Skip to content

Skip to table of contents

Did You Know?

Did You Know?

 Did You Know?

What privileges and responsibilities came with the birthright of a firstborn son?

From as far back as patriarchal times, God’s servants accorded special rights to a man’s firstborn son. Upon the death of the father, his eldest son assumed the responsibilities of family head. He would care for the family and exercise authority over those members of his household who continued to dwell there. The firstborn also represented the family before God. While all sons received an inheritance, the firstborn received the principal inheritance. Compared to the amount of property the other sons might inherit, the firstborn received a double portion.

In the days of the patriarchs, the eldest son could forfeit his right as firstborn. Esau, for example, sold the birthright to his younger brother. (Genesis 25:30-34) Jacob transferred the birthright from his firstborn son, Reuben, to Joseph. Reuben lost the privilege because of his immoral conduct. (1 Chronicles 5:1) However, under the Mosaic Law, a man with more than one wife could not transfer the benefits of the birthright from the first son of one wife to the first son of another wife just because the latter was particularly beloved. The father was to respect the right that naturally belonged to his firstborn.​—Deuteronomy 21:15-17.

Why did the scribes and Pharisees wear “scripture-containing cases”?

Jesus criticized his religious opponents, the scribes and Pharisees, because they broadened “the scripture-containing cases that they [wore] as safeguards.” (Matthew 23:2, 5) Adherents of those religious groups bound small, black, square- or rectangular-shaped leather boxes to their forehead. They also bound them to the inner side of the upper arm, close to their heart. Inside the boxes were passages of Scripture. The practice of wearing such scripture-containing cases, known as phylacteries, had its origin in a literal interpretation of God’s direction to the Israelites, which says: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart . . . And you must tie them as a sign upon your hand” and “as a frontlet band between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-8) Exactly when the custom of wearing phylacteries was introduced is unknown, but most scholars date it to the third or the second century B.C.E.

Jesus criticized this practice for two reasons. First, the scribes and Pharisees enlarged their phylacteries in order to impress upon others how pious they were. Second, these groups wrongly considered their scripture-containing cases to be charms, or amulets, that would protect them. The Greek word for these cases, phylakterion, as used in non-Biblical literature is rendered “outpost,” “fortification,” or “means of protection.”