Word Study #115 — “Conversation”

September 29, 2011

Requests for a study on “conversation” sent me beating the bushes for etymological dictionaries!
The English word is used 13 times by traditional translators for the noun anastrophe, as well as once for politeuma and once for tropos. The verb anastrepho is translated “have conversation” twice. But in none of these does the implication parallel our modern use of “conversation” as “sitting around with a cup of coffee and talking about things.” This time, our misunderstanding is a result of the English language, not the Greek.

Like all languages, English has changed both its structure and its vocabulary over the years. In the mid-14th century, “conversation” referred to “living together and having dealings with others; one’s manner of conducting himself in the world” – which is much closer to the Greek words in the text.

In the early 16th century, the domain of “conversation” added criminal behavior, and in the late 16th century, it included sexual intercourse. By the late 18th century, it was the legal term for adultery! (I found the most useful source to be an Etymological Dictionary by Douglas Harper, who lists his own sources as the Oxford English Dictionary, and others by Klein, and Weekley.)
None of these varied definitions is a part of the modern understanding of “conversation”, and only the oldest is included in the lexical information on any of the Greek words so translated in the New Testament.

According to Liddell/Scott, anastrepho, of which only the middle and passive forms were rendered “conversation”, was used classically as “to dwell, to go about in public, to be engaged in some activity, to conduct oneself, to behave.”
Classical uses of the noun form, anastrophe, likewise included “one’s dwelling or abode, mode of life or behavior, civilized life, occupation, or concern.” Active voice occurrences, in both cases, carry the more literal sense of overthrowing, reversing, or returning, but they are not relevant to the ”conversation” question.
Politeuma, with only a single New Testament appearance, was classically a reference to citizenship, with its duties and privileges. Please see W.S.#100, as well as the essay on “citizenship” (#150), and the small book, Citizens of the Kingdom which is also available as a free download on this site.
Tropos, usually used in an adverbial phrase, refers to the manner or custom in which anything is done.

Are you seeing any pattern here? This is not the first time that misunderstanding of a word has led well-meaning people to assume a theoretical rather than a practical focus for their ideas of “faithfulness [faith]” (W.S.#1). “Conversation”, like “faithfulness”, is used in the New Testament to refer not to talk, but to behavior!

Anastrepho, for example, only translated “had our conversation” in II Cor.1:12 and Eph.2:3, where Paul is clearly referring to his/their manner of life before their conversion, is rendered “abide” in Mt.17:22 regarding Jesus spending time in Galilee; “be used” in Heb.10:33 of the mistreatment of believers; “behave yourself” in I Tim.3:15; “live” in Heb.13:18 and II Pet.2:18; and “pass” in I Pet.1:17 – all referring to one’s manner of life.

Anastrophe, used 13x, and uniformly translated “conversation”, is also an obvious reference to one’s manner of life or behavior, whether in the unconverted past (Eph.4:22, I Pet.1:18, II Pet.2:7), the setting of an example of appropriate living (Gal.1:13, I Tim.4:12, Heb.13:7, Jas.3:13, I Pet.2:12, 3:2), or a goal toward which the faithful are urged to strive (I Pet.1:15, II Pet.3:11).
Realism also requires a recognition that while “holy” (W.S.#32) living may result in the conversion of others (I Pet.3:1), it may also provoke persecution and false accusation (I Pet.3:16). Peter, perhaps even more than most other writers, seems to assume persecution, simply advising his readers to be certain that abuse is not deserved, for some less noble reason (see also I Pet.4:14-16).

The single use of politeuma in Phil.3:20 is poorly translated in traditional versions, as the lexical reference to citizenship fits the context much better. Certainly behavior is also in view. During the process of the transformation of life by the power of the Lord Jesus, an observable difference is expected. This is part of learning citizenship in the Kingdom!

Tropos appears only 6 times in the New Testament, and was rendered “conversation” only once (Heb.13:5). Elsewhere, it is rendered “manner” (Jude 7), “means” (II Thess.2:3, 3:16), and “way” (Rom.3:2, Phil.1:18), and clearly refers to something being done or accomplished.

So, what are we to say for “conversation”? Primarily, that it does not belong in a (later than 14th century) English translation of the New Testament – at least, not as a rendition of any of the words for which it was used historically.
Certainly one’s “way of life” will be accompanied with conversation about its source, goal, and practice. But as we have seen before, a life transformed by commitment to Jesus’ Kingdom is a demonstration project to be lived, not a theory to be debated.

I like the quote attributed to Francis of Assissi, “Preach the gospel at all times – use words only when necessary.”
Kingdom living will provoke conversation – but does not consist of it.

“The Kingdom of God does not consist of talk, but of power” (I Cor.4:20) – the power of the King’s resurrection!

Thanks be to God!


Word Study #114 — Vineyards, Vines, and Fig Trees

September 23, 2011

It has long been assumed, by teachers and preachers of varied theological and philosophical persuasions, that biblical mentions of vineyards, vines, and fig trees invariably represent the nation of Israel. That this assumption has at least some factual basis is evidenced in the violent reactions of the hierarchical leadership to Jesus’ use of those figures in parables – Mt.21:45, Mk.12:12, Lk.20:19.
However, an extensive search for historical precedent for that connection has yielded very little documentation. If you can find more, please add them to this collection.

Most of the Septuagint references to any of these words are primarily agricultural. There are at least 11 instances of legal requirements regarding the husbandry of produce: provisions for the poor, protection for a neighbor’s property, stewardship of the soil.
The enjoyment of one’s own “vine and fig tree” symbolizes prosperity and security – describing the Promised Land before they entered it (6x), the restoration of the people after exile (15x), the “bribe” offered by the Assyrians (6x), and a non-specific state of “blessedness” (6x).
The destruction of that idyllic state is prominent in the judgment meted out for the nation’s unfaithfulness (38x).
The growth or budding of vines or trees simply indicates the coming of spring at least 8x, and 3x in the New Testament.

In fact, there are only five Old Testament passages where specific, overt reference is made to the Israelite nation in relation to vines and trees. Isaiah 5:1-7 recounts the Lord’s lament over the failure of his carefully planted and tended vineyard to produce the hoped-for harvest. His only recourse is to tear it up and start over. Jeremiah 2:20-21 describes similar displeasure, and 12:10 (actually, vv.7-14) lays a considerable portion of the blame upon the individuals entrusted with its care. And Hosea 9:10 and 10:1 describe God’s efforts to create a productive vineyard out of plants carefully transplanted from the wild, meticulously nurtured, but rendered unproductive by the people’s failure to renounce their idolatry and selfishness.

The theme is nowhere near as prominent in the New Testament as I expected, either. Mention of vines and figs in the epistles occur only in James’ comment (3:12) regarding a plant bearing only its own kind of fruit, and Paul’s reminder that one who plants expects to eat the harvest (I Cor.9:7). Neither has any national or ethnic tone.

Jesus did pick up these ideas quite vividly in four parables, only one of which appears in all three synoptic gospels: Mt.21:33-41, Mk.12:1-9, Lk.20:9-16. This is the one which most nearly parallels Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s complaints, and which drew fire from the hierarchy-types, who “recognized that he was talking about them” – the tenant farmers who conspired to defraud the owner of the vineyard, and subsequently abused and killed his messengers/servants/son. Jesus’ sentence of eviction closely parallels the earlier prophets’ warnings of destruction. Only this time, there is no possibility of return mentioned (Mt.21:41-44, Mk.12:9, Lk.20:16), but a simple, peremptory statement that the vineyard will be given to others who will produce its fruit.

The unfruitful fig tree in Lk.13:6-8, on the other hand, although it has been barren for three years (the approximate length of Jesus’ earthly ministry), is given “one more year” – v.8 – (perhaps the care and fertilization efforts of his people after Pentecost?) before finally being cut down.
The barren figs along the road (an event, not a parable) recounted in Mt.21:19-21 and Mk.11:13-21, however, have no such reprieve. That scene always bothered me, as I did not think Jesus would be petulant, as it seems to the casual observer. But when we lived in California, and had two lovely fig trees in our yard, it made sense. We learned that tiny figs appear on the branches in the spring before any leaf buds are evident. A tree fully leafed-out, with no fruit (even unripe) visible, would rightly be seen as worthless. It would never bear.

Likewise, exposure to the needs of an agricultural community, as well as a subsistence economy, provides insight into the parable of the vineyard workers in Mt.20:1-8. A denarius was a standard wage – enough for one day. The earliest-hired laborers appear to have considered it reasonable. Those not hired in the morning probably spent the day worrying whether they would feed their families that night. And perhaps the owner, too, was under pressure. Grapes must be harvested when they are ready, lest they be spoiled by getting over-ripe, or damaged by weather. The master’s repeated trips to the employment center may have been in desperation to complete the harvest at the proper time. This would have made the last group the most necessary of all! His generosity may have been spurred by his need.

And finally, the affair of the two sons (Mt.21:28-32) replays a frequent theme of Jesus’ entire ministry – that behavior is a much more significant and reliable indicator of faithfulness than pious talk!

It remains to consider the sharp shift of focus in Jesus’ final conversation with his disciples recorded in Jn.15:1-8. That focus is no longer on the failed figure of a vineyard, or on any political or religious institution, but on the “real thing”! He announces, “I AM (see W.S.#17) the genuine [real, true] vine” (v.1). This is the ultimate “demonstration farm”, and the Father is the farmer (georgos, the expert on all the crops, not merely ampelourgos, the vinedresser.)
Cultivating and maintaining vines requires a high level of skill. My husband learned from his own father to recognize which were fruiting buds, and which would produce only leaves or new branches. A healthy vine needs a balance of all three, but the pruning must be done before anything starts to grow or to become obvious to the untrained eye. The direction of growth is selected in the pruning process. Anything diseased or damaged must be eliminated, along with excessive vegetative growth, or branches that compete for a place in the sun. Although a healthy twig can be planted to clone a supplementary vine, only those remaining attached to the vine will bear fruit.
The fruit is borne on the branches, but the life that produces it comes through the parent vine.
And please notice, that although branches need – and receive – individual attention from the vinedresser, all of the words are plural. It is only together that we/they “bear fruit and become disciples (v.8)”. Please refer also to W.S.#64, “Bearing fruit”, and #65, “Pruning” .

So in a very real sense, the concept of the disciple group as branches of the Vine, which has been identified as the Lord himself, is an apt supplement to the descriptions of that same group as members of the Body of Christ (#84, and chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom).
Both are vivid examples of the lengths to which the Lord of Glory has been willing to go, in order that his people may enjoy the privilege of being an integral part of his Kingdom – and indeed, of his own Life!
May we be found fruitful – and faithful – in that privileged position!

Word Study #113 — Miracles

September 20, 2011

“Do you believe in miracles?” has to be one of the silliest questions ever posed by people who presume to pass judgment on one another’s “faithfulness” or “intelligence” (or lack of either!) by their replies to simplistic, programmed doctrinal examinations. Nowhere in the New Testament is anyone asked to profess such a “belief” (see W.S.#1).
Miracles are the gracious acts of God which are designed to enable ordinary citizens of Earth to perceive his grace, his power, his love, and his glory, in order that they might choose to become faithful citizens of the Kingdom of his beloved Son! They are intended to draw attention, not to some spectacular “wow” factor, but beyond any specific event – beyond the limits of time or space or normal human expectation – to the realm of life as its Creator originally intended for it to be lived.

There are three primary words which are used to speak of such events: dunamis, rendered 8x “miracle” and 77x “power”; semeion, 22x “miracle” and 51x “sign”; and teras, consistently rendered “wonders”, 16x. This last only appears in the plural, terata, and is always accompanied by at least one of the other two words. Trench speculates that this may be because teras was so frequently used in pagan contexts of omens and portents, that Christian writers took care that the term not be interpreted magically. The ancients frequently assumed that unusual appearances in the sky or creatures behaving strangely were messages from the gods, so this would have been a valid concern.
Trench further suggests, “These different words do not so much represent different kinds of miracles, as they do miracles contemplated from different points of view.”

Both dunamis and semeion may refer to healing, to exorcism, to the credentials or identification of Jesus or his representatives, or simply generically to his activities among people of all descriptions.
As noted in W.S.#31, dunamis generally refers to the power or ability to do something. Lexically, it also described any natural capacity that could be cultivated, for either good or ill, as well as a manifestation of divine power. I share the lament expressed by Trench that traditional translators, seemingly at random, chose to use “miracles” 8x (Mk.9:39, Ac.2:22, 8:13, 19:11; I Cor.12:10,28; Gal.3:5, Heb.2:4), and “mighty works” 12x (Mt.11:20,21,23; 13:54,58; 14:2; Mk.6:2,5,24; Lk.10:13, 19:37; II Cor.12:12), instead of opting for consistency. Surely they did not consider the deeds of Jesus himself less “miraculous” than similar activities which he enabled Philip, Paul, and other brethren to perform!

The same question could/should be raised regarding the traditional treatment of semeion. This, too, had classical uses that were related to the activity of pagan gods and heroes, as well as to the proof of an argument, an instance or example, or an indication of the future. In the New Testament, it usually includes the ethical end and purpose of an event, the prime object of which is to lead observers to something beyond their experience. “It must go beyond nature, valuable, not so much for what is accomplished, but for what it indicates of the grace and power of the doer, or his connection to a higher, spiritual world” (Trench). In order to be a “sign”, an event must be something that could not have “just happened” – the raising of Lazarus who had been dead for four days (Jn.11:47), the healing with a simple word of a man lame from birth (Ac.4:16), or the feeding of a large crowd with a very small amount of food (Jn.6:14).

Please note, that confining the term “miracle” to occurrences that are clearly beyond nature, IN NO WAY needs to diminish our appreciation of divine activity in the natural course of life. It is no more necessary or appropriate to label all of God’s creation as “miraculous” than it is to declare that “all the children are above average!” Nature also bears testimony to the power and glory of God (Rom.1:19,20) but it is not all “miraculous.” Neither are the birth of a child (unless under unusual circumstances like those of Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary), gradual (even if astonishing) recovery from illness or accident, or provision for various needs through normal human channels. All of these can – and should – be recognized as gracious gifts of God (see James 1:17). But everything designated a “miracle” in the New Testament was immediate, and also immediately and clearly recognized by participants and spectators alike as completely out-of-the-ordinary.

John takes special care to explain how certain ones of Jesus’ acts became “signs” (2:11, 2:23, 4:54, 6:2, 6:14), and even notes Jesus’ complaint (6:26) that for the vast majority, the real intent of the “sign” was missed completely. (All of these use semeion.)
The demands of skeptical authorities for a “sign” from Jesus (Mt.12:38-39, 16:4; Mk.8:11-12, Lk.11:16,29,30; Jn.2:18, 4:48, 6:30) seem to carry more of the pagan, “magical” flavor, as do the warnings against the performance of impostors and false prophets (Mt.24:24, Mk.13:22, IIThes.2:9, Jn.4:48, Rv.13:14, 16:14), but genuine demonstrations of the power of God do serve as validation of the message, not only carried by Jesus,but also his delegated representatives (Mk.16:17,20; Jn.20:30, Ac.2:22,43; 5:12, 14:3, Rom.15:19, II Cor.12:12, Heb.2:4).

That the true import of these can be seriously misunderstood is evident in the episode with Simon the magician in Samaria (Ac.8), as well as in those who attributed Jesus’ acts as empowered by “the prince of demons” (Mt.9:34, 12:24). Therefore, it is absolutely essential that true disciples who are assigned and empowered to mediate the touch of the Lord, acknowledge plainly, as did the early apostles, that “God did these things by the hands of” various ones of their number (Ac.2:43, 4:22, 6:8, 14:3, 15:12, 19:11). Here, as so frequently in other situations, careful discernment on the part of the brotherhood is absolutely essential, to distinguish between genuine signs and dangerous deception (Mt.24, Mk.13, Lk.21).

Conspicuous by its absence is any suggestion of a requirement that anyone “believe” that a miracle of any kind had occurred in the absence of evidence. To the contrary, when any reaction on the part of either the beneficiary or the spectators is mentioned, it is one of amazement at the unexpected graciousness of what they had seen or experienced.
There is absolutely no Scriptural precedent for the practice of “blaming the victim” that is common among some flamboyant, self-styled “healers”. Remember that in the only recorded incident where disciples’ attempts at healing had “failed”, Jesus attributed the failure to the “faith/faithfulness” of the disciples, not that of the supplicant father or his son (Mt.17:14-18 and parallels).

We may much more appropriately join in the prayer of some of our earliest brethren (Ac.4:30) as they faced persecution and prison: “And now, Lord ….Reach out with your hand for healings and signs and wonders to happen, through the name of your holy child [servant] Jesus!” His gracious answer enabled their confident propagation of his message (v.31).

Amen, Lord! Let it continually be so!


Word Study #112 — Keys

September 14, 2011

Our brother Jim asked a fascinating question at church a couple weeks ago: “What are keys for?” He went on to observe that we frequently think of locking doors for “protection” of ourselves or our property, and seldom of using a key to open a door. That made me curious: his suggestion that in contrast, the New Testament descriptions of the Kingdom say more about opening doors than about locking them sounded right – so I decided to check. It’s not unusual for Jim to be much more perceptive than most folks – but this is over the top! It is beautiful!

Keys – kleis – interestingly, only occurs six times in the New Testament. “Lock” never appears at all; “to shut” (four different words) about 20 times, and “to open” (anoigo) more than 70 times!
In fact, the only place where Jesus speaks of keys locking anyone out (Mt.23:13 uses the verb form and Lk.11:52 the noun), is in criticism of the scribes and Pharisees for their attempts to prevent “ordinary folks” from entering the Kingdom! (Luke uses gnoseos – knowledge – instead of “kingdom”; this is sometimes, I think spuriously, attributed to Gnostic influence, but “knowledge” of the Law was very important to first century Judaism as well.) In the Revelation, one messenger uses a key (20:1) to confine the dragon in the “bottomless pit”, but another uses it (9:1) to let locusts out. Jesus himself almost seems to display the “keys of death and hades” (1:18) as trophies of his resurrection, and reassures his struggling followers (3:7,8) that when he opens a door for them, no one can slam it in their faces! Jesus’ keys, in harmony with all the rest of his life and ministry, are all about setting people free!

Digging around further yielded more nuggets. Many of the references to “shut” are rather ordinary: a door is shut when the family retires for the night (Lk.11:7); when the disciples fear a raid by the authorities (Jn.20:19,26); in situations of imprisonment (Ac.5:23, Lk.3:20, Ac.26:10). A period of drought is described as “heaven [the sky] being shut” (Lk.4:25, Rv.11:6). Persistent refusal of the Lord’s message “shuts up” people away from faithfulness (Rom.11:32, Gal.3:22,23).

But how much more numerous – and more glorious – are all the things that are “opened”!
The eyes of the blind – Mt.9:30, 20:33, Jn.9:10,14,17,21,26,30,33; 10:21; 11:37; and even the eyes of Tabitha [Dorcas] when she was raised from death!
There are visions of heaven [the sky] being opened – at Jesus’ baptism (Mt.3:16, Lk.3:21, Jn.1:51,52), to welcome Stephen as he was stoned (Ac.7:56), to give Peter needed instructions (Ac.10:11), and to show the elderly disciple, John, the wonders revealed throughout the account of Revelation.
Graves were opened at the time of Jesus’ resurrection.
Prison doors yielded to messengers of God (Ac.5:19, 23; 12:10), and to jailed apostles (Ac.16:26,27).
Repeatedly, doors are flung open to let people in (Mt.25:11, Lk.12:36, 13:25; Ac.12:14,16), and to admit the true Shepherd to the sheepfold (Jn.10:3).

This term is also frequently used figuratively, of opportunities, as the Lord enabled the spreading of his message (I Cor.16:9, II Cor.2:12, Ac.14:27, Col.4:3), and also of Jesus’ gracious promise that the “door” will be opened to his faithful people who persist in “knocking” and seeking his ways (Mt.7:7,8; Lk.11:9,10). A prefixed form (dianoigo) is needed to convey the divine intervention involved (Lk.24:31,32) in order for the eyes of the grieving disciples at Emmaus to be “opened” to recognize the risen Lord as he “opened” the scriptures for them to understand.

Most of these, of course, required/employed no “keys”. But there is one more situation that does: the much-discussed “binding and loosing” conversation in Mt.16:18-19 and its related passage in Mt.18:18. These common words, deo and luo, are most commonly used of imprisonment and release, of healings, and of legal obligations. Much of the “theological” controversy about these two exceptional references, I believe, results from failure to (1) look at both passages together, and (2)pay careful attention to the grammatical constructions which are carefully (and, I believe, deliberately) parallel. Both the vocabulary and the grammar are nearly identical. It is true that the ch.16 statement is addressed to Peter personally: the verbs, and the pronoun, are singular, whereas the one in ch.18 is addressed to the entire brotherhood, since all terms are cast in the plural. However, the rebuke that Jesus addressed to Peter immediately afterward (v.21-23) should make it abundantly clear that he had not been thereby elevated to some sort of exalted status or authority. People who see either or both statements as conferring judicial privilege or prerogative, upon either an individual or the disciple group as a whole, have failed to notice that both statements employ perfect passive participles. Unfortunately, both passages are traditionally (incorrectly) read as if they were future active verbs. Correct attention to the actual grammatical structure reveals that the situation described is one of responsibility to discern and communicate accurately the action/decision that has already taken place “in heaven” – NOT the power to dictate that decision!

Whether the issue is admission to the Kingdom (note: the keys are to “the Kingdom”, not to “heaven”) as in chapter 16, or the forgiveness of an erring brother as in chapter 18, the “binding” or “loosing” “will be” – a future tense, that may sometimes carry the force of an imperative – “what has already been done (perfect passive) in heaven”. This is a very common use of a participle, called “circumstantial”, and is frequently translated as a dependent clause. The tense of the participle represents its “time” in relation to the primary clause of the sentence. A perfect tense, remember, describes a past action that continues, at least in effect, into the present, or beyond. The passive voice indicates that the subject is acted upon; it is not the actor.

Clearly, in neither case is anyone entrusted with a signed, blank check. In both, the person or group is cautioned only to mediate what has already occurred. This calls for careful discernment, not an executive decision.

Paul was probably following these – or similar – instructions when he dealt (II Cor.2:1-11) with the restoration of the person disciplined by the brotherhood in I Cor.5. Notice especially I Cor.5:4 and II Cor.2:10. Although his vocabulary is different, the idea is the same: “incarnating” the gift of restoration already provided by the Lord.

So perhaps the whole idea of “keys” in the Kingdom is somewhat parallel to the training “yoke” Jesus offered in Mt.11:28-30 (W.S.#77); or to the parent who, not without trepidation, tosses his car keys to his teenager! They are still Dad’s keys! But part of growing up requires learning to use them responsibly. And that learning involves serious risk.

It is the one who owns the keys (Rev.1:18), who opens doors for his people that no one can shut (3:7), who nevertheless is willing, himself, to “stand at the door and knock” (3:20), waiting for it to be thrown open in welcome by disciples willing to learn.

May we recognize – and heed – his voice!

Word Study #111 — Joy

September 9, 2011

Having dealt with the verb forms of these words in the study of “rejoicing” (#93), it may seem a bit redundant to return to the noun, “joy”. Several requests, and the prevalence of the concept among the beleaguered brethren of the early church, however, encouraged me to spend some time with the nouns as well, specifically augmenting the New Testament uses of agalliasis, euphrosune, and chara with their appearances in the Septuagint, which may aid in distinguishing between the terms. Especially interesting is the observation that euphrosune, which appears only twice in New Testament writings, is by far the most frequently used in the LXX – more than both of the others combined!

Bauer observes that agalliasis does not appear at all in “secular” writers, though he finds a few instances of referral to pagan deities, as well as Messianic contexts in the LXX. The distinctions show up much more clearly in the Septuagint than in the New Testament, although that impression may be colored by the handicap that my LXX concordance is much less comprehensive than Young’s.

Agalliasis seems to refer primarily to the euphoria of return from exile, of coronations, and of celebratory worship. Chara also refers to freedom from captivity – L/S connects it with good news, or joy at an event – but it also includes a strong sense of the presence of the Lord, especially in the psalms. Euphrosune describes pretty much any sort of a party – even the debauchery of Artaxerxes, and the celebrations of the defeat of Haman (Esther). It also appears in the prophets’ announcements (especially Isaiah and Jeremiah) that “the party’s over” and exile is on the horizon, as well as the celebrations at both the beginning and the completion of the rebuilding of wall and temple under Ezra and Nehemiah. Although euphrosune is frequently paired with one of the other words in celebrations of return from exile or defeat of enemies, it is also disparaged in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as levity or frivolity.

In the New Testament, the situation is markedly different.. We have noted already that euphrosune appears only twice: one of which, (Ac.2:28)is an Old Testament quotation from Ps.15, and the other (Ac.14:17) is a part of Paul’s frantic attempt to prevent the offering of pagan sacrifice to him and Barnabas, in Lystra.
Agalliasis is used only five times: twice traditionally translated “joy” (Lk.1:44, Jude 24), and three times “gladness” (Lk.1:14 – paired with chara, Ac.2:46, Heb.1:9), all of which carry a celebratory air.
Chara, by contrast, appears 56x, (less than 20x in LXX), usually rendered “joy”, but 3x “gladness”. It is not clear why the traditional translators changed their word choice in Mk.4:16, Ac.12:14, and Phil:2:29.
L/S records uses of chara ever since the sixth century BC dramatists Aeschylus and Sophocles. They observe references to non-specific joy and delight, to the celebratory reaction to good news, and to enjoying an event, a thing, or a companion. Thayer notes that chara is the opposite of mourning,and suggests that an accompanying dative case identifies the cause and the genitive case the source of the “joy”. This can be a difficult call. There are many “causes” or “sources” of joy specifically mentioned, and not all are accompanied with a convenient genitive or dative case. For example:
Mt.2:10 – the Magi followed the star with “great joy”
Mt.13:20, Mk.4:16, Lk.8:13 – some people are said to have “received the Word with joy”
Mt. 13:44 – the finder of treasure sells all his belongings “with joy” to enable the purchase.

Then there is the “too-good-to-be-true” syndrome, which accompanies the joy of the disciples as the reality of Jesus’ resurrection dawns on them (Mt.28:8, Lk.14:41); and the exuberance of Rhoda upon recognizing that Peter is really at the door (Ac.12:14) after his miraculous release from prison.

The satisfaction of a job well done, or the faithfulness of one’s protegees (Lk.10:17, Ac.20:24, Rom.15:32, II Cor.7:13, Phil.1:24, 2:2, 4:1; I Thes.2:19,20; Heb.12:2, 13:17; III Jn.4) causes great joy.

I’m sure you can find more.

There is, however, another theme in the New Testament references to “joy” that is not found elsewhere, and this is especially significant. It is not at all surprising that all the healing and deliverance that accompanied Philip’s preaching in Samaria (Ac.8:8) should have resulted in “great joy in that city”, or that the report of many conversions should have brought “great joy to the all the brethren” (Ac.15:3) as Paul and his companions made their way to Jerusalem. But when the same reaction is reported among the disciples in Pisidian Antioch (Ac.13:51) after persecutors ran Paul and Barnabas out of town, one is made to realize that something quite different is going on here.
Might it just possibly be related to the prayer (Jn.17:13) accompanying Jesus’ parting conversation with his followers (Jn.16:20-24), as he bequeathed them his own joy, even on the way to his impending torture and death? Or to the power that enabled (Lk.24:52) their return to Jerusalem after his Ascension, “with great joy”, even though they were still mightily scared of the authorities there? Or to the strength to “endure joyfully” the confiscation of their possessions (Heb.10:34) and the “testings” of which James warned (1:2)?
None of these match well with any of the classical definitions.

And please note that none of these refers to any “pie in the sky” as a consolation prize!
James continues his admonition (1:3,4) by explaining that faithfulness under duress produces endurance (see #63), which is an essential component of maturity [completeness] in Kingdom living.
Peter (I Pet.1-3-9) indeed includes the anticipation of Jesus’ return in encouraging his readers to continue in faithfulness: but remember, as he speaks of joy in the “inheritance” provided by Jesus’ resurrection, that one receives an inheritance while he (the recipient) is living (see #79 and #80), not after his own death!

Bauer notes that the occasional use of chara (at least 10x) with a form of pleroma / pleroo (see #108) probably indicates the highest or most complete form of “joy”. Please check out Jn.3:29, 15:11, 16:24, 17:13, Ac,13:52, Rom.15:13, Phil.2:2, II Tim.1:4, I Jn.1:4, II Jn.12.
This is a joy born and nurtured in and by relationship, with the Lord Jesus and with each other.

This is the joy that Jesus prayed – and modeled – for his disciples, and that Paul and John both hold forth as the ultimate gift, in all its “fullness”[completeness]. Far exceeding the bounds of shallow celebration, or gloating over enemies, it is the very atmosphere of the Kingdom.

“May the God of hope [or, God, the source of hope] fill you all with all joy and peace, in faithfulness, so that you may overflow with hope [confidence] in [by] the power of the Holy Spirit!”(Rom.15-13)

Word Study #110 — Sabbath

September 3, 2011

Few issues generated as much controversy during Jesus’ earthly ministry as did the concept of sabbath observance. Please refer frequently to the previous study of “tradition” as we consider this as one example among many of a perfectly good and right principle gone awry under the weight of well-intentioned augmentation by “experts” to ensure the meticulous observance of God’s command.

The Jewish sources I was able to find base sabbath observance on the joyful celebration of two events: God’s having “rested” after his work of creation, and decreed similar weekly respite for his people – a privilege, in the ancient world, reserved for the wealthy and the powerful, but now extended to all; and the associated connection with their freedom from slavery in Egypt, where they also had enjoyed no rest. The former was “symbolized” by refraining from any activity deemed “creative”, or the exercise of any sort of control over one’s environment, and the latter by celebratory ceremonies – both of which, as we noted previously, are good and effective teaching tools.

The difficulty arises from efforts, though inspired by the very best of intentions, to enforce the observance of a directive by carefully (perhaps obsessively?) defining and enumerating specific proscribed activities. The Talmud organized these into 39 categories, each of which was further subdivided, itemized and explained, and all of which were strictly forbidden. The resulting “law” could be abrogated only when deemed absolutely necessary to save human life.

Jesus himself, as well as the apostles, habitually attended a synagogue on the sabbath, observing the accepted tradition. This was also a very practical decision: they went, frequently in order to teach, because that was the time and place where people gathered! This was clearly the case in Paul’s journeys, as well, seeking out synagogues in the Gentile world.
Controversy arose over the details: primarily healing (9x), but also such “trivialities” as picking a snack (“harvesting”) in the grain field. It was here that Jesus chose to take a stand. Cutting through the layers of tradition, he posed the prior and more basic question: “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil ? To save life, or to kill?” (Mk.3:4, Lk.6:9). His point is, neglecting or refusing to do “good” that is within one’s power, IS to do evil. With Jesus, we move out of the realm of prohibition, and into the realm of participation: actively doing the bidding of God.
He reminded them that although God “rested” on the seventh day, he did not retire! “My Father is still working, and so am I!” (Jn.5:17) (Please refer also to “rest” #77)
The authorities had eloquently demonstrated that although they made exceptions for the care of livestock (Mt.12:11, Lk.13:15-16, 14:5), and for their own ceremonies (Mt.12:5, Jn.7;22), they flatly refused to do so for the welfare of ordinary people (Lk.13:14, Jn.7:23). Jesus, in contrast, cares for people.

This is the context for his statement (Mk.2:27), “The sabbath came to be for the benefit of people, not people for the sabbath.” (This, too, is practical: it has been amply demonstrated in many settings that productivity increases if there is “time off” – but that is not the point here.)
A day set aside for rest, for worship, for sharing with the people of God, is a beautiful gift, to be enjoyed, and for which to give thanks! It is “the son of man [of God] (who) is Lord of the sabbath” (Mt.12:8, Mk.2:28, Lk.6:5) – and he is deeply concerned for the welfare of his people. For those who choose his Kingdom, he is also Lord of every other day in their lives, as well! But it is entirely appropriate to choose one in which to celebrate!

Interestingly, though, there is not a single instance in the New Testament where any particular day is commanded to be observed – except by the Jewish religious authorities who opposed Jesus! The expanding community after Pentecost is recorded as meeting together every day (Ac.2:46, 47; 5:42, 6:1, 16:5, 17:10, 17; 19:9) for fellowship, teaching, sharing, meals, and celebration! “The first day of the week” is mentioned as a meeting time in Troas (Ac.20:7) and as the time to collect funds for famine relief (I Cor.16:2), but nowhere else except the resurrection accounts. I like the idea of a resurrection celebration, but nowhere is it mandated.

Paul expresses a rather casual attitude in Rom.14, as an aside to his discussion of the observance (or not) of dietary regulations (14:5,13), emphasizing that neither days nor food should be allowed to become an issue in the brotherhood – “Someone judges one day beyond another; someone judges every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who pays attention to a day, does so for the Lord. And he who continues eating, is eating with respect to the Lord, for he is giving thanks to God.” His main concern (v.13) is “Then let’s no longer keep passing judgment on each other, but rather judge this: that no one place a cause of stumbling or falling away before his brother.”
Paul’s only specific mention of the word “sabbath” is in Col.2:16, where he warns against regulations that require special observances.

The only other New Testament use of “sabbath” (a different form of the word), occurs in Heb.4:9.We really need to see this in the whole context of chapters 3 and 4. The writer begins (3:1) with the best solution for any situation: “Fix your attention on Jesus!”

The subject under discussion is the failure of those who were delivered from Egypt under Moses’ leadership to “enter the rest” that God had offered. The diagnosis of the reason is blunt: “because of their unfaithfulness / disobedience” (3:16-19).The argument is a bit tough to follow in the beginning of chapter 4, but the admonition is clear: “Hang in there!!!” (3:6, 3:13, 3:14, 4:1, 4:3, 4:10, 4:11).
“There’s still a sabbath remaining for God’s people” (4:9),and “entering that rest” depends entirely upon maintaining identification with the Lord Jesus! (see references above)

We have been provided most graciously with three essential resources / “tools” for that “maintenance work”:
3:13 – the “coaching” of one another in/by the brotherhood
4:12 – evaluation and instruction by the Word of God
4:14-16 – the merciful intervention of our “great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God”.

Jesus himself is the promised “sabbath rest” for his faithful people!

Thanks be to God!