James 1.18 And The Offering Of First-Fruits -- By: F. H. Palmer
TynBul 3:1 (1957) p. 1
James 1.18 And The Offering Of First-Fruits
From certain circles there has come an interpretation of Jas. 1:18 which makes the verse teach the eventual salvation of all men. The basis of this interpretation is confessedly Westcott’s thesis that in the Old Testament offering of first-fruits the part offered was thought of as sanctifying the whole. So ‘the Church . . . forms the covenant people of the new order, the first fruits of God’s renewed creation (Jas. 1:18) in which “the open consecration of a part marks the destiny of the whole” (Westcott).’ (J. A. T. Robinson in The Historic Episcopate, ed. K. M. Carey, 1954).
It is our contention that this interpretation of Jas. 1:l8 has but flimsy evidence in its support, on two grounds.
1. Westcott’s thesis on first-fruits seems to be a reading back of a concept which appears in Paul (Rom. 11:16 ‘if the aparche be holy, so is the phurama’) into the Old Testament. In none of the classic Old Testament passages on first- fruits is there mention of the significance of the offering on the rest of the crop. The offerings are demanded by God as His due portion, and are to be used for the support of the priesthood (Nu. 18:13; 2 Ki. 4:42). They are God’s tithe (Ne. 13:5), and to deprive Him of His right is plain theft (Mal. 3:8).
First-fruits and first-born are closely allied words both having the same Hebrew root bkr, and we find exactly the same thought lying behind the latter word. The first-born ‘are mine ‘(Ex. 13:2), but the Levites are taken in their stead (Nu. 3:41) as God’s portion. Here is no thought of the sanctification of the rest by the offering of the first; rather the opposite, that the offering of God’s portion frees from taboo the rest of the people or of the harvest, that they or it may be employed for secular use. This is confirmed by the Mishna Bikkurim (ii.5): ‘Bikkurim, before it has been set apart, renders forbidden what is on the threshing-floor.’ This seems quite clear. The offering is God’s share of the harvest, and far from sanctifying the rest of the crop by being offered, it frees it from the need to be offered, and renders it lawful food.
In the New Testament Rom. 11:l6 is the only case where...
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