Word Study #164 — “Coming”: Approach, Arrival, Presence

October 29, 2012

Just as many earnest followers of the Lord Jesus have been misled into the assumption that any real manifestation of his Kingdom is reserved for some dreamy never-never-land in the distant (or imminent) future (please refer to studies #19,20,21), they have likewise been duped by a similar distortion of references to his “coming”, and consequently missed out on both the intended enjoyment and the comfort of his present Presence among them! A few simple adjustments of vocabulary and grammar can correct this, and open amazing vistas for those of us whose faithfulness grows weary with waiting. Anticipation of the Lord’s return and participation in the reality of his presence need not be mutually exclusive!

Although there are many words in the New Testament which have sometimes been translated “come” or “coming”, only three – eggizo, erchomai, and parousia – refer with any frequency to either of the events commonly called “the Lord’s coming”, whether intending his first arrival or the eventual consummation. Most of the eleven prefixed versions of erchomai, and forms of baino, ginomai, eimi, histemi, lambano, poreuomai, and strepho, with or without prefixes, as well as heko, kataluo, kukloo, phero, phthano,choreo, and others – the total reaches more than 40 – are simply describing the movement of persons from one locality to another, either physically or intellectually. The nuances of these terms are interesting, and I commend their exploration to any of you who are my fellow “language-junkies”, but they are not germane to the subject at hand.

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most revelatory of the biases of translators, is their treatment of eggizo. Historically and lexically, it is quite simple. L/S lists “to bring near, to approach, to be imminent,” or, with an infinitive, “to be at the point of doing something.” But it gets more complicated when one pays close attention to the tenses of that ordinary little verb. Only once does it occur in the future tense (James 4:8), and there, it immediately follows the same word used as an aorist (decisive) imperative! (Please consult a good grammar, or the very brief treatment in the appendix to my Translation Notes, for a discussion of verb tenses.)
All the rest are either present (in the process of happening) – eggizei – Mt.15:8 (footnote), Mk.11:1, Lk.12:33, 15:1, 18:35, 19:37, 21:28; Ac.9:3, 10:9, 22:6; Heb.7:19, 10:25; aorist (a single event that has already happened) – Eggisen – (the capital E indicates the Greek eta, a long “e”, to distinguish it from epsilon) – Lk.18:40, 19:29,41; 24:15; Ac.21:33, 22:15; Phil.2:30; or, most significantly, perfect (a past event or condition which continues, at least in effect, into the present and perhaps beyond) – Eggiken – Mt.3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 26:45,46; Mk.1:15, 14:42;; Lk.10:9,11, 21:8,20, 22:1,47; 24:28; Ac.7:17; Rom.13:12, Jas.5:8, I Pet.4:7.

When the notion of “approach” is expressed in either of these “past” tenses, the meaning of the word is skewed toward the idea of “arrival.” Picture an airport notice-board: an “approaching” plane is marked “arrived” when it touches down, even though it takes a while longer until you can greet the “arrival” of passengers. But it is all one event. This has huge implications for Jesus’ announcements of the arrival of his Kingdom! Nearly all of those are expressed in perfect tenses! But far too many translators and commentators treat them as if they were future – or at least very tentatively present “approaches”! Very few take the pains to treat verb tenses in a uniform manner. Check it out!

Erchomai – “to come” – presents similar issues with tenses. When Jesus speaks of “having come” for a specific task or purpose, he almost always uses either aorist (Elthon) – Mt.5:17, 9:13, 10:34, 18:11, 20:28 and parallels; Mk.2:17, 10:35; Lk.5:32, 19:10; Jn.1:11, 9:39, 12:47; and referenced in I Tim.1:15 – or perfect (elElutha) tenses – Lk.5:32, Mk.9:1, Jn.3:19, 5:43; 12:46; I Jn.4:2. Both of these are “past” tenses, in that they have already begun to affect the people or situations referenced.

The primary exception is in expressions of time, which require the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive form, elthE, is grammatically characterized as a “vivid condition”, which is similar in structure to a purpose clause. Although there may be a future “flavor” to the statement, its imminence and certainty is not in question. The subjunctive verb is therefore cast in the aorist (past) tense, and usually rendered “when” or “until” an expected event has taken place. Examples are found in Mt.10:23, 25:31; Mk.8:8; Lk.9:26, 18:8, 22:18; Jn.15:26; Ac.2:20, 3:20; I Cor.4:5, 11:26, 13:10; I Thes.1:10.

Present (erchomai) and future (eleusetai) tenses seem to appear almost interchangeably. Prophecy frequently employed a present tense to communicate the certainty of its fulfillment (Mt.21:5 and parallels in Mk.11:9,10 and Lk.13:35, Mt.24:3, 42,44; Lk.12:40, Mt.26:64, Mk.13:26, 24:62; Lk.21:27). John, using the present tense, quotes Jesus in announcing that the prophesied time “now is” (Jn.4:21,23), as well as in reference to his return (Jn.14:3,28). Interestingly, though, he uses future forms (16:7-13) regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ departure, and his promise (14:23) that he and the Father will both take up residence with his loving and faithful followers. I doubt that he intended that these statements should become “ammunition” for theological war games or trinitarian battles. I think it much more likely that his point is to assure his people of his continual presence.

And “presence” is the primary lexical meaning of our final word, parousia, although unfortunately, it is not the primary translation (probably also due to theological bias). Parousia is derived from pareimi, a combination of the prepositional prefix para (beside) and the verb eimi (to be), in participial form. L/S lists the lexical usage as “the presence of persons, the arrival or visit of a state official, or secondarily, one’s belongings.” Traditional translators used this primary meaning only twice (II Cor.10:10, Phil.2:12), and 22x preferred “coming”, which is not listed at all in the classical lexicon. It is from this deviation, however, that intricate theories and diagrams have been spawned from the fertile imaginations of commentators. I have no interest in taking sides in their battles.

I will simply provide you with a list of all the appearances of parousia, and suggest that you spend some time examining each one for yourself, bearing in mind that the actual meaning of the word is “presence”. It only occurs 4x in the Gospels – all in Matthew – 24:3,27,37,39. I wonder why: if it is as central a concept as some folks seem to assume?
Other references are: I Cor.15:23, 16:17; II Cor.7:6,7; Phil.1:26; I Thes.2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; II Thes.2:1, 8,9; Jas.5:7,8; II Pet.1:16, 3:4, 3:12; I Jn.2:28.
Parousia does not occur at all in the Revelation! Wouldn’t you think it should, if the folks who tie the word, and the Revelation itself, exclusively to a final consummation, were correct?
Given the four instances (I Cor.16:17, II Cor.7:6,7, Phil.1:26) where Paul uses parousia in simply referring to the comfort and encouragement derived from the presence of a beloved brother, might not similar encouragement be intended regarding the promised presence of the Lord?

Look, for example, at Jas.5:8, where both eggizo (in the perfect tense) and parousia are used. That “verse” is commonly quoted as a statement of anticipation (at best) or threat (at worst) of Jesus’ return. But what if brother James intended something more like “the presence of the Lord has arrived” (perfect tense)? Suddenly, we can hear him saying that the resources needed for the patience he is advocating, are available for us!
And what if Paul’s statement (II Thes.2:8) of the annihilation of the “lawless one” is intended, not for some distant future, but as the triumph of light over darkness that John declared (3:19) at the very beginning, using a perfect tense of erchomai? The presence of light has ALWAYS destroyed darkness – and always will!
You can take it from there, exploring many of the other references. We would all be enriched, if you would share your observations as comments.

I believe it is the gracious intention of the Lord that his people live in the light of his presence – NOW – in order that we may give thanks with even greater enthusiasm at his final “coming”!
Thanks be to God!

Word Study #163 — Sheep — their characteristics and care

October 16, 2012

This is not really a linguistic study, but I think it is needed, due to many misunderstandings. In few cases is it more obvious that Bible translators and/or “scholars” are city people and academics with no real experience of rural life than when they turn to sheep. Some well-meaning folks through the years have undertaken to try to enlighten them – but even these cite only their experience with large commercial operations. Although wealthy individuals (like Abraham) in Biblical times, did own very large flocks and herds which were tended by others, this was not the norm in first century Palestine, especially among the “ordinary” folks who gathered to listen to Jesus. Most of them could have identified more readily with the poor man in Nathan’s parable (II Sam.12:3) who had made a pet of his only ewe lamb. Common people lived very close to their few animals, not infrequently even sharing a section of their dwellings. Consequently, I think that my years of caring for a small flock (2-5 ewes and their lambs) can provide helpful, and even perhaps useful insight on these teachings.

My sheep were all pets – to the great amusement of the neighbors, many of whom were “real” farmers. It is not possible to become “personally acquainted” with individual animals in a large operation, where they are more likely to be numbered than named – so they were amazed when my sheep came running in response to being called by name (Jn.10:3). And they gradually stopped laughing when, due to close attention and careful observation, I began to experience more successful lambing and survival rates.

Sheep, whether wild or domestic, are flocking creatures. They seldom go off on their own. But as Jesus noted in parables, they can and do get lost (Mt.12:11-12, Lk.15:4-6). Interestingly, in neither case does Jesus say how it happened. Unlike many who claim to represent him, Jesus does not blame the victim! Perhaps the “lost sheep” was fleeing in panic from a predator (real or perceived). Maybe it was injured or weak, and simply could not keep up with the rest. Or it could have lingered too long in an especially tasty section of the pasture, and been inadvertently left behind. If it was a lamb, it might have been rejected by its mother ewe, or pushed aside by a stronger sibling. A lamb’s exuberant bouncing and climbing could have taken it too close to the edge of a precipitous path. I saw most of these things among my own sheep – as well as seeing (or experiencing) them in churches!

For these, and many other reasons,sheep really need the care of a skilled and loving shepherd! I have had to physically restrain a reluctant ewe to get her to allow her lambs to nurse. It was not unusual that one needed help with a difficult delivery. Occasionally, my ignorance or inexperience was the unfortunate cause of the loss of a lamb, or even a mother. I had to learn by experience to remove poisonous plants from the pasture, to take proper care of an injury to avoid infection, to keep their feet in good condition, and to separate the boy lambs from their sire before he attacked them as rivals!
It is also easy for me to identify with the shepherds (Lk.2) who were watching their flocks overnight! Normally, the flocks would have been herded into a sort of open courtyard at night, where a few men could guard them all (Jn.10:1-10). But that would not be done in lambing season (which is good evidence that Jesus must have been born in early spring!) A crowded sheepfold could cause a newborn lamb to be stepped-on, a distressed ewe to be overlooked, or make it very difficult to sort out which lambs belonged to which mothers! Careful shepherds always spend the night with sheep who are near to delivery. The lives of both mother and babies depend on it!

Jesus remarked with great insight upon the plight of “sheep without a shepherd” (Mt.9:36,26:31; Mk.6:34, 14:27), and of “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt.10:6, 15:24) who had yet to recognize (or had refused to follow) the true Shepherd of the flock. Sheep depend on the shepherd constantly – for safety, for pasture, for shelter, for care. Most people who preach thundering warnings about the shepherd’s “rod” are unaware that it is an instrument for the protection and defense of the sheep, not their punishment! With his rod, the shepherd held wild animals at bay, often at the risk of his own life (Jn.10:15). He could also use it to lift an injured animal to safety. The rod was used FOR – NOT ON – the sheep!

The translations of the associated verb, poimaino, also reveal the ignorance of the translators, who 7x call it simply “feed” (Lk.17:7, Jn.21:16, Ac.20:28, I Cor.9:7, I Pet.5:2, Jude 12, Rv.7:17), or 4x – wholly without linguistic justification – “rule” (Mt.2:6, Rv.2:27, 12:5, 19:15), despite the lexical definitions (L/S) “to tend and cherish, to guide and govern, to soothe or beguile”! Classical writers understood that sheep can only successfully be “tended/shepherded” with loving care! Nobody “rules over” them!
And folks who complain about not being “fed” in churches – or who advertise how well they are “fed” – are likewise missing the point. There are three different words that refer to “feeding” (providing nourishment).
Bosko, “to feed, nourish, or graze”, appears 8x: six of them referring to pigs (Mt.8:30, Mk.5:11, 14; Lk.8:32,24 and 15:15), and only twice to people (Jn.21:15,17).
Trepho, “to bring up or rear, to cause to grow, breed, or produce”, refers twice to birds (Mt.6:26, Lk.12:24), once to the woman in the desert (Rv.12:6), and once to the needy (Mt.25:37).
Psomizo, “to feed by hand” (implying very personal involvement) is used in Rom.12:20 of caring for one’s enemy, and in I Cor.13:3 of caring for the poor.

The job of “shepherding” is much more comprehensive than that. He must be a vet, a midwife, a guide, a companion, and even a referee or mediator! Mopsy was our first sheep, and considered herself to be the absolute monarch of the barnyard. For years, a new sheep, or even the calf who arrived later, and the family puppy, had to be introduced to Mopsy and to pass her inspection before any of the others would accept their presence. If she lowered her head or stomped her foot, only prompt intervention would prevent the others from harassing the newcomer. Peacemaking could be a real challenge! But eventually, she apparently came to feel more secure, and showed less hostility to new arrivals. Even if successful at peacemaking, though, a good shepherd can guide his flock to good, healthful pasture, and drive off the predators, but the sheep must then do the grazing! Poimaino is a cooperative, not a passive, operation!

The flock” is only referenced ten times – 3x referring to (4-legged) sheep (Lk.2:8, I Cor.9:7, 20), and the rest to a group of the faithful. Five of these latter use the diminutive form of poimne “flock”, poimnion. The use of the diminutive may simply indicate the small size of the group, but it is also frequently a term of endearment like the Spanish suffix -ito, -ita, or the German -chen. This is significant in Jesus’ use of the term in Lk.12:32 : “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom!” After a discourse about the trials they will face, this is intended to be an encouragement to those for whose welfare he cares deeply.

The safety – indeed, the very survival – of the flock depends upon their being kept together, where the shepherd can defend them, and see to their care. Perhaps these multiple responsibilities are part of the reason why Paul addresses the elders of Ephesus (Ac.20:28) and Peter writes to fellow-elders (I Pet.5:2) as a plural charge. Note (#42) that elders are always plural, and addressed together as a group. They are charged with the care and protection of their congregations, urged to “watch over the little flock” and be an example to them of godly living. Peter also specifically warns against any domineering or profit-making on their part.
Although Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is clearly capable of handling all these challenges and more, Jn.10:16 is illustrative that even he may find it a daunting task to build all of his”sheep”/followers into a single flock! He paid a high price for that accomplishment!
I think Peter may have glimpsed that reality when he addressed the elders at the end of his first letter. Review that entire chapter (I Pet.5) in the light of shepherds defending a flock both from predators and from their own ignorance or stubbornness (of which both 4-legged and 2-legged “sheep” have an abundant supply!), remembering that Jesus himself is the only “Chief Shepherd”!

The goal is a single flock, together, waiting to greet their Chief Shepherd with joy – both his and theirs!

Word Study #162 — Find, Found

October 6, 2012

“Find” is another word that has acquired a unique usage – which has little to do with its lexical properties – among people of “evangelical” persuasions, who love to talk about the magical-seeming effects when an errant individual “finds God” or “finds Jesus” – neither of whom, in case you wondered, has ever been “lost”!

“Find / found” is a very simple study, involving only one single Greek word, heurisko, for which the classical lexicography includes “to discover or find out; to devise or invent; to be able; to get, gain, or procure; to acquire or obtain;” or even “the price obtained at an auction”! Heurisko appears 174 times in the New Testament. Its grammatical object may be information, a creature or object, or a person.

For example, Mt.1:18 reports the discovery of Mary’s pregnancy; Mt.26:60 and Mk.24:55 speak of the inability of Jesus’ opponents to “find” adequate false witnesses against him; Lk.4:17 notes that Jesus “found” Isaiah’s prophecy in the synagogue’s scroll; and later, (8:18) Jesus’ rather plaintive wondering if, at his coming, he would “find” any faithfulness on the earth.

There are indeed instances of people “finding” Jesus – but all refer simply to his physical location: the shepherds (Lk.2;12) after their angelic visitation; the Magi (Mt.2:8); Mary and Joseph when he stayed behind in the temple (Lk.2:45,46); the disciples who were hunting for him when he had gone off to pray (Mk.1:37); the crowds who were following him (Jn.6:25); and Andrew’s excited report to Peter (Jn.1:41), “We have found the Messiah!” After Jesus’ resurrection, the women “found” the stone rolled away from the tomb, and failed to “find” his body (Lk.24:2,3,23,24).

More frequently, it is reported that it was Jesus who “found” someone: Philip (Jn.1:43), a man from whom he had cast out demons (Lk.8:35); others whom he had healed (Jn.5:4, 9:35); merchants in the temple (Jn.2:14); the disciples sleeping in Gethsemane (Mt.26:40, 43; Mk.14:37,40; Lk.22:45).

In parables, he told of a master “finding” servants acting faithfully or unfaithfully (Mt.24:45-50, Mk.13:36, Lk.12:37-38,43); of one servant “finding” another (Mt.18:28); or a landowner “finding” workers to hire. Other parables deal with people “finding” mundane things like a treasure (Mt.13:44), a pearl (Mt.13:46), a coin (Lk.15:8,9); a sheep (Lk.15:4,5; Mt.8:13); a colt (Mt.21:2 and parallels), figs on a tree (or not) (Mk.11:13,21; Lk.13:6,7); or fish in the sea (Jn.21:6).

More significantly, Jesus also spoke of “finding” less tangible things. One of the most frequently quoted statements, Mt.7:7-10, and its parallel in Lk.11:9-12, contain no clear statement of what is to be “sought” or “found”. The word “find” has no direct object. Matthew refers simply to the Father “giving good things”, and Luke to his provision of the Holy Spirit. Jesus remarked that those who “find” the “road that leads into life” (zoen) (Mt.7:14) are few, but then seems to make a blanket offer of “rest for yourselves” – psuchen – (Mt.11:29) in companionship with him and in sharing in his work. Absorption into partnership in the work of the Kingdom provides welcome rest from the often desperate efforts at self-aggrandizement that occupy so many.

Here, we circle back to the discussion in the previous post, where we noticed that it is in the loss of one’s psuche – the self-centered, self-focused life – that one “finds” or “enters into” the zoen aionion – the “eternal life” of the Kingdom. Please refer again to #28. The change of vocabulary regarding “life” is vital to proper understanding.

The 34 references in Acts are exclusively to locating people or acquiring information, except for a single mention in Ac.17:27 of the possibility of Gentiles earnestly seeking and “finding” God. Paul reiterates this hope in Rom.10:21, but in most of his other writings, his concern is more for “finding” evidence of faithfulness on the part of his readers (Rom.4:1, 7:10, 7:18, 7:21, I Cor.4:2, II Cor.5:3, 9:4, 11:12, 12:20; Phil.3:9). Peter (I Pet.1:7, II Pet.3:14) and John (II Jn.4, Rv.2:2, 3:2, 5:4, 9:6, 12:8, 14:5) share the same concern.

At other times, “finding” is simply an acknowledgment of “the way things are” : Gal.2:17 – one’s own need of the Lord’s intervention, Phil.2:8 – recognition of Jesus’ humanity, I Cor.15:15 – Paul’s admission that he would be “found” a false witness if there were no resurrection. Pilate’s testimony of having “found no fault” in Jesus (Lk.23:4,14,22 and Jn.18:38, 19:4, 19:6), and Jesus’ group “finding” that Lazarus had already been buried (Jn.11:7) are similar simple statements of fact.
The delightful discovery of a gracious healing (Mk.7:30, Lk.7:10,117:18) likewise is announced with the use of heurisko.

On a more sober note, Jesus (Jn.7:34,35,36) describes a time when people will not be able to “find” him even if they decide to look for him, because of their having refused to heed his message while he was in their presence.

In contrast, for those committed to following him, there is the comforting prospect of sheep “finding” good pasture and safe shelter in the loving care of their Shepherd (Jn.10:9); of a faithful messenger and his household “finding” [enjoying, experiencing] the mercy of the Lord (II Tim.1:16-18); and the confidence born of acquaintance with a sympathetic and understanding High Priest, by whose ministrations “we may receive mercy (#59), and find grace (#60) for timely help!” (Heb.4:14-16).

With deepest gratitude, then, may we together bend every effort to provide an affirmative answer to our Lord’s question (Lk.18:8) “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faithfulness on the earth?”.
May he “find” us faithful servants, carefully following his instructions (Mt.24:46) #55, and (Lk.12:37-38) eagerly watching (#125) for his arrival!

Word Study #161 — Lost, Lose, Loss

October 2, 2012

There are groups with whom one cannot associate for very long without hearing a tear-jerking lament about the condition (and/or future prospects!) of “the lost” – by which they usually mean anyone who differs with their chosen theological perspective. As is usually the case with many artificial boundaries drawn around carefully proof-texted points of “doctrine”, this one requires exceedingly skillful verbal gymnastics to relate it even remotely to the New Testament text.

Only two Greek words are used here. One, the verb, zemioo (noun form, zemia), classically defined simply as “to cause loss, to do damage, to assess a penalty or fine”, appears only four times as a verb (Mt.16:26, Mk.8:36, I Cor.3:15, Phil.3:8) and twice (Ac.27:21 and Phil.3:7) as a noun. All but the first two, which we will treat with the more common word, refer primarily to material or financial losses.

The other word, apollumi, which Liddell / Scott characterizes as a stronger form of ollumi, an earlier word which does not appear in the New Testament, is a bit more problematic. It is listed as “to destroy utterly (usually referring to a death in battle), to demolish or lay waste, to ruin”, and in the middle or passive voice, “to lose one’s life or possessions, to cease to exist, to die, to be undone.”
Traditional translators have stretched the usage even farther, rendering the same word as “lost” 11x, “lose” 15x, “destroy” 28x, and “perish” 33x. Please remember that any choice in translation, when several options may be lexically valid, reflects the opinion of the translator, and as such, must always be subject to challenge. Who can say without question, for example, without additional information, whether a coin, a sheep, a child (Lk.15) is simply missing (“lost”), has died (“perished”), or has been deliberately “destroyed”?

Even more germane to all the rhetoric about “the lost” is that in 92 appearances in the New Testament, no form of apollumi EVER appears with the adjective aionion (eternal)! The reference to “eternal destruction” in II Thes.1:9 employs a different (and much stronger) word for “destruction” – olethron.
In the much-quoted Jn.3:15-16, aionion is the modifier of zoen (see “Life”, #28), and NOT apollumi; and the phrasing in Jn.10:28 is identical with that in Jn.11:26 (with a different verb); the prepositional phrase eis ton aiona, literally “into/toward the ages”, which is usually translated “forever.” This is the reason for my choice in the PNT to correct the misleading “shall never die” to read “will not die forever” – neither Jesus’ “sheep” nor Lazarus had died “forever” – it was not a permanent condition! Paul picked up the same theme in I Cor.15:18, reassuring his readers of the promised resurrection of those who had already died.

With this background in mind, let us turn to a few specifics. Of the several different translations of apollumi, “lost” is the least frequent. In the gospels, it is applied to sheep (Mt.10:6, 15:24; Lk.15:4,6), a coin (Lk.15:8,9), scraps of bread (Jn.6:12), and only 5x to people: Judas (Jn.17:12, 18:9; a son/brother (Lk.15:24,32), and the folks for whom Jesus came seeking (Lk.19:10). Mt.18:11 is not found in the most reliable manuscripts. Paul, whose writings have been sliced and diced to “prove” so many “doctrines”, only uses the word once (II Cor.4:3) regarding people who have rejected the message of Jesus! (Twice more if you include the “perish” translations in II Cor.2:15, II Thes.2-10)

Traditional translators used “destroy” for the same word, apollumi, 28x. It’s what Herod (Mt.2:13) and the Pharisees (Mt.12:14, Mk.3:26, Mt.27:20, Mk.11:18, Lk.19:47) wanted to do with Jesus; and what demons / evil spirits tried to do with their victims (Mk.9:22, Mt.10:28) and feared that Jesus would do to them (Mk.1:24, Lk.4;34). Jesus contrasted this with his own intent to rescue (“save” – see #5) people (Lk.9:56,Jn.10:10), and challenged his critics that to refuse such rescue was the same as destroying them (Lk.6:9). In parables (Mt.21:41, 22:7, Mk.12:9) and historical references (Lk.17:27-29), he spoke of the destruction of those who had been deliberately unfaithful.
Paul (Rom.14:15) warned folks to be careful lest their perceived superior “knowledge” “destroy” others of tender conscience. “Damage” might have been better here. This theme recurs where the translators chose to render the same word “perish” in I Cor.8:11).

“Perish” is the most common of the translators’ choices, and most frequently refers to the temporary, transitory quality of mortal life or material goods. Only in I Cor.1:18, II Cor.2:15, II Thes.2:10, and I Pet.3:9 is there any hint of a connection to having overtly rejected the message of the Lord Jesus, and it is presented there as a simple result, rather than an imposed penalty, for that situation. There is no reference to anyone who is ignorant of that message.

Finally, it is necessary to examine Jesus’ statement, recorded six times in four different contexts, regarding the “saving” or “loss” of one’s life. In every case, it is psuche that is referenced (please see the study on “life” in #28), even though some translators have chosen, seemingly at random, to substitute the Platonic philosophical term “soul” for some of those occurrences – not all of them – only the ones that fit their own preconceptions.

The earliest appearance is Mt.10:39, in a record of instructions for the disciples whom Jesus had commissioned to represent him. They were not promised a flower-strewn pathway: much of the discourse is devoted to warnings of rejection and persecution, even by their own family members. Jesus is addressing the issue of one’s priorities, and contrasting the “losing” with the “finding” of one’s life / self / identity. (More of this in the next post.)

A similar – but significantly, NOT identical – statement appears in all three synoptic accounts (Mt.16:25, Mk.8:35, Lk.9:24), immediately after Peter’s testimony to Jesus’ identity and the Lord’s rebuke of his reluctance to accept the price that Jesus would pay for that status. Here, the concern is the contrast of one’s normal inclination to save (sozo) / preserve his life / self / identity (psuche) with “losing” (apolese) it. Notice, however,that in both places, “for my sake” – (Jesus’) – is crucial. Mark says “for my sake and the gospel’s”. Luke follows Matthew. This is a call to devoted discipleship, not an excuse for carelessness or flamboyant, risky behavior.
The consistent use of psuche in all of these passages poses an interesting dilemma for those who are obsessed with the notion of “saving souls”. Jesus does not appear to advocate or endorse that effort!

In Lk.17:33, the scene shifts to the chaotic world conditions at the time of Jesus’ return. Whereas the earlier passages spoke of “wanting” (thelo) to save their lives, this one conveys a more desperate – maybe even panicky – “seeking” (zetese) to “preserve” (peripoiesasthai) one’s life. This latter word conveys the tone of a purchased or negotiated settlement! A warning, perhaps, that “cutting a deal” with the persecutors is not the best idea? (Lesser manuscripts repeat the use of sozo). The use of the same word for “loss”, however, is the same throughout.

The final appearance of this theme is in Jn.12:25, in the prelude to the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Philip and Andrew had just brought word that some Greek sightseers, in town for the passover, wanted to meet Jesus, who was preoccupied with his imminent departure. Both participles are changed. Here, Jesus speaks of the one who “loves” (philon) his psuche (life / self / individuality) “losing” it, in contrast to the one who “hates” (mison) his psuche in this world guarding/keeping (phulaxei) it, into (eis) eternal life (zoen aionion). Notice the unique transition to the use of zoen in this passage, instead of psuchen, and refer again to the study of “life.”

If, therefore, one chooses to follow Jesus’ instructions and example, his focus will be on the work and welfare of the Kingdom, and not his own (or anyone else’s) self-centered psuche “life” (or “soul”!)
Loss is certainly acknowledged (Phil.3:7,8), but not lamented – Paul calls it mere garbage – in comparison with its replacement: the glorious life – the zoen aionion – of the Kingdom!