Word Study #22 — “My Friends…”

October 19, 2009

I owe this study to my 12 year old grandson, Thomas, who asked me, “Grandma, did you ever work on ‘friend’?”  I hadn’t — didn’t really think there was much to investigate, but his comment, “Some people say they’re your friends, but they really aren’t,” got my attention.  Jesus had that problem, too.  Who hasn’t?  So I started to dig, and — no surprise — saw some very intriguing patterns emerging.

Two words are traditionally translated “friend” in the New Testament, and two more have been added by modern translators, completely muddying the communication.
Hetairos is used only four times, and only in Matthew’s gospel.  Classically, the word referred primarily to political partisans, business or religious associates, or casual companions.  Matthew uses it of children’s playmates (11:16), in the landowner’s reply to his disgruntled workers (20:13), in the host’s response to the improperly clad man at his feast (22:12), and Jesus’ addressing Judas in the betrayal scene (26:50).  None carry any personal level of involvement or affection, and certainly no mutuality.

Philos, used 29 times, covers a broader spectrum, although a greater degree of personal involvement is usually implied.  (Not always:  it is used in Lk.23:12 of Pilate and Herod, in their shared frustration at the case against Jesus.)  Jesus uses it in parables, often paired with “neighbors” or “family members” (Lk.15:6,9; 21:16; 14:10; Ac.10:24), or referring to a cordial relationship (Mt.11:19, Lk.7:34, Lk.7:6; 11:5,6,8; 15:29; Jn.3:29; Ac.19:31; 27:3).  Two instances seem to fit better with the flavor of hetairos — Lk.12:4 and Jn.19:12 — but there, philos was the writers’ choice.
There seems to be a change of the depth of meaning in John’s gospel, where Jesus speaks of Lazarus (11:11) as “our friend” and John notes (11:5) that Jesus “loved” (egapa) that whole family.  And in his farewell word to the disciples (15:13-15), “promoting” them from the status of “servants” to “friends” for whom he is prepared to lay down his life, an even deeper relationship is indicated.

The most interesting and, I think, significant observation is that both hetairos and philos almost entirely disappear from the text after Pentecost!  The faithful, after that time, consistently refer to one another as adelphoibrethren!  Please note that, although the preponderance of uses are masculine in form, this does NOT indicate the preferential treatment of males.  It is simply the generic form of the word — all words have “gender” (not necessarily related to fact) in many languages.  (For example, in Greek, “hand” is feminine, and “leg” is masculine, regardless of the gender of its possessor.)  The point is, identification with the Kingdom/family of the Lord Jesus has introduced an entirely new level of relationship to his people.
“Brother” still does refer to physical family relationships, as it did in the Gospels, but from the time (Ac.9:17) when Ananias addressed the newly-enlightened Saul as “Brother”, it is the term of choice among fellow-disciples.
This usage is not unique to the Christian community:  it was used classically of religious associates, or even military companions, and Peter (Ac.2:29), Paul (Ac.22:1), and Stephen (Ac.7:2) all used it in addressing their unbelieving (even hostile) Jewish audiences.  However, the vast majority of the 346 New Testament references are to committed fellow-disciples.
Jesus had used it that way (Mt.28:10, Mk.3:33-34, Jn.20:17).  Especially notable is his statement in Mt.23:8, flatly forbidding any hierarchical structure among his followers (which many still ignore, at their peril).  Even John, an acknowledged apostle and elder, learned that lesson so well that he refers to himself in the introduction to his Revelation (1:9), as “your brother, and companion in the hassles, and the Kingdom, and endurance (that is) in Jesus.”  “Brother” is the highest — and only — “title” legitimately applied to any follower of Jesus.  As members of Jesus’ own family (Mt.12:49, Mk.3:34, Lk.8:21), we belong to one another in unique and wonderful ways.  So-called “contemporary translations” do us a great disservice in reducing that God-given bond to the casual status of “friends.”

To top it off, the revisionists manage also to throw agapetos (watered-down to “dear friends”) into the mix.  Agapetos is the participial/noun/adjectival form of the much-preached verb agapao, which seems to grow in its glow with every fresh-hatched “theologian” who gloms onto it.  I will only say here that the word itself is far less “sanctified” than is usually proclaimed.  If you need a “f”r instance”, how about Jesus’ disparaging comment (Lk.6:32) “Even sinners [losers] also love (agaposin) those who love (agapontas) them”?  That doesn’t sound much like “godly love” to me!
Liddell/Scott lists “regard with great affection or fondness; hold in high esteem; used of affection between children and parents, or God and man, or husband and wife.”  Theologizing aside, a genuine depth of relationship is definitely in view.  If you have a problem with the slightly archaic “beloved”, “dear people” or “loved ones” is more to the point than simply “friends.”  And when it is paired with adelphoi “dear (or even “dearest”) brethren” is accurate.  Reducing both of these to mere “politician-speak” (“my friends”) seriously cheapens the vocabulary.

This is a classic example of the poverty of language and understanding created by “translators” who are either bound to an agenda, or who have not troubled themselves to treat the original vocabulary with the precision and integrity it deserves.  Here are four words, with four distinctly different meanings, merged into one term so vague as to communicate virtually nothing.  Lowest common denominators simply do not work!

As casual associates progress through deepening friendship to Christian brotherhood, and thence to the precious gift of the mutuality of love learned in the Kingdom of our Elder Brother, we are privileged to grow together into his very image — no longer servants, but friends, and beloved brethren, whom Jesus has designated as members of his own family!
There IS a difference!


For your convenience

October 14, 2009

Good morning, folks.
We have just returned from a week with Dan’s family, and between enjoying the grandkids, he and I had a chance to do some rearranging on the blog, which we think will be helpful to you.

We have put the Word Study introduction and instructions on a separate tab, so you can find them easily, without scrolling clear back to near the beginning.

We have added a PDF copy of Citizens of the Kingdom, to which many of my notes and word studies refer.  You are invited to make the same use of this as the other copyright publications:  feel free to make a print copy for yourself if that is more convenient.  The only restriction is commercial use, as with all the material here.  That would require written permission.  I do have some of the original print copies on hand, so if you want to use them for a group study, I can make them available to you.  Instructions are on the Citizens tab.

We hope you will find these changes useful.  We have been delighted with the traffic this effort has received.   Of course we would enjoy hearing directly from more of you, with your thoughts and critique.  Faithfulness is intended to be a group effort!

Thanks for your interest.

Word Study #21 – The Kingdom, part 3

October 5, 2009

Some folks have associated Jesus’ statement that some of those present would “see the Kingdom come in power” (Mt.16:28, Mk.9:1, Lk.9:27) with the immediately following experience of the Transfiguration.  Others chalk it up to a supposed “misunderstanding” (?!?) of the time lapse before the “Second Coming”.  I am more inclined to go with those who relate it to Pentecost, and the powerful activity of the Holy Spirit in the early church.

Surprisingly, there are only 27 uses of the word “kingdom” in Acts and the epistles.  Describing the period between Jesus’ resurrection and the ascension, Luke notes (Ac.1:3) that “the Kingdom of God” was the content of the “graduate course” that Jesus conducted for his disciples during that time.  Even so, they still had the wrong idea (1:6), clinging to the notion that a political coup for the nation was in store.  Jesus’ reply (1:7-8) is one that much of his church has yet to grasp.  He bluntly asserts that any such concerns are none of our business!  The Kingdom of which he has been speaking will be established as the power of the Holy Spirit enables his people to spread out through all the known world as his “witnesses” (see W.S.#18) to his reign!

It took a while, but eventually the faithful disciples began to understand.  “The Kingdom of God,” along with the news of his definitive defeat of death, became the core of their message.  In Ac.8:12, we learn that in Samaria, “Philip was preaching about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”.  Early on, the realization became vivid, that the message was not a glory-trip, nor one of personal aggrandizement.  Paul, in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Ac.14:22), after himself having been stoned, beaten, and run out of town, is found “strengthening the morale of the disciples, encouraging them to remain faithful, and (warning them) that it is necessary for us to enter the Kingdom of God through many hassles”!  See also Ac.19:8, 20:25, 28:23 and 28:31.

With all its ubiquity, however, it is hard to find a concise “definition” of the Kingdom, beyond the certainty that the King is in charge! There is a sense in which every description of the New Testament church is actually an account of the Kingdom in action.  Here again, I would refer you to Citizens of the Kingdom for fuller exploration.  Paul asserts (Col.1:13) “He (God) has rescued us from the power [authority] of darkness and transported us into the Kingdom of the Son of his Love!”  Everything else grows out of that triumphant truth!  His redeemed, rescued people are expected to live out the present reality of that rescue!  Both “rescued” and “transported” are aorist tenses: they have already happened!

Gal.5:19-24, I Cor.6:9-11, and Eph.4:17-5:20 all detail “before and after” descriptions of the life of “rescued” people.  Note especially the “BUT” in I Cor.6:11!  A radical change of lifestyle was expected of Kingdom citizens, not just a slightly sanitized substitute for the sordid situation of their surrounding society.
Paul admonishes the young Thessalonian church (I Thess.2:12)…”you all should live in a manner worthy of God, who is calling you into his own Kingdom and glory!”
Notice, however, that nobody is instituting a new legalism.  Everybody knew that hadn’t worked.   Paul reminded the Roman brotherhood (Rom.14:17), “The Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit!”
Neither does it require complex doctrinal reasonings and formulas, as he reminded the folks in Corinth (I Cor.4:20), “The Kingdom of God does not consist of talk, but of power!” – the present-tense experience of the power of the Holy Spirit!
As committed disciples interact, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by their faithful life to the Resurrection of their King, onlookers can begin to glimpse the beauty of his Kingdom.

Of course, we all recognize that our best, most earnest efforts, our most careful faithfulness, still falls far short of the promised Kingdom.  But not to worry!  After all, one of the reasons Jesus said he came in the first place was to “take away our shortcomings!”  (See W.S. #7).  That’s one of his specialties!

Although they comprise only a small minority among the references to the Kingdom, there are also passages that speak of a future dimension – a consummated Kingdom – far beyond anything we can imagine, let alone experience, in this present world.
As an old man, imprisoned for his faithfulness, and possibly soon to face execution, Paul reminded Timothy (II Tim.4:1) of the much-anticipated prospect of the “appearance and kingly reign” of Jesus, at which time he will “judge” [sort out] (see W.S.#9 and 10) the living and the dead, and (v.18) of the rescue and vindication that he expects at that time.
Peter also encourages his readers (II Pet.1:11) to remain faithful as they await “entrance into the eternal Kingdom” of Jesus.
The writer to the Hebrews (12:28), while using a perfect tense (“we have received”), nevertheless offers the assurance that when everything else is shaken apart, this Kingdom will stand.
During the Revelation, John was privileged to glimpse the time when “the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our God, and of his Christ (Anointed One)” (Rev.11:15), and he literally runs out of words in his effort to describe that glory.

Clearly, there is “more in store” for those who choose ways of faithfulness.  The future is not irrelevant. It holds indescribable promise.
BUT, “until then”, we already have a King to honor and obey, and fellow-citizens of his Kingdom with whom to learn to reflect his glorious graciousness.
Let’s start practicing now – and put some shoe-leather under the earnest prayer of our hearts,
Thy Kingdom come!  Thy will be done – ON EARTH as surely as it is in heaven!