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!


Word Study #188 — Debt, and Debtors

May 30, 2013

Here is another subject, much celebrated in song and sermon, that has absolutely no basis in any New Testament writings. Neither Jesus, nor any of his disciples, nor the apostles who took up his cause after the Resurrection, ever made any reference to his life or his death as accomplishing the “payment” of any sort of “debt”. We have seen, in the study of the cross (#34), the extensive and wonderful list of its achievements – but none of these include any reference to “debt.” All the “paid my debt and set me free” rhetoric is totally without New Testament precedent. Jesus’ single statement of giving his life as a “ransom”, noted in Mt.20:28 and Mk.10:45, and quoted in I Tim.2:6, is treated in the study of “redemption” (#61). It was a release from slavery or captivity. No “debt” is ever mentioned.
Debt is a legal and financial concept, and has nothing to do with “naughty” behavior. The penalty for failure to pay a debt could be prison (Lk.12:51) or slavery (Mt.18:25-34), but was never execution.
Nevertheless, there are important teachings regarding debt in both the gospels and the epistles, and these are usually overlooked, in favor of the more dramatic, made-up proclamation of payment that we hear more often.

We are here concerned with a single “family” of words: the verb opheilo, (L/S: financial debt, duty, or obligation), and the nouns opheiletes (debtor), opheile, and opheilema (indebtedness, or that which is owed). There does not appear to be any obvious lexical distinction between legal liability (as for tax) and less formal financing. Neither is there any lexical distinction between finance and other sorts of obligations or duties. These must be discerned from the context. Bauer suggests that the implied connection to “sin” (see #7) is of Aramaic, rabbinical origin, where it may have developed as a corollary to the acquisition of obligation by oath, as in Mt.23:16, the “picky details” of which Jesus rejected as utterly irrelevant. The incident recorded in Lk.7:41 is an illustration, not an equation.

Already under the old covenant (LXX), there had been careful instructions for the protection of a poor borrower. Dt.24:12 stipulates that he may not be abused nor intruded upon, and if he pledges a garment as collateral, it must be returned to him at nightfall. Dt.15:2 places a seven-year limit, after which a debt must be forgiven, and the exacting of interest is prohibited in Ex.22:25.
Most manuscripts refer to forgiveness of indebtedness in the Lord’s prayer (Mt.6 and Lk.11), although some substitute hamartia or paraptoma. Even when Peter specifically inquired about dealing with an offending brother (using hamartia), Jesus’ reply changes the focus of the conversation with a parable about debt (Mt.18:21). He did the same thing with Simon the Pharisee, when he criticized a “sinful woman” (Lk.7:39-43), and made a strong point in another parable that generosity received needs to be “passed on” by the recipient (Mt.18:23-35). Paul must have understood this message, and observed it in his very practical offer to Philemon on Onesimus’ behalf (Phm.18).

The epistles, however, seem primarily to turn from the sense of financial debt to that of obligation. There is no hint of having had all of one’s responsibilities “forgiven” or “taken away”! And these are represented by exactly the same vocabulary.
Paul speaks of himself as “indebted” to both Jew and Gentile in Rom.1:14, and clearly connects it to his preaching of the gospel message.
In Rom.8:12, he uses the same word to “declare independence” from slavery to the disciple’s former self-focused way of life,
and in Rom.15:27 of the obligation of brethren to provide for the practical needs of their poor compatriots in Jerusalem.
In his Corinthian letter, (I Cor.7:3,36) he applies the same word to marital responsibilities,
in Rom.13:7 to the payment of taxes, and
in Gal.5:3, as a warning that if one clings to any part of the Law, he incurs obligation to the whole thing.
Far better to heed his advice in Rom.13:8, to owe no one anything but brotherly love, which “fulfills the Law” by doing no wrong (v.10) to anyone. Laws are about prohibitions. Kingdom living is positive, not negative.

The most frequent New Testament translation of opheilo is “ought” (15x) – not phrased as the commandments of a new or revised Law, but simply identifying some of the characteristics of a changed life. It is to be expected that:
Jn.13:14 – disciples will offer one another the service of washing feet (see ch.11 of Citizens)
Ac.17:29 – they will not attribute human characteristics or failings to God
Rom.15:1 – they will bear the infirmities of the weak
I Cor.11:7,10 – they will observe the right and duty of participation for all, symbolized by the use of head coverings (Citizens, ch.13)
II Cor.12:11 – parents will care and provide for children
Eph.5:28 – husbands will love and care for their wives, as Christ does for the church
Heb.5:12 – They will “grow up”, and be teachers of others
I Jn.2:6 – they will “walk” [live] as Jesus did
I Jn.3:16 – they will lay down their lives for one another
III Jn.8 – they will welcome itinerant brethren.
This is not law: it is simply the culture of the Kingdom.

The primary principle to be derived from this survey is quite simple: ITS NOT ABOUT KEEPING SCORE!!! That was the obsession of people who were in bondage to the minutiae of the Law.
Faithful disciples of Jesus rather take their cues from the servant described in his parable recorded in Lk.17:7-10. The most meticulous obedience is “only what we ought to have done”.

“The one who keeps saying he’s living in relationship with him ought (opheile) to walk [live, behave] as he did!” (I Jn.2:6) – not as a “debtor”, under the threat of prison or slavery, but in gratitude for being included in the Kingdom – in the very family of the King!


Word Study #187 — Pentecost

May 21, 2013

After finding that there was so much to be learned about Epiphany (#171), I wondered if the same would be true of another “event” in the “church year”. Pentecost is effusively celebrated by some groups, and virtually ignored by others. As before, there is very little direct information in the New Testament. The word appears only three times: the description of the initial “grand entrance” of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection (Ac.2:1), Paul’s letter to the Corinthian brethren mentioning his intention to stay in Ephesus “until Pentecost” (I Cor.16:8), and his telling the Ephesian elders at their farewell meeting that he wanted to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost (Ac.20:16). Either of these latter two leaves one with the impression that some sort of observance may have been planned. Although reference is made to the event on other occasions (for example, Ac.11:15 and 19:1-5), the word itself is not used. There are no classical references: L/S notes that it was applied to the Jewish feast day because it was 50 days after Passover, but has no literary reference outside the NT except for its use as the date of a battle in II Maccabees 12:32.

It was equally difficult to find Biblical information about the Jewish feast for which the crowd “from every nation under heaven” (Ac.2:5) had assembled in Jerusalem. Most scholars assume that the event was the “Feast of Weeks”, also called Shavuot – the offering of the firstfruits of the grain harvest, which occurred 50 days after the Passover. Ex.34:22 describes that offering, but does not name it. It was one of three occasions where every adult male was expected to appear at the designated place (eventually Jerusalem), bearing the prescribed sacrifice, but the word pentekostes does not occur at all in the Old Testament portion of the LXX. Related words, simply referring to “fifty” of anything – people, animals, etc. – are fairly common.
This firstfruits feast seems to be a somewhat plausible candidate. The celebration of the Passover related to the deliverance from bondage in Egypt, and the “firstfruits” somehow became connected to the celebration of the giving of the Law at Sinai. There is however no direct OT formula or command concerning this juxtaposition. I was interested to find one reference to a Talmudic assertion that the Law was given at Sinai in 70 languages! Apocryphal or not, that would be a curious precedent for the events at Pentecost.

The idea of “firstfruits” – aparche – shows up a few more times than does pentekostes. The word, classically, reached far beyond the concept of a grateful offering. L/S includes “a 2% tax on inheritance, an entrance fee to an event or organization, a board of officials, the birth certificate of a free person,” as well as “the beginning of an offering or sacrifice.” Bauer notes that it had to be offered before using any part of the harvest, and was considered a foretaste of the future.

Traditionally, a harvest offering of firstfruits was an acknowledgment that all of produce, and indeed all of life itself, belonged to God. In the New Testament, Jesus himself is called “firstfruits” (I Cor.15:20, 23) from the dead;, converts are called the “firstfruits” of their region of origin (Rom.11:16, 16:5, I Cor.16:15, Jas.1:18); and Paul refers to the activity of the Spirit among his people (Rom.8:23) as the “firstfruits” of their adoption into God’s family! So it is entirely proper that this image should go both ways: the gift of the Holy Spirit as what Paul also called the “down-payment” (II Cor.1:22) on our inheritance, and the worship, service and praise to God enabled by that gift as the firstfruits to God of the eventual triumph of his Kingdom. (Please see also #52 and 53.)

But what are we to make of the events of Pentecost itself? Historically, both Eastern and Western churches considered it the appropriate time for baptisms, ordinations, and confirmations, all of which are clearly assumed to be connected to the agency of the Holy Spirit. (Please refer to #76). Other groups focus on the wind, the fire, and the languages. This is where things can get messy.
Wind can cool the heat of summer and bring refreshing rain – or it can wreak terrible destruction.
Fire can provide light and warmth, enable the preparation of food, or destroy everything in its path.
And language can encourage, heal, and build relationships of love and trust, or communicate anger and strife, provoking misunderstanding and wars.

Regarding the wind – this is the only New Testament use of the word pnoe (NOT pneuma) except for Ac.17:25. There are none in the LXX. It is used of storms, and never a synonym for “spirit”. I thought that might be the word used where Elijah discovered that “the Lord was NOT in the wind,” but it is not: that uses pneuma – I can’t figure that one out! Can you? Here, though, in the Acts account, it may be that Luke simply needed it to distinguish it from his use of pneuma for the Spirit.

John the Baptist had spoken of fire (Mt.3:11, Lk.3:16) when distinguishing his baptism “for a changed life” from the baptism that Jesus would perform “in the Holy Spirit”. Other gospel references to fire are primarily negative – the fate of the “weeds.” Although fire is also symbolic of Godly power in many ancient cultures, the significant words here are diamerizomai (divided, distributed) and eph hena hekaston auton ( upon each one of them). This picture is in sharp contrast to the single “pillar of fire” that had led the Israelites through the desert. This fire is divided, and parceled out to every single person! This is one of the rare instances where individuals are the focus, as opposed to the group as a unit. But notice that it is not a leader, not a group of leaders. Everyone is singled out!

Then there is the language phenomenon. People – apparently observant Jews – were assembled in Jerusalem from all over the (known) world. They would have had at least a passing knowledge of the languages of the most recent conquerors (Greek and Latin), and probably whatever iteration of ancient Hebrew was current in temple worship. But they all heard the message of the greatness of God in their own native dialects (ta idia dialekto)! We are told that the speakers were using different languages (glossais) as the Spirit gave them things to say. Dialects are a sub-group of languages.

Some folks make a big to-do about whether the miracle was in the speaking or the hearing – or both. Why would that matter? The point is, people understood what was said! They received the message about the “wonderful works of God” in the dialect they learned as children! That speaks to hearts!
Neither here nor elsewhere in Scripture is a totally unintelligible outburst of speech advocated. Our brother Paul has provided very helpful guidelines for the use of this very valuable gift in I Cor.14.
The purpose of language is communication! Natural or supernatural, with people or with God: no more and no less. Although speech in an unlearned language is several times (Ac.8:14-18, 10:46, 15:8) considered evidence of genuine faithfulness, nowhere is it demanded as either a qualification – or a disqualification! – for acceptance or service.

The most significant “accomplishment” of Pentecost is evidenced rather in its tangible results (Ac.2:42-47, 4:32-35). Having heard the word, three thousand new people sought baptism. They gathered daily, eager to learn more (#47). They shared their lives (#8). Whether the “breaking of bread” refers simply to shared meals, or to an observance of “communion” (koininia) #8, matters little. There was mutual prayer (#91). “Wonders and signs” (#168) were manifested through the apostles. They shared (#8 again) all they had, as anyone had need. In short, the loving mutuality created by the Spirit bestowed at Pentecost created a community to which the Lord could continually add the folks he was recruiting!

This is the most convincing evidence of Pentecost!
I can’t imagine that such a brotherhood, contrasting with the individualistic self-focus of our present society, would not be as attractive today as it was in Imperial Rome.

May this Pentecost become reality among us!


Word Study #186 — Heresy and Division

May 16, 2013

I had a college friend – a brother deeply devoted to the Lord – who, some years ago, broke with the denomination for which he had been a “minister”, and affiliated with a “non-denominational” group that he considered “more Scriptural.” I was therefore startled to hear him say that he “needed to learn a whole new theology”, and when encountering an unfamiliar teaching, he needed to submit it to a person in authority to find out whether it was “heresy”! He then proceeded to warn me of the dangers of being “led astray”, when I wondered if it would not be more appropriate to check it out in the Scripture itself! And we had taken the same Greek class, with a professor who was a stickler for linguistic accuracy! That encounter has troubled me ever since.

I was reminded of that incident when our brother Jim, in an excellent message about the unity for which Jesus prayed, made reference to the account in I Corinthians of the dissension centering upon certain individuals in that group (I Cor.1:10 and 11:18-19), where Paul appears to connect divisions in the brotherhood with “heresies”. Although the association of those two concepts is not common in contemporary thought, it fits very well with the lexical meaning of hairesis, the word from which our English term “heresy” is derived.
Historically, hairesis had nothing whatever to do with the truth or falsehood of a statement, “doctrine”, or claim. L/S lists “the taking of a town by a conqueror, acquisition of power, the election of magistrates, a purpose or course of action, any system of philosophical principles or those who profess it: a sect, school, or religious or political party.” The verb, haireo, likewise indicates “to take or seize, to assume power, to win or gain, to catch (as in hunting), to join a party or adopt an opinion.” The middle or passive haireomai (to be chosen or elected), and the related verb, hairetizo (to choose) also carry no indication whether the “choice” is for good or ill.

How does this bear out in New Testament usage?
Hairesis is actually translated “sect” in the majority of its appearances (Ac. 5:17, 15:5, 24:5, 26:5, 28:22), and has neither positive nor negative connotation: it simply identifies a defined group: Pharisees, Sadducees, (both of whom wielded both religious and political power, often in competition with one another), and even “Nazarenes” or “followers of the Way”. Traditional translators used “heresy” in the latter reference, but the word is the same. The verbs are consistently rendered “choose” (hairetizo in Mt.12:18, and haireomai in Phil.1:22, II Thes.2:13, Heb.11:25), and are uniformly positive in tone.
The references with negative overtones are few, but significant. None, however, are overtly connected with what a person thinks or “believes” about any particular subject.
Paul’s concern about the situation in Corinth is not “doctrinal”, but concerns divisions – rivalry – in the brotherhood. Please refer to the treatment of schisma, schismata in #127. Divisions can be a good thing – for example, when referring to a “division” in the crowds among those who paid attention to Jesus and his message, and those who rejected him (Jn.7:43, 9:16, 10:19; Ac.14:4, 23:7) – but within a brotherhood, it is completely unacceptable. I Cor.1:10-17 deals with different factions promoting and following different leaders / teachers. “Church politics,” anyone? Remember that hairesis started out as a political concept – a conqueror and his deputies, or even “democratically elected”officials!
I Cor.11:18—19 addresses an even more egregious violation of the brotherhood: status-tripping and abuse of the needy at an event intended to express and teach mutuality of love and care! This is reinforced in Paul’s eloquent treatise on the Body of Christ in the next chapter – especially v.25. See also chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom.

In this context, and in view of the lexical meaning of hairesis, it becomes clear that Paul’s reference traditionally translated “heresy” in 11:19 is a challenging question , not a statement encouraging the sorting of who is “in” or “out.”

The list of “deeds of the human nature [flesh]” in Gal.5:19-21, likewise, by including hairesis in the company of echthrai (hostility), eris (strife), zelos (jealousy), thumoi (rage), eritheiai (factionalism), and dichostasiai (divisions), and followed by phthonoi (murders), places it clearly in the realm of active jockeying for power, and not theoretical theological speculation!

The context is also the key to realizing that Peter (II Pet.2:1) is talking about the advocacy of licentious behavior. Read the whole paragraph, not just a couple phrases out of the first “verse”, for a description of what traditional translators labeled “damnable heresies”!

The only other appearance of any of these terms is in Paul’s letter to Titus (3:10), where he is giving instructions for dealing with a trouble-maker in the congregation. Traditional translators call him “a man who is an heretic” – but again, attention to the whole paragraph requires consideration that the reference may be to a person who prefers “foolish arguments, genealogies, strife, and legal battles” (v.9) to “being careful to keep practicing good deeds [behavior]!” (v.8). Such a person is to be duly confronted – twice – but then avoided if he refuses correction.

So how did hairesis morph from the idea of political strife and power-grabbing into obsession with theoretical details of “doctrine”? The first recorded use of the English word (according to Webster) is in the thirteenth century.. I submit that this must have happened as the “church” itself morphed from a persecuted brotherhood of mutuality into a power structure with the ability to do its own persecuting of any who challenged the powerful. Jesus had forbidden titles of honor and positions of prestige (Mt.23:1-12), and Paul strongly opposed divisive leadership, as we have seen. Please also see chapters 6 and 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom.

But as powerful people emerged and began to define “correct doctrine” – having long since abandoned the idea of mutuality, and its focus on godly behavior in the brotherhood – the very patterns against which Paul had warned Titus became institutionalized. “Heresy” became anything that challenged the grip of the powerful, or their prerogative to include and exclude people from the ranks of the “chosen”, and to revise the “rules” in order to maintain their own dominance.

This – not a deviation from even the most cherished of theoretical “doctrines” codified by these same powerful people, but the very existence of a power structure at all, and its consequent divisions led by competitors with a heavy political agenda – is the ultimate heresy!


Word Study #185 — Born, and “Born Again”

May 10, 2013

Most people would be rather thoroughly baffled if they were asked, “Have you been born?” How else would one have become a sentient being? The evidence is obvious.
It should be deemed equally silly to raise the same question about having been “born again”, as if that designation were an earned – or honorary – degree, or some celestial merit-badge, which produced no observable evidence in one’s life.

Those who demand such a “degree” would probably be amazed – perhaps even incredulous – to learn that their favorite “qualification” appears only four times in the entire New Testament, and that their most loudly trumpeted “proof-text”, Jn.3:3,7, is NOT among them! As is our custom, let’s look at the evidence.
By far the majority of references to birth, in any form, refer simply to the physical event of the arrival of a baby. The same word is traditionally translated “beget” if it refers to a father, “conceive, bear, deliver, or bring forth” if it refers to a mother, and “born” if to a child.
The word appears in many variant forms – primarily the verb, gennao, but also nouns genesis (origin, source, descent), genEma (produce, or fruit), genos (stock, or kin), genna (offspring, race, family), gennEma (that which is born), and genetE (an adverb, “by, from, or since birth). The lexicons make very little distinction, and the usage makes even less.

New Testament appearances relating to other than the physical process of birth include references to one’s origin (Jn.1:13, 8:41, 9:2, Ac.2:8, 22:3, 28). Note especially Jn.9:34, where it was the Pharisees who spoke of being “born in sin”: JESUS NEVER SAID THAT ABOUT ANYBODY!!! Also included are kinship or nationality (usually using genos) (Ac.4:6, 4:36, 7:13, 7:19, 13:26, 18:2, 18:24; Mk.7:26, Gal.1:14, Phil 3:5, II Cor.11:26), and “fruit or harvest”, as in Jesus’ reference to “the fruit of the vine” (Mt.26:29, Mk.14:25, Lk.22:18) , and in the parable of the rich fool (Lk.12:18). Interestingly, gennEma, the form used on these latter occasions, is the same word used by both John the Baptist and Jesus in critiquing their opponents as a “generation [offspring] of vipers”, as well as Paul’s description of a faithful life as “the fruit of justice [“righteousness”] (II Cor.9:10).

The verb gennao also reaches beyond reference to physical birth or provenance. It appears in the statement from heaven, quoted from the coronation Psalm 2:7 in Heb.1:5 and 5:5, as well as Ac.13:33, although it was not used in either of the events to which those passages refer – Jesus’ baptism by John or his transfiguration: an interesting discrepancy that could bear further study, except that any analysis would necessarily have to be entirely conjecture.
Paul also uses it of his having been the messenger who enabled both the Corinthian church (I Cor.4:15) and Philemon (Phm.10) to learn and choose faithfulness.

These latter uses of gennao serve as a transition to the understanding of birth as becoming a participant in a new and different life. Please also refer in this regard to #35, 96, 97, 134, 135, 174.
John’s choice of words in describing a person who has chosen faithfulness is “born of [from] God.” He asserts that “Everyone who does justice [righteousness – see #3] is born from him” (I Jn.2:29), although it is unclear whether the grammatical reference of autou (him) is “Father” or “Son”.
In I Jn. 3:9, both instances represent having been “born of God” as enabling one to leave his life of shortcoming [failure, “sin”] , and then John goes on to point out quite bluntly the need to discern between “God’s children” and “the devil’s children”. (You will not find in the New Testament the popular modern affirmation that “all people are the children of God”!)   John goes on to explain (4:7) “everyone who keeps on loving, has been born from God”, (5:1) “Everyone who keeps trusting that Jesus is the Anointed One has been born from God”, and (5:4) “Everyone that has been born from God is (in the process of) conquering the world!” He then concludes (5:18) “We know that anyone who has been born from God does not keep on (living in) failure: but the one [One?] born from God continually keeps him [some MSS have “guards himself”], and the evil one does not touch him.” Clearly, John is referring to something far beyond physical birth.
These statements in his letter cast light on his Gospel account, and also receive light from it. Jesus’ much-quoted statement to Nicodemus in Jn.3:3,7 has been poorly translated. Please see the grammatical comments in Translation Notes (free download). Here, we are simply concerned with the vocabulary – specifically, the adverb anOthen, which appears in both places. The adverb, classically, was translated “from above, from on high, or from the gods” (L/S). It is a description of provenance, not time or counting. L/S notes that only in the New Testament was it translated “anew, afresh, over again”. This has to have been a theological, not a linguistic choice. It is clear from John’s letter that he understood Jesus to be saying “born from God.”

Peter is the only one to use the word anagennao, literally “born / begotten again.” In I Pet.1:3, the subject is “God”, the object is “us”, the means by which it is effected is Jesus’ resurrection, and the result is our being included in his inheritance. In 1:23, he reminds his readers that this new life is from an “imperishable source”, and is characterized, as John also insisted, by genuine love of the brethren.

There is one other word, paliggenesia, also occurring only twice, and traditionally translated “regeneration”, that may be relevant to this conversation. As you can see by comparing the words, it is marginally related to the others, but with a different prefix. Trench makes an effort to distinguish it from the others, adding anakainOsis to the mix, although that word is exclusively translated “renewal.”
This is not much help, since he is making a complex theological and liturgical argument out of active and passive, progressive and accomplished ideas, which is a useful tool in understanding verbs, but these words are both nouns , and as such have neither tense nor voice. Although paliggenesia and anakainOsis may be similar, they could not possibly be synonyms, or they would not be used together in Tit.3:5. Trench is fond of referencing the “Church Fathers” as a tool of interpretation, forgetting that they wrote a century or more after the Biblical accounts, and in the context of early efforts to codify “doctrines”and define and fight “heresies”.
Paliggenesia is very common in classical literature. The Stoic philosophers made frequent reference to a cyclical renewal of the cosmos, after destruction by fire or flood. Some also included the notion of reincarnation or the transmigration of “souls” in this process. The word was also used of a nation or a person returning from exile or shame, or, medically, of either recovery from a disease or the recurrence of a tumor! It appears only twice in the New Testament – used once by Jesus, in reference to the consummation of his Kingdom (Mt.19:28), and once in Paul’s letter to Titus (3:5), where (vv.4-6) he could be speaking of either baptism or the gift of the Holy Spirit – or both.

In connection with baptism, resurrection is a much more common figure than birth (see #35), with the act of baptism serving as a symbol of the disciple’s deliberate identification with Jesus’ own burial and resurrection, and that individual’s consequent transformation of life. Romans 6:4 calls it “newness of life”. In other places, “a new creation” (II Cor.5:17, Gal.6:15), “the new man” (Eph.2:15, 4:24; Col.3:10) and other figures convey similar ideas.
Please refer again to the other previous studies listed above.
Whatever you choose to call it, we would all do well to follow the example of the whole New Testament, focusing less on demanding a “birth certificate”, and more on the development of a LIFE that rightly represents and honors its Giver!

 


Word Study #184 — Wash, Washed, Washing

May 2, 2013

Here is yet another word, plentiful in song and sermon, but only quite rarely used in the New Testament of anything but ordinary physical cleanliness. An English reference to “washing” is used for no less than ten different Greek words, of which the most common are quite readily distinguishable, and only one (in three forms) has even limited direct reference to “spiritual” cleansing. Let’s look at the evidence.
One of them can be disposed of very quickly. Brecho, usually translated “rain” (Mt.5:45, Lk.17:29, Jas.5:17, Rv.11:6), is rendered “wash” only twice (Lk.7:38, 44), where it is used of tears.

The three primary root words, classically, occupied simple but specific domains.
Louo, with its related noun loutron and its prefixed form apolouo, refers to bathing: washing one’s entire body. Sometimes, but not always, there is an accompanying sense of ritual purification.
Nipto (historically nizo) and its prefixed form in the middle voice, aponiptomai, while it also occasionally implied purification, more frequently intended simply washing one’s hands or feet. In both LXX and New Testament accounts, the offering of water for washing the feet of a guest was a normal expectation of hospitality (Gen.18:4, 19:2, 24:32; Lk.7:44, I Tim.5:10, Jn.13). This word is not used of bathing.
Pluno and its prefixed form apopluno, appearing only once each in the New Testament but frequently in the LXX, refers to the washing of garments or other inanimate objects: mandatory purification under the Law, but except for two occurrences (Lk.5:2 and Rv.7:14), absent from the New Testament writings. L/S notes that it would have been applied to people only with derogatory overtones. It could also imply “worn out” or “threadbare”, as by many washings of a garment.
These divisions fit very well with the New Testament appearances of the words, although there are several marked deviations in the LXX.
Both louo and nipto, for example, are used in Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 13, where references to the washing of feet consistently employs nipto, but Jesus’ word to Peter that a person who has had a bath (louo) only needs his feet washed (nipto) makes a clear distinction. Washing one’s face (Mt.6:17 and probably Jn.9:7,11), hands (Mt.15:12, Mk.7:3) and feet (Jn.13:6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and I Tim.5:10) are all expressed with nipto, whereas bathing the body (louo) is obvious in Jn.13:10, Ac.9:37, 16:33, and Heb.10:22,23 (where it could also reference baptism). Interestingly, Peter (II Pet.2:22) even uses it of a pig!

Please note that none of these, except the Hebrews reference (to which we will return) refers to anything but a simple, physical act of cleansing. Different vocabulary is usually employed when more-than-ordinary cleansing is intended, for which please consult #65.
Of the three prefixed forms, aponiptomai describes Pilate’s ostentatious “washing his hands” of the sordid affair of Jesus’ lynching (Mt.27:24) – which Bauer attributes to Jewish, rather than Roman culture as a gesture of innocence.  Apopluno is used for the washing of fishing nets (Lk.5:2). Only apolouo carries any “spiritual” connotation (Ac.22:16 and I Cor.6:11), as does loutron in Eph.5:26 and Titus 3:5, and the Heb.10:22 use of louo.

This latter group is often connected with baptism. Interestingly, baptizo (v) and baptismos (n), although usually translated “baptize” or “baptism”, are also rarely rendered “wash” : the verb twice (Mk.7:4 and Lk.11:38) – against 74x “baptize” – and the noun three times (Mk.7:4, 8; Heb.9:10). In each of these, the reference clearly is not symbolic of commitment to Jesus’ lordship.
The more common form for “baptism” is baptisma (22x). You can find a more detailed treatment of baptism in chapter 10 of Citizens of the Kingdom. (free download.)
Inexplicably, Bauer connects this word with Jewish ritual washings, despite the fact that it occurs only twice in the LXX: once of Naaman the Syrian in the Jordan (II Ki 5:14) and once where Isaiah (21:4) speaks of being “overwhelmed” by transgressions: neither of which makes any reference to Jewish ceremony. The above references to Mark and Luke may provide a tenuous connection, but certainly no strong evidence.

By way of contrast, Paul, in the Ac.22:16 passage cited above, quotes Ananias as directly connecting his baptism (baptisai) with the “washing away” (apolousai) of his shortcomings [“sins”] (#141) by “calling upon the name of Jesus”. All of the verbs here are aorist tenses, which indicate a single, definitive act. Likewise, in I Cor.6:11, “washed” (apelousasthe), “made holy” (hEgiasthEte), and “made just” (edikaiothEte) are all aorist passive verbs. All of this, therefore, is assumed to have taken place upon the occasion of one’s baptism!
In Eph.5:26, a similar transformation is described as having taken place for the church as a whole – but this time, the agent (dative case) is not only “washing with water” but also “the word” (see #66). The verbs, however, are still aorist. We are dealing with accomplished fact here, not a process, which we saw to be the case with “salvation” (#5). To Titus (3:5), Paul associates “washing” with “rebirth [regeneration]” – the beginning of one’s life in Christ.

This is not, however, to contradict Jesus’ statement already noted in Jn.13, that even those who have had a bath will still need to wash from their feet the residue from walking through a world that has not submitted to his cleansing. But that realization needs to be held in balance with Heb.10:22, as we “approach him with full confidence”! Here, the cleansing of having been “sprinkled” (rherhantismenoi) and thereby cleansed “from consciousness of evil”, as well as “washed” (leloumenoi) are perfect participles – past events with present consequences! (Please see #6, 7, 14, and 128). Rhantizo, a very common word in the LXX describing purification rites, appears only in the letter to the Hebrews in summaries of those processes (9:13,19, 21 and 12:24) and a single reference in I Pet.1:2, where the reference is also to purification.

And here, with only three references (I Pet.1:2, Rv.1:5, and Rv.7:14), one can finally discover a source for all the noise about being “washed in blood”. (Peter only refers to a ceremonial “sprinkling”.)
In Rv.1:5, the actor is Jesus (not people); and the “washing” appears fifth on a list of six descriptions of the accomplishments of the Lord Jesus. In Rv.7:14, the reference is in a highly allegorical description of a contingent of martyrs having “washed their robes.” (And by the way, a “fountain / well” – pEgE – same word – is simply a natural source of water in Jas.3:11,12; Rv.7:17, 8:10, 14:7, 16:4, 21:6; Jn.4:6, 14; II Pet.2:17. The only exception is the Mk.5:29 reference to the healing of the woman who had a hemorrhage – and nobody “washes” in that!)
All the common rhetoric, verbal or musical, is seriously out of balance!

Where is the proclamation (also in Rv.1:5) of Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, who loves us”? Where is the announcement that he has “made(of) us a kingdom of priests to God his Father”? All of these have multiple New Testament references, and should therefore have enormous influence upon the life of his people!

Please understand that this is not to ignore or disparage either the “shedding of his blood” (see previous post) or being “washed” with it  as an operative factor in the process – whether that phrase is taken as a reference to physical blood, to Jesus’ life, his humanity, or any other part of his activity during or after his years on the earth. It is simply a plea that those who claim to represent our Lord and King pay proportionate attention to aspects of his life, teaching, example, and accomplishments that are much more frequently described and explained in Scripture,and therefore equally, if not more essential to the life and health of his Body.

May we represent him faithfully!