A BIBLE TRANSLATION PRODUCED BY JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Revelation 3:14 "the beginning of the creation by God"-New World Translation
The New World Translation reads here: ".....the beginning [Gk: ARKHE] of the creation by God."-italics ours.
This clearly shows that that the "Amen......the faithful and true witness", Jesus Christ, is the first one that God created. That Jesus Christ is a creature. Can this rendering be defended? Is this its meaning?
What will be addressed here is:
1) How can the Greek, literally, "of God" be translated as "by God"?
2) What is the meaning of "beginning" in this place- 'beginner,' "origin," "ruler," what?
One well known scholar stated:
"The New World Translation.....is
also in error at Rev.3:14, where it makes the exalted Christ
refer to himself as "the beginning of the creation by God."
The Greek text of this verse [en arche tes kitsews tou theou], is
far from saying that Christ was created by God, for the genitive case [tou theou], means "of God" and not "by God"
would require the preposition [hupo]. Actually the word [arche] translated
"beginning," carries with it the Pauline idea expressed
in Col.1:15-18, and signifies that Christ is the origin, or
primary source, of God's creation (compare also John 1:3, "Apart
from him not even one thing came into existence.")
Lets us see.
It would have been more equitable for the above scholar to concede that the construction we find at Revelation 3:14 does admit of an understanding that Jesus is a creature rather than misleadingly say the Greek " is far from saying" that! One trinitarian scholar who does not believe that this verse means that Jesus is a creature none the less says, quoted in full at this place:
"he arkhe tos ktisews tou theou," Exactly equivalent to Col. i. 15, as explained by the words that follow: in both places the words are such as might grammatically be used of the first of creatures, but the context there[Col.1:15], and the whole tone of the book here, proves that the writer does not regard Him as a creature at all. But St. John is not here, as in the first verses of his Gospel, describing our Lord's Nature theologically: it might be enough to say that here and in Prov. viii. 22(where the words "the Lord possessed" or "created Me" lend themselves more easily than these[Rev.3:14 & Col.1:15]to an Arian sense), the coming forth of the Word to create is conceived as part of His earthly mission, which culminates in the incarnation, so that in a sense even creation is done by Him as a creature."-Cambridge Greek Testament-The Revelation of S. John the Divine by Rev.W.H.Simcox, revised by G.A.Simcox reprint 1909.-italics ours
So the Greek construction
as found in Revelation 3:14 "might grammatically be
used of the first of creatures."-italics our. This would
mean that "arche" here is temporal indicating that the
subject was the first of God's creatures, yes, the first
that God created. As this can be its meaning by
understanding the genitive as subjective, a translator can, if he
wanted to, make clear that this is its meaning by using the
English preposition "by." The
Greek says "of God" but that could mean a
number of things and in English we could convey that
meaning by translating "by God." This would
still be a literal translation of the Greek for the two languages
do not line up with each other and it would be erroneous for
someone to allege that by using the English preposition "by"
the New World Translation has not offered a literal translation.
(The commentator does not himself take this meaning because he believes that the "whole tone of the book" of Revelation "proves that the writer [John] does not regard Him as a creature." But as he does not offer any 'proof' for this and this discussion is about the NWT's rendering of this verse then whether such a view is correct or not can be left for a another place. The above commentator also said that Revelation 3:14 is "equivalent to Colossians 1:15." This is correct. On the page (see link below) that discusses this phrase as used by Paul there is evidence given that "the firstborn of all creation" means that the pre-human Christ was the first of God's creatures not only in the sense of time but also as being the one that was uniquely created, by being the only creature that was directly created by God. All other creatures were created by the agency of this "firstborn." Jehovah's Witnesses believes that the "whole tone" of Colossians 1:15ff shows just that. It should also be noted that if Revelation 3:14 does allude to "Wisdom" personified at Proverbs 8:22 then this also would "lend" the former scripture to a sense of the first that God created. That the "faithful and true witness," Jesus Christ, was a creature. The above commentator almost concedes as much! His only objection to this is his theological understanding.)
We could also quote trinitarian scholar C.F.Moule who conceded:
"A comparable ambiguity of phrase [as in Col.1:15] is found in Rev. iii. 14, where [HO ARKHE THS KTISEWS] could (merely in itself and without taking wider considerations into account) mean 'the first among created things'.- The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary, Cambridge University Press, 1957, page 63.
Moule by stating that what John wrote could mean Jesus Christ was "the first among created things" means he would disagree with Metzgers' claim that the Greek is "far from saying that"! When Moule says that those words could mean that the subject is shown to be "the first among created things'" and if a translation wished to make that clear then Moule has given the grammatical reason why it can be translated "the beginning of the creation by God" rather than the ambiguous "the beginning of the creation of God."
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the context and "wider considerations" do show that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did have a beginning, was of creation, that he was a creature. One of these "wider considerations" must be what we read about God and the Lamb in Revelation chapters 4 and 5. We will show later that these two chapters make a clear distinction between "God," who is said to alone be the creator and the "Lamb," who is the Son, which makes it an inescapable conclusion that the Son must be a creature albeit the greatest creature, the first of God's Son's whom he brought into existence. This is what John tells us directly here at Revelation 3:14.
So that when Metzger asserts that for the Greek to read, "by God," we would have to need the preposition "hupo" he is just plain wrong! He was also plain wrong in claiming the Greek is "far from saying" this as the above scholars have at least been honest to admit that the Greek itself can be understood in saying just that. If one is to read Metzger carefully he is appealing to the actual Greek to deny a particular translation. He was wrong in this as the Greek itself does allow for it to be translated as "the beginning of the creation by God." There was no need for "hupo which Metzger is insisting upon. He is directly commentating on what the Greek says and he is wrong to claim that the Greek is "far from saying" that the Son was created by God!
It might be pointed out here that "by God" of the Greek "tou theou," word-for-word "of-the God," is just as literal as translating "tou theou" as "from God." See for instance 1 John 4.2. Here "God" is is the genitive of origin and "from God" is a literal translation here of "tou theou." There was no need for the preposition apo, "from."
It ought to be recognised that if the New World Translation's rendering precludes any other meaning allowed by the Greek, limiting John's words to mean that Jesus Christ here is a creature and the first that God created then what of those translations that render arche "beginning" as "ruler" (e.g., New International Version) which would also preclude any other meaning including that of Jesus Christ being the first of God's creatures?
Metzger states that "the genitive case [tou theou], means "of God" and not "by God." It is true that the Greek word for "God" (Theou) is in the genitive case. However, the genitive case can mean several number of different relations that the word in the genitive case has to that which it modifies. A.T.Robertson in A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research says: "The Subjective Genitive. We have the subjective genitive when the noun in the genitive produces the action being therefore related as subject to the verbal idea of the noun modified...The preaching of Jesus Christ.Rom.16:25.." Also Dana and Mantey's Greek Grammar: "when the noun in the genitive produces the action."-p.78
If we look at Revelation 1:1 we
read from the New International Version, "The
revelation of Jesus Christ.... ."
Other examples of this simple Greek construction are:
Acts 2:11.Gk,"ta megal eia tou theou," "the magnificent things of God." The word for "God" here is in the genitive case. Hence, correctly, the Revised English Bible reads here: "the great things God has done." Or the New American Bible, "what great things God has done." So here the "magnificent things of God," are those things that have been made or done by God.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 has Paul praising believers for their "work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope..". But if treated as subjunctive genitives we could translate these as has the New International Version "your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope...". The preposition hupo was not necessary.
So in Revelation 3:14. The word "creation" can be understood in the subjective genitive so that it was the "creation" that was produced by God. So what is being talked of here is the "creation" that does not only belong to God but that is was God who is the origin of "creation" of which the Son was the "beginning" of. We have translations that say, "beginning of God's creation"- English Standard Version and Hugh J. Schonfield's The Original N.T. A Radical Re-interpretation and New Translation. In a footnote Schonfield adds the following, "John....believed that the heavenly Christ was a created being, as did the early Christians."
The translation "the beginning by God," has the same meaning as the translation, "the beginning of God's creation." In each case it would mean that the "Amen.....the faithful and true witness" was a creation of God. The New World Translation makes this meaning clear to the reader whilst the rendering "the beginning of God" can be taken in two ways. But is the New World Translation justified in making the 'meaning' clear? Why not let the reader of this passage in the NWT make up his own mind? To answer this we have to take into account the meaning of the word "arche" in this passage. After doing so we might then understand that the NWTC's decision was a correct one if not absolutely necessary.
As for the word "ARCHE," "beginning," here in this text.
Some take it to mean that Jesus Christ was the primary source of creation or origin of creation, that is creation's origin, not that he was the first that God created.
Greg Stafford writes on this: "...a check of all the occurrences in NT of arkhe followed by a genitive expression...show that it always denotes a beginning or first part of something." Further on he writes, "Thus the use of arkhe in general, and when used with a genitive expression specifically, favors (statistically at least) the meaning "beginning" [rather than originator] in Revelation 3:14." -Jehovah's Witness Defended, An Answer to Scolars and Critics, 1st ed.p.109.
That Revelation could properly indicate that Jesus was indeed a created being,the first that God created is shown by what Albert Barnes stated:
"The word [arche] properly refers to the commencement of a thing, not it's authorship, and denotes primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. 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." So this trinitarian did acknowledge (but did not accept on what he thought other scriptures indicated) that, "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."-Notes on the NT. Vol.1, p.1569.
In agreement with this is the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Arndt and Gingrich (abbreviated as BAGD) which athough defines "arche" in Rev.3:14 as "first cause" also says that it could also have the meaning at this same place as "first created" as a linguistical possibility -p.112,113. However, in the up-dated BDAG (3rd ed.) this was updated to "but the mng. beginning='first created' is linguistically probable." It should be pointed out however that this Greek lexicon does not cite any Biblical passages in support of the meaning "first cause."
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 enaggrliou."
These all contain the word "ARCHE" as does Rev.3:14, and all are in the genitive case. What should be done is not only 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."
We should note that another place where ARCHE is used of the Son is at Colossians 1.18. As we have shown on the Colossians 1.15 page on this site: "Interestingly in v.18 we have the word ARCHE and PROTOTOKOS with EK TWN NEKRWN together with each other and they are in apposition and hence are synonymous. They are describing the same thing for the Son here. (They are not in apposition with KEFLAH by the way as some might want!) PROTOTOKOS is partitive genitive here, that is, this "firstborn" is part of the group, "from the dead." This argues that ARCHE has the meaning of "beginning" as a partitive genitive with temporal significance. True, the Son is pre-eminent of those who have died but this comes from him being the first of that group to have received a resurrection to the heavens. It is for this reason that the Son has the "first place" (PRWTEUWN) in "everything." His being ARCHE and PROTOTOKOS has both temporal and pre-eminence significance. The latter arises from the former." Hence, the only other place where ARCHE is applied to the Son it means "beginning" not "origin" and certainly not "ruler."
It has been advanced by trinitarian J.Stewart that ARCHE at Mark 1:1 is an example where it has the sense of 'originator' or 'source'. However would anyone advocate that ARCHE here should be rendered as "source," "origin" (in the sense of 'first cause,' 'originator') so that we would read it in English as "The originator of the gospel of Jesus Christ"? Surely not! And in fact not one translation has done so but all read "beginning." As EUANGELION in the 1st century did not refer to a book (this meaning did not come about until the 2nd century C.E.) so Mark here was writing about the "beginning (ARCHE) of the good news of Jesus Christ" and so is a reference to the ministry of John the Baptist which begins the "gospel" or "good news" about Jesus Christ. The ministry of John the Baptist was a *part of* this "good news" about Jesus Christ. It was its "beginning," not in an active sense, but a passive one. So, this example of ARCHE is another of a genitive where that which is the ARCHE is _not_ outside the category of that which it is the genitive of and so is one which is comparable with Revelation 3:14 where again the word ARCHE has a passive meaning and which has the meaning of "beginning" and not "source" or "origin." In effect then this example is *not* an example where ARCHE is used in the sense of "origin" or "source" (nor "ruler.") In agreement with this is what we can read in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the NT(cited by Stewart btw), Vol 1, p.482 "d. 'ARCHE...In Mk 1:1 the preaching and baptism of John are the temporal starting point of the evangelical preaching and baptism of Jesus..." Also The NIV Theological Dictionary of N.T. Words says regarding ARCHE at Mark 1:1 " 1.(a) arche...can mean beginning, commencement (Mk.1:1; 13:8; Heb.3:14)...".
Stewart, on a trinitarian apologetics site, also advances the argument that we have in Revelation 3:14 three "active titles" for Jesus. The Amen, the Faithful and true Witness and the The Ruler over Gods creation." That ARCHE here could also mean Source. That Ruler and Source are both active titles in this context. Also that beginning does not fit the immediate or the wider context. That when Stafford wants ARCHE to have a passive use he destroys the parallelism of the titles. Stewart understands the genitive in Rev 3:14 to be objective.
But there is nothing in Revelation 3:14 that indicates grammatically that we are dealing with '3 active titles' requiring ARCHE to be translated as "beginner." As one Jehovah's Witness aptly put it: "How does the noun "Amen" become an "active title"? This is pure speculation and theology, which a person is entitled to if it is labeled as such. Besides if God is the Creator, as ARCH THS KTISEWS *TOU QEOU* says, then Christ could not be the "Beginner." God would have to be the Beginner of "His" creation. Otherwise, it would not be His creation, but Christ's. This means that the *beginning* of *God's creation* would be Christ, through whom He made all else." So, the immediate context does indeed argue for a passive meaning for ARCHE here. See also v.12 where the exalted Christ says "my God" 4 times in quick succession. Just as the ones who "conquers" has a God, a God whom they worship, so does the exalted Christ. Stewart has come up with a "half-baked, poorly reasoned opinion, which he assert strongly as if it were truth". But when you examine this opinion closely, it is evident that it is out of harmony with the Scriptures. If Jesus is the ARCHE of creation in the sense he is the 'beginner' or 'active cause' then this would mean that Paul is at odds with, contradictory to, Rev.3:14. Why? For at 1 Cor.8:6 we are told that God the Father is the 'active cause': "EX OU TA PANTA," and that these "all things", "PANTA", is "DI OU" Jesus Christ. Any reasonable exegesis would have to agree that Jesus cannot be both the active cause aswell as the agent of creation? And, of course, we are specifically told by Paul that the Father is the 'active cause' of "all things" in contrast with Jesus Christ whom were these "PANTA" "through". Hence, ARCHE must have a passive meaning at Rev.3:14? It means that the NWT has not "mistranslated" (your word)ARCHE here and that this scripture indicates that the Christ is a creature, the first of God's creation.
Stewart also gives a list of occurrences in the LXX of ARCHE followed by a genitive expression: Gen. 1:16, 40:20; Ex. 6:25; Psalm 109:3, 136:6; Prov. 17:14; Jer. 22:6; Dan. 6:26, 7:12, 11:41; Amos 6:11; Ob. 20; Mic. 3:1. He then states that from these passages, a genitive expression is not a contextual marker for ARCHE to mean "beginning."
True, one would not translate these occurrences as "beginning" but if one were to look up each and everyone of these occurrences in the LXX one would see that in each and every case where ARCHE is being used that the one or thing being described were not outside of the category denoted by the genitive. So, in fact, all these support the understanding that ARCHE in the genitive expression, as we find in Revelation 3:14, as also not being outside of the category denoted by the genitive.
In Stewart's judgement, Christ as the "Arche" of the creation of God means that He was the agent by which God created. And so was not a part of that creation Himself and that there is a parallel to Christ as "Arche" of creation with the meaning of "First Cause" in Colossians 1:8b: "He (Christ) is the "Arche" , the first-born from the dead" ..."
Here is a contradiction. In one sentence he describes the Christ, in reference to the meaning of ARCHE of Revelation 3:14, as the "agent" by which "God created" and then in the next that ARCHE here has the meaning of "first cause"! If Christ is the beginner, then he is not an intermediate "agent", but the causal agent. If one is intermediate, then someone else is beginning the process through that agent. Col. 1:15-17 does use EN AUTWi, showing the instrumental role of Christ in creation, but this is used together with passive verbs! Hence, again, the beginner is someone other than Christ, who creates "in/through" him. There is nothing that would indicate that Christ is the beginner, but as an intermediate agent. This is not consistent with the idea of "beginner," which rightly is reserved for the causal agent.
The scriptures that Metzger (quoted at the head of this page) believed meant that Jesus Christ could not be saying he was himself created are scriptures that show that creation came about through Jesus Christ. He is not the primary source of creation. Paul clearly show who is when he says that,"..there is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are,....and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are..."-NWT, cp.TEV, NRSV, TNT etc. It is God, the God and Father of Jesus Christ, whom two verses before Revelation 3:14, Jesus calls him his God, the one he obeys, is subordinate to and indeed worships.-Rev.3:12.
From the foregoing the following remark regarding the New World Translation at Revelation 3:14, which is to be found on a site critical of Jehovah's Witnesses, can be seen to be doubly false: "The altered prepositions[from "of" to "by"]distract from the sovereignty of Jesus indicated in the passage and suggests that the real power of creation was accomplished through the Father, as the JWs believe that Jesus is a created being."-italics ours.
But the fact is, as has already been pointed out, Jesus Christ is not the source or "real power" of creation but the Father is. This is clearly seen from 1 Corinthians 8:6 which informs us that : "..for us there is one God, the Father, from[Gk; 'ex'- 'source,' 'out of ']whom are all things and for[Gk; 'eis'] whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through[Gk; 'dia']whom are all things and through[Gk; 'dia']whom we exist."-New Revised Standard Version. This shows that it is the Father who is "the real power of creation" and not the Son, Jesus Christ. Exactly! That is what Revelation 3:14 itself is saying. To consider otherwise is to "distract from the sovereignty" of the Father, the "one God" of us! So, 1 Corinthians 8:6 actually precludes a translation of Revelation 3:14 as "...the origin[in the sense of 'the originator']of the creation of God" for then we would have a conflict, a disagreement with what we are informed at 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Revelation 3:14.
Some believe that Jesus is here referred to as the "ruler" of God's creation. However, ARCWN is the common word for "ruler" in the NT, and, in fact, John uses it in Revelation 1:5, ARCWN TWN BASILEWS THS GHS. Had "ruler" been intended in 3:14 then either John or his translator could have simply used ARCWN. Elsewhere in Revelation ARCH always means beginning. There does not seem to be any grammatical or semantic reason for preferring "ruler" over "beginning" in Revelation 3:14.
One trinitarian has remarked and in reference to the meaning of ARCH at Revelation 3:14: "Should the use of ARCHE in this verse - which at the very least is ambiguous with regard to meaning "first-created" - inform our exegesis of clear statements of Christ's Deity (John 1:1; 1:3; 20:28; Col 2:9)? Or should sound exegetical principles lead us to the opposite conclusion, in which clear declarative statements inform our interpretation of more ambiguous verses, such as this one?" Yet are those texts he cites "clear" declarative statements of Christ's "Diety"[his being 'the God']? Not so if anyone has read on this site about what these texts can and most likely mean! It would be special pleading by this one if he believes that each and every one of these scripture texts has not been understood in ways diametrically opposed to the trinitarian understanding of Jesus being "God." In view of the following "clear declarative statements" namely, 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 1: 9,10 and Jude 25 that only the Father is the "one God," the one "Deity," we can see that these same show what is the true and sound "exegetical principles" that should lead us the proper understanding of ARCHE at Revelation 3:14. Not that Jesus is here the "origin" or "originator" of "God's creation" but he was the "beginning" the "first of" God's creations.
Lastly, if God created a being that was his first creation where are we told of this in scripture? The only language we find that is commensurate with a being that is God's very first, the first one of his creation, is in fact here at Revelation 3:14, Colossians 1:15 and Proverbs 8:22. All of which have to do with God's Son, Jesus Christ!
(For a discussion on Revelation 5.13, 14 see here)
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