Word Study #61 — Redemption

July 25, 2010

“Redeem/redemption” appears a total of 25 times in the New Testament narratives. These terms have been used to translate seven different Greek words, five of which refer almost exclusively to the ransom of slaves or captives (prisoners of war). Remember that in the prevailing cultures, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, slavery had been the lot of many defeated populations, all over the then-known world. The concept was painfully familiar. So was the sometimes remote, sometimes common possibility of a compatriot accumulating sufficient goods to buy one’s freedom, or even of earning it for oneself. Prisoner exchange, likewise, was not unknown. Any of these options would be called “apolutrosis” – ransom, or redemption.

Apolutrosis, the most common of the words, used 9 x in the New Testament, lutron (2 x), lutrosis (2 x), and antilutron (1 x), all nouns, and lutroo (3 x), the verb form from which they are derived, uniformly refer, in classical usage, to either the ransom of a prisoner or slave, or the redemption of a pledge or obligation – either the process or the price of such a transaction.
Agorazo, “to purchase”, and its prefixed form, exagorazo, both verbs, more frequently refer to ordinary commerce (28 x, more than the sum of all the “redeem” words), although they may also be used for the purchase of slaves, either for their freedom or simply a change of ownership. Twice, exagorazo is used in Paul’s admonitions about “redeeming the time” (Eph.5:16 and Col.4:5), or making responsible use of it.
In this cultural context, nobody needed an explanation of “captivity”, either. Four of the five words translated that way are derived from aichme , “spear”, and refer to prisoners of war: the nouns aichmalosia and aichmalotos, used once each, and the verbs aichmaloteuo (2 x) and aichmalotizo (3 x). The other, zogreo, used only once, refers to captured animals who were kept in cages.

Both Matthew (20:28) and Mark (10:45) record Jesus’ statement that he intended to give his life as a “ransom (lutron) for many” (pollon). Luke refers, in the infancy narrative (2:38) and the despairing lament of the disciples enroute to Emmaus (24:21) to the expectation that Jesus would “redeem Israel”, but only quotes Jesus himself once (21:28), “Your deliverance [redemption] is coming near” in reference to his final triumph. In fact, Jesus himself does not use the word “sacrifice”, so common in modern parlance, even a single time in reference to his own mission, nor do any of the Gospel writers: “redemption / ransom” is their chosen term in every instance.

Please note, in the light of this choice of vocabulary, that the primary idea communicated is a change of ownership or jurisdiction, rather than the “get-out-of-jail-free” notion that is so commonly preached: and this makes an enormous difference in the expectations for the consequent life of those who have been “redeemed!”
Although the verb he chose in Col.1:13 is errusato – “rescued” (W.S.#5), rather than one of the “redeem” words, probably the best description of the situation is Paul’s triumphant reminder, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness, and has transplanted us into the kingdom of the Son of his love!”
The writer to the Hebrews chose apallaxe – also “to set at liberty” – in describing the effect of Jesus’ having passed through death and come out the other side, thus having destroyed the one who held the power of death, (Heb.2:14-15), upon those whose fear of death had held them in lifetime bondage. The idea is the same.

There is an impressive list of oppressors from which our Lord has “bought” our redemption, in addition to that primal fear.

Exagorazo: Gal.3:13 and 4:5 – the curse and bondage of the Law
: Titus 2:14 – all lawlessness, and I Pet.1:18the empty / futile ways of our ancestors
apolutrosis: Eph.1:7, our transgressions, and Col.1:14 – our failures.
Please note that these latter two are taken away (aphesis), not just ignored or overlooked! And please remember that although this is certainly included as part of the “package” of redemption, Jesus’ right to “forgive / take away” failures and transgressions was predicated on who he is / was – God in person! – (see W.S.#7). Neither he nor his critics related it to his death.
Even his choice of timing lends evidence to the focus on redemption. As our son Dan pointed out when we were considering this study, Jesus’ death and resurrection happened at Passover – the celebration of deliverance from bondage in Egypt – and not on the Day of Atonement, with its focus on “sins”. How have so many people missed that observation?

Do not forget, also, that redemption is much more than mere escape from negative things and circumstances! The deliverance described in Col.1:13 is into the Kingdom of the Son of God!
Apolutrosis includes (Rom.3:24) being made just;
(Rom.8:24) being adopted (see Translation Notes) as sons of God, and eventual release from the constraints of our bodies;
(I Cor.1:30 and Eph.1:14) becoming the set-apart possession of the Lord Jesus; for which we have already been provided
(Eph.1:14 and 4:30) with his seal of ownership, in the person of his Holy Spirit.
On a practical level, having been “bought” (agorazo) by our Master, and therefore having become his possession, it is reasonable to expect
(I Cor.6:30) that we become eager to reflect honor upon him;
(I Cor.7:23) that we refuse to allow ourselves to become enslaved to anyone or anything else; and
(II Pet.2:1) make every effort not to deny or discredit him in any way.

Even if this were “all there is”, the condition of those so “redeemed” would be glorious! But there is more! A future also awaits, as the culmination of Jesus’ act of redemption! In Heb.9:15-17, the transaction is cast in the context of a will, under which the heirs only acquire their inheritance after the death (refer to 2:14) of the testator. The Holy Spirit is described (Eph.1:14) as the down-payment on that inheritance, until it is complete, and Rom.8:23 also intimates that, despite the present reality of the Holy Spirit, this is only the beginning!
Those gathered around the throne (Rev.5:9, and 14:3,4) celebrate the redemption of “people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” into the Kingdom of the Lamb.

You may have noticed that there is one question that we have not addressed: “To whom was the ransom owed or paid?” This is neither an oversight nor deliberate avoidance. The reason for its lack is simple. Although centuries of “theologians,” and preachers of many persuasions, have adamantly proclaimed the accuracy of their “logically” devised theories, the New Testament itself does not speak to that issue. Since this is a New Testament study, I will not presume to do so, either.

Our attention can be much more profitably focused upon seeking faithfully to fulfill the purpose of the One who has redeemed us for himself! He has graciously provided us with very clear instructions for that exercise.
Thanks be to God!

Word Study #60 — Grace

July 20, 2010

There, but for the grace of God, go I!” has become, in some circles, a “proudly humble” way of calling attention to another’s unfortunate (or otherwise degraded) condition. The obvious but unspoken (and unwarranted) assumption that such “grace” is absent in the experience of that “other”, and the consequent air of condescension, seem totally to escape the notice of the speaker. This is evidence of a serious misunderstanding of the nature, purpose, and expansiveness of the “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” so enthusiastically, but narrowly, and, sadly, quite selfishly celebrated in song and sermon.
Are you bothered by the inclusion of “selfishly”? Count the occurrences of “I, me, my” in that and other similar songs! That is diametrically opposed to New Testament attitudes!
A more accurate understanding of “grace” would move such a speaker to action (mercy! See W.S.#59), rather than to a piously superior sort of pity!

Grace – charis – was a very common word, with a long list of classical uses, including “outward beauty, grace, or favor; kindness or good will; thankfulness, or an expression of gratitude; a favor (personal or political) done or returned; a grant made in legal form; gratification; homage or worship; majesty; something done for the pleasure or “sake” of someone.” Its mythological personification was worshiped as the wife of the Greek god Hephaestus, and the attendants of Aphrodite (“the Graces”). (L/S). Bauer adds “gracious care: the action of someone who volunteers to do something to which he is not bound or obligated; the practical application of good will by gods or men; the condition of a person so favored.”
It is probably the “lack of obligation” idea that has given rise to the popular evangelical phrase “unmerited favor”, although no etymological data includes any analysis of whether a favor is deserved or not.

New Testament usage is also quite wide-ranging. Charis can refer to a simple “thank you” (Lk.7:19, 6:32,33,34) to a person or a group (II Cor.4:15); to giving thanks for a meal (I Cor.10:30), or profound thanksgiving to God (Rom.6:17, I Tim.1:12, II Tim.1:3, I Cor.15:57, II Cor.2:14, 8:16, 9:15, Col.3:16).
The aspect of “favor” or “good will” appears in Lk.1:30, 2:52; Ac.2:47, 7:10, 7:46) and political maneuvering in Ac.24:27 and 25:9.
Charis can describe that gracious attribute of God seen in his calling of people to himself and his Kingdom, and enabling their conversion and transformation of life (I Cor.1:4, 15:10; Gal.1:15, I Tim.1:14). This “grace”has observable results: when Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the apostles to check out the new group that had formed there, he “saw the grace of God” (Ac.11:23), and welcomed them as true brethren. We aren’t told what he “saw” – but he clearly recognized it as a “family trait.” Charis was also recognized as the active force in people becoming faithful in Achaia (Ac.18:27), and Paul urged the newly faithful in Pisidian Antioch (Ac.13:43) to continue (W.S.#58) in it, despite bitter opposition.
In Eph.2:5-7, Paul waxes eloquent about the results of being “rescued” (W.S.#5) by God’s graciousness: being made alive with Christ, and identified with his resurrection (W.S. #35) and seated together with him, as a demonstration of his gracious kindness! Notice how quickly the narrative moves away from their former, alienated condition, into the glorious, gracious provision of God! Why is it now more in vogue to dwell on people’s degradation? As one student observed, “It doesn’t say that I need to be – or pretend to be – total scum in order to experience grace!”

Somehow, sadly, in subsequent centuries, the balance has tipped strangely, and what was supposed to be the beginning of a lifelong process of transformation has been placed on hold, until the final consummation! Not so in true New Testament teaching! The focus here is on the grace that enables Kingdom living! Charis is the fuel that runs the “engine” of the transformation of life among those who are faithful! It involves “being made just” (W.S.#3) (Ac.15:11, Rom.3:24, and chapters 4 and 5); enabling honest behavior (II Cor.1:12), enabling service, both to the brotherhood and to those outside (Eph.4:7, Heb.12:28). It includes both generosity, and the means with which to express it (II Cor.9:8 and 14), confidence in prayer for help (Heb.4:16), and “coaching” (W.S.53) when needed.
The faithful are admonished to let charis motivate and regulate our speech (Eph.4:29, Col.4:6), and to be careful stewards of such a gracious gift (I Pet.4:10, Rom.12:6), using each manifestation of God’s grace to serve one another.
Both James (4:6) and Peter (I Pet.5:5) paraphrase the statement they had heard from Jesus himself (Lk.14:11) that God actively opposes (the same word that James uses in the next sentence to tell his readers how to treat the devil!) the arrogant, but gives grace to the unassuming (“humble” W.S.#14).

The expectation of faithful living as a response to God’s grace (II Cor.6:1, II Pet.3:18, Titus 2:11-15) is carefully and deliberately distinguished from the establishment – or defense – of the Law. This was obvious already in Johns prologue statement (1:17), “The law was given through Moses, but grace/graciousness and truth (came into being) through Jesus Christ!”
There are many warnings (Rom.4:4, 4:16, 11:6; Gal.1:6, 5:4; Heb.13:9; Rom.5,6,and 11) against trying to combine the new life with the old legalism, and also against the opposite problem, interpreting freedom from law as an excuse for licentiousness (Jude 4), which, he notes, actually amounts to denying the Lord Jesus! Heb.10:29 and 12:15 have a similar tone.

Luke, Paul, and the writer to the Hebrews frequently represent charis as not only supplying the enablement for an assignment (W.S.#55), but view the very assignment itself as a gift of grace (Ac.14:26, 15:40, 20:24; Rom.1:5, 12:6; Gal.2:9, Eph.3:2,7,8; 4:7; II Tim.1:9; Heb.2:9, 12:28).
In II Cor.8 and 9, especially 9:8 and 9:13, virtually everything connected with the offering for famine relief is included under the rubric of “grace”.
Paul urges Timothy not only to “be strong” in the grace that has come to him, but to be careful to pass it on (II Tim.2:1,2) to faithful people who will do likewise. This should be seen as the primary responsibility of every person entrusted/gifted with a task in the Body! (See Chapters 6-8 of Citizens of the Kingdom). “The grace/graciousness that is in Christ Jesus”, like the “mercy” we studied in the last post (#59), is not a treasure to be hoarded and admired, but a trust to be shared!

The final paragraph in Paul’s letter to Titus (2:11-14) provides an excellent summary of the effects and expectations that accompany the grace of God – who is called, in deliberate defiance of the Roman emperor’s edict, “our Savior / deliverer” (W.S.#4) in v.11. The application of the same title to Jesus, “our great God and Savior”in v.13 is not a contradiction, but a reiteration of that designation.
“His grace/graciousness was revealed (aorist tense: already accomplished) to all people (v.11); teaching/educating us (present participle: continuous action) to deny (aorist participle – a definitive act) ungodliness and worldly desires/longings, in order that (purpose clause) we may live (aorist subjunctive – purpose) sensibly and justly in the present age (v.12)while we are waiting (present participle – continuous ) for our blessed expectation/hope, and the appearance of (or from) the glory, of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (v.13) (all the nouns are genitive – possession or source).
He gave himself for us [on our behalf], in order to (purpose) ransom us from all lawlessness, and to cleanse for himself a prepared people, eager for good deeds [things to do]!” (v.14).
In short, his purpose is to establish his Kingdom among us!

“Thanks – charis – be to God, for his indescribable gift!” (II Cor.9:15)

Word Study #59 — Mercy

July 11, 2010

“Mercy” is another word that, due to its having been used traditionally to represent four different Greek words, is very frequently misunderstood. Sometimes mistaken as a synonym for “grace” – which will be treated in a later post – it has typically been co-opted by the compilers of creeds, confessions and liturgies as a component of what I sometimes call the “cockroach syndrome.” You are surely familiar with the unfortunate caricature: God sitting sternly up on a cloud, making black marks in his ledgers, noting the details of every infraction by his creatures, and, in response to their programmed, groveling pleas for “mercy” (see W.S. #6), saying grudgingly, “Well, I could – and maybe should – just stomp you like a cockroach as you try to scurry away and hide, but I won’t, because after all, I really am merciful!”
It would be difficult to find anything (short of the abrupt descent of a celestial boot!) more antithetical to the true mercy of God, as revealed in and by our Lord, Jesus Christ! He ought to sue those guys for libel!

The most common word translated “mercy” is the noun, eleos (28 x) – verb form eleeo (33 x). Classically, it refers to mercy, compassion, or pity, or, when combined with poieo (to do or to make), the giving of alms. (Liddell/Scott). This character trait was personified and worshiped at Athens and Epidaurus – which, interestingly, was a center of medical treatment.
The other words were used much more rarely: oiktirmos / oiktirmon, “sympathetic, compassionate” (5x and 3x respectively), and hilaskomai (2 x) and hileos (1 x). These latter two, which are the only ones used classically of “appeasing angry gods”, unfortunately seem to have claimed the primary attention of doctrine-writers. In the New Testament, they appear only in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Lk.8:13), and in Hebrews in reference to the duties of the high priest under the old (obsolete) covenant (2:17 and 8:12). These are hardly the best authorities!

Thayer distinguishes between eleos and oiktirmos by noting that the former is a mercy that leads to action to alleviate or eliminate misery, while the latter offers pity for a hopeless situation – but the uses of oiktirmos in Lk.6:36, Phil.2:1, and Col.3:12 do not fit that analysis. They all imply action.

The most common use of eleeo is in reference to Jesus either being asked to heal someone (5 x in Matthew, 2x in Mark, and 3 x in Luke), or having done so (Mk.5:19, Phil.2:27), or in Elizabeth’s celebration of the healing of her sterility (Lk.1:58). Indeed, Mary, Elizabeth, and Zachariah provide a delightful catalog of evidence of “the mercy of God” in Lk.1:50-78: (51) scattering the arrogant, (52) de-throning the powerful, (53) feeding the hungry and dismissing the uncaring wealthy, (54) keeping his promise, (57-58) enabling Elizabeth to have a child, (67)enabling Zachariah’s prophecy, (68) providing redemption, (71) deliverance from the hatred of enemies, (72) remembering his covenant, (74-75) giving his people the privilege to worship him without fear – see W.S. #16 – and the removal of their failures – see W.S.#7, and (78) guiding them into the ways of peace!
“Loving generosity” might be the best description of that list!

The celebration of God’s mercy continues in the epistles: Eph.2:4 – God, who is rich in mercy ….made us alive together with Christ! Titus 3:5 – the mercy of God rescued us (see W.S. #5) from the futility described in v.3; I Pet.1:3 “according to his mercy,” he gave us new birth into hope (#36) by the resurrection of Jesus (#35); I Peter 2:10 – “You all are experiencing mercy” by having been made God’s people!. Heb.4:16 – because Jesus understands our humanity, we find mercy, and grace to help in our time of need!
“Mercy” is occasionally added (4x) to the more usual greeting of “grace and peace”, which has sometimes been called a melding of the standard Hebrew (peace) and Greek greetings. However, the usual Greek greeting, chaire, is not derived from charis. I wonder if Paul changed it deliberately? We will take a more detailed look at this when we consider “grace”.

For the faithful, it is essential to note that the mercy of God is not a treasure to be hoarded, nor a pardon to be begged-for, but a trait to be learned and shared! Very early, Jesus included that expectation in the Beatitudes (Mt.5:7) and parables. The inquiring lawyer in Lk.10:37 grudgingly recognized that “showing mercy” was the point of Jesus’ story of the Samaritan, and the parable of the debtors (Mt.18:33) stresses that mercy received must also be passed on. Even more pointedly, Jesus quoted their own scripture to the nit-picking scribes and Pharisees (Mt.9:13 and 12:7) , that God values mercy above their showy “sacrifices”, and (Mt.23:23) also above their meticulous tithing of herbs. Please note that “mercy” is attached, (not antithetical) to “justice” and “faithfulness”! There is no hint of an “Anything goes” attitude here.

In the same vein, James warns that in failing to show mercy to one’s brother, one places his own situation in jeopardy (2:13-15). Paul urges the Corinthians (II Cor.4:1) that the mercy they have received is intended to provoke faithful living. In Phil.2:1, Rom.12:1, and Col.3:12, he uses the less common oiktirmos, but the message is the same: mercy received must result in merciful and faithful behavior.
James (3:17) characterizes godly wisdom as including being “full of mercy and good fruit”; Jude uses the same word (21 and 22) with more solemn overtones, of the rescue of an errant brother. In I Cor.12:8, Paul lists “showing mercy” among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to be exercised in the growth of the brotherhood – “with cheerfulness [good humor].” No reluctant toleration here. The idea of “loving generosity” fits very well.

Paul eloquently summarizes the intent of the gracious gift of God’s mercy in Rom.12:1,2:
“I encourage you all, therefore, brothers, because of God’s compassion [mercy], to present your bodies a living offering, set-apart, pleasing to God: this is your logical worship. And do not (continue to) pattern yourselves by this age, but be (continuously) completely changed, by the renewal of your mind, so that you all will recognize what God’s will is: what is good, and pleasing, and complete [perfect].”

There is nothing to add but “Amen!”

Word Study #58 — Abide / remain / continue

July 6, 2010

It is unfortunate that traditional translators have most frequently (59 out of 119 incidents) chosen “abide” – the word least familiar to speakers of modern English, and therefore the most easily corrupted by unwarranted “mystical” interpretations – to represent a rather ordinary word like meno. The classical uses of meno include nothing esoteric at all. Liddell/Scott lists “to stay or wait, to endure or remain, to keep or preserve, to abide by an opinion or conviction”, among similar ideas. This single word has been split, by those traditional translators, into multiple variants, including “continue (11 x), dwell (15 x), endure (3 x), remain (17 x), and tarry (9 x), and nearly as many more used only a single time each. NONE of these connote the “abiding” image of “saints” sitting silently in serene bliss, doing absolutely nothing but languishing in the light of their halos!

Of the total, about a third refer simply to being, living, temporarily waiting, or staying in a particular location, as do nearly all of the cases where meno appears with a prefix: epimeno, katameno, parameno, prosmeno, and hupomeno. Eighteen describe a person’s condition or circumstances, as in Jn.5:38, 8:35, 12:46; I Cor.7:8, 11, 20, 24, and others; and fourteen indicate simple survival (Heb.12:7, Mt.11:23, I Cor.15:6). Persistence is advocated in various epistles (II Tim.3:14, I Jn.2:24, Heb.3:14), as well as repeatedly in John’s writings.

John shifts the focus substantially, and departs markedly from these more classical connotations, to give greater attention to relationships, rather than merely location, duration, or condition. Actually, this departure, almost unique to John’s work, is one very strong piece of evidence for the (disputed) single authorship of all the material attributed to him. He uses a form of meno at least 58 times, more than any other writer, and only 10 of these fall into the usual categories. Most of the rest refer to deep and enduring relationships, but they are relationships with very practical implications. They are typified by Jesus’ own unity with the Father (Jn.14:10).

Another outstanding deviation in John’s work is his choice of verb tenses. One would ordinarily expect the concept of “remaining” to be expressed in the present tense – especially if referring to the establishment or endurance of relationship. In other writings, a temporary condition is usually expressed in the aorist tense, and an on-going state in the present. John, however, uses an aorist tense five times: the first “remain” in Jn.15:4, both conditional statements in15:7, the imperative in 15:9, and the conditional clause in I Jn.2:24. I’d really like to ask him why! It is possible that he has in mind a definitive point of commitment – the aorist is used that way in reference to “becoming faithful”. All the rest of his verbs are present (continuous) tenses. Usually, the present tense indicates that no terminal point is in view.

Each of the primary admonitions has a very comforting air of reciprocity. Not only does Jesus state confidently “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn.14:10), but he applies the same reciprocity to his followers: (15:4) “Remain in me and I in you”; (15:9-10) “Follow my instructions and you will remain in my love, just as I have followed my Father’s instructions and remain in his love”; (8:31) “remain in my word” and (I Jn.2:14) “The word of God is living in you”; (II Jn.2 and 4) “The truth remains in/among us” and “your children walking in the truth.” Although meno is not used there, the same idea appears in Jesus’ prayer (Jn.17:21): he expects his own relationship with the Father to be replicated in ours with him!

There are ample lists of evidence of the development of that relationship – Jn.15:5 – bearing fruit; 15:8 – the glory of God!; I Jn.2:6 – copying Jesus’ behavior; 2:10 – love for the brethren; 2:!7 – doing God’s will; 3:24 – the presence of the Holy Spirit; 4:12,13,16 – maturity in love.
Note especially the juxtaposition of truth and love in II Jn.1 and 2, also echoed in I Pet.1:22. That realization would go a long way toward bridging “doctrinal divides”, from both directions! How frequently do you see “love” as the hallmark of those who claim to be champions of the “truth”? Or a passion for the “truth” among those whose battle-cry is “unconditional love”? If these do not go together, then neither is genuine!

There are very explicit conditional statements associated with faithful “remaining / continuing”. Jn.8:31 – “IF you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Jn.15:7 – “IF you remain in me and my teachings remain in you” is the requirement for answered prayer. I Jn.2:24 – IF what you have heard remains in you, you are staying with the Son and the Father.” Paul, too, recognized that one is rewarded (I Cor.3:14) IF his work survives the test, and uses a prefixed form, epimeno, in Rom.11:22,23) to declare that the spiritual status of both Jew and Gentile is DEPENDENT upon their “remaining” in faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

Likewise, neither Jesus nor John minced words about negative evidence: Jn.5:38 – (Jesus to the Pharisees) “You don’t have the Word of God among you, because you are not faithful to the one he sent!”; I Jn.3:!4 – “The one who doesn’t love, remains in death!”; Jn.3:36 – “The wrath of God remains” on those who are not faithful to his Son (in contrast to v.35, eternal life is experienced by those who are). Note that all of these are PRESENT, not future, tenses! He is not talking about “destiny” here, but about the present state of affairs!

So how does one “abide / remain / continue” in the Lord Jesus and his word / truth? He has provided not only careful directions, but the perfect demonstration: his own example of deliberate obedience to the Father’s instructions (Jn.15:9), to the point that he could credit his Father with everything he did (Jn.14:10)!
Everyone who becomes deliberately faithful to him need not live in darkness (Jn.12:46).
“The one who keeps saying he’s living in relationship with him ought to walk [live, behave] as he did!” (I Jn.2:6).

Very simple – but not easy.
May we urge – and help – each other faithfully to abide/continue/remain in him!