Word Study #200 — Of Stewards and Stewardship

August 29, 2013

It’s the fall of the year as I am writing this: the time when “churches” of nearly every stripe gear up for their annual “stewardship campaigns.” The title, I am convinced, is chosen to give a slightly more “sanctified” flavor to plain-old, manipulative fund-raising: but nobody is really fooled. They all know it takes “big bucks” to run big institutions, and to pay hired staff to run big programs, so somehow the “country-club dues” need to masquerade as one’s “spiritual stewardship obligation.” Dust off the much-misinterpreted parables of “talents” and such, along with the tear-jerking “widow’s mite”, and here we go again!

Is that “laying it on too thick”? Maybe – but I don’t think so. None of the three word-groups referring to “stewardship” in the New Testament carry any implication whatever of funding salaries, real estate, or programs.

The most common word group consists of oikonomos – a person – (L/S: one who manages a household, the steward of an estate, manager, administrator, the title of a state financial officer, housekeeper, housewife); oikonomia – the job – (L/S: the management of a household, thrift, direction, regulation, arrangement, government proceedings, transaction, legal contract; Thayer: management or oversight of another’s property; Bauer: being entrusted with a commission); and oikonomeo – the verb – (L/S: to order, regulate, manage, administer, dispense, or handle). These are all connected with oikos (L/S: house, dwelling, home; household goods or substance, members of a household or a ruling family; estate, inheritance). Oikodomeo ( building, edification) is another word entirely (note the insertion of the “d”), and is not connected. Sorry, folks: a “building fund” doesn’t qualify!

Only Luke, among the gospel writers, uses this term, once in a positive sense (12:42) and once in a negative (16:1-8 – a very puzzling parable which I will not attempt to exegete), both concerning individuals entrusted with the management of someone else’s property.
Most of the usage in the epistles concerns the faithful performance of responsibility assigned by the Lord. Paul speaks of “stewardship” of “the mystery of God” (see #57), which he defines as the inclusion of both Jew and Gentile into one Body (I Cor.4:1, and Eph.3:9, where it was incorrectly rendered “fellowship”); of “the grace of God” (#60) (Eph.3:2, incorrectly translated “dispensation”, and also used by Peter in I Pet.4:10); of “the gospel” (#67) (I Cor.9:17, also incorrectly rendered “dispensation”), and simply “of God” (Col.1:25, Tit.1:7).
Each of these references the careful, accurate and responsible handling of the message with which he / they/ we are entrusted, as well as its faithful embodiment.
Eph.1:10 looks forward to the final consummation when everything in heaven and earth finally acknowledges its rightful Owner and Lord.
In Rom.16:23, the same word is used as the title of Erastus, the city treasurer.
In Gal.4:2, it refers to the guardian of a minor child, in combination with the next word.

The second cluster of words comprises primarily references to permission granted by a superior authority, whether spiritual or secular. It includes epitropos – the person – (L/S: one to whom the charge of anything is entrusted; a steward, trustee or administrator; the executor of an estate; a governor, viceroy, guardian or protector); epitrope – the task – L/S:an arbiter in a lawsuit; the office of a Roman procurator; guardianship, stewardship); and epitrepo – the verb – (L/S: to bequeath, commit, or entrust; to refer a legal issue; to permit, allow, or command). Although like the former group, they involve the management of people or property not one’s own, the most common New Testament usage is of simple permission. Traditional translators often used the old English “suffer” (10x) in the sense of “allow” (Mt.8:21,31; 19:8; Lk.8:32, 9:59; Mk.10:4; Ac.21:39; I Tim.2:12), as well as other expressions of the granting of a request (Mt.5:13, Jn.19:38; Ac.21:40, 26:1,12; 27:3, 28:16) or a hope for the Lord’s permission (Lk.9:61, I Cor.14:34, 16:7, Heb.6:3). Individuals are designated with specific assignments in Mt.20:8, Lk.8:3, and Gal.4:2. Only in the Matthew and Luke references just cited is the word “steward” traditionally used, but the original word is the same.

The function (performing an assigned task) is also present in the usage of huperetes (L/S: a servant or attendant, a helper in any work, an assistant, a petty officer). Trench calls this a military word, and connects it to diakonos in a civilian context (see #79) , often rendered “minister”, which is an occasional translation of huperetes as well. In the New Testament, it is applied to low-level government officials such as guards (Mt.5:25, 26:58; Mk.14:54,65; Jn.7:32,45,46; 18:3,12,18, 22; 19:6, Ac.5:22,26); to other individuals commissioned to any sort of service (Lk.1:2, 4:20; Ac.13:5, 26:16) and in Jesus’ statement (Jn.18:36) contrasting his “servants” with the forces of a military “king”.

In view of this, what, then, is the proper understanding of “stewardship” or “stewards”?
In every case, the word refers to responsibility conferred by a superior: delegated authority over people or property not one’s own.
That responsibility can be revoked (Lk.12,16), if abused or otherwise not faithfully handled.
It definitely requires an accounting, as illustrated in parables that do not specifically use the word: Mt.21:33-41, Mk.12:2-9, Lk.20:9-16; Mt.25:2-25, Lk.19:12-25.

It is entirely in order that we should regularly help each other to examine the faithfulness of our handling (“stewardship”) of all that has been entrusted to us, taking meticulous care that it is administered according to the orders of the One to whom “everything / everyone in heaven and earth belongs”!

Whether or not that includes any particular fund-raising campaign, is a question that needs to be asked – and answered – frequently , very seriously, and with extreme caution.

“Just as each one has received a spiritual gift [empowerment], serve each other with it, as good trustees [stewards] of the many-faceted grace of God!” (I Pet.4:10) remembering that
(I Cor.4:2) “It is required [expected] of caretakers [stewards] that a person be found faithful!”


Word Study #199 — Search, Study, Read

August 19, 2013

In the course of the previous study three words that would seem to the reader of English somewhat synonymous with “seeking” were conspicuous by their absence! Perhaps they may be regarded as either the methodology or the direction of the “seeking”, or even its result, since earnest seeking after the Lord and his ways is never finished. In any case, they are worthy of our attention.
Search” appears in the New Testament much more rarely than “seek”, although it encompasses four separate Greek words. In none of these do we find any implication of searching for an object, person, or condition of life, as was common with zeteo (“seek”) , except for the single incident (Mt.2:8) where Herod commanded the Magi to “search” (exetazo)for the child Jesus, and report back to him. Even there, the primary concern was for information.

The predominant word, ereunao, (L/S: to inquire or search, to examine into a question, or to perform exploratory surgery) appears 6x, and is exclusively rendered “search”. Three of those involve careful perusal of the Scriptures (Jn.5:32, 7:52; I Pet.1:11), which at that time would of necessity have been the LXX; and three refer to God being fully apprised of the condition of people’s “hearts” [motivations] (Rom.8:27, I Cor.2:10, Rv.2:23). Peter uses the intensified prefixed form, exereunao, in I Pet.1:10, of the urgency of the prophets’ investigations – the only New Testament use of that word.
Exetazo, (L/S: to scrutinize, examine closely, to question a person intently, or approve by test), in addition to the Mt.2 reference above, appears with two other translations: Jn.21:12 when the disciples “did not dare to ask Jesus who he was”, and Mt.10:11 where they were instructed to inquire for a worthy person with whom to stay, on their journeys.
The fourth word, anakrino, is rendered “search” only once (Ac.17:11), of the Bereans’ “searching the Scriptures” to authenticate Paul’s message. L/S lists “examine closely, interrogate (legally), to examine one’s qualifications for a position, to dispute or wrangle” as alternatives. Most of the New Testament uses refer to courtroom examinations (Lk.23:!4, Ac.4:9, 12:19, 24:8, 28:18) or other sorts of evaluation (I Cor.2:15, 4:3,4; 9:3, 10:25,27; 14:24).

The idea of “searching the Scriptures”, quite common in the usage outlined above, leads logically to the idea of study. Oddly, that (English) word only appears twice in the New Testament, each time from a different Greek source. This seems strange, until one realizes that most “study” in ancient times was done as the “disciple” of a teacher (see #51), and not independently. Notice the comment of observers in Jn.7:15, when they wondered how Jesus came by his expertise, “never having [studied] been a disciple.” The words rendered “study” by traditional translators both incorporate a sense of diligent effort, not simply “book-learning”.
Spoudazo (L/S: to be busy, eager, in haste or hurry; to pay serious attention; to work hard, to study, lecture, or teach), is rendered “study” only in II Tim.2:15. All its other appearances simply imply serious, diligent effort (Gal.2:10, Eph.4:3, I Thes.2:17, II Tim.4:9,21; Tit.3:12, Heb.4:11, II Pet.1:15, 3:14).
Philotimeomai (L/S: to be ambitious, to aspire, to strive eagerly, – or literally, to seek after honor), appears only three times: II Cor.5:9 traditionally translated “labor”, referring to Paul’s aspiration to be pleasing to God; Rom.15:20, to his “striving” to preach in places where the gospel had not previously been carried; and I Thes.4:11 where it was rendered “study”, but where if one considers the entire thought in vv.11 and 12, it plainly advocated pursuing the goal of a peaceful life.

“Reading”, of course, for most of us, is an integral part of “study.” It represents only a single Greek word: the verb anaginosko (33x) and the noun anagnosis (3x). Early in its history, before Homer, it signified “to know for certain, to recognize, to persuade or convince”, but as literacy became more widespread, there was a shift to “recognizing written characters,” and thence to “read, or read aloud”

While “scribes” were customarily employed for legal issues or documents (rather like a modern notary), or, in the case of the Jewish culture, for sifting and interpreting the intricacies of their Law, basic literacy was not rare in the first century Roman world. Luke’s notation that Jesus went into the synagogue and “stood up to read” (Lk.4:16) implies that this was customary behavior. There was no objection until he started to preach! It was his message that bothered them. See also the invitation extended to Paul and Barnabas (Ac.13:15) in Antioch.

Jesus’ challenge to the scribes who opposed him, “Haven’t you read …..?” (Mt.12:3, and parallels Mk.2:25 and Lk.6:3; Mt.12:5, 19:4, 21:16; Mt.21:43 and parallel Mk.12:10; Mt.22:31 and parallel Mk.12:26; Mt.24:15 and parallel Mk.13:14), and to the young lawyer (Lk.10:26) did not assume a negative reply. Of course they had read the accounts to which Jesus referred! They prided themselves on their “knowledge of the Law”, had only scorn for those with less expertise (Jn.7:49), and delighted in debating all of its many irrelevant details. I am sure you have encountered their contemporary “cousins” who can quote “Bible verses” by the yard – if not the mile! – and offer “proof-texts for the most intricate of “doctrines” (see #47), but remain not only blissfully unaware of Jesus’ own standard of “judgment” (clearly outlined in Matt.25!), but scornful of folks who consider it vital to faithfulness! No, “having read” does not necessarily assume understanding!
With similar attitudes, passersby read the sign Pilate had attached to the cross, and complained about its wording! (Jn.19:20)
There is ample evidence of the custom of public reading from the Law and the prophets in a synagogue meeting (Ac.13:27, 15:21, and II Cor,3:14,15). Paul asserts that, just as it was for the scribes who argued with Jesus, familiarity should have enabled them to recognize him: but something akin to Moses’ use of a veil (see Citizens of the Kingdom, chapter 8) prevented their understanding.
Philip (Ac.8:28-32) “heard” the Ethiopian traveler reading from Isaiah’s prophecy, and quickly recognized what he was reading. Many newly literate people find it easier, especially in a foreign language, to understand what they are reading if they read it aloud.
To Timothy, Paul sent instructions for “reading, exhortation, and teaching” to be emphasized among the brethren (I Tim.4:13).
He also directed that his own letters be read in the churches, and passed around to neighboring groups (II Cor.1:13, Eph.3:4, Col.4:16, I Thes.5:27).
John strikes a similar theme in Rv.1:3.
Perhaps these are adaptations from the Jewish synagogue practice.
The writing and reading of letters was the normal method of communication for many centuries, before our electronic age! See Ac.15:31. They provided a vital link, for instruction, for maintaining affectionate contact (II Cor.3:2) with scattered brethren, and even served as official communications (Ac.23:34).

So by all means, let those who “seek” for the Lord and his ways include “searching”, “study”, and “reading” in their “seeking” , as well as the concerted efforts described in the studies of discipleship (#51) and “following instructions” (#55).
Be aware of the context of all these admonitions, which are almost uniformly directed to a group of seekers after faithfulness. Be aware also that the shared discernment of a faithful brotherhood is vital to the faithful results of any search.
May we help each other toward that end!

Word Study #198 — What, or Whom, do you Seek?

August 14, 2013

The answer to this question reveals a lot about a person. Although it represents only one single Greek word in the New Testament, zeteo and three prefixed forms, its 98 appearances encompass quite a variety of intensity – from casually “looking for” a person or an object (Mk.1:37, 3:32), or, more urgently, parents looking for a lost child (Lk.2:45,48,49) , to God “seeking” (Jn.4:22) for honest and earnest worshipers! There is an even greater variety of objects mentioned: a “home” sought by an evil spirit (Mt.12:43), material security (Lk.12:29), Judas’ efforts to betray Jesus (Mk.14:11), the rulers’ wish to kill him (Jn.5:16,18), the Lord himself (Ac.17:27), personal profit (I Cor.10:33), glory and honor and immortality (Rom.2:7), and many more. Clearly identifiable lexical clues would be helpful in discerning both the urgency of the “seeking” and its positive or negative connotations, but this is one of those aggravating situations where there are none, and we have only the contexts from which to make a call.

For example, on numerous occasions when great crowds were “seeking” for Jesus (Mk.1:37, Lk.4:32, Jn.1:38, 6:24,26; 7:11, 34,36; 8:21, 11:56, 13:33) most of them were probably just curious. However, exactly the same word is used of those who were eagerly “seeking” healing for themselves or others (Lk.5:18, 6:19), the scribes who were “seeking”to trap him in technicalities of disputes about their “law” (Mk.14:1, Lk.11:54), the mob “seeking” to arrest him (Mt.21:46, Mk.12:12, Lk.20:19, Jn.10:39), and the authorities “seeking” an excuse to kill him (Lk.22:2, Jn.5:16, 7:1, 25, 30; I:37,40: 11:8), Judas’ betrayal (Mt.26:16, Mk.14:11, Lk.22:6), and Pilate’s half-hearted effort to release him (Jn.19:12)!

Much more significant – and amazing! – is Jesus’ statement in Jn.4:23, noted above, that the Father himself is also “seeking”, for people to worship him in spirit and in truth, and representing himself, in the Lk.15 parables, as determinedly “seeking” for lost or wandering individuals (also Lk.19:10, Mt.18:12). This is no casual curiosity! It is an effort so determined as to involve willingness to pay an incredibly high price for its realization!

A similar attitude is reflected in the parables of the merchant “seeking” fine pearls (Mt.13:45) and, although the word is not used there, the finder of buried treasure (v.44), which support Jesus’ admonition to “seek the Kingdom of God and his justice” (Mt.6:33, Lk.12:31) above all else. Here, he introduces a scene of sharp contrast, as he describes the “seeking” of the “nations/Gentiles” [people outside the disciple group] for the necessities (or luxuries) of life (Lk.12:22-30, Mt.6:25-32), a contrast repeated in the several statements regarding the “saving” and “losing” of one’s earthly life and possessions (Lk.17:33, Jn.5:30,44). We see the same idea with different vocabulary in Mt.16:25, 10:38, Jn.12:25. In each of these cases, the “seeking” appears to imply the primary focus of one’s life and efforts.

Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to assume that every appearance of zeteo carries such weight. The listings in L/S also include “to inquire, investigate, or examine; to seek to do something; to require or demand; to conduct a judicial inquiry”, none of which would automatically involve a strong degree of personal commitment. These senses also occur in the New Testament. When Andrew and his companion “followed” Jesus home from John the Baptist’s meeting, they probably had nothing very monumental in mind (Jn.1:38), only asking “where are you staying?”. Jesus used zeteo regarding a discussion in which several disciples were trying to figure out what he meant (Jn.16:19). The Lord instructed Ananias to “inquire” for Paul in Damascus (Ac.9:11), and Cornelius’ emissaries to “inquire” for Peter in Joppa (Ac.10:19,21). The same word is used of Elymas’ opposition to Paul (Ac.13:8), and his later search for a guide (13:11) after losing his sight, of the decision by Paul’s party to sail for Macedonia (Ac.16:10), and the sailors’ efforts to abandon ship during the storm (Ac.27:30).
Zeteo carries the sense of “require or demand” in the Jews’ repeated demands for a “sign” (Mt.16:4, Mk.8:11, Lk.11:16), in Jesus’ statement that more will be required of those to whom much has been entrusted (Lk.12:48), and his warning that responsibility for all the unjust persecution of God’s messengers (Lk.11:50-51) would be charged against those who opposed him.

Parallel uses of zeteo can be found in the epistles. Reinforcing his Areopagos sermon (Ac.17:27) comment that all people everywhere were expected to “seek the Lord”, Paul returns to that theme in Rom.10:20, supplementing it with the admonition to “seek for glory and honor and immortality” (Rom.2:7), “seek to excel for the edifying of the Body” (I Cor.14:12), and “seek those things that are above, where Christ is”(Col.3:1). Perhaps more significantly, he cautions against selfish “seeking” (I Cor10:24, 13:5, Phil.2:21), and holds up his own behavior as an example (I Cor.10:33, II Cor.12:14, Gal.1:10, I Thes.2:6).

Peter, in his turn, urges his readers to “seek peace, and pursue it!” (I Pet.3:11), pairing zeteo with dioko, which is used of relentless pursuit or persecution – certainly not a casual affair! Earlier, Peter had used the prefixed (emphatic) forms, ekzeteo and epizeteo, to describe the urgent “seeking” of the ancient prophets to understand about Jesus’ coming (I Pet.1:10,11). He returns to the unprefixed zeteo (5:8) to describe the devil “seeking” for people to “devour” – but that certainly does not represent a reduction in intensity!

The writer to the Hebrews also makes more use of the prefixed forms: ekzeteo in 11:6 and 12:17, and epizeteo in 11:14 and 13:14, all of which carry a flavor of urgent effort. Several of these are supplemented with a form of spoudazo (to be eager, in haste, or serious; to be earnest, to study, lecture or teach, to pursue zealously), with which we will deal in more detail in the next study.

There is certainly a tone of desperation present in Rv..9:6, which was somewhat prefigured in Jn.7:34,36; 8:21, 13:33.

Much harder to characterize are Jesus’ enigmatic statements to his challengers in Jn.7:18, 19, 20, 25, 30 and 8:50. Those folks simply didn’t “get it”, and, I’m afraid, neither do we. This much is certain: his life on earth was not focused upon himself and his own “glory” (see #74). That seems to have been a concern that he willingly left in the Father’s hands (Jn.17). Perhaps we should simply follow his example! Very likely, his earlier statement (5:30), “I seek not my own will”, is closely connected, as is his critique of those who bask in the acclaim of their fellows, but “don’t seek honor from God!” (5:44).

Finally, in every account of the resurrection, the same theme precedes the glorious news: either “I know you’re looking for Jesus” (Mt.28:5) or “What/who are you looking for?” (Mk.16:6,Lk.24:5, Jn.20:15.) The faithful women were only “seeking”/expecting to pay their final respects to the body of one they had loved. Instead, they were entrusted with the most glorious message this poor world had ever received!
For the loving and faithful, what you “seek” is not always what you “find”! It’s much better!

 May all of our “seeking” be born of loving faithfulness, and yield that message of joy!