Was Christ the first believer?

Was there a time when Christ was not a believer? What a strange question, right?!

And yet, the following translation of Romans 8:29 does sound to me that God’s Son was the first believer:

Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. (GNT/TEV)

BTW, I’m not convinced that “firstborn”, found in several other English translations, is much of an improvement, although it literally translates what the Greek says. One of my sons-in-law asked me about the “firstborn” idea applied to Jesus Christ a couple of days ago. I explained to him that I felt that the word “firstborn” gives the wrong idea to English Bible readers. The meaning I get from “firstborn” is that Christ had a beginning and that he was the first child born to God. Some, of course, do believe that this is the correct meaning, that Christ was a created being and that God had more than one child.

I was taught something different in my theology classes, that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is just as eternal as God the Father, but most English speakers lack the background to understand what “firstborn” means. If the Greek does not refer to an actual birth, then I don’t think that an English translation should either. We want translations to communicate the original meaning as accurately as possible. We should not have to teach people that the words on the page of the Bible don’t actually mean what we think they mean. Teaching often is necessary, but it should not be necessary to teach people the meanings of words. Teaching should have to do with helping people understand concepts that words alone do not adequately communicate.

3 thoughts on “Was Christ the first believer?

  1. Bob MacDonald says:

    The presenting problem is not with ‘first’ but with ‘believers’ – should be siblings. Firstborn should not be shied away from for theological reasons. I was not taught theology so take me with a grain of salt – I am one of course. But I question your identification of Christ with the Second person of the Trinity. How do we fare in Christ then? Are we part of God?

    Theology is more supple I expect.

  2. David Ker says:

    first born, child and siblings all form a cluster of concepts joined together logically by Paul. I won’t pretend to exegete this complex passage in a comment but Christ as our eldest brother who has undergone all the things we must endure (enduement of the Holy Spirit at baptism, trials, resurrection) is not a casual reference on Paul’s part.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    I too find it strange that “believers” has been brought into this verse. This verse is a family metaphor: the words probably simply mean that Jesus is the oldest child in a large family. There is also a serious theological issue in calling the risen Christ a believer, because Aquinas taught that Jesus did not have faith because he knew everything by sight. Now I think that goes against Hebrews 12:2 where Jesus does seem to be called the first to have faith, but that theologically debatable point should not be read back into this verse.

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