Word Study #95 — Suffering, Sacrifice

For the purpose of this study, a supplement to #94, although the Elizabethan English word “suffer” was also used as a synonym for “allow” (aphiemi, didomi, eao, epitrepo) and “endure” (anechomai), these will not be considered here. We will confine ourselves to the references where “suffer” is used to translate pascho, pathema. These words probably include the broadest range, scripturally, of any of the four words mentioned in the previous post: but even so, the New Testament writers do not apply it to mere annoyance or inconvenience, as so many folks are prone to do today.

Classically, the word includes the plight of a victim of any kind of oppression, the experience of any misfortune, the payment of a legal penalty, any abuse or ill-treatment, but also of well-being, or the receiving of benefits! (L/S). Thayer indicates that it can be used of any sensate experience, but usually one of evil, illness, or bad fortune. Medically (L/S), it was used of symptoms or troubles.
Similar diversity is also seen in the New Testament. Pascho is used in the complaint of Pilate’s wife about her dream (Mt.27:19), the plight of the woman who could not be helped by doctors (Mk.5:26), the group of Jews abused by Pilate (Lk.13:2), the mutual dependence of the human body (I Cor.12:26), and the punishment deserved by a person convicted of a crime (I Pet.4:15).

However, the majority of the 39 New Testament appearances of the verb form and 14 of the noun refer specifically to the sufferings of either Jesus (24x), or his people (25x), as a direct result of their faithfulness. Jesus spoke repeatedly of his anticipated suffering of rejection by the elders and priests of the Jewish hierarchy (Mt.16:21, 17:12; Mk.8:31, 9:12; Lk.9:22, 17:25), as well as the specific event of his death (Lk.22:15, 24:26). Notice that Jesus himself, in contrast to popular emphases, spoke more frequently of “suffering” in connection with his being rejected by those who should have welcomed him, than he did of his actual death. It is important to note that fully half of these, in both categories, end with the declaration of the equal certainty of his resurrection.
Repeatedly, that is the key: for the Lord Jesus himself, and for his people, whatever their circumstances. His resurrection, and by extension, theirs/ours, is the power that enables endurance. Paul clearly understood this (Rom.8-18), as did Peter (I Pet.4:13).

In fact, if you will check all of Paul’s uses of pascho and pathema – I Cor.12:26, II Cor.1:5-7, Gal.34, Phil.1:29, 3:10; Col.1:24, I Thes.2:14, II Thes.1:12, II Tim.1:12, 3:11 – you will see that they all refer either to his own (Paul’s) mistreatment, or that of his readers. Only in Phil.3:10 does he connect it to the sufferings of Jesus. Neither Jesus nor Paul, on any occasion, makes any connection of these words with “forgiveness” (W.S. #7) as has been widely taught as “doctrine”. Look it up, folks. It’s not there, and neither is any hint that “suffering” was ever “sent” or “caused” by God! (see “trials”, W.S.#11)

In Ac.9:16, Ananias is told by Jesus that Paul will need to suffer many things “on behalf of my name”, which Paul then passes on in Phil.1:29 “for his sake”; and in II Thes.1:5, he refers to that beleaguered group’s suffering “on behalf of the Kingdom of God”. In each case, the preposition is huper, “on behalf of.” As we saw in W.S. #94 regarding persecution and tribulation, suffering also is viewed simply as one of the consequences to be expected, as a part of identification with Jesus and his Kingdom. (See also W.S.#34, the cross.)

The writer to the Hebrews, in illustrating the shortcomings of the old, obsolete system, is the only one to propose a reason for the suffering of the Lord Jesus: Heb.2:9-10 – so that his death and subsequent glory would destroy (14-15) the power of death over his people, and to make him mature (teleios) for that assignment; Heb.5:8 – it was the way he “learned obedience” (for the same purpose); and Heb.9:26 – to definitively abolish (the word is athetesis, used of the nullification of a contract or treaty) the “failures” [“sins”] of his people. This latter passage is the only place in the entire New Testament where that connection is made. So how did it become the only thing so many people include in their distorted version of “gospel teaching”? Because a good guilt-trip makes it so easy to manipulate people?
Later, the same writer describes the early sufferings of his readers (10:32, 34) – the latter containing the same word with the “together” prefix – as encouragement for their continued faithfulness. “Don’t give up now!” See vv.32-38.

Peter’s first letter, written to refugees scattered across Asia Minor by severe violence against the brotherhood, is almost entirely devoted to encouraging their faithfulness under duress. Again, resurrection hope predominates. Whether Jesus’ sufferings (1:11, 4:1, 4:13, 5:1) or theirs (2:19-23, 3:14-18, 4:13-19, 5:9-10), it is faithful behavior in spite of suffering which promises participation in the Kingdom – both present and future. Twice (3:17-18 and 4:13-19) he reminds them “just make sure that your suffering is not deserved” for some less noble reason! Please see W.S. #12 for a discussion of the references to “God’s will.”

“Sacrifice”(thuo, thusia), on the other hand, as it is used in the New Testament, is always performed at a person’s own initiative. Classically, the only use of either word was the slaughter of animals for food, or burnt as offerings to the gods, or referring to the festivities surrounding those ceremonies. Bauer adds that later, the Rom.12:1 reference was interpreted as an advocacy of martyrdom, but there is no evidence that such was the original intent.
Sixteen times in the New Testament, the word refers to pagan sacrifices to idols. Paul deals with the dilemma this causes in I Cor.8. Nineteen times, the reference is to the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament Law – most of them emphasizing its futility (Heb.5:1, 7:27, 8:3, 9:9, 10:1, 5, 8;11) – or to Jesus’ statements that sacrifice is not what God wanted (Mt.9:13, 12:7, Mk.12:33, Ac.7:42). In Lk.15:23,27, 30; Jn.10:10, 10:13, thuo is used simply of slaughtering an animal for food. In Mt.22:4, Mk.14:12, Lk.22:7, the reference is to the killing of the passover lamb, which only once is connected to Jesus (I Cor.5:7). Remember, in that context, that the Passover was a celebration of deliverance from slavery, and had nothing to do with “sin.” That connection is only made in Heb.9:26 and 10:12 where the focus is on the impotence and futility of the old sacrificial system. Interestingly, Jesus never used the word of himself or of anything he did, although Paul does once (Eph.5:2).

“Sacrifice” on the part of God’s people is used in a positive sense in the New Testament only five times, but these are significant. Remember, of all these concepts, sacrifice is the only voluntary one. All imply deliberate action. In Rom.12:1, Paul urges, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God”, not killing, but living in worship and obedience to him. In Phil.2:17, Paul speaks of the “sacrifice” of their worship, and doesn’t mind at all if it costs his own life. In Phil 4:18, he refers to the gift of support that the Philippian church had sent to him in prison as “an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”. Heb.13:15-16 advocates a “sacrifice of praise” in worship and thanksgiving, with the assurance that this, like “doing good and sharing”, is pleasing to God.

In the New Testament concept of “sacrifice”, there is no hint of the popular notion of “giving up” some pet vice or pleasure in order to curry favor before God. The “sacrifice” pleasing to God is simply the willing offering of oneself – to be used as he sees fit – for his Kingdom and for his world –
“a living offering, set-apart, pleasing to God. This is your logical [reasonable] worship!” (Rom.12:1)

Let’s be reasonable, folks!

One Response to Word Study #95 — Suffering, Sacrifice

  1. terry welborn says:

    Thanks again, Ruth, for tremendous insight–and scholarship–on these words. I thank God for your dedicating your gift in this area of ministry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: