Word Study #75 — Light

October 27, 2010

Of the six words translated “light” in the New Testament, two, lampas and luchnos, apply almost exclusively to a physical lamp or torch, something portable, and hand-kindled. The only exceptions are Mt.6:22 and its parallel Lk.11:34, where Jesus calls the eye the “light/lamp” of the body, Jn.5:35 where he refers to John the Baptist as a “light”, and Rv.21:23 where “the Lamb is the light” of the holy city. In each of these references, the more common term, phos, is used in the next breath, so it is reasonable to assume that the writers simply felt it necessary to differentiate a source for the “light” they had in mind.
Three of the words are used only twice each: pheggos, (classically, daylight, moonlight, splendor, luster, or delight) as ambient light (Lk.11:33), or moonlight (Mt.24:49 and parallel Mk.13:24); phoster (classically, that which gives light, stars, radiance, or a window) in Phil.2:15 “you shine as lights”, and Rv.21:11 “[light] radiance like a precious stone”; and photismos, (classically, any kind of illumination, frequently metaphorical) in II Cor.4:6 “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” and 4:4, “the light of the gospel”.
In contrast, the primary word, phos, or in earlier Greek, phaos, used 70 times, could have referred classically to any of these: L/S lists “light of sun or moon, light of a torch, lamp or fire; the light of the eyes; a window; light as a metaphor for deliverance, happiness, or victory; or illumination of the mind.” Bauer adds “the bearers of enlightenment,” whether material, human, or supernatural.
The New Testament appearances of phos can be sorted into several categories – and you may wish to vary these boundaries. (Feel free!) Some clearly refer to ordinary illumination – daylight, firelight, lamplight (Mt.10:27, Mk.14:54, Lk.8:16, 12:3, 22:56; Jn.11:9, Ac.16:29, II Cor.4:6). Others are specifically contrasted with “darkness”, which may be understood simply as a natural state, or in a metaphorical sense of ignorance or evil (Mt.4:16, 6:23; Lk.11:35, Jn.1:5, 3:19-20, 8:12, 11:9; Ac.26:18, Rom.2:19, II Cor.4:6, 6:14,11:14; Eph.5:8, I Jn.1:5).
As was the case in the LXX, visible light occasionally represents the presence of God or one of his messengers (Mt.17:2, Ac.9:3, 12:7, 22:6, 9, 11; Ac.26:13, I Tim.6:16, Rv.21:24, 22:25).
The faithful are termed “children of light” (in contrast to “this generation” or to “darkness”) in Lk.16:8, Jn.12:36, Eph.5:8, I Thes.5:5. They even become a source of light (Mt.5:14,16; Lk.2:32, Ac.13:47, 26:23) to those in ignorance.

Light – or one’s attitude toward illumination – is a clear revealer of people’s allegiance, motives, and activity. John observed that even when light is available, some folks prefer darkness “because their deeds were evil” (Jn.3:19). Quite bluntly, he explains (3:20) “Everyone who practices wickedness hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. (21) But the one who is acting in the truth (see  W.S.#26), comes to the light, in order that his deeds may be revealed, that they were performed in [for] God!” Repeatedly, behavior that is hidden or kept secret is assumed to be evil (Eph.5:12-13, I Jn.2:9) – that is the only reason for hiding! Darkness has tried (Jn.1:5) to defeat the light – and failed utterly!

“Children of light” (see above) are to have nothing to do with secrecy and darkness. If only people (especially any designated “leaders” ) in churches would recognize that all secrecy is consistently connected with darkness, not the light of the Lord, how very much pain and damage could be averted!
John reminds his readers (I Jn.2:8) “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining!” Because, as he had written so eloquently in the introduction to his gospel, “Light came into the world”(1:4-9) in the person of the Lord Jesus! Later, (8:12, 9:5, 12:35, 36, 46) he quotes statements of Jesus himself, including two of his early “I AM” statements (W.S.#17), to corroborate that identification. Although James (1:17) speaks of the “Father of Lights”, in the rest of the New Testament, it’s all about Jesus!

Followers of Jesus are urged to “walk in the light” (I Jn. 1:7), “trust in the light” (Jn.12:36) while it is available (also I Jn. 1:7), to “let your light shine” (Mt.5:16) in order that observers may give glory (W.S.#74) to God, to “speak in the light” (Mt.10:27).
“Once you all were darkness, but now (you are) light, in the Lord! Behave as children of light! The harvest of the light (is) in all goodness and justice and truth. Find out what is pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate with the unfruitful deeds of darkness: rather, rebuke them. The things they do secretly are shameful even to talk about, but everything is being exposed [revealed] by the light. Everything revealed IS light!” (Eph.5:8-14), is probably one of the best descriptions we have of the transformation of life that results from a genuine, wholehearted commitment to the Kingdom of Jesus. There are no exceptions to the complete openness and honesty, and the consequent total avoidance of secrecy or deception, that is expected of Kingdom citizens. “He that loves [keeps loving] his brother, stays in the light” (I Jn.2:10).
For children of light, to put it bluntly, anything that needs to be said or done in darkness / secrecy probably ought never to be said or done at all!

Peter offered an appropriate reminder (I Pet.2:9), “You all are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a set-apart [holy] nation, a people especially reserved for [committed to] the purpose of sending out messages about the excellence of the one who called you out of darkness, into his amazing light!”, and Paul (Col.1:12) adds that the Lord not only called us, but “qualified us for a share of the inheritance of his people in the light!” – that glorious “light” of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor.4:6), which no darkness can defeat (Jn.1:5)!

May we continually encourage and help one another to “walk as children of light”!

Word Study #74 — Glory

October 20, 2010

“Glory” is NOT a railroad terminal! It is not even a place. Centuries of songs (perpetuating the “Christian” mythology that equates it with similarly fanciful ideas of “heaven”) to the contrary, doxa refers to reputation, splendor, magnificence, brightness, or exaltation – but never to geography. The only “verse” that could even be twisted to support such a notion is I Tim.3:16, where the traditional translations refer to Jesus having been “received up into glory”, is a glaring example of the incorrect translation of the preposition en (in), which describes a state or condition, and requires a dative object, as if it were eis (into), which does imply destination or purpose, and requires an accusative object. There is not even a variant reading to that effect in any of the manuscript evidence. “Glory”, in that case, describes the triumphant circumstances of Jesus’ ascension, not its destination.

Although “glory” was ascribed to potentates of various kinds – “the kingdoms of this world” (Mt.4:8, Lk.4:6, Rv.21, 24, 26), kings themselves (Mt.6:29, Lk.12:27, Ac.12:23), and even to some people’s delight in ungodly behavior (Phil.3:19, I Thes.2:6, I Pet.1:24), as well as to assorted gods and heroes of antiquity, the vast majority of New Testament references are to the praise, honor, and worship due to God.
In the LXX, doxa had been used for the bright light that indicated God’s presence, either in the pillar of fire in the desert or in the “holy” precincts of the tabernacle or temple. This idea is also seen in Paul’s description of Moses communicating with God (II Cor.3:7-10), which serves as a prelude to his explanation that even greater “glory” is available, in the Lord Jesus (4:6), to all of his people (3:18)!

Throughout the gospel accounts, the terms “the glory of God”, “the glory of the Father”, “the glory of the Son”, appear in various combinations. This is because, as Jesus pointed out very explicitly in Jn.12:28, 13:31-32, 14:13, and evidenced repeatedly in his prayer (Jn.17), “they” are actually one and the same. There is no such thing as acknowledging the “glory” of one without the other (Jn.5:23, 8:50-54).
Paul was granted a similar vision and understanding when he wrote (II Cor.4:6) of “the illumination which comes from the recognition of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ”!
And in the final consummation, the description of the city where the Lord’s people continually enjoy his presence (Rv.21:23), “God’s glory illuminates it, and the Lamb is its lamp!” A lamp is required in order to make light accessible and useful!

Throughout his earthly ministry, people saw, or acknowledged, or marveled at the glory of God as they observed Jesus’ multitude of healings (Mt.9:8, 15:31; Mk.12:12, Lk.5:25-26, 13:13, 17:15, 17:18, 18:43), his teaching (Lk.4:15), and his other miracles (Jn.2:11, 11:4,40).
Jesus himself usually spoke of “glory” in connection with his return (Mt.16:27-28, 24:30, 25;31; Mk.8:38, 10:27, 13:26; Lk.9:26, 21:27, 24:26), although John records a greater emphasis on the recognition of his true identity (1:14, 7:18, 8:50, and the prayer in Jn.17) than do the synoptic writers. Jesus scolded those (Jn.5:41-44) who sought “glory” from one another, rather than from God. Traditional versions use “honor” here, but the word is doxa.

It is also important to note the manner in which Jesus advocates that his followers contribute to “the glory of God”. It is NOT by making a flamboyant announcement before a public performance of some sort, or a preface to a big brag thinly disguised as a “testimony”, that “this is all for the glory of God!” Jesus rather directed his people to live in such a way that “people may see your good deeds [works (W.S.#39), behavior], and glorify your Father” (Mt.5:16), noting that the Father would be “glorified” by their “bearing much fruit (W.S.#64) and becoming – not recruiting – his disciples (W.S.#51)!” He then set the ultimate example in his own prayer (Jn.17:4), “I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do!”

The surpassing glory of the Lord Jesus himself, whom both Paul (I Cor.2:8) and James (Jas.2:1) call “the Lord of Glory”, runs through the epistles like a refrain. It is contrasted with human failings (Rom.3:7) – he has none! – and is the vehicle for praise to God (Rom.16:27). Jesus is himself the “image” (W.S. #15) of God’s glory (I Cor.1:7), and the goal of the transformation he accomplishes in his people (II Cor.3:18). Incredibly, his people are described as a part of “the riches of the glory of his inheritance” (Eph.1:18), and the venue of his own glory, for all the world to see, is his church (Eph.3:21)! The confession (W.S. #68) of his lordship (Phil.2:11) produces glory to the Father, and it is “according to his riches (W.S.#72) in glory by Christ Jesus “(Phil.4:19) that God intends to supply all we need in order to serve him. It is “to his eternal glory” (I Pet.5:10) that we are called, and his presence among us (Col.1:27) constitutes our “hope [expectation] of glory”!

Although the primary use of “glory” in the epistles is simply an expression of praise and honor to God, or a declaration of his greatness, goodness, and graciousness, it is also considered (Rom.6:4) the operative force in Jesus’ resurrection, the motive (Rom.15:7) for Christian hospitality, and the result of the faithfulness of the brethren who had sent famine relief to Judea (II Cor.8:19). Indeed, it is intended to be the goal (I Cor.10:31) of everything we do! The admonition to “glorify God in your body” (I Cor.6:20) is interesting in this regard: the noun “body” is singular, but the possessive is plural. This opens the possibility that the reference could be either one’s physical body, or the collective Body of Christ. In either case, it is an awesome privilege and responsibility to be actually expected to contribute to the limitless glory of God! It is the very purpose for our existence (Eph.1:12)!

Jesus had prayed (Jn.17:24) that his disciples might “behold his glory”, and there are at least five instances where people are reported to have been privileged to “see the glory of God” : Stephen (Ac.7:55) just before his death; Peter (II Pet.1:17) and his companions, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain; John, (1:14) in the introduction to his gospel, of his acquaintance with Jesus; and in Jesus’ gently rebuke to Martha at her brother’s tomb (Jn.11:40).

Several places in the epistles, that amazing prospect is expanded even to the point of sharing that glory! And it’s not just “pie in the sky bye and bye”. In Rom.8:30 and I Cor.2:7, we learn that God planned and provided for all this “before the beginning!” Most of the references are present tense: Rom.2:7,10 – this gracious provision is to be constantly “sought” by faithful living, a concept that is repeated in II Thes.2:14, II Pet.1:3, I Pet.5:10. By focusing our attention on the Lord Jesus, we are continually being transformed (II Cor.3:18) into his likeness and glory, and even the hassles to which we are still subjected become tools toward that goal (II Cor.4:17). God is presently calling his own into his “kingdom and glory” (I Thes. 2:12), and that calling becomes a present source of hope for its future fulfillment (Rom.5:2, Col.3:4, I Pet.4:13-14), as does the gracious presence of Jesus among us (Col.1:27, Eph.1:18). Paul considers his own trials to contribute as well (II Tim.2:10).

For the faithful, as always, its all about Jesus! The writer to the Hebrews (2:10) refers to him as “the one because of whom and through whom everything exists, leading many sons into glory” – that is, his own personal possession, as he is “crowned with glory and honor” (2:9). The only appropriate response is to join with the elder, John, (Rev.1:6), in his acclaim:

“He has made us a kingdom, priests to God his father! Glory and power to him forever!”


Word Study #73 — Honor

October 13, 2010

“Honor”, a frequent request on the “search” lists, represents two different “families” of words. However, we will deal here with only one: timao / time, because the other, doxazo /doxa, is much more frequently (and probably more correctly) translated “glory” (144 x for the noun and 54 x for the verb, against only rendered “honor” 6 x for the noun and 3 for the verb). That will require a separate study.

Time, the noun, classically referred primarily to “honor or esteem accorded to the gods or to one’s superiors, or bestowed by them as a reward”, to the dignity of civic office, an honor, or a compliment. It was also used of the appraised value of an object or property, or its price; and of either a penalty or compensation awarded in the settlement of a lawsuit.
Timao, the verb, is parallel: to honor, esteem or value, to estimate value or worth, to pay due regard to a person, or legally to assess a reward or penalty.

Eight times in the New Testament, time simply designates a price: the money involved in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Mt.27:6,9); the price of property (Ac.4:34 and 5:2,3); the value of books burned in Ephesus (Ac.19:19); and the “price” with which Jesus ransomed his people (I Cor.6:20, 7:23).
Closely related, the idea of value of household utensils (Rom.9:21, I Tim.2:20,21), or of usefulness (Col.2:23) is also fairly straightforward.

After that, however, when referring to people, the situation becomes somewhat more complicated. Even the instances where people are instructed simply to render “due respect” to others (Rom.13:7 – government officials, I Tim.6:1– slaves to masters, I Pet.3:7 – husbands to wives, or I Thess.4:4 – one’s own inclinations), and where Jesus himself laments the lack of respect accorded to a prophet by his own countrymen (Jn.4:44, Mt.13:57, Mk.6:4), when it comes to mutual relations within the Christian brotherhood, Paul emphasizes (Rom.12:10) an extra measure of devotion to be expressed there, and (I Cor.12:23,24) special care to be taken of those upon whom the rest of the world would place less value. Peter contrasts the “value” placed upon Jesus himself (I Pet.2:7) by his opponents (the “builders”) with the true value seen by the faithful. In 2:17, he expresses an interesting (and appropriate) attitude toward the world’s hierarchies: “Honor (timesate- aorist imperative: a decision?) everyone, love (agapate– present imperative) the brotherhood, respect (phobeisate – present imperative) God, honor (timate– present imperative) the king”! The king is to be “honored” just like everyone else – not scorned because the brethren know the emptiness of hierarchy – but God, and the brotherhood, are in a special, more elevated category!

There are times, however, when “honor” itself clearly includes some practical evidence of respect. Jesus’ scolding of the Pharisees (Mt.15:4-8, Mk.7:6-13) for creating a loophole for failure to support one’s parents, Luke’s account of the provisions supplied to Paul’s group by the inhabitants of Melita (Ac.28:10), and Paul’s instructions to Timothy (I Tim.5:3) regarding the care of widows, are plain enough to raise the possibility that a similar idea is present in I Tim.5:17 with regard to faithful elders (remember, however, W.S. #42, that these are old people, not officials!).

Paul speaks approvingly (Rom.2:7) of people “seeking glory and honor and immortality” by the perseverance born of good deeds, and assures them that the result will be “praise and honor and peace” (v.10). The writer to the Hebrews, however, offers a reminder that even under the old system, the “honor” of priesthood was not intended to be a result of personal ambition, but only the appointment of God (Heb.5:4), and also contrasts Jesus’ faithfulness with that of Moses, as the difference between the “honor” due to a builder and the admiration of the building he has produced (3:13). Nevertheless, Peter (I Pet.1:7) encourages the expectation on the part of the faithful of “commendation and glory and honor” when Jesus comes.

It remains to consider the places where “honor” becomes an aspect of the praises offered to God himself. Jesus dealt with this matter very specifically. His own testimony should lay to rest the arguments of those who try to “demote” the Lord Jesus to a lower “status” than whatever nebulous entity it is that they call “God”. He states unequivocally (Jn.5:23) “The one who does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father who sent him”, and (8:49) plainly equates the honor ascribed to each as one and the same.

Usually, in scenes of praise, “honor” is combined with other words, including “glory and honor” (I Tim.1:17, Heb.2:7,9; II Pet.1:17, Rev.4:9,11; 5:12, 21:24, 26), or “honor and power” (I Tim.6:16, Rv.4:11, 7:12, 19:1). The creatures around the throne give “glory and honor and thanks” to the One who is alive forever (Rv.4:9). There are even longer lists, as in the exuberance of Rv.5:12: “The slaughtered Lamb is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!”

Forget the technicalities of defining the terms!
Far better to simply follow the example of the living creatures, the elders, and “every created thing in heaven and on earth and beneath the earth and on the sea” (5:13), ascribing to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb “Blessing and honor and glory and power” – falling down before him in worship!

Word Study #72 — Riches

October 6, 2010

OK, let’s begin by getting the primary cop-out out of the way.
If you ate a meal today, slept under adequate shelter last night, and reasonably expect to do so tomorrow, compared to much of the world, you are rich. So am I: despite having made a fine art out of “pinching pennies”, I nevertheless have a few to “pinch.” I expect most of you do , too: so let’s admit it, and focus on the more Biblical question of the faithful use of whatever resources we have.

Plousios (adj. and adv.), plouteo (v.), ploutizo (v.), and ploutos (n.), speak, classically, of any kind of abundance, plenty, or wealth, while chrema – possessions or money – less frequently used (only 7 x), is more narrowly defined.
Under the old covenant, or in classical times, abundant wealth or possessions were viewed as evidence of the blessing of God (or “the gods”). Jesus, however, had quite a different interpretation (Lk.6:24, Mt.19:23-24, Mk.10:25, Lk.14:2), and in his parables, the “rich” protagonists (Lk.12:16, 16:1, 16:19-22) are not exactly heroes.
But notice, please, that Jesus does not criticize their wealth, per se, but rather their attitude toward it, and their use of their resources. Zacchaeus (Lk.19:2), Joseph of Arimathea (Mt.27:57), and the women who provided for the needs of the disciple band “out of their own possessions” (Lk.8:2,3) are in quite a different category from the young man who turned sadly away from discipleship (Mt.19:23,24; Mk.10:25, Lk.18:23,25). He had a problem of priorities, not simply prosperity.
The warning recorded in Mk.10:24 concerns, according to some manuscripts, “them that trust in riches”. While spotty textual evidence allows the option that this could have been a later editorial comment, Jesus’ acceptance of the individuals mentioned above indicates that it may have been his intention. The parables in Lk.12:13-21 and 16:19-31, likewise, do not condemn the wealth, but rather its selfish hoarding and use.

None of the words translated “riches” appear at all in the Acts account, but chrema does, four times: in Ac.4:37, contrasting Barnabas’ generosity with the behavior of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11); Ac.8:18 and 20, recounting Peter’s encounter with Simon the magician; and Ac.24:26 regarding Felix hoping to receive a bribe from Paul.

An entirely different “flavor”, which appears to have no classical precedent other than the simple concept of abundance, is present in the epistles. Paul speaks of “the riches of the grace of God” (Eph.1:7, Tit.3:6), and his “generosity” (II Cor.8:2), of God’s mercy (Eph.2:4), his glory (Rom.9:23, Eph.3:16, Phil.4:19), and goodness (Rom.2:4). Peter applied the term “riches” to the privilege of entrance into the Kingdom (II Pet.1:1).
The faithful are admonished to appreciate (Eph.1:18) the riches of their inheritance in the Lord Jesus, and to become (I Tim.6:18) “rich in good deeds”, having been granted (Col.2:2) “the riches of full assurance of understanding”, and (Col.1:27) “the riches of the glory of the mystery” (W.S. #57) of their inclusion in the Kingdom. The term seems to have been completely redefined in the context of the Kingdom.

Paul warned Timothy not to “trust in uncertain riches” (I Tim.6:17), and (6:9) pointed out the perils of “wanting to be rich”, in harmony with Jesus’ own teaching about the “deceitfulness of riches” (Mt.13:22, Mk.14:19) in inhibiting commitment to the Kingdom.
James mounted quite a tirade (Jas.5:1-6) against the selfish use of worldly wealth, even assigning responsibility to it for conflicts and wars (4:1-3) (which sounds sadly contemporary!), and especially condemning it as a criterion for status in a brotherhood (2:1-7).

Nevertheless, Paul also exults over “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom.11:33), and James notes (2:5) that God has granted to those who are poor from the world’s perspective to be “rich in faithfulness, and heirs of the Kingdom”! Paul holds up Jesus’ example of leaving his well-deserved “rich”condition (II Cor.8:9) in order to elevate his people to his own “riches” – in order to enable (8:2) their generosity! The often (mis)quoted comment in Phil.4:19, if seen in its proper context – a “thank-you” note for a generous contribution from a very poor congregation – far from the “blank check” touted by prosperity cults, is simply reassurance that such generosity will continue to be enabled!

Jesus sorted it out quite plainly in the message to the Laodicean church (Rev.3:17-19) which, sadly, has many modern clones, who have allowed apparent material prosperity to obscure their spiritual destitution.
Their riches have not exempted the wealthy from the devastation described in Rv.6:15 and 13:16; they find themselves in the same sinking boat as everyone else.
But perhaps the most contemporarily relevant message is found in the picture of economic collapse in Rev.18.
Notice that the people who are distraught at the fall of “Babylon” are (v.3) those who “got rich from the extravagance of her luxury!” It is those accustomed to that luxury (vv.9-13) and its purveyors who mourn their losses. The “cargo” listed includes no necessities – except perhaps grain, although at least some ordinary varieties would surely have been locally produced. It is “the fruit of your selfish passions …. all the delicacies and splendid things” (v.14) that are gone.

And where are the people of God – the citizens of his Kingdom – in all this? For these, the word is (v.20) “CELEBRATE over her, heaven [sky], and God’s people [saints], and envoys [apostles] and spokesmen [prophets]! God has passed judgment on her for you all!” [or, God has exacted judgment on her judgment of you all!]
Those committed to Kingdom values have already learned to function quite apart from the “permission” of the adherents and the rulers of the commerce of the world (13:15-17), and consequently are untouched by its demise. The mutual care described among the community of the faithful throughout the New Testament simply continues as usual. Financial collapse does not cause a true Kingdom brotherhood to moan about its budget! They simply ramp up their already-functioning mutual aid!

With which group do you identify?