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."
LITTLE CHILDREN, BOY OR GIRL
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.
BOY, GIRL, OR PAGE
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
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
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.
MINORITY AND MATURITY
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.
SONSHIP OR ADOPTION
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 OR SON-STATION
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
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
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
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