Word Study #117 — War, Warfare,Fighting

October 27, 2011

I hope that the folks who were asking for this study did not expect some sort of simplistic answer. Many such “answers” have been promoted throughout history, none of which are supported by exhaustive examination of the text. It should raise questions in the minds of thinking people, that during the first three centuries of the Christian church, military involvement was grounds for expulsion from the group. That policy was only changed under Constantine – the military conqueror. Biblically, even as early as John the Baptist (Lk.3:14), soldiers asking for guidance were told, “Do violence to no one!” (Can you imagine an army operating like that?)

References to these concepts include two primary word-families. The most common includes strateia – “warfare” – (2x), strateuomai – “to make war” – (7x), stratiotes – “soldier” – (26x), strateuma – army – (8x), antistrateuomai – “to make war against” – (1x), sustratiotes – “fellow-soldier” – (2x), and stratiologeo – “to enlist or recruit” – (1x). Although the people mentioned as “soldiers” are invariably members of the occupying Roman legions (only one of whom, a subordinate of Cornelius – Ac.10:7 – is described as “devout”), and “centurions”, (commanders of 100 soldiers) appear 24x, the “warfare”, both strateia (n.) (II Cor.10:4 and I Tim.1:18) and strateuomai (v.) (II Cor.10:3, I Tim.1:18, Jas.4:1, I Pet.2:12), refers entirely to the spiritual struggle to live in faithfulness – or, in the latter two instances, the forces against which that struggle is engaged.
Paul does use the unwavering, primary loyalty and obedience required of military personnel as an illustration of the absolute commitment required of Kingdom citizens (II Tim.2:4), and in arguing for the support of persons assigned a particular task (I Cor.9:7), but he certainly does not endorse signing up for Caesar’s legions! His speaking of Epaphroditus (Phil.2:25) and Archippus (Phm.2) as “fellow-soldiers” is parallel to calling others “co-workers” and “fellow-servants/slaves.”

The most salient reference in this “family” is II Cor.10:3-4: “Although we are living as (ordinary) humans, we are not doing battle by those standards. The weapons of our battle are not (merely) human, but powerful, by means of God ….(v.5) subjugating every mind [thought] for obedience to Christ.” Our “warfare” is to subjugate our own minds, not other people!

Second in frequency is the use of polemeo (7x) and polemos (16x). These references are divided among “ordinary” strife between kingdoms or nations (Mt.24:6, Mk.13:7, Lk.21:9; Lk.14:31, I Cor.14:8), conflict between people (Jas.4:1,2) – which James matter-of-factly attributes to human selfishness , and, predominately in the Revelation, various phases of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Please notice that NONE OF THESE WARS ARE INITIATED OR FOUGHT BY PEOPLE! The perpetrators are: the Beast (Rv.11:7, 13:4,13:7), the Dragon (Rv.12:17), “the spirits of demons” and Satan (Rv.16:14, 20:8) who gather kings, but no actual battle is recorded, and a horde of locusts (Rv.9:7-9). When (19:19-20) the Beast has kings and their armies assembled for battle, they are all destroyed by divine intervention. And when the Lamb conquers other kings who are allied with the Beast it is NOT because he and his companions are so “rough and tough and mean” or armed with superior weaponry, but (17:14) “Because he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and those with him are called, and chosen, and faithful!” His only weapon is “the sword of his mouth” (Rv.2:16 and19:21, and see also Eph.6:17).

Note also that there is only one ever mentioned who “passes judgment and makes war in justice” (19:11) – the rider on the white horse, whose name (v.13) is “the Word of God”. (So much for “just wars.”)

Two other, less frequent terms deserve our notice. Mache / machomai , appearing 4x each, refer entirely to disputes between individuals. Translations usually tend toward “fight” or “strive”, to describe arguments among Jesus’ critics (Jn.6:52), disputes about the Law (Tit.3:9), “foolish discussions” (II Tim.2:23, 24), and fuss over possessions (Jas.4:1,2). All of these are to be avoided.

Agonizomai (7x) is otherwise primarily used of athletic contests, or contention in a court of law. Like its English cognate “agony”, it conveys the sense of intense effort. Paul’s messages, to Timothy regarding “fighting a good fight” (I Tim.6:12 and II Tim.4:7), and to the Colossians about the urgency of his prayers on their behalf (Col.1:29,4:12) are supplemented by Jesus’ instructions to “strive to enter the narrow gate” (Lk.13:24), and, strangely, his statement to Pilate of what his disciples would have done if his Kingdom “were of this world.” (Jn.18:36). This last was not, as is commonly supposed, a military statement. Agonizomai is never used of military action. Jesus’ people do not even engage in less-widespread violence, even in his – or their own – defense.

The references to weapons (hopla – 6x, and panoplia – 3x) are likewise instructive. Panoplia simply adds the prefix “pan” – “all”. Only in Jn.18:3, where it describes the armed officers who arrested Jesus, and Jesus’ parable in Lk.11:22, does the word refer to conventional weapons of war, in the New Testament. In Rom.6:13, Paul twice uses the secondary meaning of “tools or instruments”, regarding the proper use of one’s physical body. Elsewhere, he stresses that the “weapons” of which he speaks are a different kind: I Cor.10:4 – “not carnal [human]”, Rom.13:12 – “the armor of light”, II Cor.6:7 – “armor of justice [righteousness]” , and the classic passage in Ephesians 6:11 and 13-17.

Notice that the goal here is not conquest, domination, or even physical self-defense, but merely to “stand firm” (v.11). Truth (W.S.#26), justice (#3), the gospel (#67) of peace (#70), faithfulness (#1), and deliverance [salvation] (#5) are all defensive equipment; the only “offensive weapon” – the sword (see above) – is the Word of God.

It should be abundantly clear, therefore, that for citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom, although in this life conflict, oppression, and even apparent defeat appear to be a “given”, those citizens do not resort to the methods or the weapons of “normal” warfare. The outcome of the battle is assured, for those who are “called and chosen and faithful”, in the ultimate victory of the Lamb – the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!

Thanks be to God!

Word Study #116 — Admonish, Admonition, Exhort, Exhortation

October 17, 2011

Here is another requested word that is frequently misunderstood as a result of the evolution of the English language. Most people presently tend to associate it uniformly with giving orders, if not overtly scolding, when that concept, although present, is only a minimal part of classical usage. Traditional translators have used “admonish” or “admonition” to represent four different Greek words.

Two, noutheteo (v.) and nouthesia / nouthetia (n), are related, and derived from nous, one of the words translated “mind.”(W.S.#96). Their classical uses include “to give advice, to warn, to put in mind (remind)”, and only secondarily “to chastise” and “rebuke”. The verb form appears 8x in the New Testament: 4x rendered “admonish” (Rom.15:14, Col.3:16, I Thes.5:12, II Thes.3:15) – of which three refer to mutual activity among the brotherhood – and 4x as “warn” (Ac.20:31, I Cor.4:14, Col.1:28, II Thes.5:14). Frequently, both are associated with teaching, and only twice (II Thes.3:15 and I Thes.5:14) with correction. Note that both of these are addressed to the group, and not to any individual or official. The noun appears only 3x, twice (I Cor.10:11 and Eph.6:4) regarding instruction and once (Tit.3:10) correction.

Chrematizo, only once rendered “admonish” (Heb.8:5), regarding God’s instructions to Moses, is translated “warn” (also with respect to God’s instructions) 4x: Mt.2:12 – the Magi, Mt.2:22 – Joseph, Ac.10:22 – Cornelius, and Heb.11:7 – Noah. Specific revelation is referenced in Lk.2:26 (Simeon), and the giving of the law in Heb.12:25, whereas Ac.11:26 and Rom.7:3 are simply labeling.

In classical writings, chrematizo could also refer to business dealings, negotiations in public assemblies, the administration of justice, or the instructions received from an oracle. A very versatile word!

Hupodeiknumi, which is also translated “warn” in Mt.3:7, Lk.3:7, and Lk.12:5, as well as “show” (as in “reveal”) in Lk.6:47, Ac.9:16, 20:35, is never rendered “admonish”. Please note also that none of these references to “warning” are ever in the context of a threat to the hearers. They represent simply the provision of information and instructions for action. Contemporary speakers who claim to speak for the Lord would do well to remember this!

Paraineo, used only twice in the New Testament, is translated once as “admonish” (Ac.27:9) and once “exhort” (Ac.27:22), both describing Paul’s advice to the sailors on the voyage to Rome. These fit well with the classical usage, “to recommend or advise, to propose a course of action.”

The alternate translation of paraineo, “exhort”, is more commonly used to render parakaleo (19x). Please refer to W.S.#53 for additional exploration of this concept. Parakaleo, historically, was used “to summon or send for” a person, or “to invoke the gods.” subsequently, it was used of a summons for a trial, the calling of a witness, or an appeal in court. Etymologically, it is made up of “kaleo”, to call or invite, and “para”, alongside of. Later, it was used of proposals, demands and requirements, or exhortation, encouragement, and entreaty. Only traditional translators of the Septuagint and the New Testament ever rendered it “comfort”. They did so 23x. There is no classical precedent for that choice, which has led to serious misunderstandings of the Biblical message.  Please see #138.

“Beseech”, used 43x for parakaleo, with its later connotations of abject begging, is rather weak for this word. “Exhort, urge, encourage, or admonish” would much more accurately convey the force of the word.

Parakaleo usually (25x in the synoptics) appears in people’s appeals to Jesus for healing, where it has traditionally been rendered “beseech/besought, pray, or entreat”, and only once refers to the preaching of John the Baptist (Lk.3:18) as “exhortation.”

In the usage of parakaleo in Acts, the idea of requests persists, but is almost equally balanced with “exhortation”, directed both toward “the brethren” (11:23, 14:22, 15:32, 16:40, 20:2) and toward groups who were yet to become committed (2:40).
It is not surprising that in the epistles, which were, after all, written for the instruction and encouragement of the brethren in each locality, parakaleo appears more frequently than in the gospels and Acts combined – 61x. Its ubiquity is somewhat obscured by the traditional translators’ shifting among “beseech, comfort, desire, and exhort” – when in every instance, it is instruction or encouragement that is in view.

As you can easily see, these observations are rather widely scattered. Perhaps the best summary can be gleaned from brother Paul:

“I myself have been persuaded about you all, my brothers,…. that you are also able to keep reminding [admonishing]each other…”.(Rom.15:14)

“Christ’s word must continually reside among you , richly, in all wisdom, as you keep teaching and admonishing each other ….” (Col.3:13)

and the writer to the Hebrews:

Keep on coaching [exhorting] each other, every day … so that not one of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of failure [sin]…” (Heb.3:13).

“Admonition” and “exhortation” of and for one another is the best insurance for remaining faithful disciples.

May we continually encourage one another in this direction!