Word Study #168 — Signs

November 23, 2012

Any discussion of the topics in the previous three studies, sooner or later, comes around, as did many of Jesus’ first audiences, to the subject of “signs.” His opponents demanded a “sign” to authenticate Jesus’ claims about his identity and his mission, but faithful disciples also pressed for “signs of his coming”, which they, (not Jesus), equated with “the end of the age”. These requests uniformly use “age” – aion – and not “world” – kosmos, although some translators ignore this. Frequently, especially in John’s writing, “sign” – semeion – is used to describe what other writers termed “miracles” (see #113), “mighty deeds” (see #31), or “wonders” (also treated in #113).

Classically, semeion is even more versatile than those few examples. L/S lists “a sign of the future (Herodotus), the trace or tracks of an animal (Hippocrates), a sign from the gods (Antiphones), a wonder or portent (Plato), a sign or signal to do something – usually indicated by flags – such as to put to sea, to begin or end a battle, or to commence work; a landmark, boundary, or limit; a signet on a ring, a watchword or war cry, a birthmark or other distinguishing feature, a logical or mathematical proof, evidence or example, a medical symptom, or a unit of time in music.” Bauer adds “marks in the landscape showing direction, a signal previously agreed upon, a warning, a mark of genuineness or authenticity.” Both Bauer and Thayer note “an unusual occurrence, transcending the usual course of nature,” the origin of which can be either divine or demonic.
So how is a responsible translator or interpreter to sort through all these possibilities? Very carefully tentatively, and humbly. Try out some of these ideas wherever you are accustomed to reading “signs”.

It is interesting that in the synoptic gospels, the majority of the uses of semeion are in conversations with the Pharisees or scribes, who are disputing Jesus’ authority. And this is after he has just given evidence, by his merciful use of power, of his godly provenance! (Mt.12:38-39, 16:1-4; Mk.8:11-12, Lk.11:16, 29-30). His retort (Mt.16:3), “Can’t you see?” bears witness that the evidence they are demanding has already been supplied.
It is also significant that when his disciples asked about indications of his return (Mt.24:3, Mk.13:4, Lk.21:7), his response began with “Watch out lest anyone lead you astray!” (Mt.24:4, Mk.13:22). That is still excellent advice! Jesus attributes some “signs and wonders” to “false Christs and false prophets” (Mt.24:24). One may well wonder, then, if the “sign of the Son of Man” appearing in the heaven [sky] (v.30) may not refer simply to his actual arrival (#164) there described, which would be possible, considering the L/S reference to the “standard” of a commanding officer. Mark’s parallel passage does not refer to a “sign”, but simply to Jesus’ appearance (13:26), although Luke 21:10, 25 are closer to Matthew’s version.

But notice, please, that none of these are intended to cause fear to the faithful! Trial, prison, even death, all end in triumph! Notice also, however, that nowhere are the Lord’s people promised escape – whether by “rapture” (another word which does not exist in the New Testament) or in any other form – but rather endurance.

Inexplicably, in John’s gospel, traditional translators almost exclusively substituted the word “miracles” for “signs”, although the word is uniformly “semeion” in Jn.2:11, 23; 3:2, 4:54, 6:2,14,26; 7:31, 9:16, 10:41, 11:47, 12:18,37. They did use “sign” in 2:18, 4:48, 6:30, and 20:30 for the same word. It is hard to imagine that such translators would, like the Pharisees, refuse to see all of those events as “signs” – evidence – of Jesus’ true identity!
Evidence is also clearly the intent, in Jesus’ own prediction (Mk.16:17,20) about “signs” as authentication of his representatives’ connection with him, and accounts of its fulfillment in Ac.2:22,43; 4:16, 22,30; 5:12, 6:8, 7:36, 8:6,13; 14:3, 15:12, where semeion is used consistently, although here, too, the traditional translations are not uniform. Frequently paired with dunamis or terata (see #113), there is no question that these “signs” were miraculous demonstrations of the power of God, intended to authenticate both the message and its bearers. The critical point that needs to be understood, is that the purpose of any and all signs was/is to point beyond the event itself, or its effect upon the individuals concerned, to the King and the Kingdom that they represent.

I heard someone point out, in reference to both Jesus’ promise mentioned above (Mk.16) and the account in Ac.8 of Philip’s encounter with Simon, the Samaritan magician, (who was so impressed with the “signs” accompanying Philip’s ministry, that he tried to buy into the program), that he had simply misread the grammar. Jesus spoke of signs “following” or accompanying the faithful – it is impostors who “follow” signs. Subject and object do make a difference!

It is precisely such error against which Paul warns in II Thes.2:9 (also noted in Rv.13:14, 16:14, 19:20). A flamboyant demonstration of power may not be from the Lord. It is only a sign of his involvement when the accompanying message is clearly his (Mt.24:3, Mk.13:22).

Do you notice anything missing here? There are NO New Testament parallels to the Old Testament stories of individual heroes like Moses, Gideon, Saul, and others, asking God for a “sign” regarding action to be taken or information to be believed. In Jesus’ Kingdom, there are no individual heroes! Jesus himself is the only superior, and he expects his people to be guided by his Holy Spirit and the discernment of the brotherhood (see “Following Instructions” #55).
In the New Testament, any “signs” are provided at God’s initiative and discretion – Lk.2:12, Jn.20:30, Ac.4:16, 15:12 – not on the demand of any individual.

Perhaps Paul summarized it best, in his observation recorded in I Cor.1:22
“Although the Jews demand a sign, and the Greeks are seeking wisdom, we are preaching [announcing, heralding] CHRIST!”

May we as his followers learn to do likewise!

Word Study #167 — Reveal, Revelation

November 15, 2012

Here, we will consider the last word group in this series (beginning with #165), and try to pull the topic together into a coherent picture.
Actually, there are two more words, but chrematizo, which usually applies to business dealings (L/S) and only rarely to divine directives (either Christian or pagan), is translated “reveal” only once, of Simeon in the temple (Lk.2:26), although the “warnings” of Mt.2:12, 2:22; Ac.10:22, and Heb.11:7 would certainly fall into that category, as would the instructions given to Moses (Heb.8:5), since they are overtly attributed to God.

We are primarily concerned with apokalupto, and its related noun, apokalupsis. Comprised of the prefix / preposition apo (away from), and the verb kalupto (to hide or conceal), it applies to the “uncovering” of information that was previously hidden – regardless of whether it had been deliberately concealed or was simply not obvious. L/S lists “to uncover, disclose, or reveal; to unmask”, and for the noun, “uncovering, unmasking, revelation”. Trench refutes Jerome’s claim that the word “only exists in ‘sacred Greek’”, by noting its use by both Plato and Demosthenes. He suggests that apokalupsis goes beyond merely “seeing” as described in earlier studies (especially horama and optasia), to include explanation, understanding, and instructions, as well. We saw a bit of this sense in phaneroo (#166) also.

In the New Testament, there is not a single instance where this “revealing” is done by anyone but God, unlike some of the previous words considered, nor is the content of the information, or the direction, sourced anywhere else. It may be delivered through another agency – “the Son” (Mt.11:27, Lk.10:22), “fire” (I Cor.3:13), “apostles and prophets” (Eph.3:5) or anyone else in the brotherhood (I Cor.14:6, 26, 30), but the source is unquestionably beyond any of those vehicles. This is probably most overtly stated in John’s introduction to his account of the Revelation, where he declares, “(This is) Jesus Christ’s revelation, which God gave him to show to his slaves [servants] ….” (Rv.1:1). He then describes the “chain reaction” by which the message is to be disseminated.

Except for Paul’s discussion in II Thes.2:3-12, where he is reminding his readers of the malevolent powers that deceive those who have refused (v.10) the truth, reassuring the beleaguered faithful that falsehood will not ultimately triumph (see also a similar phrase in Rom.1:18), the occurrences of apokalupto and apokalupsis are all concerned with instruction in faithfulness and/or encouragement regarding its final outcome.

There are directions given for specific situations – needed correction (Rom.2:5, I Cor.3:13, Phil.3:15, and the messages to the churches in Rv.2 and 3), personal assignments (Lk.2:32, Gal.1:12, 2:2; Eph.3:3), and the accurate understanding and communication of the message (Mt.16:17, Rom.1:17, Gal.3:23, Eph.3:5).
But best of all, there are multiple assurances of “the glory to be revealed” at Jesus’ promised coming, (Lk.17:30, Rom.8:18,19; 16:26; II Thes.1:7, I Pet.1:5,7,13; 4:13, 5:1), and the promised provision of all that is necessary to maintain faithfulness until that eagerly anticipated consummation (Mt.10:26, 11:25-27; Lk.10:22, 12:2; II Cor.12:1,7; Eph.1:17). Please notice that the few references to the destructive aspect of “revealed judgment” (Rom.1:18, II Thes.2:3-8) are addressed, not to “outsiders” who have been identified as “targets” for “conversion”, but to the faithful, as encouragement, that it is not the “bad guys” who ultimately win!

The over-arching purpose of “revelation” is preparing the faithful to share in the triumph of their King!
Whether that is accomplished through “vision” (natural or supernatural) that transcends our blindness (or myopia), or “revelation” in some other form – the mention of both optasias and apokalupseis in II Cor.12:1 implies that there must be a difference), or instructions or encouragement delivered by a “messenger” (natural or supernatural – see #140), the goal, and the end result for faithful disciples, is the same.

Like Moses (Heb.11:27), may we “hang in there” in faithfulness, regardless of adverse circumstances, “as one who is seeing (horon) the invisible” , and
“pursue peace with everyone, and total devotion to God, without which nobody will see (opsetai) the Lord” (Heb.12:14), because
“No one knows … who the Father is, except the Son, and the one(s) to whom the Son plans to reveal (apokalupsai) him” (Lk.10:22).

As our brother John, in his old age, wrote to the folks he had loved, taught, and served for many years, “Dear people, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet been revealed (ephanerothe) what we will be. We do know that when he is revealed, (phanerothe), we will be like him, because we will see him (opsometha) as he is!” (I Jn.3:2).

Thanks be to God!


Word Study #166 — Appear, Appearance

November 13, 2012

I thought this was going to be an easy one – a mere footnote to the previous study. Wrong again! In fact, it may even need a footnote of its own! The concept of “appear / appearance” in the New Testament is much more complicated than it – – well, than it “appears”!

References include four nouns and six verbs.
The nouns can be rather easily sorted, and two of them are connected to study #165:
eidos, connected to eidon, and opsis to optasia.
Eidos, L/S: “that which is seen, outward pattern or beauty, class, kind, or species; a situation or state of things, “form” – as in Plato – opposed to “substance”, (Bauer adds “outward appearance”) – occurs 5x in the New Testament, with four different translations: “appearance” in I Thess.5:22, “fashion” in Lk.9:29, “sight” in II Cor.:7, and “shape” in Lk.3:22 and Jn.5:37, although all of these bear the general idea of something readily visible.

Opsis, L/S: “the aspect, face, or appearance of a person or thing, visual impression or image, anything seen,” occurs only three times, each also translated differently: Jn.7:24, “judge not according to appearance”, Jn.11:44, Lazarus’ face had been covered for burial, and Rv.1:16 describes Jesus’ countenance. Here, too, even in the case of the heavenly vision, the reference is simply to what was seen by observer(s).

Prosopon, the common word for someone’s “face” (55x) or occasionally their “presence” (7x) – see #164 – is translated “appearance” twice: II Cor.5:12 and 10:7, both in contrast to what is actually true. Its rendering as “person” (Mt.22:16, Mk.12:14, Lk.20:21, Gal.2:16) has a similar flavor.

Only epiphaneia (English cognate – “epiphany”), for which L/S includes “the manifestation of a deity to worshipers” in addition to the more mundane “appearance, aspect, coming into light or view, sudden appearance, dawn, the accession of an emperor to the throne, outward show, fame, or distinction” makes specific reference to an actual event, as opposed to something merely observed. It is used in the New Testament exclusively to the return of the Lord Jesus (I Tim.6:14, II Tim.4:1, 4:8, Tit.2:13, and II Thes.2:8 – where the traditional translators inexplicably substituted “brightness”), except for II Tim.1:10, which refers to the accomplishments of his first coming.

It is the verbs that present more of a challenge. The prefixed verbs are nearly evenly divided between natural and supernatural references.
Anaphainomai, occurring only twice, in Lk.19:11 speaks of the (mistaken) assumption that “the Kingdom should immediately appear”, but also simply of a boat having sighted Cyprus on its journey (Ac.21:3). Both forms are passive, although the translations are active. (More of this later.)
Classical uses include “to bring to light, to display, to declare, to appear plainly, to be seen or found.”

Emphanizo, “to show forth, exhibit, become or make visible, to exhibit in court, to declare or explain”, is most frequently courtroom vocabulary (Ac.23:15, 23:22,24:1,25:2,25:15) – and this is also one possible interpretation of Heb.9:24. However, it is also used of Jesus’ promise to “show himself” to his followers (Jn.14:21,22), and the appearance of other resurrected individuals after Jesus’ resurrection (Mt.27:53). All these verbs are active forms, except Mt.27 and Heb.9.

Epiphainoo, with only four occurrences, is also equally divided, using passive structures in Tit.2:11, 3:4, and active in Ac.27:20, and Lk.1:79. Its lexical information is similar, but also includes the phenomenon of dreams, visions, or divine manifestations (L/S) which, oddly, were not included in the classical information for emphanizo.

Erchomai, “to come”, is treated in #164, and was only once rendered “appear” (Ac,22:30), so we will not revisit that at this point.

Things become more complicated when we turn to the fifteen references listed for optomai. Lexicographers differ as to whether to treat this as a separate word, or in conjunction with horao, an irregular verb which we encountered in study #165 as simply “to look at, or to see.” Bauer calls it “a new present, formed from the aorist passive, ophthen, to let oneself be seen”, and notes that it is primarily used of the risen Christ. This is usually true, but not always. It is also used of heavenly messengers (Lk.1:11, 22:43), the Spirit’s fire at Pentecost (Ac.2:3), Abraham (Lk.13:28), “life” (Jn.3:36), and even fellow-believers (Heb.13:23).
L/S considers
optomai “a corruption of the middle voice opsomai, which only occurs in a future active form”, but the grammatical form is middle, not active.
ALL of the 15 New Testament occurrences, however, are identified as
aorist passive forms. Grammatically, one would have to translate such a form as “….was seen by …” (a passive structure) rather than “…..appeared to ….” (active). The accompanying dative case would allow either expression – the only difference being whether the focus was on the thing or person seen, or the viewer.

Traditional translators used “see” (37x) for the same word, when it was found in the active voice – 21x in the future active tense, and also the 5x where the form is future middle. (The rest are aorist passive). None of these, however, refer to “ordinary seeing”. Except for the aberrant “you see to that” in Mt.27:4,24 and Ac.18:15, all seem to be supernaturally enabled. This being the case, it probably matters little, if at all, whether it is the “appearance” or the “seeing” that is so enabled.

Similar anomalies occur with phaino / phainomai, where active, middle, and passive forms are also mixed. L/S lists active uses as “to bring light, to cause to appear, to show or make clear, to set forth or expound, to inform”; and passive, “to appear, to shine brightly, to become, to be manifest or revealed.” Actual New Testament instances, however, seem to interpret more active forms as “shine” (Jn.1:15, 5:35, II Pet.1:19, I Jn.2:8, etc.), and to reserve “appear” for passive and middle forms. These, however, are not all supernatural occurrences. Although they are used of “the angel/messenger of the Lord” (Mt.1:20, 2:13, 2:19), “the son of man” (Mt.24:30), or “Jesus” (Mk.16:19), they are also used of weeds in a field (Mt.13:26), sin (Rom.7:13), mere outward appearance (Mt.23:27, 6:16-18), “the ungodly” (I Pet.4:18), and “ a vapor” (Jas.4:14).

This needs to be balanced with another word, phaneroo, only 12 times translated “appear”, but 28x “manifest” or “make manifest”. L/S lists “make manifest, reveal, make clear, disclose, make or become visible, make known or famous”. Thayer adds “to reveal something that was formerly hidden, to be plainly recognized.” The difference between these last two may be that there is an element of information or explanation in phaneroo, in addition to what is “seen..” Here too there are more passive than active forms, especially in the “manifest” translations. Active forms are used only in Jn.17:6, I Cor.4:5, II Cor.2:14, 11:6; Col.4:4, Tit.1:3, often in the sense of explaining things. The passive forms frequently (but not always) refer to Jesus’ first coming (Jn.17:6, I Tim.3:, 16, Tit.1:3, I Pet.1:20, I Jn.1:2, 3:5, 3:8,4:9, Jn.1:31, 9:3) and its results presently among his people (I Cor.2:14, 4:10, 5:11, 11:6; Eph.5:13, Col.1:26, 4:4; II Tim.1-10, Heb.9:8, I Jn.2:19), as well as his return (II Tim.1:10, I Pet.5:4, I Jn.2:28, 3:2, Rv.3:18, 15:4).

If, like me, you are inclined to wonder why it has to be so complicated, try out the “view” from another perspective, and marvel at the multiplicity of ways our gracious Lord has used, in his efforts to show himself, and demonstrate his ways, to his clueless people – US!

Some of these ideas may become clearer when we turn to the more accessible concept of reveal/ revelation. For now, I’ll just repeat my request that any of you who can add insight here, please do! Just hit the “comment” button, and join in!

Word Study #165 — Vision, Sight

November 4, 2012

This is another fascinating investigation prompted by a reference at church to one of the incidents where Jesus restored the sight of a blind man, that segued into a question of what actually constitutes “vision” or “sight.” Although the common English usage tends to equate those two words, it is interesting that while classically, all three Greek nouns, optasia, horama, and horasis, could also refer to anything visible, or to the act of sight, in the New Testament, they uniformly refer specifically to supernatural revelations: and these are surprisingly few. If you can discern any pattern or reason for this, please add your insight!

With the exception of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples regarding their experience of his Transfiguration (Mt.17:19), and Paul’s generic reference in II Cor.12:1, every incidence of any of these words involved an individual being provided with divine instructions or information that would have been accessible to him in no other way: from Zachariah in the temple (Lk.1:22) receiving a “heads-up” about John’s birth, to news (Lk.24:23) of Jesus’ resurrection! How else could Ananias (Ac.9:10,12) have connected with Saul, the persecutor, or Peter, still an observant Jew, (Ac.10:3, 17,19, 11:5) with Cornelius, the Roman centurion? It’s no wonder that shortly thereafter, Peter was uncertain of the physical reality of his release from prison (Ac.12:19)! Macedonia had not been on Paul’s agenda until his vision (Ac.16:9, 10). Notice that each of these experiences was sufficiently recognizable as being from the Lord, that it resulted in prompt obedience, as Paul noted later at his trial (Ac.26:19).

The verbs, on the other hand, present more of a challenge. In the New Testament, “ordinary” seeing is virtually always noted with verbs or participles. However, it is not always clear whether the “seeing” is natural or supernatural. There are five primary words translated “see” or “look”, and lexicographers seem to have found them as difficult to differentiate as we do. (The “other side” of this concept, when something or someone “appeared” to a person or group, will be considered later). Here, we are concerned with the observer’s perspective.

Probably the easiest is blepo – L/S: “to have the power of sight, to perceive or be aware, to look or expect, to behold or see.” The only times it refers to anything less physical is when combined with one of the other terms: notably the charge of “looking, but not seeing” (Mt.13:13-17, Mk.4:12, Lk.10:24, Ac.28:26), where there is a shift to a form of eidon; and accounts of healing where the result, anablepo, is used (Mt.11:5, 20:34; Mk.10:51,52; Lk.18:41-43; A.9:12-18).
Anablepo, L/S: “to look up, to recover one’s sight, to revive”, also describes Jesus’ gesture in prayer (Mt.14:19, Mk.6:41, Mk.7:34, Lk.9:16); his calling Zacchaeus out of the tree (Lk.19:5), and watching the rich folks at the temple treasury (Lk.21:1).

Horao, L/S: “to look or see, to have sight, to pay attention, to behold, discern, or perceive; to observe, to look out or provide for”, and also “to see in a vision, to appear in a vision”, is also the etymological source of two of the nouns, horama and horasis. Clearly, more than physical perception is indicated in references to “seeing God” (Mt.5:8, 24:30,64; Jn.1:18), “the Son” (Mk.13:26, 14:62; Lk.17:32, 21:27), or “the Father” (Jn.6:46, 14:7, 16:16,17) and to Zachariah’s vision in the temple (Lk.1:22). Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances may fall into both categories (I Cor.9:1, 15:5-8). Jesus reports his own experience, (Jn.8:38,57), and John refers in I Jn.3:6 4:20, and III Jn.11, to evidence that a person has not seen the Lord. There is, however, no New Testament reference to purely physical blindness that employs horao, but it is this word with which, after listing things of which we cannot be certain in this life, John concludes (I Jn.3:2), “We do know that when he is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is!” Increased “exposure” to the Lord himself enables closer resemblance to his example!

Theoreo, likewise, L/S: “to watch, look at, behold; to be a spectator at games, to contemplate or consider, to speculate”, although occasionally used in these rather mundane contexts, has clearly supernatural reference in the reaction of unclean spirits to Jesus’ presence (Mk.3:11, 5:15), Jesus’ statements in Jn.14:7, 19; 16:10,16, 17, 19, that “the world” cannot “see” him, in the vision granted to Stephen at his death (Ac.7:56), and Peter’s experience (Ac.10:11) noted earlier. Jesus also used theoreo in Jn.6:40, 62 and 12:45, of disciples “seeing” either himself or the Father, and his promise that if a person “keeps his word” they will “never see death” (Jn.8:51) – a statement as enigmatic now as it was when he said it!

The most difficult to sort out of all the words for “seeing” is eidon, which is the irregular aorist tense of both horao (to see) and oida (to know)! It has no present tense form. Only the context can give a clue to whether it is “seeing” or “knowing” that is intended, so one must bear in mind that there is a sense in which they may be synonymous. Any choice is, of necessity, arbitrary, and open to challenge. L/S lists “to mark or observe, to meet a person, to experience, to perceive, examine, or investigate, to appear or seem to be, to be acquainted with facts, situations, or individuals.” Bauer adds “to become aware, consider, take note; to perceive what happened, to see with one’s own eyes.” A form of eidon commonly refers to a person “seeing” a supernatural vision (Mk.1:11, Jn.1:33, Lk.1:12,29; 9:32; Ac.7:55, 9:12, 10:3,17; 11:5,6,13; 16:10, and 48x in the Revelation). It also describes situations which we might label as “insight”, understanding or perception, as in Jesus calling out his disciples or responding to crowds (too numerous to list), the Magi “seeing” (and recognizing the import of) a star (Mt.2:2,9,10); people flocking to John the Baptist (Mt.11:8,9 and parallels), or the Pharisees demanding to “see” a sign (Mt.12:38).
The idea of evidence or experience is present in several post-Resurrection situations (Lk.24:39, Mt.28:6,17; Mk.16:5, Jn.20:20,29), as well as the statements about “seeing” or “not seeing” corruption/decay (Ac.2:27,31; 13:35-37) or death (Heb.11:5), the Kingdom of God (Jn.3:3, Mk.9:1), and miracles, signs, and wonders (Jn.4:48, 6:26).

One aspect that may be unique to the New Testament is the combination of “seeing” with responding to a perceived need, both in the judgment scene of Mt.25:37-39 and the parable of the “good Samaritan” (Lk.10:31-38), an example that Jesus had set consistently throughout his ministry (Mt.5:1, 8:18, 9:36, 14:14, Mk.6:34, 9:14, and many others). John, in his first epistle, uses theoreo for the same idea (3:17), and he and Paul (Ac.26:19) both clearly imply that genuine “vision” or “seeing” requires obedient response.

Although a “vision” may be granted to the Lord’s people in times of extreme stress for comfort or encouragement, as it was to Stephen (Ac.7:55) and Paul (II Tim.4:17, Ac.27:23, 18:9), its ultimate purpose is neither to serve as a warm cuddly blankie nor to create private, other-worldly ecstasy. It is simply one of the many ways that the Lord makes assignments and supplies instructions, strength, and encouragement to his faithful people.

It is also significant, from the opposite perspective, that the same word, tuphlos, is used for both physical (Mt.12:22, 21:14) and spiritual (Mt.15:14, 23:16-19, 24-46; Jn.9:39-41) blindness. Even though the latter category is usually a matter of choice rather than misfortune, the remedy for both is also the same: accepting the gift – or restoration – of sight at the gracious hand of Jesus, and following him.

Lord, open our eyes that we may truly see – and having “received our sight” (Mt.20:34, Mk.10:52, Lk.18:43), immediately get up and follow Jesus along the road!