OK, this delay is stupid. Here is my summary.
Four months is a very long time to discuss one little paper. Five, if you count the last month of silent, exhausted gaping at all those pages of argument. So, we want to summarize the arguments and move on to the next thing.
Really, I’ve been thinking about the discussion for a while, and I don’t see any point in rehashing the main elements of the conversation. Frankly, the point is quite simple.
Rotherham’s position is that the explicit meaning of Rev. 3:14 is that Jesus belongs only to the created order, that this explicit meaning controls the reading of the rest of the Bible, and that a church that does not teach Jesus belongs only to the created order is therefore false.
I suggested at the beginning of this discussion that the claim was preposterous enough that it shouldn’t be published on a site that takes itself seriously and I’m afraid nothing has been said that moves me from this position. Readers, of course, will have to make up their own minds on the question, but here is a sketch of the process.
The question must ultimately be, simply: whether anyone can seriously believe that there is really only one legitimate meaning to this passage and that one meaning is Rotherham’s.
As it happens, every person who has written anything in one of those peer-reviewed journals, or written even a commentary that is in general use, has failed to support Rotherham’s position. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that they assert more nearly the opposite position: that Rev. 3:14 cannot possibly be read to mean that Jesus belongs only to the created order. And the reason for this universal conclusion is pretty simple: while arche usually has a partitive meaning, it is also used in a non-partitive way; and it is used in a non-partitive way when contemporaneous Jews and Christians speak about God. Since this is the case, and since the book of Revelation cannot be read as if the author held Christ to be merely a creature, and since the other uses of the term arche use a chiastic structure to compare Jesus to God, we can’t read the passage the way Rotherham wants.
Not only that, but we have a very interesting and much-cited paper by C. F. Burney (“Christ as the Arche of Creation, JTS, 1926) that argues persuasively that the Revelation 3 passage is making use of a midrash that St. Paul applied in Colossians – that of re-interpreting the arche of Genesis 1:1 to apply to Christ. Thus, “In Jesus Christ, God created the heavens and the earth.” Moreover, the passge in Colossians 1 plays on this theme in several different ways:
In him were created all things
By him were created all things
Into him were created all things (meaning with Christ as the goal of all things)
Before all things
All things are summed up in him
He is the head of the Church
He is first-fruit from the dead
So, here we have St. Paul working the idea of “beginning” for all it is worth. And, indeed, expanding the strict set of lexical meanings associated with the word. Indeed, this idea of Christ as the source and goal of creation is a persistent Pauline (and, therefore, NT) theme (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15, Eph. 2:10). It is this same broad meaning that is applied to the “beginning” in Revelation 3.
As a side note, one reason readers should discount the seriousness of the JW position is due to the selective quoting of sources like Burney. So we find the JWs quoting from the last paragraph of the paper that the arche as a title for Christ has “not a shadow of authority for limiting in meaning to ‘the Source of God’s creation.’” The implication supposedly being that “Source” is wrong and the JW position has academic support.
Of course, this is another example of JWs attempting to tell readers that sources say something that is nearly the opposite of what they intend. Because, if we read the paper, we know that Burney intends that the meaning of Rev. 3 should be expanded to include the additional meanings suggested by St. Paul. Indeed, there is no reason to limit the meaning to “source,” and there is every reason to expand the meaning to include those additional meanings.
So, there it is. Readers may decide for themselves whether the unanimous conclusions of many extensive analyses of the theology of the book of Revelation, serious reviews of the meaning of this particular passage, and the constant witness of the church are overturned by some anonymous and entirely unqualified fellow on the internet. And not merely overturned, but are explicit in the text and are therefore control the reading of the entire NT.
As a final note, we know that Rotherham is the kind of writer who will openly admit that historical context is meaningless when determining the right way to read a biblical text and who has also demonstrated a remarkable ability to simply and plainly misunderstand simple concepts such as numerical identity. Readers will also have to decide for themselves whether this is the kind of writer who can be counted on to deliver a coherent account of any subject.
Je crois en un seul Seigneur, Jesus Christ, le Fils unique de Dieu, ne du Pere devant tout les siecles