|Easton's Bible Dictionary|
(1.) 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, 13; 8:18).
(2.) 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).
(3.) 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.
(4.) 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.
Noah Webster's Dictionary
(n.) Any right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled by birth, such as an estate descendible by law to an heir, or civil liberty under a free constitution; esp. the rights or inheritance of the first born.
Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia
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; Genesis 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.
See also FIRSTBORN; FAMILY; HEIR; INHERITANCE; LAW.
J. Macartney Wilson
Birthright (10 Occurrences)
Hebrews 12:16 lest there be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. (WEB KJV WEY ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV)
Genesis 25:31 Jacob said, "First, sell me your birthright." (WEB KJV ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Genesis 25:32 Esau said, "Behold, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?" (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Genesis 25:33 Jacob said, "Swear to me first." He swore to him. He sold his birthright to Jacob. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Genesis 25:34 Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils. He ate and drank, rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Genesis 27:36 He said, "Isn't he rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright. See, now he has taken away my blessing." He said, "Haven't you reserved a blessing for me?" (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Genesis 43:33 They sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth, and the men marveled one with another. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY YLT NAS RSV)
Deuteronomy 21:17 But he is to give his first son his birthright, and twice as great a part of his property: for he is the first-fruits of his strength and the right of the first son is his. (BBE)
1 Chronicles 5:1 The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn; but, because he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV NIV)
1 Chronicles 5:2 For Judah prevailed above his brothers, and of him came the prince; but the birthright was Joseph's:) (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY YLT NAS RSV)