Vol. 9, No. 2
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Recently, while reading in some "Restoration" literature, we found an article by one of the pioneers of the Restoration Movement raising some questions about the meaning of the expression in Revelation 3:14 which refers to "the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." This person took the position that "the beginning of the creation" taught that Christ was created in the beginning--that he was not co-existent with God, but was the first of God's created beings. Although we are sure there must have been an adequate response to that position, we did not see it, and have no recollection of seeing anything written about it in recent months. The following study may be helpful to those who are faced with the problem of making some sort of exegesis of the passage, and relating it to the nature of Christ.
In our judgment, one of the best ways to begin a study of any passage is to determine the possible meanings of the separate words that make up that passage. The word "arche," translated "beginning," seems a logical place to start. The word is used 56 times in the New Testament, and a number of times in the Septuagint. The basic meaning of the word is "a beginning," and the word is so translated 40 times in the KJV. When the phrase is "in the beginning," "from the beginning," "at the beginning," it is evident that the expression refers to a temporal beginning--it relates to time itself. But in Revelation 3:14, as in 21:6 and 22:13, it refers to a person and not to time. This causes us to look more deeply at the root of the word and show that a person can be called "the beginning" and then what "the beginning of creation" means.
The root of the word is "arch--", signifying primacy. As Kittle says on page 479 in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, "arche" always signifies primacy, whether in time: "beginning," or in rank: "power," "dominion," "office." We see this in the verb "archo" which means, "to be first" and "archon" which denotes a ruler. It is evident when we consider such a passage as Luke 12:11, "when they bring you unto magistrates (arche)" that it refers to persons who are first, not with reference to time, but with reference to rank. Again in Luke 20:20, when it speaks of their desire to "deliver Him up to the power (arche) and the authority of the governor," it is evident that it does not refer to time. On the eight occasions where it is translated "principalities" it is evident that it refers to rank or office, and not to time.
In the Septuagint, some outstanding examples of its use as a position or office are in Genesis 40:13, "Pharaoh shall remember thy office (arche) and shall restore thee to the place of chief cupbearer." In Nehemiah 9:17, "they hardened their neck and appointed a leader (arche) to return to their slavery in Egypt." In every case, whether in the New or Old Testament when the word refers to a person, it relates to the fact that they are the head, source, prince or ruler rather than the idea that they are "first" in relation to time.
We have established first that the expression, "the beginning (arche) of the creation" can mean "the head, source, ruler, or prince of the creation." Our second effort will be to show that not only can it mean that, it must mean that in order not to be in conflict with other passages of Scripture.
First, the Bible speaks of Jesus as the Creator of all things--co-eternal with God. John 1:2 and Colossians 1:16-17 affirm as clearly as language could make it that all things were made by him, and he is before all things. We know that a person could take the position that Christ was the first created thing or being, and then that all other things were made by him, but the language does not say that. Suppose that God wanted to tell us that Christ co-existed with God in the beginning and existed before all things. How would he more plainly phrase the thought than he did?
The titles, name, designations and honor due to Christ show him to be co-equal or co-existent with the Father. Such expressions as Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3-"the image of the invisible God," and Colossians 2:9, "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily," along with Philippians 2:6 which shows him to have existed in the form of God and being on an equality with God, are all meaningless if they do not show him to be co-existent with God, and thus non-created.
He is ascribed the same worship, honor, glory and nature as God. This is true of no created being. The more we write on this subject, the more we feel like a man trying to prove that a circle is round, or that light is different than darkness. Perhaps this is one reason we find so little written about it.
Surely no Bible student could have ever assumed that he who is called Emmanuel--God with us--could be anything less than co-existent with God if it were not for the fact that they assumed that the expression "beginning of the creation" had to mean "the first one that was created." Since we have shown that not to be true, and since every reference to him shows him to be the ruler or source of all things, and since every reference relating him to God shows him to be one with God, we conclude that the expression, "the beginning (arche) of the creation" means the author, ruler and source of the creation rather than the first one created.