by A.E. Knoch

BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD are common to all the descendants of Adam. Sonship is reserved for the adult males. Only some of these enjoy the high privileges of the firstborn. These distinctions among humanity have been instituted in order to reveal to us the place and portion of Christ, the Firstborn Son of God by creation (Col.1:15), and the Firstborn of Miriam by birth (Luke 2:7), besides being the legal son of her husband Joseph (Luke 3:23), as well as the Firstborn from among the dead (Col.1:18).

A human being, in its succeeding stages of growth, is given various descriptive designations to indicate its physical age or sex, or its spiritual stature, such as babe, little boy or girl, child, minor, and son. Each of these has a lesson, not only as applied to the sinner and the saint, but as revealing the place and portion of Christ, and, indirectly, the fashion of God's affection. Men, by instinct or nature, care for their offspring or their successors, and this should teach them the greatest of all lessons, the love of God for His creatures, for He relates them to Himself, in a series of figures, by calling them His children, His sons or His firstborn.


Even before He was born, John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Saviour, was called a "babe" (Luke 1:41,44). Our Lord Himself first appeared as a "Babe," when the messenger announced His advent. Although He was the Saviour, Who is Christ, the Lord, come to the city of David, He came as a newborn Babe, swaddled, and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12,16). Of the saints, only Timothy's literal babyhood is mentioned, for he had a good start, being acquainted with the sacred Scriptures from his infancy. Figuratively, however, Peter wanted the Circumcision saints to be like recently born babes, longing for the unadulterated milk of the Word, that by it they might be growing into salvation (1 Peter 2:2). This figure fits perfectly into that of regeneration (1 Peter 1:3,23). The A.V. mistakenly uses it of Paul (1 Cor.13:11) and of the Corinthians (1 Cor.3:1). In these cases it should be "minors."


Some time after His birth, when He was no longer a Babe, or in reference to this time, Jesus is called a little Boy (Matt.2:8,9,11,13,14,20,21). Matthew presents Him as the Son of David, the King of Israel, and, as a consequence, he emphasizes the fact that He was born in Bethlehem, the city of David. We know that His mother, although a native of Bethlehem, did not live there at that time, but in Nazareth. Yet Matthew makes no mention of this, and says nothing of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem or the census which caused it, for these are foreign to his theme. He simply says, "Jesus being born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the King, lo! magi from the East came along into Jerusalem..." (Matt.2:1). I do not blame anyone thinking that all this occurred in Bethlehem.

Luke, however, who is concerned with His humanity, tells us that, after the days of their cleansing were fulfilled, according to the law of Moses (that is, seven days and thirty-three days, with His circumcision on the eighth day, His parents left Bethlehem to take Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, and to give a sacrifice, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. Evidently they were not able to bring a lamb for an ascending offering (Lev.12:8,12). Then they left Jerusalem for Galilee, and returned to their own city, Nazareth, and probably remained there until the visit of the magi, about two years later (Luke 2:21-40).

The fact that He is now consistently called a "little Boy," not a "Babe," should arrest our attention. Herod, informed by the chief priests and scribes that Christ would be born in Bethlehem, sends the magi there, after inquiring accurately as to the time of the star's appearing. Judging by Herod's later actions, Jesus, our Saviour, was not over two years old, for Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem massacred, who were two years old and below," according to the time which he ascertains exactly from the magi" (Matt 2:7,16). So it seems certain that the magi were wise enough not to heed Herod's directions, but to follow the star, which led them to Nazareth. There he found the little Boy with His mother. And thence His parents took Him to Egypt, and so fulfilled all the Scriptures concerning Him, for He was not only born in Bethlehem according to the prophet Micah (5:2), but was a Nazarean (Matt.2:23) and was called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1).

When the magi found the King of the Jews, He was not in a stable, lying in a manger, as the shepherds had found Him, but in a house (Matt.2:11), so it could not have been at the same time, as the popular pictures present it. To be sure, there were no real stables then, for the ordinary houses were divided into two parts, a raised platform, where the people lived, and a lower division, which housed the usual domestic animals, which were a part of the household. The manger was between these two. But the manger of a caravansary was a different matter. It is most remarkable that this term occurs only at the entrance and exit of His career! It is translated as "guest-chamber" in the A.V., and described as "a large upper room" (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). This could not very well contain a stable. The animals would be kept in the court, with a very scant shelter over their manger.

It is most marvelous to see how God fulfilled His own Word in this case. The predictions, loosely considered, seemed to be contradictory, for one distinctly said that the Messiah should come from the city of David, Bethlehem, concerning which we will have much to say at another time. But another declared that He would be a Nazarean, while still another insisted that He would be called out of Egypt. Yet the most remarkable thing was that God used the highest dignitaries in order to carry out his predictions. He caused Caesar Augustus to time and condition his census so that Mary had to go to Bethlehem at a most unlikely juncture. He brought the wise men to Nazareth by means of a star, and the child was compelled to go to Egypt by the murderous malice of Herod.


In the Scriptures we see divisions of a man's life that differ from those to which we are accustomed. The "little boy" period seems to have lasted until the age of twelve. We read of Jesus that the "little Boy grows up," and then, "when He came to be twelve years," the "Boy" not little remained behind in Jerusalem (Luke 2:40,43). His conduct corresponds to this, for He would not have acted so independently before, when He was a "little Boy." Here He began His service for His heavenly Father. The word for boy is also applied to Herod's pages (Matt.14:2), so reaches beyond mere generation into the sphere of service. In fact, it is rendered servant eleven times in the venerable Authorized Version, which translates seven distinct words with "servant." A concordant version cannot do this, so is compelled to fall back on the fact that, in English, boy is also used of a male servant, with even more latitude as to age than in the Scriptures.

This word pais is a good example of the need of a consistent translation, and of the strong prejudices which it must encounter among those who use a popular but inaccurate version. The revered Authorized Version makes a mad mixture by rendering it child, maid, maiden, servant, manservant, son and young man. As we shall see, it certainly should never be rendered son. Herod evidently did not slay all the children in Bethlehem and its boundaries (Matt.2:16), for only the males were massacred. Neither did children, including girls, cry in the sanctuary (Matt.21:15). No girls would do that in those days. "Child," also, as we shall see, should not be confounded with this term. I have always shrunk from the expression "child Jesus" (AV 4:27,30), when used in connection with His service. A child is not old enough to serve. But a boy between twelve and thirty can do many things to help his parents. I assisted my father in his work long before that.


This term is used as in English, with a very wide range. In Greek it denotes BROUGHT-FORTH, so literally applies to all who are born, and is the complement of parent. This is usually literal, but may be figurative, as children of Rachel (Matt.2:18), of Abraham (Matt.3:9, etc.), and, in reference to His parents, of Jesus (Luke 2:27). Our Lord uses it of His disciples (Mark 10:24). It implies more than mere birth and includes the bonds and obligations that spring from it, such as affection and care. Yet it also implies a considerable chasm in some regards, between the parent and child, due to inexperience and immaturity. Children usually have traits similar to their parents, but in an undeveloped state. Those who believe are children of Abraham as far as faith is concerned, for that is the trait which distinguished him, and this would lead to conduct conformable to it. A child is more trusting than an adult.


In the Scriptures those who are too young to have a voice in affairs, who need a guardian, are minors or, literally, YOUNG-sayers. The A.V. renders this babe, child, and childish, but none of these carry over the central idea of immaturity. It is in contrast to the wise and intelligent, yet able to believe God's revelation (Matt.11:25), and to a mature man (1 Cor.13:10,11). In modern times the age at which a person becomes legally competent seems to be about twenty-one years. But our Lord did not begin His ministry until He was thirty.

The thought of maturity is almost absent in the revered Authorized Version. It may be dimly seen in its rendering "of full age" (Heb.5:14), and in 1 Cor.14:20 "in understanding be men." It uses the word "perfect," but this has the sense of sinlessness or flawlessness rather than FINISHED, which is the meaning of the Greek standard. Physically humans attain their full development somewhere between twenty and thirty years, but they may remain minors in spiritual things till they are a hundred.

In Israel a male was mature physically when he arrived at the age of twenty (Lev.27:3,5). Then he was drafted into the host, or army, and was liable to military service, being considered a mature member of the nation. But mentally a man is not mature at that age. Spiritually men need another ten years to develop. Is not this the reason why our Lord did not commence His ministry until He was thirty years old? Men are, indeed, not ready to rule as an elder even at that age, for they lack the wisdom that comes only from long experience, but their faculties are fully developed, and at their peak about three decades after birth.


Jesus, our Saviour, was a legal son of Joseph but not his child (Luke 3:23). He was physically descended from Adam and Abraham and David through Miriam, His mother, but He was also the Son of Adam, in relation to mankind as a whole, and the Son of Abraham in relation to the land of Israel, and the Son of David in relation to the kingdom. This implies far more than mere descent. A son must be a male. He must be mature, in the case of our Lord, about thirty years of age. He must be spiritually able to enter into and take over all the rights and privileges and dignities of his father, or forefathers.

A son need not be a man's literal offspring. Not long after I believed, I came under the tutelage of those who laid great stress on being "born again." They had difficulties with the A.V. rendering adoption (Rom.8:15,23,9:4; Gal.4:5 Eph.1:5), and rejected it, rightly contending that it should be sonship, for the Greek literally means SON-PLACing. The rendering in Ephesians, the "adoption of children" was most misleading, for it refers only to maturity (Eph.1:5). But there was a custom prevalent in ancient times by which a man who had no offspring, or at least no male heir, could adopt one. In some respects this was an advantage. A child by birth may turn out to be utterly unworthy of his father's station and responsibilities. A father would be much safer if he could choose a mature man whose character was established and known to him. This was often done, and the place or position of a literal son or heir became the portion of the one adopted. The term was also applied to the time when this occurred (Rom.8:23). To us it comes with the deliverance of our bodies.

In the past the term "sonship" was used of the special privileges of the nation of Israel, as Jehovah's representative on earth (Rom.9:4). It had no reference to their origin, but to their preponderant position, their divine prerogatives. At the same time, individually, they were under law, minors, under guardians and administrators. At present the saints are no longer in this position, but have the place of a son because we have received the spirit of sonship (Gal.4:1-5). One of the special blessings accompanying the present superlative grace is this, that God, in love, has designated us to have the place of a son through Christ Jesus (Eph.1:5). This is unutterably more than the "new birth" for the nation of Israel.


Sonship, literally son-placing, the station in life accorded a son, lacks a satisfactory English designation, so we suggest, with some trepidation, the equivalent of the German Sohnesstand, which fits perfectly. The word son-station occurs only in Paul's epistles, and is only for saints who are no longer minors, but mature, who have been reclaimed from under the law (Gal.4:1-7). The Authorized Version has the special rendering here "adoption of sons." This is far preferable to "adoption of children," which it uses in Ephesians 1:5. It does not refer to childhood at all, but is in contrast to it. We were not adopted as babes or little children, so that we must wait until we are mature in order to claim the place of a son. We need no guardians or administrators to look after us because, by faith, we are adopted into God's family as full grown sons.


The Son of God is the Firstborn in relation to creation, in the beginning, to the other children of Miriam, His mother, and to the dead, in resurrection. His headship of humanity was by a literal birth, but His precedence in creation and resurrection are figurative expressions. The firstborn son, as a rule, is accorded, not merely the first place in time, but in privilege and honor and allotment. This is the real import of the expression. It is usually used in this figurative sense. We should never reason, from the syllable born, that it must involve a literal birth. This is clearly not the case with His preeminent place in creation or in resurrection. In neither case can we ever imagine any mother, or even a begettal on the part of a father. It is the resultant position which is described as like that of a male offspring come of age who is endowed with the principal possession and privileges of his father.

So it is that we are taught the spiritual essence in the title firstborn. The fleshy and fleshly firstborn, Reuben, is set aside, and his position divided between Judah and Joseph. Besides this, it is significant that Judah saved Joseph's life when his brethren plotted to kill him. Is not this a suggestion of resurrection? And will not the blessing of Joseph be withheld from Israel until after the rejection and resurrection of Messiah?

Thus also will it be with all mankind and all creation. The dignities and the glories that should have come to Adam he forfeited by his offense. On the contrary, Christ, Who came later than he, on account of His sufficient sacrifice, will be clothed with all earthly honors in place of Adam. He is the sinless and superior Son of Adam, or Son of mankind.

In creation, however, the peerless Son of God was first in time as well as station. God created all else in Him and through Him, not by Him. Our erring Authorized Version is very loose in its renderings of the Greek connective hupo UNDER (accusative) and by with the genitive. Without due discrimination it renders it among, by, from, in, of, under, and with. Unlike most connectives, there are no idiomatic passages that keep the translator from carrying it over uniformly by by, except before an object, when it is always under. Thus we can say that all was created by God, or God's creation. But this is never said of the Son of God, His Firstborn, in the inspired Original.

For example, the A.V., in Matt.1:22, says that "all this was done, that it might be fulfilled of the Lord by the prophet." This gives the false impression that the prophet was the original speaker and that he spoke about Christ. But a prophet does not speak from himself. God speaks through him. It is not his word which is fulfilled, but Jehovah's. It reads otherwise in the Concordant Version, as follows: "Now the whole of this has occurred that that may be fulfilled which is declared by (hupo) the Lord through (dia) the prophet.

In 1 Cor.8:6, according to the popular version, we have the confusing statement, "to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom all are things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." What is the difference between "of him" and "by whom?" Do not both indicate the efficient source? And how can we be in Him if all is of him? This is all clarified by a concordant version: "for us there is one God, the Father, out of Whom all is, and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom all is, and we through Him." Creation is always out of or by the Father, but through the Son. He is not the Source, but the Channel. He Himself is out of God, or He would not be His Son.

This is confirmed, not contradicted, by the highest revelations concerning Christ, in Paul's Colossian epistle. The A.V. misreads it thus (1:15): "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." But how much clarity and consistency is gained if we translate, as elsewhere, in Him is all created, and all is created through Him and for Him, and He is before all (literally, before of all), and all has its cohesion in Him. As elsewhere expressed, He is God's creative Original (Rev.3:14), or as the A.V. renders it, the beginning of the creation of God.

Many examples of the fate of the firstborn, according to the flesh, are given us in the Hebrew Scriptures in order to impress us with the superiority of this position, and the futility of the flesh as compared with the spirit. They all enforce this aspect, yet each presents some special feature which helps us to apprehend His glories, Who is the apex of this pyramid of evidence. So we will briefly mention a few and seek to set forth their salient points. We will skip Adam, the first human, because he was created, not born. Nevertheless he was figuratively firstborn, and possessed all the privileges of this position, just as Christ also is the Firstborn of creation (Col.1:15) and, as such, occupies the place supreme, and is invested with the glories of His God and figurative Father. Later He became the literal only begotten of God, and the literal Firstborn of Mary, His mother.

Cain was the firstborn of Adam, and, as such, is a type of his mortal race, which, like him, not only is dying, but murderous. His mother Eve doomed him when he was still a babe, by naming him Acquired, as though he came in payment for her efforts, rather than God's workmanship. Alas! It proved too true! But he was the fruit of her disobedience and insubordination, rather than of God's grace. He did not do well and had a bad conscience. Notwithstanding this, he brought a present to Jehovah, expecting Him to accept it. When He did not, instead of acknowledging his failures, he became angry. His sense of sin should have led him to bring a sin offering rather than a present. Is not this typical of men today? They also seek to serve God in the midst of their shortcomings, and bring no sacrifice for their sins.

As a sinner, Cain should not have presented to God the results of his sweat, grown in the ground God had cursed. Eve had evidently been disillusioned by his conduct, for she named her next son Abel, that is, Vanity. And, true to his name, Abel recognized the futility of his own efforts, and presented to Jehovah the firstlings, or firstborn, of his flock as a sacrifice, a sin offering. To this Jehovah gave heed, for it foreshadowed that saving, sacrificial Sin Offering of His own Son which would rescue and reconcile His lost creatures, and restore them to Himself. Israel, even with its priesthood and sacrifices, was prone to follow in the footsteps of Cain. Jude saw this in his day, and wrote of the unbelieving Jews, "Woe to them! for they went in the way of Cain" (Jude 11). And today the way of Cain is the way of Christendom. That is why mankind is still bent on fratricidal murder.


To be sure, this is restricted to our spirits at present. We have only the firstfruits of the spirit, and groan in ourselves, awaiting the fullness of sonship, which includes deliverance of our bodies. Now our sonship is concealed. Then it will be revealed. Now it does not effect even our own release from the slavery of corruption, so far as our bodies are concerned. Then it will free the creation from subjection, so that it will share with us the glorious freedom of the children of God. Those who are led by God's spirit, these are God's sons. And when we are unveiled, at His coming, the creation also shall be freed from corruption. That will be the greatest crisis in the history of the universe. The evil eons will end. The good will begin, and there will be continual progress until the consummation, when all will be led by God's spirit, for only so can He be All in all. The literal fact of being born first can never be nullified by later births. Literally, one born first will remain so, come what may, and whatever occurs. But it is not so with his place or rank as the firstborn. Reuben was Israel's firstborn, the beginning of his virility (Gen.49:3). He should have inherited the highest offices and honors in Israel. Yet how little do we hear of him, compared with Judah from whom David and the Messiah sprang, or Joseph, whose sons received a double portion! Reuben's vile conduct degraded and demoted him, so that his prior birth was of little avail to him. The honors that should have been his were divided among those who were born after him. Eventually Messiah, through Judah, will bear all the honors of Israel's Firstborn.

There are many spiritual lessons in the story of Jacob that are usually overlooked. The fact that he loved Rachel and was deceived by Leah had a vast influence on the status of his sons and the nation of Israel as a whole. The fruit of deception is seen in Leah's early sons, and appears in their names. The first two have soulish appellations. Reuben suggests the sight of the eyes, for it means See-son. Simeon reminds us of the hearing of the ears, for it denotes Hearing. Not till the third son is Leah's heart turned away from sight and sound to Jehovah Himself. Judah means Acclamation. Leah's thankfulness directs her mind to the Giver, Who has so richly endowed her with three sons in her loveless marriage. Thus will it be with the nation in the future. Hitherto they have heard and seen God's works, but have never enjoyed His love. Their marriage was a legal, contractual relationship. But when the Lion of the tribe of Judah appears, then they will acclaim Him.

Rachel's first son, Joseph, came much later. This also suggests that the nation will not enjoy the fruit of God's love until after the Twig out of the set-slip of Jesse has appeared. And the name Joseph (Gather, or Add) is a prediction of the double portion which came to him in Israel. Indeed, his name is emphasized in those of his sons Ephraim (Double-Fruitfulness) and Manasseh (Being-Oblivious). As in the case of Job, his trials brought a double blessing and made him forget the past evils in the present good. So will it be with the nation, when Joseph's great Antitype, the real "Saviour-of-the-World" appears.

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