Word Study #30 — Forgetting, and Remembering

January 19, 2010

Have you felt obligated to accept the burden of guilt perpetrated by those who insist, “You have not really ‘forgiven’ a person who has wronged you unless you have ‘forgotten’ the incident”?
Have efforts to “forget” life-altering events or betrayals nearly reduced you to despair?
Did it ever occur to you to investigate whether the much-quoted admonition to “forgive and forget” ever appeared in the New Testament at all?
Take heart, my wounded brothers and sisters who are serious about faithfulness: it isn’t there!
And neither is the corresponding allegation, intended to shame you by example, that “God has forgotten all of your offenses.” Forgiven, certainly. Forgotten – well, hymns and sermons to the contrary, the subject is not even discussed in the New Testament writings.

There are only eleven appearances of the English word “forget” in the entire New Testament; and these combine three different Greek words, one of which, in I Pet. 1:9, the only time that lambano is translated that way, (a word that usually means “take, receive, accept, attain, or, rarely, take away”) and is therefore a bit suspect. The others, epilanthanomai and eklanthano are quite similar in classical usage, with the latter being perhaps a bit more emphatic.
Of the other occurrences, nine refer to people “forgetting” – all but one in a negative sense: Mt.16:5 and Mk.8:14 record the disciples’ failure to pack lunch before their trip; James 1:24 and 25 admonish the man who looks in a mirror and forgets what he saw; and the writer to the Hebrews asks reprovingly, (12:5) “Have you forgotten (God’s instructions)?” The same writer reminds readers not to forget to do good, to share, and to extend hospitality (13:2 and 16).
The only positive mention of “forgetting” is in Phil.3:13, where Paul speaks of forgetting his pedigreed past in order to devote all his energy to seeking greater maturity in Christ.
Twice, the reference is to God, and is one of encouragement: Lk.12:6 quotes Jesus as declaring that not even sparrows are “forgotten” by him, and again in Hebrews 6:10, “God is not unjust, to forget your work, and the love you all demonstrated for his name, and the way you’ve looked after his people.”

That’s it, folks. That’s ALL the New Testament says about forgetting!
Even in the Old Testament, where the LXX usually uses epilanthanomai to translate the Hebrew shakach, forgetting is warned against – “Don’t forget what God has done!” – not advocated; and when it is said of God, it refers to his judgment, not his mercy. Check it for yourself in Young’s Concordance.

OK, let’s give the guilt-trippers the benefit of all possible doubt, and consider that maybe we have to look at “remembering” in order to justify their scolding. This includes five Greek words, all quite similar, all related etymologically. They are anamimnesko (used only once), mimneskomai (the middle voice – see appendix to Notes – also used only once), mnaomai (15 times), mnemoneuo (19 times), and hupomimnesko (3 times). All of their classical definitions are very similar.
All but two of the references (out of a total of 40) are simply to people remembering or being reminded of past events, messages, or behaviors.
The two referring to God, Heb.8:12 and Heb.10:17, are both instances of the same quotation the writer takes from the prophecy of Jeremiah. Recognizing the utter failure of the law to produce the life that God designed and desired for his people, the writer combines several of Jeremiah’s messages about the promised New Covenant: (8:10-12) “This is the covenant that I will establish….when I give my laws into their understanding, I will write them on their hearts …They will all know about me, from the least to the greatest of them. I will be merciful about their injustices, and I will no longer remember [keep score of] their shortcomings [failures].” Please notice the conclusion, (Heb.8:13): “In saying ‘new’, he has made the first one “old”; and what has become old and been superseded is near to disappearing!”

It is possible, that with some intricate verbal gymnastics, people could turn that quotation into support for their proclamations about God “forgetting”, but in doing so, they ignore the whole message of Hebrews 7 through 10, which is to highlight the inadequacy, the utter failure of the old covenant, and its sharp contrast with the New, as established by Jesus! In fact, I would even suggest that it is the “failure” of the Law that may even be the “failure” (translation of hamartia – see W.S.#7) that is in view in the prophecy! However, even if you give the guilt-preachers enough editorial license to ignore the context, there is still nothing that commands – or even suggests – that “forgetting” is advocated, much less demanded, of faithful people! Our instructions, repeatedly, are “Do not forget!” “Remember!”

Clearly, (again see W.S. #7), we indeed are instructed – expected – to “forgive [release]” our abusers, as Jesus himself demonstrated. But this has nothing whatever to do with the unrealistic requirement of “forgetting.”
One brother put it this way: “To forgive is not to forget, but to refuse to be bound or limited by evil.” There are wrongs in this life that cannot be set right. They have passed into history, and their consequences, although they can certainly be redeemed, cannot disappear. But in deliberately forsaking vengeance and resentment, both the injured party and the offender can be set free (the real meaning, remember, of aphiemi), although the course of both lives may have been permanently, irretrievably and unforgettably altered. Yet, in those wonderful instances when, by the grace of God, reconciliation becomes possible, how much poorer would everyone concerned be, if all were “forgotten”? Remember – and give thanks!

We are instructed to “remember”, throughout the Gospels, especially John, what Jesus said, did, and taught. In the Epistles, we are told to “remember the poor” (Gal.2:10), and those imprisoned for their faithfulness (Heb.13:3); to remember our former alienation from God and his ways in order to appreciate (and imitate) his graciousness (Eph.2:11); and the faithfulness of our brethren and teachers many times. Even those who have faltered in their faithfulness are admonished to “remember” the devotion of their “first love” (Rv.2:5, 3:3) for the Lord and for each other.

Remembering is a much more fruitful focus for our attention.

Word Study #29 — “To Know”

January 12, 2010

What do you intend, when you say that you “know” someone/something?  You know who they are? You are close associates or friends? You are able to perform a task?  You are acquainted with certain facts?  You can quote something from memory?  You can recognize an artifact or idea, speak a language, or understand a culture?  The English language incorporates all of these “meanings” – and more – some of which may be contradictory — into a single word, “to know.”

The New Testament writers, in contrast, employ eight different words, all of which traditional translators have rendered simply as “know.”  Is it any wonder that confusion can result?  An evil spirit screams at Jesus, “I know you!” (Lk.4:34), yet later, the ultimate blessing of “eternal life” is attributed to “knowing” him (Jn.17:3)!  The reader of the average English text has no clue that these are different words.  Unfortunately, they don’t all sort out quite that easily, but we can clear up some of the fog with careful attention to vocabulary.  In this study, correct understanding of the differences between the original words will probably not materially change one’s understanding of most passages, as much as it will enhance our appreciation for the message.

The most commonly used of all of these words is oida.  It is the perfect tense form of the verb horao, “to see”, and occurs at least 285 times in the New Testament.  Classical uses of oida are obviously connected to the concept of “seeing.” They include looking at or paying attention to something, “mental” sight or discernment, to behold or observe an object or event, or to be acquainted with a fact. This is not foreign to us:  “Oh, I see!” is equivalent to “I get it!”  “I understand.” In the New Testament, it is concerned primarily with information, which may or may not influence one’s life. “I know” (oida) may be an expression of confidence or expectation, as in Eph.1:18, but it need not.  It may concern awareness of someone’s reputation (Rom.16:15, I Thess.1:5), or of an event or idea (like all 13 occurrences in Acts).

Ginosko, the second most frequent NT usage, (196 uses), usually presupposes more personal involvement with the person, event, or principle that is “known.”  Classically, it included recognition, discernment, or opinion that results from personal experience or observation.  The word was also used of the marital relationship.  Frequently, the NT writers used it to refer to the simple identification of individuals (Lk.24:35), of recognition or understanding of events or people (Mt.24:43), or of “finding out” (Jn.12:9) information.

The difference between oida and ginosko is most easily seen in passages where both are used.  For example, look at Jesus’ upper room conversation with Peter in Jn.13:7.  To Peter’s protest at the apparent impropriety of a master washing the feet of disciples, Jesus replies, “You don’t know (ouk oidas) what I’m doing now, but you will understand/know (gnose) later.”  And Peter did learn the lesson – by experience – quite well, as evidenced by his later instructions to the brotherhood (I Pet.4:10), “As each one has received a spiritual gift, serve each other with it.”  You may also want to follow the interplay between oida and ginosko in John 7 and 8 or John 13 and 14, which is easily done by using Young’s concordance (see Word Study instructions), for further understanding of the different implications of the two words.

Epiginosko (the prefix epi is an intensifier) appears only 30 times translated “know”, 5 as “acknowledge”, and 3 as “perceive.”  Classical definitions include to witness or observe, to recognize, to find out or discover, to become acquainted, or to decide or adjudicate.  Many of the NT references are focused on recognition or identification (Mk.6:33 and parallels, Ac3:10, 9:30, 12:14, 19:34; Lk.24:16 and 31), or reassurance (Lk.1:4, II Cor13.5, Col.1:6, I Tim4:3).   Peter’s warning takes on an even more serious tone, when he uses epiginosko (the stronger term) both times in II Pet.2:21:  “It would be better for them never to have become acquainted with the way of justice, than having known it, to turn back ….”

Other words are less frequent, and less “loaded”:
Epistamai, classically to know how to do something, to understand a matter, to know as a fact, in Homer, to know for certain, or in Aristotle referring to scientific facts, in the NT usage refers primarily to information, primarily about an individual’s past history (Ac.20:18).
Proginosko (source of English “prognosis”), to know or perceive beforehand, usually without being told, occurs only five times, and it must be remembered that it refers to knowing, not causation, despite the distortion by some translators. (II Pet.3:17 and I Pet.1:2 use the same word.)
Sunoida, used only four times, refers to shared knowledge (the prefix sun- is the preposition “with”).
Diaginosko (source of English “diagnosis”) appears only once, in a legal investigation (Ac.24:22).
Agnoeo (source of English “agnostic”) – the “a” is a negative prefix – is used four times as “not knowing” (Ac13:7, and Rom.2:4, 6:3, and 7:1), and 10 times as “to be ignorant”.  Please note that this ignorance does not presuppose hostility – simply “not knowing.”

It is the frequently used ginosko, oida, and epiginosko that need more attention than they commonly receive.  Notice, please, that none are “inferior” to others in any way; they are simply different. Notice also that none of these contain any admonitions regarding intricate details of dogma or argument.  And Jesus bluntly informed his curious disciples (Ac.1:7) that “it is not for you to know” (ginosko) a roadmap of the future!

Although oida usually refers to knowing or figuring out facts, Paul clearly expects it to inform one’s way of life.  In Gal.4:16 he points out that when they did not “know” God, they followed lesser leaders, and in Eph.1:18, “knowing” one’s calling is supposed to motivate a godly life.  Phil.4:12, often (mis)quoted, expresses the apostle’s confidence that in the power of God, he “knows how to” deal with any situation.  It is not an expression of infallibility or omnipotence on his part — or ours!
Ginosko more commonly represents knowledge acquired by personal experience or relationship.  It predominates heavily in Jesus’ prayer (Jn17).  When Jesus is explaining the meaning of parables, or someone is referring to God’s understanding of a person’s situation, ginosko is usually (though not always) the choice.
It is clear that something more than passing acquaintance is intended in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian brethren (Eph.3:19) that they may “know” (gnonai) the love of Christ, which vastly exceeds “knowledge” (gnoseos)!  (The verb is wonderful!  It is a form from which our “hyperbole” is derived!)  A similar flavor occurs throughout John’s first letter.  He is speaking of a very intimate involvement between Jesus and his people.
Epiginosko is usually reserved for very close acquaintance between people, or a thorough understanding of information.
All three are important ingredients or enablers of faithfulness, which, in the final analysis, is intended to be the goal of all our pursuit of “knowledge”:  that we may experience the full measure of the maturity/completeness that our King intends for us.

May we continue to grow in that knowledge!

Word Study #28 — Life:Eternal and otherwise

January 3, 2010

*Note: The following treatise is only a brief summary of this matter.  A closer examination of the component parts may come later:  especially if some of you all join in the study effort!

For probably as long as they have had the intellectual and linguistic capacity to do so, people have wondered – and speculated – about “life”: and their philosophical, religious, and even physiological conclusions have differed greatly.
This is an instance where the same English word  has been applied to three distinctly different Greek terms, resulting in the blurring, if not the complete loss, of important elements of understanding.  Especially interesting in this regard is the sharp departure from classical usages that we see in the New Testament.

Bios (source of the English “biology”), in classical writings, referred to one’s mode or manner of life, his livelihood, or merely his physical existence.  The term was used of animals, as well as people.  Some writers used it of the “real world” as opposed to mere philosophical speculation.  It appears only 10 times in the New Testament, translated 5 times as “life” and 5 as “living.”

Zoe (source of “zoology”) is even less common in the classics.  Homer used it of physical existence; others referred to one’s substance or property, or even a term of endearment, “my Life!!”  It may also refer to one’s chosen way of life.  This is the term that dominates in the New Testament – there are 133 occurrences.

Psuche (source of “psychology”), although a favorite of the 5th and 6th century BC philosophers, used by Homer denoting “ghosts, or departed spirits”, and as an entity that leaves the body if a person faints, more frequently referred to someone’s personality, or conscious self.  At times it was used simply to count individuals.  Some philosophers used it of one’s moral or intellectual self.  Early physicians used it as the source of life and consciousness.  It was the Stoics and Epicureans who divided the concept of psuche (“soul”) from soma (“body”).  For Plato, it was “the immaterial principle of movement and life”.  Hippocrates referred it to the emotions.  Please note: these all date prior to the third century BCthey are NOT “Christian” ideas! There are 103 uses of psuche in the New Testament, with widely varying translations, the most common of which are “life” and “soul.”

Interesting cultural observations can be made on the basis of words that are commonly used together: in this case, specifically, the combination with aion (n.) and aionios (adj.), which are usually translated with some form of “eternal.”  Although aion was also used of a lifetime, age, or generation, or any clearly defined epoch, Epicurus often preferred the concept of “perpetuity.”  For other uses of aion , please see #86.

The only classical incidence of aionios noted in Liddell/Scott as being used with bios was in reference to Egyptian monarchs.  This fits well with the ancient Egyptian cultural practice of carefully preserving bodies and organs, and providing them with artifacts, wealth, food, pets, and even servants for their welfare in the afterlife.   It was the physical life that they expected to be continued or replicated.  No pairing of bios and aionios occurs anywhere in New Testament writings.

Pindarus, Plato, Epicurus, Homer, and many other Greek writers/philosophers wrote of the psuche – a disembodied entity that existed in a shadowy realm after death, occasionally interacting with the living; but their primary use of “eternal” (or, more frequently, “immortal”) referred almost exclusively to gods and heroes.  This pairing, also, never occurs in the New Testament, even in the places where traditional translators rendered psuche as “soul,” the 3rd to 5th century BC pagan term.

In all the New Testament writings, only zoe is used in conjunction with any form of aion – a combination that never occurred in the classical writings.  The consistency of this choice indicates with unusual clarity that a very different concept is in view.  Zoe appears with aion or aionion 43 times, and the idea of something quite beyond ordinary existence is present in at least that many more of the uses.  Might this not be a deliberate, overt rejection of the pagan concept of disembodied “souls”, in favor of Jesus’ statements, “I AM the …life” (Jn.14:6), “I have come that they might have life” (Jn.10:10)?  All of these employ a form of zoe, as do Jn.8:12, “The one who is following me shall have the light of life”, and Jn.11:25, “I AM the resurrection and the life.”  Many years later, as an elderly man, John put it very simply: (I Jn.5:11-12) “God gave us eternal life!  This life is in his Son.  The person who has [holds on to] the Son has life; the one who doesn’t have [hold on to] the Son, doesn’t have the life!”  Here too, zoe is used throughout.

So where did all the rhetoric about “eternal souls” come from?  Not from the New Testament!  Psuche and aionion are never used together there.   The English words do not appear together, even in traditional translations that arbitrarily use “soul” instead of “life” in about half of the appearances.  To be fair, we must note that there are four places (yes, only four in the entire New Testament) where the traditional translators refer to “saving souls”:  Heb.10:39, Jas.1:21 and 5:20, I Pet.1:9.  Please refer to W.S. #5 for a discussion of the concept of “save”.  I can only conclude that those translators were more heavily influenced by the “Golden Age” of Greek philosophy than by the message of Jesus, who had offered his followers the privilege to “enter into life (zoe)!”  And Jesus spoke of “life (zoe)” – with or without the addition of aionion (“eternal”) – primarily in the present tense!

He spoke of “laying down his psuche for his sheep, maintaining that he had the authority both to lay it down and to reclaim it (Jn.10:15-17).  Yet it was his “spirit” (pneuma) that he committed to his Father from the cross (Lk.23:46), and Stephen offered the same commitment to Jesus himself at the time of his own death.  I could not find any references to “the spirit of God” or “the spirit” of a person outside of the LXX (Septuagint) or the New Testament.  The deliberate choice of pneuma – classically more generally used of wind, or simple respiration – instead of psuche may have been a further gesture of rejection of the pagan implications of psuche.  Indeed, the writer to the Hebrews notes the difficulty of distinguishing between the two (4:12), and relegates that task to the Word of God!  If only his people today had the grace to do likewise!

The focus of the New Testament is clearly upon zoe – which is represented as originating in (“invented” by?) the Lord Jesus himself (Jn.1:21).  Fully half of the references in the Gospels are specifically paired with a form of aion/aionion, and many of the rest definitely imply a higher order of living.
Even more significant is the fact that most of these occur with present tense verbs.  Even statements like Jesus’ telling his opponents (Jn.5:40), “You don’t want to come to me in order that you may have life,” does not use a future tense, as is often assumed by those who use only English, but a present subjunctive form, which is required in this kind of a statement of purpose or intent.  The same structure occurs in the much-quoted Jn.3:16, and also in John’s statement of the evangelistic purpose of his gospel (20:31).  These are all talking about the present, not the future!
Yes, there are a handful of references to “in the world to come,” such as Mk.10:30 and its parallel in Lk.18:30, but these are the exception.  Additionally, they express a continuation of what has already begun, not something that only begins in the future.
More common is Paul’s expression in I Tim.4:8, “a promise of life both now and in the future.” Both Gospels and Epistles are concerned with the quality, not just the duration, of life.

I will close this brief summary with a few of the passages where “eternal life” is succinctly defined – all using “zoe”:
Jn.6:63 (Jesus speaking) “The messages I have spoken to you all are spirit, and they are life!
Jn.11:25 (Jesus) “I AM the resurrection and the life!”
Jn.14:6 (Jesus) “I AM the way, the truth, and the life!”
Jn.10:28 (Jesus, of his “sheep”) I am giving them eternal life, and they will never be destroyed!”
Jn.12:50 (Jesus, of his Father) “His command IS eternal life!”
Jn.17:3 (Jesus) “This is eternal life, that they may be acquainted with you, the only true [real, genuine] God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.”
Col.3:4 “Christ, who is our life…
II Cor.4:10 “In order that Jesus’ life may be revealed in our mortal flesh [human nature]”
I Jn 5:20 “We have our very existence in the True One, in his Son, Jesus Christ!