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Encyclopedia of The Bible – First Fruits
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First Fruits

FIRST FRUITS ([1] רֵאשִׁית, H8040, LXX ἀπαρχή, G569. An adjective meaning “first” which modifies the particular product concerned. [2] בְּכֹר, H1147, LXX πρωτογένημα. From a root “to bear early, new fruit”).

1. Literal. Just as the first-born of man and cattle were sacred to the Lord, so also the first production of a vineyard (Lev 19:23-25) and the first of the annual production of grain, wine, olive oil, sheared wool (Exod 23:16; 34:22; Deut 18:4), and the first of coarse meal (Num 15:20, 21), of honey and of all the produce of the land (2 Chron 31:5; cf. Prov 3:9) were the Lord’s. Bread of first fruit was offered on the day of first fruit—Pentecost (Num 28:26; cf. Exod 23:16; 34:22). In a few passages re’shit and bikkurim are in a combined expression (Exod 23:19; 34:26; Ezek 44:30) without the distinction being clear, though at some periods a distinction may have been made. Except for a cereal offering (Lev 2:14-16), the priest benefitted from the first fruits (Num 18:12). The offering was brought in a basket to the sanctuary for presentation (Deut 26:1-11).

First fruits of twenty barley loaves and of fresh ears of grain supplied Elisha with resources to feed a hundred men (2 Kings 4:42). First fruits were given to priests in Hezekiah’s time (2 Chron. 31:5); were pledged in Nehemiah’s day (Neh 10:35) and men were appointed to oversee store chambers in which to store them (Neh 12:44; 13:31). The first fruits were included in Ezekiel’s plans for worship (Ezek 44:30; 48:14).

Though the NT has no provision for the paying of first fruits, the community from which the Didachē arose paid first fruits of the winepress, threshing floor, oxen, sheep, bread, newly opened jars of wine and oil, of money, of clothes, and of all possessions to the prophets as being the high priests, and in the absence of prophets, gave them to the poor (Didachē 13:3).

2. Metaphorical. The OT custom lends itself naturally to becoming a metaphor for that which is first. First fruit is used only metaphorically in the NT. The way for some of these cases may have been prepared by Jeremiah who calls Israel the first fruit of God’s harvest (Jer 2:3; cf. Hos 9:10) despite the fact that the LXX rendering of the passage obscures the metaphor (cf. 1 Clem 29:3). For Paul, believing Jews were the first fruits of the Jewish people (Rom 11:16; cf. Num 15:20f.). For James, Christians are the first fruits of God’s creatures (James 1:18), and in Revelation 14:4 those who follow the Lamb are first fruits to God. Christ is the first fruit of them that slept (1 Cor 15:20, 23; cf. 1 Clem 24:1); Epaenetus is the first fruit in Asia (Rom 16:5) and the household of Stephanas, the first fruit in Achaia (1 Cor 16:15; cf. 1 Clem 42:4). The present possession of the Holy Spirit is the first fruit of the spirit (Rom 8:23), an indication of that which is to come. In the Epistle of Barnabas prophecy is said to give the first fruits of the taste of things to come (Epistle of Barnabas 1:7).

Bibliography G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927), II, 71; G. Delling, “aparche” in Kittel, TWNT (1933), I, 483, 484; J. Pedersen, Israel (1940), III, 300ff.