Word Study #194 — Heal, Healing

June 30, 2013

It is sad that a topic which was such a welcome and compassionate feature of the ministry of Jesus, his disciples, and the early church, should have become a focus of controversy for contemporary groups, even resulting in the overt abuse of many suffering people and their caregivers.
Clearly, we will not solve all the problems of two millennia in one brief study, but perhaps we can make a few suggestions to add some light and reduce the heat of the discussions. Please bear in mind that this is the earnest intention of this posting!

The first surprise is in the lexical meanings of the three different word groups that have been rendered “heal.” The most common, therapeuo (v.), therapeia (n), is also the least specific. L/S lists “to do service (to gods or people), to honor parents, to wait upon a master, to pay attention, to treat medically, to train animals, to cultivate land, to prepare food or drugs, to mend garments”! It is only in juxtaposition with a diagnosis that one can be anywhere near certain that “healing” is the intention. Perhaps we should start by expanding our understanding of the extent of Jesus’ ministrations to folks with widely varied needs!
Iaomai (v.), iama and iasis (n), are more exclusively focused upon medical attention: “heal, cure, treat diseases; remedy or counteract” are primary, with “repair” also included as well as “refine” (as in alchemy).
Sozo, more commonly rendered “save” with “eternal” consequences by modern evangelicals, seems primarily to be used in more desperate situations: its first listing is “to save from death, to keep alive”, but also includes “to recover from sickness, to keep safe or preserve, to remember or keep in mind, to rescue.” Its prefixed form, diasozo, is similar, but more emphatic.

The words referring to diagnoses are likewise extremely diverse. About half the time, the accounts specify the problem of the sufferer: blindness, deafness, crippling of legs, feet, or hands; paralysis, leprosy, hemorrhage, fever, or even a cut-off ear! Notice, please, that demonic conditions are treated as a separate malady (16x), and not, as some would have it, simply showing ignorance of the source of distress. Elsewhere, usually in a crowd setting, the record shows Jesus being presented with “all kinds of diseases” and “healing them ALL”. Descriptions of these “generic” afflictions also use widely varied vocabulary.
Arrhotos, (arrhoteo, -ia) (5x) may refer either to “sickness, especially epidemics, a lingering infirmity, or moral weakness.”
Asthenos (astheneo) the most common, (35x) can include weakness, feebleness, sickliness, disease”, but also “poverty” (Herodotus), “moral weakness” (Plato), or “any person who is needy, insignificant, or powerless”! Most of us fit somewhere in there!
Malakia (3x) may be “moral weakness, sickliness, or cowardice.”
Nosos, nosema (13x), the only one essentially confined to physical conditions, encompasses “sickness, plague, disease, distress, anguish, any disease of the mind, or any grievous affliction.”
These words usually occur in different combinations of two or three in the various gospel narratives, seemingly thereby to indicate that whatever the problem, Jesus, and by extension, his people, both care, and do something about it!

Regardless of the specific vocabulary, the vast majority of references to healing occur in the gospels (58x), and nearly all of those focus on Jesus’ personal action, although there are 7 instances of authority being delegated to the disciples (in one of which their attempt failed – Lk.9:42). Healing definitely figured into the expectations and ministry of the early church, as evidenced in Ac.3 and 4, 5:16, 8:7, 9:34, 10:38, 14:9, 28:8,9; I Cor.12:9, 28, 30; Jas.5:16). Here, too, though, it was not always immediately successful (Ac.9:36).

Contrary to the claims of folks who propose to “teach” others to “heal”, the New Testament reveals no requirements, techniques, prescribed incantations, or ceremonies; and any healing that occurs is overtly and immediately attributed to the power of God in Jesus.
There are no flamboyant professional healers, except the sons of the Jewish priest, Skeva, (Ac.19:13-17), who did not fare so well in Ephesus. Peter and John (Ac.3:12,16) and Paul and Barnabas (Ac.14:8-18) had clear opportunity to take credit to themselves for miraculous healings, but uniformly rejected personal acclaim, insisting repeatedly that it was the Lord’s doing and not theirs.

“Gifts of healing” (I Cor.12:9, 28, 30) are indeed among the equipment provided by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of folks both within and outside the Body, but as noted in #25, “gifts” are not the possession of the person who employs them, but rather the Lord’s provision for the individual who is in need. James (5:14-16) assigns this responsibility to the elders (#42) of the group.

It is just as fruitless to try to develop a prescribed “methodology” as it is to identify “qualified” individuals or “appropriate” occasions for healing. The occasion is appropriate wherever / whenever there is a need: healing consistently accompanied Jesus’ own teaching. The Sabbath was no problem for him, as it was for the “official” types who opposed him (Lk.6:7, 13:14, 14:3), nor did it matter where it happened: on a public street (Lk.8:44), in someone’s home (Lk.4:38,39 and others), or in a synagogue (Lk.4:33). His instructions to his disciples (Mt.10:1, 10:8, Mk.3:15, Lk.9:1,2; 10:9) and the subsequent ministries of Philip (Ac.8), Peter and John (Ac.3,4), Paul (Ac.16:18, 28:9) and others, likewise, had no restrictions or outlines to follow.
Jesus’ examples of “technique” are just as varied. He did not even need to be present for his “word” to accomplish a healing (Mt.8:7-13, Lk.7:7, Mk.7:26-30), but at other times, he gave explicit instructions to the patient (Mk.2:11, Jn.5:8, 9:7), or addressed commands to a demon (Mt.8:28-32). But most frequently of all, he reached out and touched the suffering person – whether or not that was officially sanctioned or socially acceptable. According to the Law, a leper (Mt.8:3), a dead person (Lk.7:11) or a woman (Mk.1:31) was not to be touched. We will revisit this graciousness in the next post.
There were even occasions where the afflicted were restored by simply touching his clothing (Mt.9:20, 14:36, and parallels)!

The commissioned disciples seem to have added the practice of anointing with oil (Mk.6:13): there is no record of Jesus having done so, although he did use mud [clay] once (Jn.9:6). James (5:14) later advocated this practice. No one gives any explanation, although the purely secular example of the “good Samaritan” illustrates the common use of oil in treating wounds.
Apostles also employed a simple command (Ac.3:6, 9:34, 14:9), or a touch (Ac.28:8, 3:7, 9:12, 9:41) even, again, of a garment (Ac.19:11). Their carrying on of the healing ministry often specifically includes prayer (Ac.4:30, 9:40, Jas.5:16), although this is not mentioned in Jesus’ activity.

But what of that shibboleth of self-styled healers – the “magic word”, “faith”?
First of all, please refer back to study #1, exploring the word pistis, and remember that it is NOT an alternative term for autosuggestion! In most contexts, “trust”, “faithfulness”, or “loyalty” is a more accurate translation. Jesus only once scolded anyone for its lack: and that was in explaining to the disciples the reason for their failure to heal a demon-tormented child. He did ask the father in that scene to trust him – but that is the only record of his articulating any such condition. There are places where he credited a person’s trust / loyalty for their healing (Mt.9:22, 29; 15:28 and parallels), but the vast majority of incidents include no such statement – and the man introduced in Jn.5:13 did not even know who had healed him! In Mk,.2:5, it is the trust / loyalty of the men who carried their friend to Jesus that is commended. And in the many crowd scenes, no sorting of any kind is recorded. We have only the simple statement that “he healed them ALL.” (Mt.4:23,24; 8:16, 9:35, 12:15, 19:2, 21:14, and parallels)

Completely absent is any requirement that a person “claim” a healing of which there has been no evidence. Had the blind man in Mk.8:24 been urged to do so, Jesus would have had no occasion to offer the “second touch” that completed his restoration! And it was the irrefutable evidence of the lame man strolling around with Peter and John that so flummoxed the bigwigs at the temple (Ac.4:14). Repeatedly, observers are described as marveling at what they had SEEN.
Also absent
is any suggestion of “blaming the victim” for his condition – a concept that Jesus plainly repudiated in Jn.9:1-4 – and which is the apex of the cruelty of the modern “healing business”!

So – with all this variety, is there anything of which we may be certain?
Most assuredly!
*Jesus not only announced his purpose “to heal the broken hearted” (Lk.4:!8) in his inaugural address, but demonstrated the compassionate use of his power to restore people throughout his earthly career, whether the need was physical illness, lack of food, moral laxity, or even death!
*In assigning responsibility to his disciples, these same concerns are dominant: both before and after his departure.
*The provision by means of the Holy Spirit, for the continuation of Kingdom service on the part of its citizens included physical healing among the many assignments and enablements by which they are expected to represent their King to the world.

May we help each other to learn to do so responsibly!


Word Study #193 — Pure, Purity, Purify

June 26, 2013

We have touched on these words in previous posts: #65 includes the use of katharos in the concept of cleansing, and #32 explores the departure of New Testament teaching from general assumptions about “holiness”, as well as the references in #192 to the “purifying” of “hearts.” Nevertheless, the inclusion of three entirely separate word-families, which share areas of commonality, but also differ significantly, makes this an idea worthy of its own treatment.

The adjective hagnos, with its associated forms, the verb hagnizo, the nouns hagneia, hagnotes, and hagnismos,and also the adverb hagnOs (with omega), is the most frequently used. It can refer to ritual purity, innocence, chastity, or more general morality (L/S). Trench suggests that it might simply be an alternate form of hagios (#32), but that it probably is not, since he considers that hagios is most frequently used in relationship to God, and hagnos in reference to one’s bodily life. However, the New Testament uses of the two words do not bear out that distinction. He does concede that hagnos was also used of pagan deities, especially the (rare!!) virgin goddesses, and sees overlap in a connection to the consecration of anyone or anything to the service of a deity.

New Testament appearances of hagnos and related words fall roughly into four categories: Jewish ritual purification rites 4x (Jn.11:55, Ac.21:24, 21:26, 24:18); general moral rectitude 5x (I Tim.5:22, I Jn.3:3, II Cor.6:6, 7:11; I Pet.1:22); another 5x where it is traditionally rendered “chastity” (II Cor.11:2, I Tim.4:12, 5:2; Tit.2:5, I Pet.3:2), and simple, straightforward honesty 4x (Phil.1:16, 4:8; Jas.3:17, 4:8).

Two observations are relevant here:
First, “chastity” is not, as sometimes represented, a synonym for “celibacy”, since the references in both Peter and Titus are addressed clearly to married couples. It refers rather to honesty, fidelity, and morality in marriage; and the admonition to Timothy requires similar moral behavior of the unmarried. Classically, if the reference was to virginity, they said so, as Paul did, figuratively, in the II Cor. passage.
Secondly, James’ reference (3:17) to “wisdom from above”, and Peter’s to “obeying the truth” (I Pet.1:22) as the means of “purifying yourselves”, both probably have the idea of honesty and simplicity in view, as well as morality. We will consider this in more detail in the next word-grouping.

Most frequently translated “sincere, sincerity” (4x out of 5), eilikrines and eilikrineia, in classical usage, also referred to a “pure” substance – without alloy or admixture – hence the rendering when the reference was not a substance of “pure, simple, absolute.” In II Cor.1:12, Paul pairs eilikrineia with haploteti (honesty). The modifier tou theou probably belongs with both nouns, not just one or the other. He uses a similar construction in 2:17. God is the source (expressed by the use of the genitive case) of all of these virtues. In Phil.1:10, that sincerity / simplicity is presented as “insurance” against being led into evil, and in II Pet.3:1 as a shield against distortions of the message. This constitutes a sharp contrast with the complicated theological structures concocted over the centuries, ostensibly to “prevent error”. The New Testament remedy for error is simplicity, not complexity. It is complicated documents, contracts, or explanations that are replete with “escape clauses”, contingencies, disclaimers, and assorted other vehicles creating “wiggle room” to avoid responsibility, or renege on the delivery of promised goods or services. It is rather simplicity and sincerity that characterize the honest and genuine gospel message – or any other!

Finally, katharizo (v.), katharos (adj), katharismos, katherotes (n), which were partially treated in #65 with reference to cleansing (10x), were used much more frequently with the idea of purifying – 17x in adjectival form, 6x as a verb, and 4x as a noun. Some of these correspond to the ritual uses of hagnos: (Lk.2:22, Jn.2:6, 3:25; Heb.9:13,23; and possibly Heb.10:22).
A sharp transition appears in Paul’s message to Titus (1:15) when the latter was confronting people trying to re-impose legal requirements upon his charges: “It’s not about ceremonies or regulations!” he insists. “It’s pure [clean] PEOPLE that God desires!” Paul reiterates this idea in 2:14.
Katharos actually incorporates virtually all the shades of meaning present in the other two words.
The L/S list is fairly comprehensive, including “physically clean (not dirty); clear of admixture; free of debt, pollution, or guilt; ceremonial purity; sound, without blemish; real, genuine, pure, clean, simple; moral purity.” The verb form katharizo also included the healing of diseases., and clearing ground of weeds.

Motivation is referenced in the allusions to “pure hearts” in I Tim.1:5, 3:9; II Tim.1:3, 2:22; I Pet.1:22.
Ordinary cleanliness may be all that is intended in Rv.15:6, and an unmixed substance in Rv.21:8 and 22:1.
Mt.5:8, Rom.14:20, and Jas.1:27 may be deliberate attempts to blur the line between ceremonial purity and the leading of a life of simple devotion to God. Heb.10:22, Tit.1;15, and Ac.15:9 may also fall into that category.
In Ac.20:26, Paul simply bears testimony to his having faithfully delivered an accurate message, and thereby discharged his duty. The ball is now in their court.

How then shall we summarize this widely scattered collection of observations?
I think that a singular focus upon faithfulness is the key.
Our dear (late) brother, Vernard Eller was fond of quoting a statement attributed to Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”
If that “one thing” is determined and exclusive loyalty to the King of Kings, I can enthusiastically endorse that definition.
May we continually serve him – and each other – with “purity of heart”!

Word Study #192 — The Heart

June 22, 2013

I was surprised when it was brought to my attention that I had neglected to post a study of the New Testament uses of the word “heart”. I was even more surprised to discover that there is not a single instance among its 158 appearances where it is used with its primary meaning, “the organ in man or animal which is the center of the circulation of the blood”!
There is also no reference to “giving one’s heart to the Lord”, and only one which speaks of his “dwelling” in the hearts of the faithful (Eph.3:17). There are only two referring to anyone’s heart being “broken” – one in Lk.4:18, where it is a condition that Jesus said he was sent to heal, (and certainly not held up as the crowning achievement – like scalps on a belt – of a self-styled “evangelist”)! The statement in Ac.2:37, often used as an excuse for this attitude / effort, uses katenugesan, “to pierce with pain”, a word quite unrelated to suntetrimmenous, “broken or crushed”. The other is Paul’s scolding (Ac.21:13) of his companions’ attempt to dissuade him from going toward certain disaster in Jerusalem, complaining that they are “breaking his heart.”
So having thus disposed of a very large portion of popular (though almost totally imaginary) rhetoric, let’s have a look at what is actually said.

Ever since the earliest classical writings, the heart (kardia) was considered the seat of one’s feelings, passion, anger, fear, courage, sorrow, or joy as well as love (L/S). A somewhat parallel use of splagchna (inward parts, vital organs), 10x as a noun, an 12 as a verb, which some modern translators render as “heart” – probably because they think it more “proper” than “guts”! – the KJV said “bowels” – is more often confined to expressions of compassion or deep affection. Kardia was also assumed to function in one’s mind, intention, inclination, desire or purpose. It also referred to the center of anything, animate or inanimate: as the heart wood of a tree, the depth of the sea, or Jesus’ reference to “the heart of the earth” (Mt.12:40).
Bauer’s list is similar, suggesting “the seat of physical, mental, or spiritual life, the source of one’s volition, the faculty of thought or understanding, the organ of natural or spiritual enlightenment, moral or emotional decisions, wishes, or desires” to which he adds “the dwelling place of heavenly powers or beings”, whether good (Eph.3:17) or evil (Ac.5:3, Jn.13:2).

Most of these aspects can be found in New Testament writings. The heart may represent the repository of treasured memories (Lk.1:66, 2:19, 2:51), the source of motivation or purpose for both good and evil speech and action (Mt.5:28, 9:4, 12:34-45, 15:18-19, 24:48, Lk.6:45, Ac.5:4, 7:23, 39; Rom.1:24, 6:17), and the “location” of arguments or “reasoning” – dialogizomai – (Mk.2:6, 8; Lk.3:15, 5:22, 9:47, 24:38; Rom.10:6). Jesus and others spoke of “understanding with your hearts” (Mt.13:15, Jn. 12:40, Ac.28:27, Rom.1:21), and warnings against the hardening of hearts (lack of receptivity to truth or mercy) are not rare (Mt.19:8, Mk.3:5, 6:52, 8:17, 10:5, 16:14, Jn.12:40, Rom.2:5, Heb.3:8, 4:7).

The condition of one’s “heart” is revealed by his attitudes and behavior, whether commendable (Mt.11:29, 12:35, Lk.1:17, Lk.2:35, 8:15, Rom.6:17) or reprehensible (Mt.15:8, 19; Lk.1:51, 6:45, Ac.8:21, 22, Eph. 4:18, Heb.3:10,12; Jas.1:26, 3:14, 5:5; II Pet.2:14), as is his love for God (Mt.22:37, Mt.12:33, 22:37, Lk.10:27, Mk.12:30).

We are assured that God not only knows our hearts (Lk.16:15, Ac.1:24, 15:8; Rom.8:27, I Cor.4:5, I Thes.2:4, Heb.4:12, 8:10, 10:16; I Jn.3:20, Rv.2:23), but also guides and directs the hearts of those who seek his ways (Ac.14:17, 15:9, 16:14; Rom.10:8, I Cor.2:9, Phil.4:7, Col.3:15, I Thes.3:13, II Thes.3:5, II Pet.1:19) and even sometimes those who don’t (Rv.17:17)!
That does not, however, absolve us from the responsibility to be selective regarding what we allow to influence our hearts! (Mt.6:21 and parallel Lk.12:34; Mt.13:19 and parallels Mk.4:15, Lk.8:12; Rom.16:8, Heb.10:22, Jas.4:8, 5:8; I Pet.3:4, 15; I Jn.3:19).
Jesus urged his disciples to “settle it in your hearts” (Lk.21:14) not to worry about planning a defense when on trial for their faithfulness, but to trust in the leading that he would provide.

With the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, the necessary vigilance and confidence is both enabled and assisted (Rom 5:5, II Cor.1:22, 4:6; Gal.4:6). This, of course, includes the several references in which traditional translators have inaccurately chosen to represent parakaleo by the word “comfort”, conjuring up the image of a teddy-bear or security “blankie”. Please see #138 for a correction of that image. Jesus – and Paul – are neither offering a “blankie” nor asking the faithful to provide such artificial “comfort” to one another. They rather have in view consistent and courageous encouragement,support, and “coaching” in faithfulness (Jn.14 and 16, Col.2:2 and 4:8; Eph.6:22, II Thes.2:17).

The hearts of the faithful are also expected to be deeply involved in their interaction on a purely human level. Paul conveys heartfelt concern for his readers, especially when there has been any misunderstanding (Rom.9:2, 10:1; II Cor.2:4, 3:2-3, 6:11, 7:3, 8:16; Phil.1:7, I Thes.2:17), and expects commensurate sincerity within their respective groups (II Cor.5:12), both in their worship (Eph.5:19, Col.3:16) and their more ordinary affairs (Eph.6:5, Col.3:22, I Thes.3:5, I Tim.1:5, Rom.2:15, I Cor.7:37, II Cor.9:7) as does Peter (I Pet.1:22).
Jesus had also recognized normal human emotions in his farewell (Jn.14 and 16), and did not condemn them, but gave instructions for dealing with them. This is seen also in Mt.18:35.

The heart is represented as the source of one’s deliberate commitment to faithfulness (Mk.11:23, Lk.24:25, Ac.8:37, 11:23, 13:22; Rom.2:29, 10:9-10; Eph.3:17, I Thes.3:13,Heb.10:22, 13:9, Jas.4:8, I Jn.3:19-21) as well as of the choice not to listen and obey (II Cor.3:15, 5:12, and the quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mt.13:15, Jn. 12:40, Ac.28:27).

Here are a few other random observations, in no particular order – some surprising, some just interesting – for you to explore and “reason [discuss] in your hearts”!
* James’ instructions to the folks teetering on the brink of unfaithfulness (4:8) to “wash their hands and purify their (own) hearts”! Haven’t we always been told that was an almost magical act of God connected in some esoteric way to Jesus’ death? Although Peter in Ac.15:9 did attribute it to God’s act in response to faithfulness, the verbs in this instance are both active aorist imperatives!
* “Pure” hearts are evidenced by (I Tim.1:5) “charity” [love – agape] and (II Tim.2:22) “calling on the Lord” – which is the “fuel” for “fleeing youthful passions, and pursuing justice, faithfulness, love, and peace” and “avoiding useless arguments (v.23).
* The “umpire” brabeueto when one’s heart must deal with an uncertain situation (Col.3:15) is the peace of God. How would that affect your choices or decisions?
* Does the “location” of our “treasure” (Mt.6:21, Lk.12:34) affect our reaction to situations like the one described in Rv.18, when the economy tanks and everything falls apart? Is Jesus’ warning in Lk.21:34 connected to this?
* In Rom.1:21-32, Paul clearly describes the depraved condition of the “hearts” of the unfaithful as their choice, not their “original condition”. Why do people who are so fond of quoting Romans for their “doctrines” consistently ignore this?

* And finally , please review the beautiful effects of the unity resulting from the Holy Spirit’s activity around Pentecost (#187). In Ac.2:46, Luke describes the general mood of joyful celebration as they shared their meals “with rejoicing and simple hearts.” He goes into more detail in Ac.4:32-34, “the multitude of those who had become faithful was one heart and one life [identity; traditionally “soul”], and freely shared all that they had, until “there was no one needy among them.” He never pretends that there were no bumps in the road – see the very next chapter if you think that the account is whitewashed!

But the community that resulted was mightily attractive to observers.
A Body was being formed – described later by Paul as having only one Head – the Lord Jesus – but here Luke concentrates on their one heart. That was / is just as essential to the interaction of many widely-varied members, and probably the most undeniable evidence of the hand of God.
May we continue to serve him – and each other – with one heart!

Word Study #191 — “Spiritual” but not “Religious”???

June 17, 2013

Whenever I hear someone make this very common claim, I feel a need for an extended conversation in order to figure out exactly what he intends to communicate. Unfortunately, the phrase is often intended as a conversation stopper, rather than a starter, which seems primarily to say “It’s none of your business”. I can understand that sentiment: I too reject the onslaught of doctrinaire eager-beavers with their carefully proof-texted checklists. But I recognize that that response does not address the need for sympathetic mutual understanding.
So, although I realize that such a speaker does not usually draw his definitions from this source, I have chosen to approach the issue by examining the New Testament uses of both words, each of which carries both positive and negative implications, depending on the context. As we saw in studies #52 and 53 on the word “spirit”, (which should form a significant part of the present investigation), the latitude of the meaning of “spiritual” is wide: ranging all the way from “things pertaining to or administered by the Holy Spirit” through “the innermost thoughts and purposes of a human being” to “the nefarious operation of evil spirits.” So it is entirely appropriate to inquire of those who claim “spirituality”, to “what kind” they are referring!

The adjective pneumatikos, with its related adverb pneumatikOs (replacing the omicron with omega), is the only source for the translation “spiritual, spiritually”. They appear respectively 25x and 2x in the New Testament writings.
Trench has a helpful essay on the classical distinctions between sarkikos, psuchikos, and pneumatikos: the former referring to “the flesh” (see #85) – one’s bodily human functions and existence, the second to his (somewhat higher) faculties of reasoning: the mind or intellect (#28), all quite distinct from the Platonic idea of “soul” which has been co-opted and distorted by some purveyors of “doctrine”; and the latter, very rare in classical literature, pertaining to connectedness with the divine. Paul appears to make a similar distinction in I Cor.2:13-15 and 3:1.
L/S, on the other hand, simply lists “anything moved by air or breath, an immaterial being, a school of physicians that referred all questions of health to pneumatic experiences.” All of these make a clear distinction between the physical, mental, and “spiritual”, unlike those who attribute “spiritual” achievements to various sorts of physical and/or mental exercises or contortions.

Bauer lists five different aspects of “spiritual” in New Testament usage. (The list is his, the associated references are mine:
1. It may intend simply the “inner life” of a human being, in contrast to somatikos or psuchikos (I Cor. 15:44,46. ) Note that here Paul specifically and intentionally excludes the pagan idea of a pre-existent “spiritual” state.
2. It may refer to events directly caused, or individuals led, gifted, or influenced by the Holy Spirit (Rom.1:11, I Cor.2:15, 3:1, 12:1, 14:1, 37; Gal.6:1, Eph.1:3, 5:19; Col.1:19, 3:16).
3. It may describe a supernatural state of being, such as resurrection (I Cor.15:46), or
4. things or matters that are in contrast to those of merely earthly origin (Rom.15:27, I Cor.12:13,14; 9:11).
5. It may refer to impersonal things that nevertheless serve more-than-ordinary purposes (Rom.7:14, I Cor.10:3,4; I Pet.2:5).
In addition to Bauer’s list, there are also references to overtly evil beings or influence (Eph.6:12, Rv.11:8).

The supernatural or paranormal may include genuinely healthy “spirituality”, but may just as readily have less beneficent provenance. The serious need for careful discernment concerning spirits or spiritual influences is explored in the earlier studies mentioned above.

Although it is represented by more discrete words (3), “religion” is mentioned much more rarely in the New Testament.
Threskeia (L/S: religious cult, worship or ritual; religious formalism, service of a god, superstition) refers primarily to ceremonies and rituals. It appears only 4x, three of which (Ac.26:5, Jas.1:26, Col.2:18) have a distinctly negative flavor. The adjective threskos (used only in Jas.1:26) is rather ambiguous, but then James uses the very same word (1:27) when he describes “pure religion”, which consists of merciful care for widows and orphans, and exemplary living. With this single exception, however, one could hardly be blamed for disassociating himself from threskeia.

Eusebes / eusebos, on the other hand, (L/S: loyalty, respect, reverence; living or acting piously toward one’s parents, gods, or members of one’s household) is hard to criticize. Usually translated “devout” or “godly”, its 6 appearances are all commendations (Ac.10:2, 10:7, 22:12; II Tim. 3:12, Tit.2:12, II Pet.2:9). The eu- prefix (“well” or “good”) simply adds weight to the stem derived from the verb
sebomai for which L/S lists “to revere or worship, pay honor or respect”; Bauer notes that “it was applied to pagans who accepted the monotheism of Judaism, and attended the synagogue, but did not obligate themselves to the whole Jewish Law.” It appears 5x translated “worship” (Mt.15:9, Ac.16:14, 18:7, 18:13, 19:27), 3x translated “devout” (Ac.13;50, 17:4, 17:7), and only once “religious” (Ac.13:43).

That is the sum total of New Testament references to “religion/religious”! One could even make a case that it is not a very “religious” book at all!

So where does this leave us? With the familiar caveat, “It depends entirely upon what you mean by what you say!”
If by “spiritual” you intend a constant effort to be led by the Holy Spirit to understand, participate, and share in the life of Jesus’ Kingdom, you are my brother / sister, and we have much to share.
If, on the other hand, you intend by contrived physical or mental gymnastics trying to tap into some other type of “spiritual” knowledge or activity, thanks, but no thanks. John’s advice in I Jn.4:1-6 is sound.
If your avoidance of being “religious” involves recoiling from the trappings of (often empty) ceremony, the cut-and-dried “doctrines” upon which the guardians of self-aggrandizing institutions insist, and (often-abusive) hierarchies (which Jesus himself rejected), you join a millennia- long parade of earnest, loyal Christ-followers who have done likewise. Welcome to their ranks!

But do not forget that a vitally necessary component of genuine following (see #101) is identification with a Body of fellow-followers. Neither Jesus nor his disciples ever advocated the lonely, self-centered, mystical isolationism that has attracted sincere but misguided “seekers” periodically through the ages.
James’ definition of “true religion” is far more practical than either ceremonial or contemplative. It is clearly focused upon the needs of others, after the pattern set by the Lord Jesus himself, and completely different from either institutional or individualistic prescriptions.

It should therefor be incumbent upon anyone using this vocabulary, whether with positive or negative intent, both to clarify his own assumptions, and to proceed with caution before evaluating someone else’s choices!

As always, please remember that I welcome serious dialogue on this or any other subject.

Word Study #190 — “Bought” and “Sold”

June 12, 2013

Another concept that has been blown completely out of proportion in supposedly “Christian” teaching and hymnody is the often parroted but never examined phrase, “bought with Jesus’ blood”.
The phrase occurs only once in the entire New Testament (Ac.20:28).  It refers to the church, and not to individuals, and is itself  a poor translation of a word that appears in only one other, quite different, context (I Tim.3:13) regarding the acquiring of one’s reputation!
Jesus never represented himself as having “bought” – or intended to buy – anyone or anything.  All of the gospel uses of any of the five Greek words traditionally translated “buy” or “bought” refer to simple commerce.
Peter (I Pet.2:1) and Paul (I Cor.6:20, 7:23) refer to the faithful having been “bought”– but neither mentions anything about a medium of exchange, the occasion, nor the need for such a purchase, and they uniformly use plural forms in reference to it (see #142).  Neither do they indicate, or even speculate upon from whom the “purchase” was made  (more of this later).
Actually, these three references, ideologically, would fit better with the study of  redemption/ransom (#61) than they do here.

We are dealing here with five different words.  By far the most frequently used is the simplest: agorazo, used 30 times and always translated “buy”, is obviously related to agora, the marketplace in every city or town.  L/S has only very simple definitions to suggest:  “to buy in a market” or “to frequent (hang-around in) the marketplace.”  The New Testament appearances of agorazo are, for the most part, just as simple.  People go out and buy food, or other items.  It also applies to the activity of the merchants that Jesus drove out of the temple (Mt.21:12, Mk.11:15, Lk.19:45), to the temple rulers buying a field with Judas’ money (Mt.27:7), and the lament of sellers of luxury goods in Rv.18:11 when the economy crashes and nobody buys their wares.  There are only three anomalies, found in the epistles mentioned above,where the clear intent is to establish the Lord’s ownership of his people, and their consequent obligation to honor, obey, and serve him.  There are also three places in the Revelation where, inexplicably, traditional translators changed their rendering to “redeem” (#61) and one of which  (Rv.5:19) is the only other mention of “blood”. These three are also treated entirely in the plural.

Emporeuomai, used only once (Jas.4:13) –  although there are a few uses of related words – seems to be somewhat more business related.  L/S lists “to travel on business, to trade, to be a merchant, to make gain”, but also “to over-reach, to cheat”!   You may recognize the word “emporium” as an English cognate, through its Latin equivalent.

Exagorazo, more correctly translated (4x) as “redeem”, is treated in #61.  The alternative “to buy from” is mentioned in L/S, but it is not used that way in the New Testament.

Ktaomai, rendered “obtain” once (Ac.22:28), “possess” 3x (Lk.18:12, 21:9, I Thes.4:4), “provide” once (Mt.10:9), and “purchase” twice (Ac.1:18, 8:20), relates more to property than to people in L/S summaries, and at least as much to the owning or holding of property as to its acquisition.

Pepoieomai, used only twice (Ac.20:28, I Tim.3:13) is, as noted above, poorly translated. L/S offers “to keep safe or preserve, to keep or save for oneself, to procure, secure, achieve, or lay up.”

Please note that none of these have anything whatever to do with the satisfaction of a debt or any other penalty (see #188). That sort of “payment”, referring exclusively to either borrowed money or taxes, is represented by apodidomi, which is only rarely used of purchase (Ac.5:8 – land; Ac.7:9 – Joseph, into slavery, and Heb.10:16 – Esau’s birthright).

Another element usually overlooked in this discussion is that in order for anything to be bought, it has to be for sale!  Who is the seller?  And who or what is being sold?
Here, we are dealing with three words.
Apodidomi, as noted above, is usually connected with payments other than purchase.  L/S includes “to render what is due, to pay a debt, bribe, or taxes, the yield of land, to concede, allow, exhibit, or display.”  This is seen in its use in Mt.18:25-34, Lk.7:42, 12:51 of debt; in Mt.11:21, Mk.12;17, Lk.20:25, Rom.13:7 of taxes; in Lk. 10:35 for service rendered, and in Mt.21:41 as rent for agricultural land.  None of these refer to anything that Jesus did.

Piprasko, and its earlier form pernemi, (L/S: the sale of slaves, to export captives for sale,to sell for a bribe; much later used also of merchandise;  passive: to be betrayed or ruined), occurs only 9x.  Once it describes the sale of a debtor (Mt.18:25), twice of real estate (Ac.4:34, 5:4), twice of other belongings (Mt. 13:46, Ac.2:45), 3x of perfume (Mt.26:9, Mk.14:5, Jn.12:5), and once (Rom.7:14) of Paul’s lament of being “sold under sin (KJV)” – pempramenos hupo hamartian would be better translated “sold (into slavery) by sin [shortcomings, failures]”. Hupo is often used of agency.  Otherwise, there is no hint of who or what did the selling;  the participle is passive.  Particularly in Romans, Paul tends to “personify” the idea of “sin / failure / shortcoming”.

Poleo, (L/S: to sell or offer for sale, to carry on business or trade, to give up or betray, to farm-out or let-out taxes, offices, or priesthoods) appears 21 times, and applies consistently to ordinary – or underhanded – commerce.

I believe, therefore, that this preponderance of evidence demands that a serious student reconsider the choice of words in the translation of the few isolated instances where, mis-using three different words, the inventors of “doctrine” have contrived “proofs” of Jesus having “bought” individuals as from a slave-market.  (Do you really think he would have patronized a “store” run by his arch-enemy?!!)
It is necessary to recognize instead that the citizens of his Kingdom have been set free to serve the Lord, not by some sort of contrived commercial transaction (worldly or other-worldly), but by the executive order of the King of Kings!
Thanks be to God!

Word Study #189 — Myth

June 3, 2013

The term “myth” has been seriously misunderstood, and consequently misinterpreted, in Christian circles along the entire “conservative-liberal” spectrum. Some folks find its application to Biblical study highly offensive, assuming the word to be derogatory; others totally fail to see why there should be any problem with it, since they neither make that assumption nor are particularly bothered with it.

Historical scholars made a grave error when they labeled their research of both Old Testament and New Testament archeology as “de-mythologizing” the Biblical narratives without explaining their definition of the word. Giving these folks all possible benefit of any doubt, I suspect that at least some of them did not intend to cast aspersion upon the factual accuracy of those records, but rather to place them carefully in their historical context. I am equally certain that others, some of whom I have encountered personally, did have much more destructive intent. The furor which arose as a result, however, probably was caused primarily by a failure to understand that the vocabulary of the disciplines of anthropology and archeology is descriptive, and not necessarily derogatory.
To the cultural anthropologist, “myth” simply denotes the narrative, either historical or fanciful or some combination thereof, upon which the members of a specific cultural group base their self-understanding, their mores, and their very existence as a people. Their use of the word “myth” itself, makes no judgment as to the historical veracity of the events to which the “myth” refers.
It is the function of the narrative that is in view: whether it describes the emergence of humankind from a hole in the ground or the world on the back of a giant sea turtle, the glorification (and sanitization of the behavior) of the “founding fathers” of the U.S., the antics of assorted pagan deities, or the treasured narratives of the Christian (or any other) faith tradition. ALL are “myths”, in the anthropological sense, since their function is to define the society in question, with total disregard to the opinions of scientists, pseudo-scientists, historians, or anyone else.

This is in harmony with the oldest definitions of muthos listed by L/S: Homer used it of “any public word or speech; a fact, threat, or command; counsel or advice; reasoning, saying, or rumor”. Only much later did muthos morph from the sense of “a tale, story, or narrative” into “fiction: the opposite of historic truth, which is represented by logos; legend, myth; the (literary) plot of a comedy or tragedy.” By the first century, the sense of “fiction” had become predominant.

The five uses of muthos in the New Testament clearly intend the latter sense. It appears in I Tim.1:4, 4:7; II Tim.4:4, Titus 1:14, and II Pet.1:16, always in a negative light. It does not occur at all in the LXX.
Interestingly, in his letter to Titus, Paul warns specifically against “Jewish fables [myths],” connecting them with people’s man-made regulations, and “turning away from the truth”. Folks who have been encouraged to supplement their understanding of New Testament teaching with the fanciful conjectures of earlier and contemporary Jewish writers would do well to heed this warning.
Peter is even more specific, as he emphasizes to his readers that the burden of his teaching about “the power and presence of the Lord Jesus” was NOT based upon “cleverly-devised myths”, but rather upon his own personal experience! Peter often did lean toward the practical, as he sought to understand and to follow the Lord. And the sharing of actual experience was always – and is still – the most valid “evangelism!”
Paul seems to have discerned that Timothy was facing similar dangers. In I Tim.1:4, he connects “myths [fables]” with “interminable genealogies”, the preoccupation with which threatened to distract people from simple obedience to the truth. There are still groups that want to check a person’s “pedigree” before accepting the veracity of his commitment. (I have been their victim!)

In I Tim.4:7, “bebelous (L/S: irreligious, scornful, profane) and graodeis (a derogatory term for old women) muthous” most likely refers to any notions that would interfere with the immediately following advice: “Discipline yourself toward godliness!”

Paul’s second letter to  Timothy (4:4) describes people who simply avoid or ignore the truth, in favor of muthous ektropesontai – “turning aside to myths.” Might this apply to folks who feel a need to obsess over figuring out elaborate explanations for every un-answered question? Speculation can be so much easier and more entertaining than simple obedience!

So yes: it it absolutely clear that “myths” – in the literary sense – can present a grave danger to faithfulness. We need to take the apostles’ warning quite seriously.
But let us also avoid getting hung-up on the technical vocabulary of a scholarly discipline from which we could gain valuable historical insight. Evaluate the effects of their “discoveries”, rather than rejecting them out-of-hand because of the terminology they choose. (And if you are an historian, please find or invent a less-threatening word!)

To all the faithful, be sure to choose carefully which will be the “myths” (in the anthropological sense) that will inform and govern your life, behavior, and indeed, your very being!