Birthright [N] [S]

  • This word denotes the special privileges and advantages belonging to the first-born son among the Jews. He became the priest of the family. Thus Reuben was the first-born of the patriarchs, and so the priesthood of the tribes belonged to him. That honour was, however, transferred by God from Reuben to Levi ( Numbers 3:12 Numbers 3:13 ; 8:18 ).

  • The first-born son had allotted to him also a double portion of the paternal inheritance ( Deuteronomy 21:15-17 ). Reuben was, because of his undutiful conduct, deprived of his birth-right ( Genesis 49:4 ; 1 Chronicles 5:1 ). Esau transferred his birth-right to Jacob ( Genesis 25:33 ).

  • The first-born inherited the judicial authority of his father, whatever it might be ( 2 Chronicles 21:3 ). By divine appointment, however, David excluded Adonijah in favour of Solomon.

  • The Jews attached a sacred importance to the rank of "first-born" and "first-begotten" as applied to the Messiah ( Romans 8:29 ; Colossians 1:18 ; Hebrews 1:4-6 ). As first-born he has an inheritance superior to his brethren, and is the alone true priest.

    These dictionary topics are from
    M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
    published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

    [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
    [S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Birthright". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .
  • Birthright [N] [E]

    the advantages accruing to the eldest son. These were not definitely fixed in patriarchal times. Great respect was paid to him in the household, and, as the family widened into a tribe, this grew into a sustained authority, undefined save by custom, in all matters of common interest. Thus the "princes" of the congregation had probably rights of primogeniture. ( Numbers 7:2 ; 21:18 ; 25:14 ) (Gradually the rights of the eldest son came to be more definite: (1) The functions of the priesthood in the family with the paternal blessing. (2) A "double portion" of the paternal property was allotted by the Mosaic law. ( 21:16-17 ) (3) The eldest son succeeded to the official authority of the father. The first-born of the king was his successor by law. ( 2 Chronicles 21:3 ) In all these Jesus was the first-born of the father.

    [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
    [E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Birthright'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.


    burth'-rit (bekhorah, from bekhor, "firstborn"; prototokia):

    Birthright is the right which naturally belonged to the firstborn son. Where there were more wives than one, the firstborn was the son who in point of time was born before the others, apparently whether his mother was a wife or a concubine. Sarah protests against Ishmael being heir along with Isaac, but it is possible that the bestowal of the rights of the firstborn on Isaac was not due to any law, but rather to the influence of a favorite wife (Genesis 21:10). The birthright of the firstborn consisted in the first place of a double portion of what his father had to leave. This probably means that he had a double share of such property as could be divided. We have no certain knowledge of the manner in which property was inherited in the patriarchal age, but it seems probable that the lands and flocks which were the possession of the family as a whole, remained so after the death of the father. The firstborn became head of the family and thus succeeded to the charge of the family property, becoming responsible for the maintenance of the younger sons, the widow or widows, and the unmarried daughters. He also, as head, succeeded to a considerable amount of authority over the other members. Further, he generally received the blessing, which placed him in close and favored covenant-relationship with Yahweh. According to the accounts which have come down to us, all these gifts and privileges could be diverted from the firstborn son. This could happen with his own consent, as in the case of Esau, who sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:29-34), or by the decision of the father, as in the case of Reuben (Genesis 48:22; 49:3,4; 1 Chronicles 5:1,2) and of Shimri (1 Chronicles 26:10). In the Deuteronomic version of the law, a provision is made, prohibiting the father from making the younger son the possessor of the birthright, just because his mother was specially beloved (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). The blessing also could be diverted from the eldest son. This was done when Jacob blessed the children of Joseph, and deliberately put the younger before the elder (Genesis 48:13,14,17-19); even when the blessing was obtained by the younger son in a fraudulent manner, it could not be recalled (Genesis 27). Jacob does not appear to have inherited any of the property of his father, although he had obtained both the birthright and the blessing.

    In the New Testament "birthright," prototokia, is mentioned only once (Hebrews 12:16), where the reference is to Esau. In various passages where our Lord is spoken of as the firstborn, as in Colossians 1:15-19; Hebrews 1:2, the association of ideas with the Old Testament conception of birthright is easy to trace.


    J. Macartney Wilson

    Copyright Statement
    These files are public domain.

    Bibliography Information
    Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'BIRTHRIGHT'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.