Word Study #48 — Ordain

It would be difficult to find a word that provides a clearer example of how hard “official” translators will beat the bushes to try to find (or create) justification for an idea that arose completely apart from the New Testament text, than the English word “ordain.” It entered the English language around 1250AD, from the Latin, via French. This, please note, was after more than a thousand years of “evolution” which, tragically, had transformed a loving, mutually participatory brotherhood into a huge, hierarchical institution, in which a comparatively few individuals (“ordained clergy” * of many ranks) held frightening power over a “laity”* who were kept compliant by their enforced ignorance of the New Testament message, due primarily to their lack of access to it.
*Please note that neither of these terms exists anywhere in the New Testament.
How else can one explain the use of “ordain” to represent no less that thirteen different Greek words in the text, with no more than three such representations (in some cases an extremely tiny minority) in the case of any single original word?
And even the English word, according to the Oxford dictionary, expressed multiple meanings: “to enact by law or edict, to decree or to give orders, to destine, to order or command, to appoint to office,” as well as “to invest with ministerial/sacerdotal function in a church.”

Only in Heb.5:1 and 8:3 is there any hint, in the New Testament, of a “sacramental”* ceremony, conveying ecclesiastical responsibilities, privilege, and status – and that deals with the commissioning of the Jewish high priests, under the old system!
* another word that is not found in the New Testament
We will briefly examine each of the Greek words involved, and note their more common uses, as well as their lexical meanings.

Diatasso, which primarily concerns the giving of instructions, occurs thirteen times in the New Testament. It was translated “ordain” only three times: I Cor.7:17 (referring to whether one was “called” to be married or single); I Cor.9:14 (the provision for itinerant preachers to be supported); and Gal.3:19 (regarding the giving of the Law.) Other uses are as varied as the lexical meanings listed by Liddell/Scott (L/S): “to appoint or assign” (Lk.3:13, Ac.20:13, Tit.1:5); “to give orders” (Lk.8:55, Ac.18:2, 23:31); “to arrange, undertake, or pledge” (I Cor.16:1, 11:34), among others.

Kathistemi, a somewhat stronger word, used nineteen times, was also translated “ordain” only three times: Titus 1:5 regarding the choosing of elders, and the Hebrews references already cited. L/S lists “to cause, place, or station” (Mt.24:45, 47); “to bring to a destination” (Ac.17:15), “to bring before a judge or magistrate” (Lk.12:4), “to set a battle array, to institute laws, to be set as a guard,” or occasionally “to stand against or oppose” (Jas.4:4). Most common is “to make” (as, to give someone a job) (Mt.25:21, Ac.7:10, Ac.6:3). Interestingly, the Titus reference contains both diatasso and kathistemi: Paul is reminding Titus that he was instructed to put in place elders (plural) in every city, to provide the necessary oversight for each group.

Kataskeuazo, primarily (L/S) “to equip or furnish, to build or construct”, is used six times (out of 11) as “to prepare” – Mt.11:10, Mk.1:2, Lk1:17 and 7:27 – of John the Baptist “preparing” the way for Jesus; and Heb.11:7 and I Pet3:20 of Noah “preparing” the ark. It is used three times in Heb.3:3 and 4 of building a house; and only once as “ordain” (probably referring to instructions), in the preparation of the tabernacle objects.

Krino, used 110 times, usually in reference to judgment (see Word Study #9), either legal or intellectual, is only once rendered “ordain”, in reference to the verdict at the Jerusalem Conference (Ac.16:4).

Horizo (8 uses total) twice refers to Jesus as “ordained” by God to judge the world (Ac.10:42, 17:31). The classical “to divide or separate with a border or boundary, to determine or define” would fit just as well, as it does in Lk.22:22, Ac.11:29 17:26, Heb.4:7.

Poieo – usually “to do” or “to make”, is found in the New Testament 538 times, only one of which was translated “ordain” – Mk.3:14 – referring to Jesus’ choice of the 12 disciples. Did someone just decide that a more “official sounding” word was needed for that event? The writer apparently did not think so.
The same question could be asked about the single case where ginomai (“to be, to become” – 557 times) has been rendered “ordain” – the choice of Matthias (Ac.1:22). Both of these choices are clearly editorial, as are many of the other 47 cases where a variant rendering was chosen only once.

Prographo – Jude 4 – “to write beforehand”, and proetoimazo – Eph.2:10 – “to prepare beforehand”, each used only once in the entire New Testament, may well have been rendered “ordain” to convey a sense of destiny, which does not exist etymologically in either of those words.
Proorizo, on the other hand, “to determine beforehand,” does carry that flavor. It only appears five times – and only once translated “ordain” (I Cor.2:7), referring to God’s plan for redemption. This subject deserves more attention, which we may give it at another time.

Tasso, (9 appearances, 2 as “ordain”), classically referred primarily to orders or instructions – military or civil – or appointments to any kind of service. This is seen in Ac.15:2, Mt.28:16, Ac.22:10, 28:23: the change to “ordain” in Rom.13:1, again, seems capricious. Ac.13:48 speaks of “those ordained for eternal life” in traditional versions, conveying a determinate sense which is absent in the grammatical structure. “Whoever became faithful was appointed [enrolled] for eternal life” would more closely approximate the grammar of the sentence.

Tithemi, basically referring to putting or laying something somewhere, whether a person, a vote, a bank deposit, a burial, an offering, a will …. has 75 New Testament uses, only two of which were translated “ordain” again, rather obviously because the translators (not the writers) thought a more specific term was needed in Jn.15:16 and I Tim.2:7. They were fine with using “appoint” six times, and “lay” or “lay down” fourteen times with reference to burial, four times to a sickbed, and five to laying a foundation.

Cheirotoneo, only used twice, was rendered “ordain” when applied to elders (Ac.14:23), and “choose” when applied to the folks sent to accompany Paul’s relief mission (II Cor.8:19). Please see the discussion of “elders” in W.S.#42. A discrepancy like this, like those previously mentioned, cannot be other than editorial – which is not “the task of a translator” (please refer to the essay of that title.).

Conspicuously absent from all of these references is any indication of a ceremony elevating an individual to a lifetime position of status, with power over the welfare – physical or spiritual – of his fellows, or the monumental task of standing as a necessary link or mediator between any person and the grace of God! It’s not there, folks!
The Body of Christ is neither a many-headed monster, an efficiently structured corporation, nor a layered pyramid scheme! It is a living, breathing organism under its one Head , the Lord Jesus himself. All its members – loyal citizens of his Kingdom – “ordained” since before the beginning (Eph.1:4-6) to belong to him – share the task of “the measured working of each individual part, building itself up in love, for the praise of his glory!”
Thanks be to God!

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