Word Study #193 — Pure, Purity, Purify

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”!

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