume, with the vast attention manifested on the occasion.

The first-born among the children of Israel had a precedency and birthright, which certainly pointed to Jesus. The right of priesthood was with the elder son, and a double portion among his brethren. ( Genesis 49:8) And if a man had many wives, still the first-born of every one of them was to be consecrated to the Lord.

And under this view I must not forget to observe, that the offering appointed for every male that opened the womb, (see  Exodus 13:2 with  Exodus 34:19-20;  Leviticus 12:6;  Luke 2:21-24) had a direct reference to Christ. Yea, some have thought (and it is a point worthy the most serious consideration,) whether this direction concerning the opening of the womb had respect to any other. For strictly and properly speaking, none but the Lord Jesus ever did open the womb. By the miraculous impregnation of the Virgin, from the overshadowing power of the Holy Ghost, the opening of womb was specially and peculiarly only effected at the birth of Christ; whereas, in every other instance, from the creation of the world, as anatomists well know, it is accomplished at the time of conception. And if this be the case in the instance of Christ, and this appointment of dedication to the Lord of the first-born, that openeth the womb had respect only to Christ; what an eye to this one birth, all along through the whole Levitical dispensation, was manifested by this right of the Lord, both in the first-born of men and of beast, to typify Christ!

I beg the reader on this occasion, as in many others, to observe, that I presume not to speak with any positiveness upon the subject; I only state it. Certain it is, that in all things, and by every way, it was and is JEHOVAH'S will, Jesus should have the pre-eminency. It is blessed, therefore, upon all occasions to discover it.

The redemption of the first-born among the children of Israel, was usually observed with great ceremony. The parents brought their son to the priest, together with the appointed offering for redemption, (See  Numbers 18:15-16) and the priest received the child from his mother's hands, with the solemn assurance, that it was her firstborn. The priest then claiming the child in right of the Lord, accepts at the parents' hands the appointed offering, and return the infant; and the day concludes in holy rejoicing.

It forms an additional testimony, that all this was with an eye to Christ, in that among the first-born of the Levites, the redemption of the first-born was not appointed. ( Numbers 1:47; Num 3:12-13) And, wherefore, among the Levites this exemption, for it is evident our Lord sprang out of Judah? The whole of Israel is said to be unto JEHOVAH "a kingdom of priests." ( Exodus 19:6) And therefore, in every thing, and by every way, both in a single tribe and in the whole people, as the Lord's chosen, as shall be typical of the Lord Jesus Christ. In a word, JEHOVAH'S great design all along, and from one eternity to another, is to glorify his dear Son. In all things and by all things, he shall have the pre-eminence. "Every knee shall bow before him, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Amen,

I will detain the reader no longer than just to remark, that the offering of the first fruits had an eye to the Lord Jesus, similar to what hath been shewn respecting the first-born. For the waving the first fruits towards heaven, and the lamb that was to be offered with it for a burnt offering, very plainly testified, that this also was typical. (See in confirmation  Leviticus 23:10-14.)

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

FIRSTBORN. 1. The dedication of the firstborn of men and beasts was probably a primitive nomadic custom, and therefore earlier than the offering of first-fruits, which could not arise until the Israelites had settled into agricultural life in Canaan. The origin of the belief that a peculiar value attached to the firstborn cannot be definitely traced; but it would be a natural inference that what was valuable to the parent would be valuable to his God. And thus the word ‘firstborn’ could be used figuratively of Israel as the firstborn of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] among the nations (  Exodus 4:22 , cf.   Jeremiah 31:9 ), and the seed of David among dynasties (  Psalms 89:28 ). The law of the dedication of the firstborn is found in JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] (  Exodus 13:11-16;   Exodus 22:29 b,   Exodus 34:19  Exodus 34:19 f.), D [Note: Deuteronomist.] (  Deuteronomy 15:19-23 ), P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] (  Exodus 13:1 f.,   Numbers 3:11-13;   Numbers 3:40-51;   Numbers 18:15-18 ). It is not impossible that in very primitive times firstborn sons were sometimes actually sacrificed (cf.   2 Kings 3:27 ,   Micah 6:7 ), but the practice would soon grow up of ‘redeeming’ them by money or payments in kind.

2. The firstborn ( bekhôr ) enjoyed the birthright ( bekhôrâh ). He succeeded his father as head of the family, and took the largest share of the property; this was fixed in   Deuteronomy 21:17 as a ‘double portion.’ [In   2 Chronicles 21:3 the principle of the birthright is extended to the succession to the throne. But this is a late passage, and it is not certain that the firstborn was necessarily the heir apparent]. If a man died without children, the heir was the firstborn of his widow by his brother or next-of-kin (  Deuteronomy 25:5-10 ). The right of the firstborn, however, was often disturbed, owing to the jealousies and quarrels arising from the polygamy practised in Israel. The law in   Deuteronomy 21:15-17 is directed against the abuse. Reuben, although the son of Leah, the less favoured of Jacob’s two wives, was considered the firstborn, and lost the right only because of his sin (  Genesis 49:3 f.,   1 Chronicles 5:1 ). But Ishmael was allowed no share at all in the father’s property (  Genesis 21:10 ); and the superiority of Jacob over Esau (symbolizing the superiority of Israel over Edom) is described as having been foretold before their birth (  Genesis 25:23 ), and as brought about by Esau’s voluntary surrender of the birthright (  Genesis 25:29-34 ). And other instances occur of the younger being preferred to the elder, e.g. Ephraim (  Genesis 48:13-20 ), Solomon (  1 Kings 1:1-53 ), Shimri (  1 Chronicles 26:10 ).

3. The death of the firstborn was the last of the punishments sent upon Egypt for Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites go. Moses gave him due warning (  Exodus 11:4-8 ), and on his continued refusal the stroke fell (  Exodus 12:29 f.). The event is referred to in   Psalms 78:51;   Psalms 105:36;   Psalms 135:8;   Psalms 136:10 ,   Hebrews 11:28 . It is probable (see Plagues of Egypt) that the stories of all the other plagues have been founded on historical occurrences, and that the Egyptians suffered from a series of ‘natural’ catastrophes. If this is true of the first nine, it is reasonable to assume it for the last, and we may suppose that a pestilence raged which created great havoc, but did not spread to the Israelite quarter. The growth of the tradition into its present form must be explained by the ‘ætiological’ interest of the Hebrew writer the tendency to create idealized situations in a remote past for the purpose of explaining facts or institutions whose origin was forgotten. Thus the Feast of Booths was accounted for at a late date by the dwelling of the Israelites in booths after the Exodus (  Leviticus 23:43 ), the Feast of Unleavened Cakes by the haste with which they departed from Egypt (  Exodus 12:34;   Exodus 13:7 f.), the Feast of the Passover by the passing over of the houses marked with blood at the destruction of the firstborn (  Exodus 12:12 f.,   Exodus 12:23;   Exodus 12:27 ). And similarly the singling out of the firstborn for destruction was itself connected with the ancient practice of offering to God annually in spring the firstlings of beasts. Moses demanded release in order to offer the sacrifice (  Exodus 10:25 f.), and because Pharaoh refused to allow them to offer their firstlings, J″ [Note: Jahweh.] took from the Egyptians their firstborn. This explanation, though not explicitly given, is implied in the close connexion of the dedication of the firstborn with the Passover (  Exodus 13:11-13 ,   Deuteronomy 15:19;   Deuteronomy 16:1-8 ). In a redactional passage (  Exodus 4:22 f.) a different explanation is offered. The death of the firstborn would be a punishment for refusal to release Israel, who was J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s firstborn.

4. In the NT the term ‘firstborn’ ( prôtotokos ) is used of Christ (  Romans 8:29 ,   Colossians 1:15;   Colossians 1:18 ,   Hebrews 1:6 ,   Revelation 1:5 ), and of Christians who have died (  Hebrews 12:23 ); see the commentaries.

A. H. M‘Neile.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [4]

(See Birthright .) Primogeniture gave princedom and priesthood in patriarchal times. So Esau and Jacob ( Genesis 25:23-33;  Hebrews 12:16), Reuben ( Genesis 49:3;  1 Chronicles 5:1). The oldest son in all Israelite families was regarded as sacred to God, because Israel's firstborn were exempted from the stroke which destroyed all the firstborn of Egypt on the first Passover night. The firstborn represented the whole people; Jehovah said to Pharaoh, "Israel is My son, My firstborn, and I say unto thee, Let My son go, that he may serve He; and if thou refuse to let him go, behold I will slay thy son, thy firstborn" ( Exodus 4:22-23). Israel, as Jehovah's firstborn, was designed to be a" kingdom of priests and an holy nation" ( Exodus 19:6).

It shall hereafter realize this high Calling in a degree that it has not yet realized it, standing as "the firstborn among many brethren" (like the antitypical Israel, Messiah,  Romans 8:29;  Hebrews 2:12), and priest among all nations, which in subordination to Jerusalem, the spiritual metropolis, shall be the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ, then manifested ( Isaiah 61:6;  Isaiah 66:21;  Revelation 11:15;  Zechariah 14:16;  Jeremiah 3:17). The tribe of Levi was substituted for all Israel's firstborn to minister to the Lord ( Numbers 3:12;  Numbers 3:45;  Numbers 3:50). There being 273 more of the firstborn in Israel than the males in Levi, the 273 were redeemed at five shekels apiece. Still, to mark the consecration of Israel to Jehovah, the redemption money was exacted for every firstborn ( Numbers 18:15). But the firstlings of cattle were to be offered to the Lord.

An donkey was however redeemed with a lamb, or else killed ( Exodus 13:13). Christ is the First-begotten. As such, He has the rights of primogeniture; for, as  Hebrews 1:6 is in the Greek, "when God shall bring in again the First. begotten into the world, the shall be deemed worthy of not less honor, for "He saith ( Psalms 97:7), Let all the angels of God worship Him." His being "brought into the world" ( Oikoumenee , "the inhabited world"), as the theater of His power, mainly applies to His second advent. In ( Colossians 1:16, "the Firstborn of every creature"; implying priority and superlative dignity.  Psalms 89:27, "My Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth," David's antitype, the Messiah.

See  Colossians 1:16 ( Proototokos Pasees Ktiseoos , as  John 1:15;  John 1:30;  John 15:18, Prootos Mou , "long before Me"), "begotten long before every creature"; the reason why He is so designated follows, "for He is before all things." "First-begotten" marks at once His eternal priority and His condescending to brotherhood with us ( Romans 8:29). "Only begotten" marks His relation to the Father by generation from everlasting. Since He is "long before every creature," He cannot be a creature Himself but the Creator. And as He is the first begotten, originating the natural creation, so He is "the firstborn ( Proototokos , 'first begotten,'  Revelation 1:5) from ("out of", Ek ) the dead," and therefore "the Beginning" ( Colossians 1:18) of "the church of the firstborn" ( Hebrews 12:23), the originating Agent of the new creation.

He was "begotten" of the Father to a new life at His resurrection (the day when the Father fulfilled  Psalms 2:7 according to  Acts 13:33;  Romans 1:4) which is His "regeneration"; so He is "the Prince-leader ( Archeegos ) of life." "Regeneration," begun in the soul now, will extend to the body at the resurrection of the saints; and to nature, now groaning under the curse ( Matthew 19:28;  Luke 20:36;  1 John 3:2;  Romans 8:11;  Romans 8:19;  Romans 8:23). As He is "the firstborn" in relation to the election church, so it is "the church of the firstborn," "a kind of first-fruits of His creatures" ( James 1:18), in relation to the millennial church, and to the hereafter to be regenerated natural creation. As Christ is "the firstfruits," earnest and pledge of the coming resurrection, so believers are "a kind of first-fruits," a pledge and earnest of the ultimate regeneration of creation.

As He is first begotten by generation from everlasting, so believers by adoptions, "begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible," etc. ( 1 Peter 1:3.) As Israel, on the ground of being God's "firstborn," was a king-priestly nation, so believers ( Revelation 1:6). The figurative phrase, "the firstborn of death," means the deadliest disease that death (personified) ever gendered ( Job 18:13). "The firstborn of the poor," the poorest.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [5]

Frequently employed in the Bible in the literal sense of offspring, "firstborn" acquired metaphorical applications over time. Two such New Testament uses, as a term for the church and as a title for Christ, are theologically significant.

The firstborn son in patriarchal society was regarded as special ( Genesis 49:3;  Exodus 13:2 ). He became the head of the family upon his father's death, having received his father's blessing ( Genesis 27 ) and a double portion of the inheritance ( Deuteronomy 21:17 ).

After the Passover event in Egypt, every firstborn male belonged to God. This implied priestly duties, an obligation later transferred to the Levites ( Numbers 8:14-19 ).

Of special significance is the divine claim that Israel was God's firstborn ( Exodus 4:22-23 ). This signified Israel's favored status among the nations to be in covenant relationship with God. But it also meant Israel had a priestly function to perform as God's saving light to Gentile peoples.

In the Book of Hebrews the author appears to call Christians "firstborn ones" ( prototokon ) in virtue of their relationship to Christ, whom he has already called the "firstborn" ( prototokon ) in 1:6. Through him they have been "enrolled in heaven."

The context of  Hebrews 12:18-29 gives substance to this expression as a term for Christians. The spiritual nature of the church is underscored. "Mount Zion" is a "heavenly Jerusalem, " a "city of the living God" (v. 22) contrasted both to Mount Sinai where the Law was given (vv. 18-21) and to the earthly Jerusalem and its temple worship.

Christian life and worship occur in a spiritual community that includes God, angels, and human beings (vv. 22-24). The hosts of angels are in festal array, reminiscent of their task of worshiping the Son brought into the world for human redemption (1:6), rather than as the mediators of the Law during the awesome display at Mount Sinai. The church is composed not only of present earthly believers but also of the "spirits of just persons who have been made perfect." This latter expression likely refers to the Old Testament faithful who could not reach completion until the Christian dispensation (11:40); these now comprise the cloud of witnesses who applaud the race of the earthly Christians (12:1). The "church of the firstborn" does not displace faithful Israel, but joins with them in perfect worship to God through the mediation of Christ.

The "church of the firstborn" lives in humility, gratitude, and awe (vv. 26-29), for in Christ they have received a kingdom that will endure the judgment of the eschaton. Christ has given them both the gift of his salvation and the obligation to be his priestly community among unbelieving peoples ( Hebrews 13 ).

Christ is called God's "firstborn" in  Hebrews 1:6 . This is a metaphorical use of the term and does not imply that Christ merely was created prior to other beings or the world in general. Rather it connotes his special status as the unique Son of God.

Luke L. Keefer, Jr.

See also Name And Titles Of Jesus Christ

Bibliography . F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews .

Holman Bible Dictionary [6]

 Genesis 49:3 Psalm 78:51 Exodus 13:2 13:15 Exodus 12:12-16 Numbers 18:16

The birthright of a firstborn included a double portion of the estate and leadership of the family. As head of the house after his father's death, the eldest son customarily cared for his mother until her death, and he also provided for his sisters until their marriage. The firstborn might sell his rights as Esau did ( Genesis 25:29-34 ) or forfeit them for misconduct as Reuben did because of incest ( Genesis 35:22;  Genesis 49:3-4 ).

The firstborn of a clean animal was brought into the sanctuary on the eighth day after birth ( Exodus 22:30 ). If it were without blemish, it was sacrificed ( Deuteronomy 15:19;  Numbers 18:17 ). If it had a blemish, the priest to whom it was given could eat it as common food outside Jerusalem ( Deuteronomy 15:21-23 ), or it could be eaten at home by its owner. Apparently the firstborn of clean animals were not to be used for any work since they belonged to the Lord ( Deuteronomy 15:19 ).

The firstborn of an unclean animal had to be redeemed by an estimation of the priest, with the addition of one-fifth ( Leviticus 27:27;  Numbers 18:15 ). According to  Exodus 13:13;  Exodus 34:20 , the firstborn of an ass was either ransomed by a sheep or lamb, or its neck had to be broken

Figuratively, Israel was God's “firstborn” ( Exodus 4:22;  Jeremiah 31:9 ) and enjoyed priority status. God compared His relationship to Israel with the relationship of a father and his firstborn son. Within Israel, the tribe of Levi represented the firstborn of the nation in its worship ceremony ( Numbers 3:40-41;  Numbers 8:18 ).

Christ is the “firstborn” of the Father ( Hebrews 1:6 NIV) by having preeminent position over others in relation to Him. He is also described as “firstborn among many brethren” (  Romans 8:29 ) and “firstborn of all creation” ( Colossians 1:15 NAS). Paul (  Colossians 1:18 ) and John ( Revelation 1:5 ) refer to Christ as “firstborn from the dead”—the first to rise bodily from the grave and not die again.

 Hebrews 12:23 refers to the “church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” Christian believers, united with and as joint heirs with Christ, enjoy the status of “firstborn” in God's household.

Larry Walker

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [7]

In ancient Israelite society the firstborn son had special rights that were highly valued. He was the head of the family in the father’s absence, and upon his father’s death he received an inheritance double that of the other sons ( Genesis 49:3;  Deuteronomy 21:17). The firstborn could, however, lose his birthright, either by selling it or through misconduct ( Genesis 25:31-34;  1 Chronicles 5:1-2).

At the time of Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt, God preserved the lives of the Israelites’ firstborn, both people and animals. From that time on, the firstborn of all Israelite families, and the firstborn of their flocks and herds, became God’s special possession ( Exodus 13:2).

In the case of the firstborn of animals, the owner dedicated a clean animal to God by sacrifice. He dedicated an unclean animal by the sacrifice of a clean animal in its place (since an unclean animal could not be offered in sacrifice) ( Exodus 13:11-15;  Numbers 18:17-18). In the case of people, the parents ceremonially presented their firstborn to God, and then bought the child back by a payment of money ( Numbers 18:15-16;  Luke 2:7;  Luke 2:23). For the service of the tabernacle, the Levites replaced the firstborn as God’s special servants ( Numbers 3:11-13;  Numbers 3:45; cf.  Exodus 32:29).

Because of the high status of the firstborn, the title developed a figurative usage. In Old Testament times, God considered the nation Israel to be his firstborn, his special people among all the nations of the world ( Exodus 4:22; cf.  Deuteronomy 7:6;  Hosea 11:1). In New Testament, times believers in Jesus Christ are God’s firstborn, his chosen and privileged ones ( Hebrews 12:23).

The Bible speaks of Jesus Christ as the firstborn of his Father. This does not mean that he came into existence later than his Father, but that he is head of the Father’s new people. He has authority over them, yet he graciously looks upon them as his brothers and sisters ( Romans 8:29;  Hebrews 1:6;  Hebrews 2:11-12). Jesus is also the firstborn of all creation. This means not that the Son of God was created, but that he existed before creation, has authority over it, and is its rightful heir ( Colossians 1:15-17;  Hebrews 1:2). Also, through his resurrection, he is the firstborn from the dead. He has authority over God’s new creation, the church, and guarantees its final victory ( Colossians 1:18;  Revelation 1:5).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words [8]

Bekôr ( בְּכוֹר , Strong'S #1060), “firstborn.” Bekôr appears about 122 times in biblical Hebrew and in all periods. The word represents the “firstborn” individual in a family (Gen. 25:13); the word can also represent the “firstborn” of a nation, collectively (Num. 3:46). The plural form of the word appears occasionally (Neh. 10:36); in this passage, the word is applied to animals. In other passages, the singular form of bekôr signifies a single “firstborn” animal (Lev. 27:26; KJV, “firstling”) or collectively the “firstborn” of a herd (Exod. 11:5).

The “oldest” or “firstborn” son (Exod. 6:14) had special privileges within the family. He received the special family blessing, which meant spiritual and social leadership and a double portion of the father’s possessions—or twice what all the other sons received (Deut. 21:17). He could lose this blessing through misdeeds (Gen. 35:22) or by selling it (Gen. 25:29-34). God claimed all Israel and all their possessions as His own. As a token of this claim, Israel was to give Him all its “firstborn” (Exod. 13:1-16). The animals were to be sacrificed, redeemed, or killed, while the male children were redeemed either by being replaced with Levites or by the payment of a redemption price (Num. 3:40ff.). Israel was God’s “firstborn”; it enjoyed a privileged position and blessings over all other nations (Exod. 4:22; Jer. 31:9).

The “first-born of death” is an idiom meaning a deadly disease (Job 18:13); the “firstborn of the poor” is the poorest class of people (Isa. 14:30).

Bikkûr ( בִּכּוּרִים , Strong'S #1061), “first fruits.” This noun appears 16 times. The “first grain and fruit” harvested was to be offered to God (Num. 28:26) in recognition of God’s ownership of the land and His sovereignty over nature. Bread of the “first fruits” was bread made of the first harvest grain, presented to God at Pentecost (Lev. 23:20). The “day of the first fruits” was Pentecost (Num. 28:26).

People's Dictionary of the Bible [9]

Firstborn. Under the law, in a Hebrew family, the eldest son was regarded as devoted to God, and was in every case to be redeemed by an offering not exceeding five shekels, within one month from birth. If he died before the expiration of 30 days, the Jewish doctors held the father excused, but liable to the payment if he outlived that time.  Exodus 13:12-15;  Exodus 22:29;  Numbers 8:17;  Numbers 18:15-16;  Leviticus 27:6. The eldest son received a double portion of the father's inheritance,  Deuteronomy 21:17, but not of the mother's. Under the monarchy the eldest son usually, but not always, as appears in the case of Solomon, succeeded his father in the kingdom.  1 Kings 1:30;  1 Kings 2:22. The male first-born of animals was also devoted to God.  Exodus 13:2;  Exodus 13:12-13;  Exodus 22:29;  Exodus 34:19-20. Unclean animals were to be redeemed with the addition of one-fifth of the value, or else put to death; or, if not redeemed, to be sold, and the price given to the priests.  Leviticus 27:13;  Leviticus 27:27-28.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [10]

This phrase is not always to be understood literally; it is sometimes taken for the prime, most excellent, most distinguished of things,  Psalm 89:27   Romans 8:29   Hebrews 1:4-6 . Thus Jesus Christ is "the firstborn of every creature,"  Colossians 1:15 , inasmuch as he was the "Only begotten" of the Father before any creature was produced. He is "the firstborn from the dead,"  Colossians 1:18 , because he is the beginning, and the author of the resurrection of all who die in faith.

After the destroying angel had slain the firstborn of the Egyptians, God ordained that all the Jewish firstborn, both of men and of beasts for service, should be consecrated to him; but the male children only were subject to this law. If a man had several wives, he was obliged to offer the firstborn son by each one of them to the Lord. The firstborn were offered at the temple, and redeemed for five shekels. The firstling of a clean beast was offered at the temple, not to be redeemed, but to be killed; an unclean beast, a horse, an ass, or a camel, was either redeemed or exchanged; an ass was redeemed by a lamb or five shekels; if not redeemed, it was killed,  Exodus 13:2,11 , etc. The firstborn son among the Hebrews, as among all other nations, enjoyed particular privileges. See Birthright .

Smith's Bible Dictionary [11]

First-born. Under the law, in memory of the Exodus (when the first-born of the Egyptians were slain), the eldest son was regarded as devoted to God, and was, in every case, to be redeemed by an offering not exceeding five shekels, within one month from birth. If he died before the expiration of thirty days, the Jewish doctors held the father excused, but liable to the payment if he outlived that time.  Exodus 13:12-16;  Leviticus 27:6.

The eldest son received a double portion of the father's inheritance,  Deuteronomy 21:17, but not of the mother's. Under the monarchy, the eldest son usually, but no always, as appears in the case of Solomon, succeeded his father in the kingdom.  1 Kings 1:30;  1 Kings 2:22.

The male first-born of animals was also devoted to God.  Exodus 13:2;  Exodus 13:12-13;  Exodus 22:29;  Exodus 34:19-20. Unclean animals were to be redeemed with the addition of one-fifth of the value, or else put to death; or, if not redeemed, to be sold, and the price given to the priests.  Leviticus 27:13;  Leviticus 27:27-28.

Webster's Dictionary [12]

(a.) First brought forth; first in the order of nativity; eldest; hence, most excellent; most distinguished or exalted.