“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:”
Delling in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament on page 479 made an important statement that needs to be kept in mind while looking at occurrences of ARCHE, “ARCHE always signifies “primacy,” whether in time “beginning,” principium or in rank: “power,” “dominion,” “office.” As a foundation, Rev. 3:14 needs to be put in the context of the entire book of Revelation. In 1:5, Jesus is called the (Ruler) ARCHON over the Earth’s Kings. ARCHON obviously overlaps in meaning with ARCHE as can be seen from a check of the standard lexicons. In 1:17, Jesus is “The First and The Last” as in 2:8 and 22:13. YHWH in the Old Testament has this name in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12. In Rev. 5:13-14, a picture is given of “One sitting on the throne” and “to the Lamb” receiving worship. In 22:13, Jesus is given three names: The First and The Last, The Beginning and The End, and The Alpha and The Omega. This gives Jesus the same names of the Almighty as in 1:8 and 21:6. This is the high Christology of Revelation.
What we have in Rev. 3:14 are three active titles for Jesus. The first title is The Amen. This is most probably the same title of YHWH in Isaiah 65:16. His second title is “The Faithful and True Witness.” His third title is “The Ruler over God’s creation.” It could also mean ‘Source.’ Ruler or Source are both active titles in this context. Beginning does not fit the immediate or the wider context. Some who want ARCHE (see Objections, below) to have a passive use. By doing this, they destroy the parallelism of the titles. I understand the genitive in Rev. 3:14 to be objective.
In certain examples where beginning is a possibility, I think that we would find that more of an idea of ‘chief things’ would be more proper. For example, in Mark 1:1, ARCHE could mean ‘chief things’, ‘essentials’, or ‘summary.’ See Allen Wikgren in JBL “ARCHE TOU EUAGGELIOU” pages 11-20 (need vol and date).
Another interesting point is that whenever ARCHE refers to a person (now, of course, only persons can be rulers), it almost always has something to do with rule, dominion, or authority of some type. If some would argue that ‘beginning’ is the unmarked meaning to ARCHE, I would say I agree. But then I would say that the contextual marker for ARCHE to mean ‘ruler’ is that it refers to a person. In fact, it is so obvious that I am tempted to say that ARCHE referring to a person has to do with some type of authority. Unless there is some contextual marker to change its meaning. This is backed up from the LXX, New Testament, and secular usage. J.R. Mantey in Depth Explorations In The New Testament on page 100 stated, “Outside the NT, we found the following ideas expressed by the word: Beginning or Source, eighty-seven times; authority, forty times; office, thirty-six times; ruler or commander, thirty-two times; realm or dominion, eighteen times. A few samplings of the usage as ruler are Plutarch, Morals II.151F, “he held the greatest and the most perfect position as a ruler.” In Lives VIII, Sertorius 10, “They were altogether lacking in a commander of great reputation.” In Morals V.75.E, “For it is not fitting for the Ruler and Lord of all to listen to anyone.” In Diodorus Siculus II Bk.3.5.1, “him the multitudes take for their king.” In Philo, Alleg. III.58, “for the sake of being a ruler with governors”; 66, ”Amalek, the ruler of nations.” Ruler in Rev. 3:14 also comports well with one of the most famous Messianic prophecies Isaiah 9:5-6 where the LXX uses ARCHE for Christ’s rule.
I end with a quote from Louw & Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon page 779, entry 89.16, “one who or that which constitutes an initial cause – ‘first cause, origin.’ H ARCHE THS KTISEWS TOU THEOU ‘the origin of what God has created’ Rev. 3:14. It is also possible to understand ARCHE in Rev. 3:14 as meaning ‘ruler’ (see 37.56).”
One interesting historical side-note, Rev. 3:14 never comes up during the Arian controversy.
arch thV ktisews tou qeou
Ê ARXÊ TÊS KTISEWS TOU THEOU
The Beginning of the Creation of God.
The “ruler” (arche, “source,” “origin”) further amplifies the Amen statement. Paul used arche in Colossians 1:18 to describe Christ as the source or origin of all creation (not the first created; cf. Prov 8:22; John 1:3), no doubt to correct a heresy. Since Colosse was a neighboring city of Laodicea, it is not improbable that the same heresy was also affecting the sister church at Laodicea. But this is not explicit. What is plain is this: When Christ addresses a church that is failing in loyalty and obedience, he is to them the “Amen” of God in faithfulness and in true witness, the only one who has absolute power over the world because he is the source and origin of all creation (1:17; 2:8; 22:13) (EBC).
The beginning of the creation of God (hê archê tês ktiseôs tou theou). Not the first of creatures as the Arians held and Unitarians do now, but the originating source of creation through whom God works (Col 1:15, 18, a passage probably known to the Laodiceans, John 1:3; Heb 1:2, as is made clear by 1:18; 2:8; 3:21; 5:13) (RWP).
objection: In his book The Role of Theological Bias in Bible Translation, Rolf Furuli presents a number of arguments in favor of the view that the “beginning of creation” signifies that that Son is “first-created.” Let’s consider them in order:
- Page 255: “From the above it is clear that arche, in more than 75% of its occurrences, means “beginning.”
- Page 255: “…7 of the instances with the meaning “government” are in the plural. Also, the four singular occurrences with this meaning are qualified, either by “every”…or by a genitive construction…”
- Page 255: “The word arche in Colossians 1:18 stands unqualified as a predication of Jesus, and the meaning “government” seems to be out of the question in this verse.”
- Page 256: “The application of arche to Jesus in Revelation 3:14 is parallel to its use in Colossians 1:15. In Revelation 3:14, arche is qualified by “God’s creation,” and this presents a problem for those who support the trinity doctrine. The sense “government, authority” is hardly fitting…”
Response: Page 255: “From the above it is clear that arche, in more than 75% of its occurrences, means “beginning.”
This statistic can be misleading. In the LXX, it is closer to approximately 50% with the meaning of ‘beginning’. ARCHE can mean beginning, rule, sum, choicest, edge, band, highest, origin, and top. Context will determine the meaning of each occurrence. In the New Testament, the writers just happen to have used the meaning ‘beginning’ in most of it was used.
Page 255: “…7 of the instances with the meaning “government” are in the plural. Also, the four singular occurrences with this meaning are qualified, either by “every”…or by a genitive construction…”
Mr. Furuli does not tell us why ARCHE in the singular or plural is significant. In those contexts, the ARCHAI are a multitude of false, spiritual entities at war with Christ and the saints or world rulers. They are always a multiplicity. But if Rev. 3:14 is taken as ‘ruler,’ it would stand in beautiful contrast to the multitude of false ARCHAI of the world and spiritual realms. Since when does the number of a noun have any relation to its meaning apart from context? Is Mr. Furuli trying to say that if John wanted to communicate that he meant ‘ruler’ by using ARCHE, he would have to put it into a plural? If he is, see Luke 20:20 to find ARCHE in the singular meaning ‘ruler.’ Nor does he state the significance of ARCHE qualified by ‘every’ or the ‘genitive.’ Is he trying to say this is the only way ARCHE can mean ‘ruler?’ I don’t know. But this statement could contradict Mr. Stafford’s argument in number 5 above.
Page 255: “The word arche in Colossians 1:18 stands unqualified as a predication of Jesus, and the meaning “government” seems to be out of the question in this verse.”
How can “government” or more properly ‘ruler’ “…be out of the question…” for Col. 1:18? The context of Col. 1:15-18 is that Christ is preeminent and that all things are held together by him. ‘Ruler’ fits the context and makes perfect sense. The context of Gen. 49:3 and Deut. 21:17 is the first son born.
Page 256: “The application of arche to Jesus in Revelation 3:14 is parallel to its use in Colossians 1:15. In Revelation 3:14, arche is qualified by “God’s creation,” and this presents a problem for those who support the trinity doctrine. The sense “government, authority” is hardly fitting…”
I agree that Rev. 3:14 is parallel to Col. 1:15, but I take both genitives of each verse to be objective. If they are objective genitives, Col. 1:15 could be translated as ‘the Firstborn over all creation’ and Rev. 3:14 could be translated as ‘the Ruler of God’s creation.’ So also, Rev. 1:5 could be translated as “the Ruler (ARCHON not ARCHE} over the Kings of the Earth.” Notice the parallelism to Rev. 3:14. Jesus is the Ruler and Faithful Witness! Referring to Rev. 3:14, Mr. Furuli states that, “The sense government, authority is hardly fitting here…” Why, because Mr. Furuli says so? He continues, “…the only other meaning which is which is found in the N.T., namely, ‘beginning’, then Jesus is described as ‘the beginning of God’s creation,’ and this a part of creation.” Not necessarily, since these titles of Jesus in Rev. 3:14 are active, beginning would mean ‘the one who starts it.’ Besides, why is ‘beginning’ the only other meaning which is found in the New Testament? Is he stating that other meanings of ARCHE are not available to John? Is there a rule somewhere that states there is only three meanings to ARCHE in the New Testament? I always thought context determined meaning! It is obvious from this line of reasoning that Mr. Furuli does not want ARCHE to mean Ruler and Origin in Rev. 3:14.
objection: Like Mr. Furuli, Greg Stafford has also argued in favor of the “first-created” meaning for ARCHE in this verse. Mr. Stafford’s arguments are as follows:
- Page 236: “While it is true that arche can have a meaning other than “beginning,” a check of all the occurrences in NT of arche followed by a genitive expression (as we have in Rev 3:14) shows that it always denotes a beginning or first part of something…”
- Page 237: “Also, we should point out that BAGD went on to say regarding the use of arche in Rev. 3:14, “the [meaning] beginning=first created is linguistically [possible].”
- Page 236-237: “The final 11 are used to denote “governments” or “rulers,” and with such a meaning are always used with other expressions denoting “power” … or “authority”…”
- Page 237-240: “Biblical parallels to the grammar of Revelation 3:14.” Matt. 24:8, Mark 13:19, John 2:11, Philip. 4:15, Heb. 3:14, 5:12, 6:1, 7:3, 2Pet. 3:4, Job 40:19
- Page 239: “Burney believes Revelation 3:14 is an allusion to Proverbs 8:22, and with reference to the meaning of Revelation 3:14 he states the truth of the matter when he says that exegetes ‘have not a shadow of authority for the limiting in meaning to the source of God’s creation’.”
- Page 240: “Returning to the issue of parallels to Revelation 3:14, another example that is particularly striking in its similarity to Revelation 3:14 is Job 40:19”
- Page 240: “Also, in Revelation 3:14 it is said that Jesus is the arche of “God’s creation,” so whatever meaning we give to arche in this verse it does not negate the fact that Jesus is distinct from the being of God.”
Response: Page 236: “While it is true that arche can have a meaning other than “beginning,” a check of all the occurrences in NT of arche followed by a genitive expression (as we have in Rev 3:14) shows that it always denotes a beginning or first part of something…” D. A. Carson lists using statistics to “stack the deck” as a common exegetical fallacy (Carson, Fallacies, p. 102). I believe Mr. Stafford, perhaps unknowingly, has committed such a fallacy here. Why should the analysis of ARCHE be limited to the New Testament? Mr. Stafford does not so limit himself when he is dealing with other passages. His “rule” is coincidence rather than some statistical discovery. Here is 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. As can be seen from these passages, a genitive expression is not a contextual marker for ARCHE to mean ‘beginning.’
Page 237: “Also, we should point out that BAGD went on to say regarding the use of arche in Rev. 3:14, “the [meaning] beginning=first created is linguistically [possible].”
Again, I believe this “rule” is a coincidence. Here is a list from the LXX of ARCHE denoting ‘government’ and ‘ruler’ without “…other expressions denoting “power” or “authority…”: Gen. 1:18, 40:13, 20,21, 41:13; Ex. 6:25; Deut. 17:18, 20; 1 Chron. 26:10; Neh. 9:17; Psalm 109:3, 138:17; Isa. 9:5-6, 10:10, 41:27, 42:10; Jer. 13:21, 30:2; Ezk. 29:15; Dan. 6:26, 7:12, 11:41; Hos. 1:11; Amos 6:1; Obad. 20; Mic. 3:1; Naham 1:6, 3:8. Based on these examples, ARCHE can mean ‘ruler’ in Rev. 3:14. Actually, any nuance available to an author at any given point in history is possible. The question is what is exegetically probable.
Page 236-237: “The final 11 are used to denote “governments” or “rulers,” and with such a meaning are always used with other expressions denoting “power” … or “authority”…”
Mr. Stafford’s quote from BAGD is his escape clause from the lexicon’s conclusion. The problem is that just because something is linguistically possible or probable does not make it a viable translation. The lexicon defines ARCHE in this verse as “source.” Even the new edition of the lexicon, in which Dr. Danker changes the reference to “first-created” from “linguistically possible” to “linguistically probable,” continues to define ARCHE in Rev. 3:14 as “source.” (The most recent edition in German edited by Bauer retains the earlier “possible” reference [German: möglich]). There are a few meanings to ARCHE that are “linguistically possible” but not exegetically possible, such as ‘extremities’ in this context.
Page 237-240: “Biblical parallels to the grammar of Revelation 3:14.” Matt. 24:8, Mark 13:19, John 2:11, Philip. 4:15, Heb. 3:14, 5:12, 6:1, 7:3, 2Pet. 3:4, Job 40:19
Let’s take a look at these parallels”
Matt. 24:8 – This is grammatically parallel, but ARCHE as a noun is being used differently. ARCHE in Rev. 3:14 is being used as a title. Matt. 24:8 is not. ARCHE in Rev. 3:14 is active. Matt. 24:8 is passive. Context will determine the meaning. In my opinion, I have established that ARCHE with a “genitive expression” is not relevant. Again, let’s put some of the meanings of ARCHE into this verse and see which one best fits the context: ruler, extremities, top, head, band, sum, or beginning. I think it is a pretty easy choice.
Mark 13:19 – This is not a grammatical parallel for ARCHE is the object of a preposition, and APO ARCHE is used as a temporal expression. ARCHE as a noun is being used differently. ARCHE in Rev. 3:14 is being used as a title. Mark 13:19 is not. ARCHE in Rev. 3:14 is active. Mark 13:19 is passive. Again, let’s put some of the meanings of ARCHE into this verse and see which one best fits the context: ruler, extremities, top, head, band, sum, or beginning. I think it is a pretty easy choice.
John 2:11 – Same as Mark 13:19
Philip. 4:15 – Same as Mark 13:19
Heb. 3:14 – Same as Matt. 24:8
Heb. 6:1 – Same as Matt. 24:8
Heb. 7:3 – Same as Matt. 24:8
2 Pet. 3:4 – Same as Mark 13:19
Further, of these examples, not one has ARCHE referring to a person!
Mr. Stafford’s list of scriptures from the LXX in note 119 on page 239 are the same type of verses he listed in the New Testament, and they have similar explanations. They are not parallel to Rev. 3:14.
Page 239: “Burney believes Revelation 3:14 is an allusion to Proverbs 8:22, and with reference to the meaning of Revelation 3:14 he states the truth of the matter when he says that exegetes ‘have not a shadow of authority for the limiting in meaning to the source of God’s creation’.”
First, I do not see Rev. 3:14 as an allusion to Prov. 8:22. Wisdom is just a simple personification as in the previous chapters of Proverbs. ARCHE is being used in two different ways in these passages. In Rev. 3:14, ARCHE is an active title for Christ. In Prov. 8:22, ARCHE is a passive use. Put some of the other meanings in these contexts and you’ll find that ‘ruler’ or ‘source’ fit perfectly in Rev. 3:14 and beginning fits perfectly in Prov. 8:22.
Second, Burney’s interpretation is completely different than that of Mr. Stafford. Burney may have seen a connection here with Proverbs 8:22, but his understanding of the Proverbs passage, when quoted more fully, damages the Jehovah’s Witness position. Burney states on page 162 that, “…the ground-meaning of KANA…,” referring to wisdom as, “…in the case of wisdom by accumulating it through mental application.” The NWT states “produced me” in Prov. 8:22. Burney interprets ‘production of wisdom’ as meaning in the sense of accumulation such through mental application. Burney states on page 168 of his article ‘Christ As The ARCHE Of Creation’ in JTS 27, “…Wisdom being regarded as one of the works of God, though indefinitely anterior to all other words which she was instrumental in calling into being. It would, however, be legitimate to render, ‘the antecedent of his works’- a rendering which serves merely to state the priority of Wisdom to the words of God, without necessarily placing her in the same category with them. This rendering appears to be preferable, as preserving a measure of ambiguity which is inherent in the original…We arrive, then, at the following rendering for the verse as a whole:- The Lord begat me as the beginning of His way, The antecedent of His works, of old.” Then on page 172, he stated, “The answer is to be found in the consideration that human terminology, framed to describe events happening in time, is inadequate to the description of eternal facts.”
The key to understanding what Burney meant by the last sentence in the passage quoted by Mr. Stafford is the word “limited.” Burney is not denying the meaning “source” at all, but saying that the meaning is not limited to it! We only need to complete the quote Mr. Stafford provides to see this: “There is every reason to suppose that ARCHE is here used with all the fullness of meaning which St Paul extracts from reshith-Beginning, Sum-total, Head, First-fruits. This at any rate fits in with the statement of xxi 6, EGW TO A KAI TO W, H ARCHE KAI TO TELOS, where TO TELOS embodies the interpretation of Bereshit ‘into him’ as the goal.”
Page 240: “Returning to the issue of parallels to Revelation 3:14, another example that is particularly striking in its similarity to Revelation 3:14 is Job 40:19”
Let’s consider the context of this passage. Job 40:15 states, “But look at Behemoth, my creature, just as you are.”(NJB) Verse 19 states, “He is the first of the works of God. His Maker threatened him with the sword…” This is neither ‘striking’ nor parallel to Rev. 3:14. The context is the Behemoth as a creation by God (verse 15). In context, this is obviously a hyperbolic usage of ARCHE, if it means “first-created,” as Mr. Stafford would agree. If Behemoth is not a literal “first-created, and these verses are indeed a “striking” parallel, why should we take the Son as a literal “first-created?” Further, the Breton translation of the LXX renders ARCHE “Chief” in this verse, which seems a likely rendering, given the context is the supremacy of Behemoth over other created beings. In Rev. 3:14, ARCHE is an active title. In Job 40:15, 19, ARCHE is passive and the object of EIMI.
Page 240: “Also, in Revelation 3:14 it is said that Jesus is the arche of “God’s creation,” so whatever meaning we give to arche in this verse it does not negate the fact that Jesus is distinct from the being of God.”
Mr. Stafford has not proved distinct beings only distinct persons. He comes to this passage with Henotheistic presuppositions. I, of course, come to this passage with Trinitarian presuppositions. The question, really, is what kind of distinction is being made here and elsewhere between God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son)? 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?