Word Study #80 — Inheritance: Part II — N.T. references

November 24, 2010

As we consider the different aspects of “inheritance”, you may want to refer to the previous post, which treats the etymological and cultural considerations in more detail.

The word least frequently used in New Testament writings is prototokos, “firstborn”, which appears only 9 x. Except for Heb.11:28, where the writer recounts the Passover experience in Egypt, the word is exclusively applied to the Lord Jesus himself. It is used twice in the infancy narratives (Mt.1:25, Lk.2:7), relating physically to Mary, but all the rest are clear statements of Jesus’ primacy. Paul acknowledges him as “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom.8:29), the one to whom we are all destined to be conformed; “the firstborn of all creation” (Col.1:15), the one who created and sustains all the rest; and “the firstborn from the dead” (Col.1:18), by his glorious resurrection demonstrating his position to be of the absolute highest rank. A similar thought accompanies the reference in Heb.1:6 to his “introduction” to the world by the Father. The joyful consummation is likewise celebrated in Heb.12:23 and Rev.1:5. Remember (and give thanks!) that the Firstborn, besides being the deserving recipient of all glory, power and praise, has accepted responsibility for the welfare of all the rest of the family!

Only a little more frequent is the term kleros, translated 8 x as “lot” (Mt.27:35, Mk.15:24, Lk.23:34, Jn.19:24) in the scene at the cross, Ac.1:21 regarding Matthias ( and also 3x in 1:17 and 1:25, where “part” is used, as it is in Ac.8:21 of Peter’s rebuke to the conniving Simon). Only in I Pet.5:3 is it translated “heritage”, where the church is called “God’s heritage.”

Diatheke, as noted in the previous post, presents a problem, in being translated half the time as “covenant” and half as “testament”, which, Heb.9 explains, is a reference to a legal will. Inheritance by will differs from familial inheritance in that blood relationship is not required, although (see previous posting) under Roman law, citizenship was required. As citizens of his Kingdom, and members of his family, of course, Jesus’ people qualify on both counts!
Many of the passages where diatheke appears, clearly reference the historic “covenants” (Lk.1:72, Ac.3:25, 7:8; Rom.9:4, 11:27; Gal.4:24, Eph.2:12, II Cor.3:14, Heb.8:9, 9:4, 9:15; Rev.11:19.)
Four refer to the prescribed legal technicalities required in any “covenant” or “will” (Gal.3:15,17; Heb.9:16,17.)
Most significantly, however, the letter to the Hebrews details two elaborations upon Jesus’ announcement (Mt.26:28, Mk.14:24, Lk.22:20), which Paul quoted in ICor.11:25, of a “new covenant / testament / will”, explaining the inadequacy and failure of the old (Heb.8:9, 10; 9:15) – also seen in II Cor.3:14 – and describing Jesus’ establishing of a “new” (Heb.9:15) and “better” (Heb.7:22, 8:6) one, “not like the old” (Heb.8:9). Identifying Jesus as the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, stating that God had always intended to remedy the weakness and failure of the former “covenants” (Heb.8 and 9), the writer details their failings. Unfortunately, many interpreters have used distorted fragments of this passage to identify the death of Jesus with the ancient ritual sacrifices – which are here declared to be an exercise in futility – completely ignoring the fact that it had already been established (Heb.2:14,15) that the real purpose and effect of that event, because he emerged triumphant on the other side of the grave, was to destroy death itself! The later references (Heb.10:15-17, 12:24; 13:20) emphasize that triumph, and (10:29) the glorious accomplishment of setting aside the faithful as God’s own possession. We are strictly warned not to depreciate this accomplishment!

More dominant than all of these other words combined are kleronomeo (v),”to inherit”, kleronomia (n), “inheritance”, and kleronomos , “heir”. Four times in the synoptics, in parable (Mt.21:38, Mk.12:7, Lk.20:14) and personal encounter (Lk.12:13), the term applies strictly to legal, temporal inheritance, and five times (Ac.7:5, Rom.4:13,14; Gal.4:30, Heb.11:8) to God’s promise to Abraham. In Gal.4:1, Paul refers to the legal requirement of majority (age) for inheritance. A formal declaration by the father was necessary to establish his son as an heir, when he attained legal age. Might this be the prototype of the “voice from heaven” recorded at Jesus’ baptism and again in the transfiguration accounts?
Jesus’ own inheritance, already discussed above as the Firstborn, is also noted in Eph.1:18 – as consisting of his people! – and Heb.1:2 and 1:4, as his being “heir of everything” and his consequent supremacy over all created beings.

All the rest (at least 30 references) refer to the heritage of the Lord’s faithful people!

Of special interest is the invitation to those among “the nations / Gentiles” (Mt.25:34), W.S.#62, to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you all from the foundation of the world!” This is an unmistakable reaffirmation that the intention was always the inclusion of all who would choose faithfulness.
“The Kingdom” (W.S.#19,20,21) is identified with inheritance in I Cor.15:50, Gal.5:21, Eph.5:5, Jas.2:5, and “the promise” in Gal.3:29, Heb.6:12, 6:17, 9:15. “The promise” is also related in Mt.19:29, and in discussions with several of Jesus’ questioners (Mk.10:17, Lk.8:18,10:25) to “eternal life” (W.S.#28).
Remember: one does not receive an inheritance after HE dies, but as explained in Heb.9:15-16, after the death of the person who wrote the will!

Thus Paul writes to the folks at Ephesus in the aorist tense – the inheritance has already been conferred (Eph.1:11), and to the Romans (8:17) and Galatians (4:7) in the present tense – “we are heirs!”

To be sure, there is more to come – Col.3:24 looks forward to the eventual receipt of “the reward of the inheritance” and I Pet.1:4 to the bestowal of the “inheritance that cannot decay, or be polluted, or fade away”, already secured by the Lord Jesus, but presently “kept in heaven”.
Paul (Eph.1:14) considers the Holy Spirit’s presence and power among us as merely a “down-payment” or guarantee of all that awaits the final consummation, when , with Jesus himself, those who remain faithful (Rev.21:7) “shall inherit all things”, and (Heb.1:14) also finally “inherit salvation”! (W.S.#5)

“Dear people, NOW we are God’s children (tekna): and it hasn’t been revealed yet what we will be! But we do know that when he [it] is revealed, we will be like him – for we shall see him as he is!” (I Jn.3:2)

Thanks be to God!

Word Study #79 — Inheritance / Covenant : Part I — vocabulary

November 24, 2010

In order correctly to understand the concept of “inheritance” – kleronomeo (v.), kleronomia (n.), and kleronomos (heirs) – in the New Testament, it is necessary to bear in mind that we are here confronted with three different cultures – Hebrew, Greek, and Roman – none of which correspond directly to our own, or to each other. An exhaustive treatment of these is obviously not in the purview of this study: for more detail, I found the Jewish Encyclopedia (online), and Gibbon’s classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire most helpful. I will recount here only a few salient points.

In all three, as in many other ancient cultures, an heir acquired not only the property, but also the obligations and debts of the deceased. Accordingly, it was not uncommon for a prospective heir to renounce or abandon his heritage. In Roman law, there was even a provision for a debt-ridden father to arrange for his son to be legally adopted by another, in which case the debt “died” with the father.
Adopted sons shared equal status with natural ones. Since inheritance was patrilineal, adoption involved only the husband. A wife could have her own property, but it was treated entirely separately.
Only a Roman citizen could execute or receive bequest from a will. If a slave was to be a beneficiary, his freedom had to be granted first, in the legal document.

In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the obligation of an heir was similar, but the (even more ancient) principle of primogeniture was also observed, although this convention could be abrogated by the father, as it was in the case of Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, or Ephraim and Manasseh. The firstborn (prototokos) was entitled to a “double portion”of the estate: it was divided into one part more than the total number of sons, and the firstborn received two such portions – but also double the responsibility, not only for the debt or other obligations of the father, but also for the welfare and support of the rest of the family. In the absence of a firstborn son, a servant might be considered the heir (see Gen.15:2,3).
It is significant to note that the Hebrew emphasis on the firstborn was not unique. In fact, it represented a very humane departure from surrounding cultures, some of which demanded a fertility rite of burning one’s firstborn son in sacrifice to the gods! (Lv.18:21, 20:3,4).

The Greek culture, here as in other areas, was considerably more lenient. All the sons of a family were considered equal, and entitled to equal portions. Daughters, too, could be included at the discretion of their brothers. In the other groups, daughters received a dowry, but not an inheritance, except with special dispensation as in Num.27. Please also see the treatment of “sons” in the essay, “The Task of a Translator.”

The English readers’ understanding of the situation is further complicated by the occasional alternative use of the word diatheke. Liddell/Scott defined this word, as does the writer to the Hebrews, as a legal will, which takes effect upon the death of the testator (Heb.9:15-20). The concept became confused by the consistent use of the term in the LXX to refer to the several “covenants” that God had instituted with his people. L/S lists only a single classical use of diatheke as a covenant, by the dramatist Aristophanes, but notes that it is “frequent in LXX”. One is made to wonder, then: did the LXX translators in the third century BC deliberately depart from the primary meaning of the word? Or did their subsequent interpreters misunderstand? It is true that the concept of “blood covenant” is not unique to cultures with an Old Testament heritage; but neither is it the primary translation of diatheke. A legal will has no necessary connection with the killing of either an animal or a person. It does, however, have no force until the death of the testator is duly certified (Heb.9:16).
Perhaps the traditional translators recognized that problem when they used “covenant” 20 x for diatheke, and “testament” 19 x. But using different translations for the same word compounds, rather than solving, misunderstanding. English usage, of course, still refers to one’s “last will and testament”. And perhaps we would do well to recognize that what we call the “Old Testament” or the “New Testament” (as in Jesus’ words in the “Last Supper”narratives), represents God’s repeated attempts to communicate his legacy to his intended heirs, and not just another in a long series of failed “covenants”. That would cast an interesting light on Stephen’s sermon (Ac.7), and the entire letter to the Hebrews, as both detail the many situations in which the original heirs had chosen to opt out of the responsibility portion of their legacy, while clinging tenaciously to the property / privilege!

Another word resembling, but not directly connected to the kleronomeo / kleronomia group (which etymologically include “nomos” – law, or legal), is kleros, classically translated as “a part or lot, or anything which is assigned by lot”, and later morphed into “a piece of land, farm, or estate; a legacy”. The LXX refers to Canaan having been divided “by lot”; and to various decisions made or officials appointed by the casting or drawing of “lots”, a procedure that is not fully explained (except by the fertile imagination of commentators!). Because of the connection to the inheritance of land, it was occasionally used of one’s heritage in other contexts (I Pet.5:3, Ac.1:17, 25); and because of the “choice” connection, it became a reference to gambling (the guards “casting lots” for Jesus’ robe – (Mt.27:35, Mk.15:24, Lk.23:34, Jn.19:24) or to the selection of Matthias (Ac.1:17-26), as well as a simple “share” or “portion” as in Ac.26:18, Col.1:12, Ac.8:21.

With this background, then, in the next post, we will move on to consider the unique New Testament usages of these different aspects of “inheritance”. The vocabulary treated here can help us to distinguish whether a reference is to the inheritance of a “firstborn” (prototokos), to lineal, birthright inheritance (kleronomia), to inheritance established by a duly certified will (diatheke), or simply to one’s share (kleros) of some commodity or partnership.
It is critical to remember that, in any case, inheritance involves responsibility, as well as privilege or possession, and that both acceptance and abrogation of one’s inheritance have serious consequences.

Word Study #78 — “Meek” is not “Weak”

November 17, 2010

“Meek” is another word which, despite Jesus’ placing a high value upon the trait it describes (Mt.5:5, 11:29), is often used today rather scornfully or disparagingly, even by people who claim to be his followers. In modern parlance, “meek” has come to denote a subservient, doormat-type of individual, easily kicked-around and abused, lacking either the ability or the backbone to protest or retaliate. Such a characterization could hardly be farther from the actual meaning of praos / praus (adj.) and praotes / prautes (n.). (The different spellings are artifacts of different Greek dialects, the former in each pair being Attic and the latter Ionic in origin.)

The words imply an attitude of courtesy (Bauer), gentleness (L/S), or a mild and considerate disposition – but not as a result of weakness! “Meekness” can only exist where great strength is under strict control! It describes a domesticated animal that has been carefully trained for its master’s purposes, or even the taming of wild beasts!
Such an understanding meshes well with the Mt.11:28-30 passage discussed in W.S.#77. The “meekness” with which Jesus describes himself is not the unhappy lot of the subjugated, but the deliberate choice of the almighty God, for the benefit and the education of his people!

None of these words are ever translated in any other way in the traditional versions. However, the words with which they are sometimes paired can cast considerable light upon their intended meaning. In the passage noted above, for example, Jesus characterizes himself as “meek and lowly”, using the word tapeinos, often rendered “humble” (W.S.#14), also a deliberate choice on his part. Paul also juxtaposes those two words in Eph.4:2 and Col.3:12. Similarly, he combines “meekness” with “gentleness” – epieikeia – classically defined as “reasonableness, equity, fairness, virtue, tolerance, or capability” – in II Cor.10:1 and Tit.3:2, and with both “longsuffering” (makrothumia) – Col.3:12 – and “patience” (hupomone) – I Tim.6:11. Please refer to W.S. #63 for the distinction between these words. Prautes appears between “faithfulness” and “self-control” on the list of the “fruits” (produce – W.S.#64) of the Spirit in Gal.5:22-23, a very appropriate association.
Peter holds up the ideal of a “meek and quiet spirit” (I Pet.3:4), using hesuchia, more commonly translated “calm, tranquil, cautious, or of gentle character”. The adjectival form, hesuchios, is also the word chosen to describe the tranquil characteristic of the life desired by the beleaguered faithful in I Tim.2:2.

Perhaps the most vivid example of “meekness” as a deliberate choice rather than a helpless default is to be found in Paul’s admonition to people and/or groups involved in administering discipline to erring members (I Cor.4:21, Gal.6:1, II Tim.2:25). In each case, “meekness” is to characterize an attempt to correct or restore a person to faithfulness and to the brotherhood. Please note, in no instance is an error to be ignored, overlooked, or minimized. There is no hint of an apologetic “I might be mistaken, but…” The offense is to be confronted plainly, but not arrogantly. The goal is not exclusion, but restoration.

In a similar vein, James urges his readers to “receive the word with meekness” (1:21), and to demonstrate their faithfulness (3:13) by their behavior “with meekness” – both of which could as accurately be rendered “without arrogance.” This is also the attitude which Peter advocates (I Pet.3:15) in explaining one’s “hope” (W.S.#36) to challengers — meta prautetos kai phobou, “with gentleness and respect” (see treatment of phobos in W.S.#16). This is not a “plan of attack”, but a calm and respectful explanation.

The ultimate paradigm, of course, is the Lord Jesus himself (Mt.21:5), who chose a lowly beast of burden, rather than a regal steed, for his arrival in Jerusalem. That choice was not only a deliberate fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Zech.9:9), but also an identification with his own statement (Mt.5:5) of who will “inherit the earth”!  But do not forget that immediately after this event, he proceeded to emphatically clear the cheating profiteers out of the temple!  This was NOT a violation of his “meekness”!  His power was carefully controlled, and not destructive!

For too long, those who presume to “teach” have acted as if all the gospel references to Jesus “knowing” what lay ahead for him, referred only to his impending death. Such an assumption is seriously in error. He was indeed well aware of that prospect. But please note that in nearly every place that Jesus mentioned his death, he also foretold his resurrection, and often his subsequent glorification! (W.S.#34 and 35)!
Re-read Jesus’ prayer in John17, and notice his supreme confidence in the inheritance into which he was moving! Absolute security in that expectation is what enabled the “meekness” with which he lived, taught, – and departed.
His is the ultimate definition of “meekness” – the gentleness of incredible power, under strict control, deliberately rejecting both personal aggrandizement and self-defense. Such an attitude can only be inspired by total confidence, in one’s identity, his destiny, and to whom he belongs.

Blessed indeed, are the meek!

Word Study #77 — Rest

November 10, 2010

For far too long, in “Christian” circles, the word “rest” has evoked one of two images, neither of which has any New Testament derivation. It is presented either as a “do-nothing” accessory to the artificial “faith-works” discussion (W.S. #1 and #39), or as an image of lolling around on a cloud enjoying (?!?) one’s wings, halo, and harp! Of the 15 different Greek words that have been translated “rest” at some point, not a single one carries that imagery.

Two of those words, loipos and epiloipos, refer simply to a remainder or remnant, to “leftovers”, or to other individuals not previously mentioned – “the rest of the people…” These are not relevant to the concept at hand.
Seven words appear only once or twice with this translation: eirene (Ac.9:31), usually translated “peace” (W.S.#70); hesuchazo (Lk.23:56), “to be calm, quiet, or tranquil”; kataskenao (Ac.2:26), “to settle down in a dwelling; episkenao (II Cor.12:9), “to have one’s dwelling”; koimesis (Jn.11:13), “sleeping”; epanapauomai (Lk.10:6, Rom.2:17), “to rest in or upon”; and sabbatismos (Heb.4:9), “the rest required on the Sabbath.” The first three of these occur in other contexts, with other translations, which are more attuned to their definitions. The others appear nowhere else.

Katapausis, and its verb form, katapauomai, occurring primarily in the Hebrews 3 and 4 discussion (10 times) comparing God’s “rest” after finishing his work of creation, the entry of the Jews into Canaan, and the greater “rest” secured by Jesus, was classically defined as “putting down or deposing from power, a place of calm or rest, to cause to cease or to hinder” (as in Ac.14:18, where Paul and Barnabas had trouble restraining the people of Lystra from sacrificing to them as gods), or “to rest while one is well-off.” It appears also in Stephen’s sermon (Ac.7:49), highlighting God’s rejection of the idea that he could be contained in or confined to “a house”.
Anesis, classically applied to the loosening of the strings of an instrument, the relaxation of stress (the opposite of thlipsis, “hassles, tribulations”), recreation or relaxation (the opposite of spoude, “strenuous effort”), or the solution to a problem, is used only five times in the New Testament: three times translated “rest” (II Cor.2:13 and 7:5, II Thes.1:7), once as the liberty” granted to Paul by the centurion guarding him (Ac.24:23), and once (II Cor.8:13) reassuring his readers that they were not being asked to support the laziness of others, but to serve a genuine need by the relief offering.

The most common word, anapausis (n.), with its verb forms, anapauo (active) and anapauomai middle and passive), was classically the most versatile. It included “rest from wandering” (Homer), “recreation” (Plato), “cadence” (in poetry or rhetoric), “to bring to a close” (Hermogenes), “to halt or rest troops, or to regain strength” (Xenophon), “to relieve someone, or to allow land to lie fallow.”
In the New Testament, Jesus used it of a cast-out evil spirit “seeking rest” (Mt.12:43, Lk.11:24). Rev.14:11 and 4:8 describe the thoroughly delightful scenes around the throne where no one rests, day or night, from the praises of God / the Lamb! After their missionary journey, Jesus invites his disciples to “rest a while” (Mk.6:31), and gently rebukes them – “Go ahead and take your rest” – in the garden (Mt.26:45, Mk.14:41). Paul frequently uses it of “refreshment” (I Cor.16:18, II Cor.7:13, Philemon 7,20), and Peter (I Pet.4:14) speaks of the spirit of God’s glory “resting on” his people who are under duress. The faithful “under the altar” (Rev.6:11), who impatiently ask, in effect, “How long, Lord, till you clean up this mess??!” (Don’t we all?!!) are told to “rest a little longer”, and the Spirit (Rev.14:13) speaks a blessing on “those who die in the Lord”, that “they can rest from their labors, for their deeds [works] follow after them.”

But maybe that doesn’t mean, as is frequently assumed, that there is no more work to be done! I have deliberately left for last, Jesus’ gracious words recorded in Mt.11:28-30, to which this study owes its impetus. It began in a conversation with my brother-in-law (Thanks, Bob!) after we had sat through a less-than-inspiring, “feel-good” type of sermon. One of the fragments of poorly-used “verses” that had been quoted was Mt.11:28, “I will give you rest.” Following along in my Greek text, as I usually do, I had been startled to see that “rest”, in that quote, is not a noun, but a future active verb! And there is no word in that passage that one could properly translate “give”, nor is there any dative case that could designate a recipient of a gift. The plural “you” is in the accusative case, a direct object. Literally, although it sounds awkward to us, he is saying, “I will rest you all.”
It had always seemed odd to me that this phrase, oft-quoted as an “invitation”, was in a paragraph about the “yoke” with which Jesus offers us his “training”. The connection had seemed fuzzy, until our conversation turned to our fascination with watching neighbors, who farmed with horses, in their field work. This would have been familiar to the rural folks who first listened to Jesus’ message. The meaning is only lost on our mechanized generation!
A young animal is trained for work by being yoked together with a stronger, more experienced one. The “teaching” member of the pair needs to be gentle and patient, and to lead without abusing the “student”. The harness assembly has to be carefully fitted to the size and strength of each animal, in order to enable them to do very strenuous work without injury. And after a row or two of plowing, the farmer would always “rest” his team in a shady spot, both to recover from the heavy work, and to “re-charge” for the completion of the task!
The Lord Jesus represents himself as both the lead animal in the yoke (v.29), carefully and patiently teaching his disciple, bearing that part of the load which the “new recruit” cannot, but gradually enabling him to assume his rightful share; and as the master, who considerately “rests” his team, to enable their endurance, and the successful completion of their work. When the yoke is perfectly fitted, the load, or the task, seems much lighter!

Might that image also inform the blessing in Rev.14? Met’ auton is as likely to intend “with them” as it is “after them.”
Frankly, I think I find the image of a refreshing rest under the Tree of Life, as a prelude to even more delightful work in tandem with the Lord of Glory, a far more attractive prospect than sitting around on a cloud!
How about you?

Word Study #76 — “Sacrament”

November 3, 2010

I have usually tried to provide studies of words that have appeared in the “search” lists on my web site. However, this is one, although it has been requested several times, to which I am unable to respond by examining its New Testament usage. The reason is quite simple: the word “sacrament” does not appear anywhere in the New Testament. Neither does the concept that it represents.

For a discussion of this subject, and a treatment of a few examples of symbolic observances that have sometimes been incorrectly labeled with the term “sacrament”, please refer to Part III, “Symbols of the Kingdom”, and especially chapter 9, “Symbol or Sacrament?”, in Citizens of the Kingdom.
That’s the best I can do, folks. It’s pretty hard to “study” a word that’s not there.

I’m afraid this is an instance that would probably fall into the category of what Jesus termed “the traditions of the elders” – and he did not have a very high opinion of those, their accompanying pomp and ceremony, or the way they had so often become tools for the oppression of “ordinary folks” by a dominant hierarchy (see Mt.15:2-6, and Mk.7:3-13). Paul also warned of the emptiness of “traditions” (Gal.1:14 and Col.2:8). Only in II Thess.2:15 and 3:6 did he use “tradition” (paradosis – “anything handed down, transmitted, or bequeathed”) in a positive light, and in both of those, he was referring to the teaching that he himself had given them. This was also the case in I Cor.11:2, where the same word was (“traditionally”) rendered “ordinance”. (Word Study #48 explores the varied uses of the concept of “ordain”.)

The closest thing to a concept of “sacrament” in the New Testament, if it is understood as persons benefiting from the presence of God among them, is Jesus’ promise to be present in any gathered group of his followers (Mt.18:20, Jn.14:23,25), especially when they are actively following his instructions (Mt.28:20). No ceremony or hierarchy is needed, intended, or even helpful. He had clearly stated, earlier, that no person was to be elevated above the rest (Mt.23:8) “You have one Master, and you are all brethren.”  The elevation of any individual is an act of direct disobedience to his instructions!

If we as his people have any “sacred” task, it is that each one mediate the gracious presence of the Lord Jesus to one another, as we/they function together as the Body of Christ, serving each other, and the world around us, “in his Name” (W.S. #24).

May we do so in faithfulness!