"In the beginning, the firstborn son of God created the heavens and the earth..." Genesis 1:1 from Targum Neofiti (a pre-Christian Aramaic translation)
The first word of the Hebrew Bible is such an important word! Bereshith, which is translated into English as "in the beginning" has a significant impact on the rest of the Bible. How did this translation interpret the Firstborn son of God into Genesis 1:1?
Range of Reshith:
Chief or Choicest parts
As in the modern day, when the original audience would have heard the words "in the beginning" at the start of a story, they would be familiar with the fact that if something has a beginning, it also must have an end. Immediately a hearer of Genesis 1:1 would have been aware of an ending and looking for moments in the story that point to the ending. The author of the Pentateuch was fully aware of this, and was very specific in using words and his tools to help us understand God's message.
The author of the Pentateuch uses his words as tools by:
- By placing certain sections or portions of text next to one another (i.e., creation, the end of days)
There are three such instances in the Pentateuch that a reader is pointed to when examining the relationship between the beginning and the end of days: Genesis 49, Numbers 24, and Deuteronomy 32-34. In each of these passages, the author uses a literary pattern of Narrative/Poetry/Epilogue. All are long poems with a character asking others to gather to him to hear what will meet them in "the end of days." Each of these passages points us to the coming Messiah that will come to rescue us and restore all of creation.
As observers of God's Word, the pre-Christian Aramaic translators that identified the firstborn son of God as being the Creator were noticing the linguistic tools utilized by the author of the Pentateuch pointing the reader to the ultimate redeemer. On this side of the New Testament, we even get to learn the name of that Redeemer!
New Testament Understanding of Genesis 1:1a
In addition to the first word of the Bible pointing us to the plan of restoration in a messiah, the first word of the Bible also points us to Jesus! John in John 1:1-3 writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created."
Here we see John equating "in the beginning" with the Word. The Word according to John was: with God, was God, and was with God in the beginning. In addition, the Word created all things. In the beginning was Jesus.
John further affirms this association in 1 John 1:1-3, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life - that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us - what we have see and heard we also declare to you, so that you may have fellowship along with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
In traditional Jewish culture, the firstborn would have a right of inheritance. Initially the Jews believed that God's firstborn was referencing them. However, Christians understand that the firstborn points to Jesus, the head of the church. This is affirmed by Paul as he writes in Colossians 1:15-20:
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities -
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together.
He is also the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that He might come to have
first place in everything.
For God was pleased to have
all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile
everything to Himself
by making peace
through the blood of His cross -
whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Jehovah's Witnesses may point to this passage as a claim that Jesus was a created being and thus not a part of the Trinity. Do not be dismayed. Jesus being referenced as firstborn is merely pointing to his sovereignty and rank! The virgin birth was NOT his magical coming into existence. In order for God to be an Eternal Father, there must also be an Eternal Son. And in Him we have eternal life!
Ultimately, Jesus fulfills every possible meaning of the first word of the Bible! As Ross writes, "the point of the verse, then, is that God is absolutely sovereign over all matter. Such sovereignty demands allegiance, for to acknowledge the Creator naturally leads to submission to him" (Ross, Creation and Blessing, p. 106).