Word Study #170 — Whose Prisoner are You?

December 16, 2012

I owe this study to our brother Solomon,who, during the course of his recent message, commented, “We have a choice: it’s up to us, whether we are the victims of men, or prisoners of Christ.” He noted that Paul had made exactly that choice when writing from a Roman prison to the brethren in Ephesus (Eph.3:1, 4:1).
Bonds (literally being chained or tied up) and imprisonment were no foreign concept to first-century disciples. It was a fact of life. Not only the Roman occupiers, but also the Jewish hierarchy constantly threatened both – and even summary execution – in their efforts to thwart “the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” And hundreds, then thousands of the faithful made the same choice. Nothing infuriates an oppressor more than “victims” who refuse to be intimidated!
Most of us today do not face such dire circumstances, although we should constantly remember those who do. Oppression takes many forms, and it is not always the result of either faithful or unfaithful behavior. Remember the geopolitical situation in which the New Testament accounts were sited. Although some people were imprisoned for actual crimes (Barabbas, or the thief next to Jesus on the cross), the vast majority had simply run afoul of powerful people (John the Baptist, Paul, and even Jesus himself), or simply succumbed to debt (several parables) due to their abject poverty.

The four words translated “prison” have little ambiguity.
Although oikema – used only once in the New Testament – in addition to “prison” may also refer to a room, a dwelling, a cage or stall, a storeroom, a workshop, a room in a temple, or even a brothel (L/S), its use in Ac.12:7 is clear from the context.
Likewise, teresis, translated once “prison” (Ac.5:19), once “hold” (Ac.4:3), and once “keeping” (I Cor.7:19) the commands of God, although its classical usages extended to “watching, safekeeping, guarding, preservation, observance, vigilance” (L/S) as well as “custody”, has fairly obvious reference in each case. The verb form, tereo, is common with respect to “commandments.”
Desmoterion, appearing only four times, and defined simply as “prison or jail” in all three lexicons, etymologically is composed of desmos (“bonds”) and terion (“place”). It is used of the confinement of John the Baptist (Mt.11:2), Peter and John (Ac.5:21, 23), and Paul and Silas (Ac.16:26).
Phulake, on the other hand, besides being more frequently used (39x), covers considerably more territory. L/S lists “watching or guarding, a station or post, a watch of the night (see #125), a prison, guarding, keeping, or preserving – whether for security or custody, precaution, or safeguard.” The references in Mt.5:25, 18:30, and Lk.12:58, clearly relate to imprisonment for debt. Mt.14:3,10; parallels in Mk.6:17, 27; and the briefer references in Lk.3:20 and Jn.3:24 concern John the Baptist. The reason for the incarceration mentioned in Mt.25:36, 39,43, 44 is not given. Barabbas (Lk.23:19, 25) was in prison for sedition and murder. Although Peter, having boasted of his willingness to follow Jesus to prison (Lk.22:33), soon backed off from that bravado, he later defied the authorities and took the consequences (Ac,5:19, 22, 25 and 12:4, 5, 6, 10, 17), both times experiencing miraculous deliverance. Neither he nor anyone else seems to have expected such rescue to be the norm, however, as attested in Heb.11:36, and evidenced by his own reaction to the second such incident (Ac.12:11).
Paul never tried to deny his former role in dragging the brethren off to prison (Ac.8:3, 22:4, 26:10), but balanced it with accounts of his own “jail time” (II Cor.6:5, 11:23), which Luke augments in Ac.16:23, 24, 27, 37, 40.
One may well wish that Peter (I Pet.3:19) and John (Rv.18:2, 20:7) had been more specific about the “prisons” to which they refer – but then, I guess folks who love to speculate about such things could not spin such fantastic theories, and they would be disappointed! I do not choose to play their games.

Notice, please, however, that God does not imprison anyone! The devil does (Rv.2:10), and so do the agents of civil and religious hierarchies, as noted above. It is never represented as “God’s will!” Jesus announced his mission (Lk.4:18,19) as bringing release to captives!

So who are these captives/prisoners?
Here, we encounter two groups of words.
Aichmalotos (the person) and aichmalosia (his condition), with their verb forms aichmaloteuo and aichmalotizo, refer specifically to “captives” and “captivity” strongly connected to prisoners of war. These unfortunates were usually forced into slavery, rather than being thrown into prison – though neither was a happy lot. (Please see #100 for a treatment of slavery.) These terms are rarely used: Jesus’ “inaugural address” in Lk.4:18,19, and its fulfillment described in Eph.4:8 – note that this happened at his resurrection/ascension – the tenses are past, not future!; Jesus’ warning (Lk.21:24) of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem; Paul’s description of his former enslavement to “sin”/failure (Rom.7:23), and the same brother’s later admonition to “bring every thought into captivity to Christ (II Cor.10:5). Three times, he made reference to those who were his “fellow-prisoners” – sunaichmalotos – Andronicus and Junia (Rom.16:7), Aristarchus (Col.4:10), and Epaphras (Phm.23).

Desmios (L/S) “bound, captive”, (Bauer) “anyone in prison”, appears 15x. It refers to Barabbas (Mt.27:15, 16; Mk.15:6), the others who were in the Philippian jail (Ac.16:25, 27), and Paul (Ac.23:18; 25:14, 27; 28:17). Heb.13:3 expresses concern for all of the faithful who suffer imprisonment.
But most significant are Paul’s statements in Eph.3:1, 4:1; II Tim.1:8, and Phm.1 ,9, where, although confined by the civil authorities at the behest of the Jewish hierarchy, he calls himself “the prisoner of Jesus Christ!” The grammatical form is a simple possessive. Neither civil nor religious oppressors can claim final ownership of one who belongs – by his own deliberate choice – to the King of Kings! Years earlier, Paul had explained, (Rom.6:16) “You are slaves / servants to whomever you (choose to) obey!” And he had made that choice.

Desmos , also refers to imprisonment, either literal or figurative. L/S adds “anything for tying or fastening, a door-latch, mooring cable, bonds, a spell, or a chain.” Bauer notes “the bond that prevents a mute or crippled person from normal function”. Physical restraints are indicated in Lk.8:29, Ac.16:26, 22:30, 26:29, 31; healing in Lk.13:16; and imprisonment in Ac.20:23, Phil.1:7, 13, 14, 16; Col.4:18, II Tim.2:9; Phm.10, 13; Heb.10:34, 11:36. When the English word “bonds” applies to slavery, it is usually taken from doulos (see #100).

Here, as with sunaichmalotos, a prefixed form, sundesmos , is significant. In both cases, the prefix “sun-” which is also the preposition “with”, thereby conveying the sense of “together”, alters the root word. L/S lists “a union, anything that binds together, sinews or ligaments, civil or political union (to form a state), a conspiracy, the fastening of garments, the connection of heavenly bodies.” It appears in Ac.8:23, where Peter diagnoses Simon’s “bondage to iniquity”, but in Paul’s letters the tone is much more positive. In Eph.4:3, he urges the maintenance of “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, in Col.2:19, he emphasizes the need for coordination of the Body of Christ – the faithful – by the proper working of its “joints and ligaments”, and in Col.3:14, describes love as “the bond of maturity [perfection] (see #13.) Paul also reassures Timothy (II Tim.2:9) that despite his own imprisonment, “the word of God is not imprisoned!”

So brother Solomon’s suggestion was not only insightful, but absolutely correct.
Regardless of circumstances – personal, religious, or political – we do have a choice. Not necessarily of the circumstance, but definitely of its interpretation, its effect, and our response.

Whose prisoner are you?




Word Study #169 — Deceive, Deception, Deceivers

December 5, 2012

In view of the many warnings, in the previous studies and elsewhere, to be on guard against deceptive messages and people, it seems prudent to examine the subject.
One extremely important observation that should be kept in mind throughout, is that the vast majority of these warnings and admonitions are addressed in the plural. The counsel of a committed brotherhood is essential to responsible discernment, because an individual, however faithful or insightful, can much more easily be misled than can a mutually seeking, trusting group.
Secondly, it is crucial to note that “deception” represents at least four separate categories of threats. (These references are only a few examples. They are not exhaustive). Most obvious, of course, are the overt schemes of those individuals, natural or supernatural, who actively and deliberately oppose the Kingdom, its King, and its loyal citizens (Eph.4:14, 5:6; I Tim.4:1, II Jn.7). Harder to detect, and therefore perhaps a greater danger, are errors that emerge from within the disciple group itself (II Cor.11:13, II Pet.2:14, I Jn.2:26). Even more dependent upon the discernment of the brotherhood are the errors of self-deception (I Cor.3:18, Eph.4:22, Jas.1:22,26; I Jn.1:8), or wanderingcaused by simple ignorance (Mt.22:29, Tit.3:3, Jas.5:20).

Sorting out the five nouns and nine verbs traditionally translated “deceit, deceive, deception , deceiver” gives some clue to the different ideas they represent, but they do not all fall into neat categories. Sometimes, the reference is primarily to self-deception: phrenapatao, deleazo, apatao, exapatao, paralogizomai, and planao are occasionally – but not always – used this way. But dolos, doliao, doloo, dolios, and katabrabeuo always describe external influences, and are never self-inflicted. Any of these, however, may be sourced either within or outside the disciple group: another reason for careful discernment in any faithful brotherhood.
Only once is any sort of deception said to have its immediate source in an act of God (II Thes.2:11), and that is the result of people’s overt, deliberate rejection of his ways.

The lexicons are helpful, but no more precise in distinguishing among the various words.
Apate / apatao, for example, (n) “trick, fraud, deceit; deception, seduction, wasting time, guile, treachery”, and (v) “to cheat or deceive, to seduce”, appears in Col.2:8 (intellectual), Eph.4:22, II Pet.2:13 (physical / psychological), Mt.13:22 (financial), II Thes.2:10 (judicial), as well as “spiritual” (Heb.3:13) contexts. Its source may be human (Eph.5:6), the serpent, or Satan himself (I Tim.2:14), or oneself (Jas.1:26). Only twice is self-deception the focus: II Pet.2:13 implies that it is deliberate, while Jas.1:26 may simply refer to an error in judgment.
The prefixed form exapatao is merely an intensified form of the verb, and is found in Rom.7:11, 16:18; I Cor.3:18, II Cor.11:3, II Thes.2:3.

Dolos and its related words, doloo, dolios, doliao, on the other hand, are always deliberate, and never self-inflicted. L/S lists for dolos “bait for fish, any cunning contrivance for deception” (this was used of the Trojan horse, as well as the Pharisees and Judas scheming for Jesus’ betrayal – Mt.26:4). Additional classical definitions include “a trick, trap, or stratagem; treachery – often implying an expectation of gain for the perpetrator.” This is the only word of this group that is used more than once in the New Testament. All indicate an active effort to mislead or destroy, whether the scene involves his enemies’ efforts to do away with Jesus (Mt.14:1, 26:4); generally unsavory behavior (Mk.7:22, Rom.1:29); misrepresentation of facts to influence choices (II Cor.2:16, I Thes.2:3, I Pet.2:22 where the traditional translation uses “guile”); hypocritical action and attitudes (Jn.1:47, I Pet.2:1, 3:10; Rv.14:5); or overt opposition to the truth of the gospel (Ac.13:10).
The other words each appear only a single time.
Doloo (L/S – “to disguise, to alter, adulterate, or falsify a substance”) is used in II Cor.4:2 of the distortion of true teaching.
Doliao (v) and dolios (n), L/S – “to deceive” and “treachery” respectively, appear in Rom.3:13 and II Cor.11:13.

Paralogizomai – L/S – “to defraud, to reason falsely, to disguise, to mislead by false reasoning”, (Bauer – “to deceive or delude, defraud, or distort”, and Thayer “to cheat by false reckoning”) appears only twice: Col.2:4 as an external threat, and Jas. 1:22 as self-deception – perhaps both by assuming rational arguments.

Phrenapatao (v) and phrenapates (n), (Bauer – to deceive or mislead oneself or another), each with a single appearance, may likewise be either internal (Gal.6:3) or external (Tit.1:10) in origin.
This is also true of deleazo, traditionally translated once “beguile” (II Pet.2:14), once “allure” (II Pet.2:18), both external, and once “enticed” (Jas.1:14) of one’s own inappropriate behavior. L/S defines this as “to catch with bait, and Bauer treats it in tandem with dolos.
Katabrabeuo, L/S “to deprive of one’s rights, or of a deserved prize”; and Thayer, “to bribe a judge to condemn someone”, appears only in Col.2:18, where Paul is seeking to counteract the influence of philosophical syncretism in the church.

By far the most frequently used of all the terms are planao, plane, planos. This group is also the most diverse in usage. L/S lists for the verb, planao “to lead astray, mislead, or deceive; to cause to wander”, or in the passive voice, “to digress, wander or stray, to be in doubt or at a loss.” Bauer adds “to be mistaken in judgment”. For the noun, plane,L/S has “wandering, roaming, going astray, illusion, deceit, imposture” and Bauer adds “error, delusion, deceit, any false concept”.  For the noun planos L/S reads “error, deceit, wandering, or, if a person, a vagabond or impostor.”
This is the only one of the plethora of terms that may also refer to innocent ignorance, where the parable in Mt.18:12,13 refers to a wandering sheep, and Peter uses it metaphorically (I Pet.2:25, and II Pet.2:15) of people who are equally confused. These errors can be consciously avoided, since one of the primary causes is “ignorance of the Scriptures and the power of God”! If you need incentive to study, there it is! But study carefully and selectively, bearing in mind that there are some who “handle deceitfully” (II Cor.4:2) even “the word of God”. These are described in more detail in II Cor.11:12-15. (An easy test: is the “teacher” making a profit from his “teaching?)
Those being “taught” can – and should – simply refuse such enticements, confident that they do not come from the Lord!

Sorting them out is not always easy: but we have been provided a resource of inestimable value, if we have the counsel of an interactive brotherhood, informed by mutual seeking after faithfulness, and empowered by the Spirit sent for the purpose by our risen Lord. Peter emphasized the need for transparent honesty patterned after Jesus himself (I Pet.2:1, 2:22, 3:10), and John (I Jn.4:1-6) provided detailed instructions for the needed discernment. James (5:19,20) chimes in with his admonition to watch out for one another’s welfare.

May we do so faithfully!