Word Study #90 — Praise

January 28, 2011

It was only during work on the previous post, “bless” (#89), that it became evident that “bless” and “praise” have sometimes been used interchangeably as translations for the same word, and often appear together, especially in the praise scenes in the Revelation. There is also frequent implicit overlap with the use of “glory” (W.S.#74) and “honor” (W.S. #73). Consequently, the idea of praise to the Lord, throughout the New Testament, is far more ubiquitous than the use of any of the specific words so translated, which include six nouns and three verbs.

In three of these instances, it is an aberrant translation of a word more commonly rendered differently: “praise” is used only once for eulogeo (against 43 x “bless”) – Lk.1:64; once for arete (against 4x “virtue”) – I Pet.2:9; and four times for doxa (against 144x “glory”) – Jn.9:24, 12:43 (2x), I Pet.4:11.
Twice, it is the only translation of a rarely used word – ainesis, which is only seen in Heb.13:15, and ainos in Mt.21:16,Lk.18:43. This narrows our study conveniently to one noun and three verbs.

The most frequently appearing word is the noun epainos, which even so is only used 11x. It is classically defined as “approval, praise, or commendation”, and is applied equally to gods and men. The New Testament uses bear out that division, with Rom.2:29, 13:3; I Cor.4:5, II Cor.8:18, I Pet.1:7 and 2:14 referring to praise accorded to people, and Eph.1:6,12,14; Phil.1:11, and possibly 4:8 to the praise of God.

Second is the verb aineo, which makes 9 appearances. This too, classically, spoke of “praise or approval, and a recommendation or advice”, as well as “a way courteously to decline an invitation.” It is a very frequent admonition in the LXX, describing or urging praises to God, although it is also used disparagingly of praises to pagan gods. Aineo describes the praises of the heavenly host announcing Jesus’ birth (Lk.2:13), the awe-struck shepherds (Lk.2:20), and the jubilant crowd on Palm Sunday (Lk.19:37), as well as the constant praises offered by the empowered disciples both before (Lk.24:53) and after Pentecost (Ac.2:47), and the joyful celebration of the healed man in Ac.3:8. Rom.15:11 is quoted from the LXX, and Rev.19:5 casts “a voice from the throne” as a holy cheerleader calling both small and great to praises.

Epaineo, the verb form of epainos, common in the LXX, is less so in the New Testament, translated 4x “praise”, and once each “laud” and “commend.” All but the LXX quote in Rom.15:11 refer to people – most of whom (I Cor.11:17,22, and Lk.16:8) were not behaving very well. Its classical definitions are very parallel to those listed for the noun.

Finally, we have the four appearances of humneo: “to sing praises, to celebrate or commemorate in a hymn, to tell over and over, or ‘harp on’, repeat, or recite.” The classical epics would fall in this category, as would the later efforts of troubadours, celebrating the triumphs of gods, heroes, and conquerors. However, it is also how Paul and Silas passed the night in their Philippian jail (Ac.16:25), and how Jesus and his disciples concluded their final Passover together (Mt.26:30, Mk.14:26), in addition to the LXX quote in Heb.2:12 (from Ps.22:28).

Although the word is used at least 16x in the LXX, Trench notes that the connection with pagans celebrating their gods and heroes led to some degree of avoidance in both Jewish and early Christian practice. Alexander had been criticized (3rd century BC) for accepting “hymns” to himself and his accomplishments instead of deferring to the gods. Among the “church fathers”, notably Origen and Jerome, it became a requirement that a “hymn” be a direct address of praise and glory to God.

Some historians see in passages like Lk.1:46-55, 68-79; Ac.4:24, 16:25; Eph.5:14, I Tim.3:16, and II Tim.2:11-14 snippets of what they interpret as an early hymn. Others call them “creeds”, which is another problem altogether!

Whether or not any specific examples remain for us, music was certainly included in the worship of the New Testament church. Paul encouraged the churches at Ephesus and Colossae (Eph.5:19 and Col.3:16) to “keep teaching and admonishing each other with psalms (psalmois), hymns (humnois), and spiritual songs (odais pneumatikais), singing in the thankfulness [grace] that’s in your hearts, to God.”
“Psalms” are the most ancient, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition. These were probably some of the ones preserved in the Old Testament records. The word is derived from the verb, “to touch, or to pluck a stringed instrument”, with which the singing was usually accompanied. With “hymns”, the lyrics were predominant, as they celebrated honor and mighty deeds, whereas “songs” could be dirges, joyful songs of praise, or simply a recitation of lyric poetry. Singing is also part of the agenda Paul described in Corinth (I Cor.14:15), both “with [by means of] the Spirit and by means of [using] the understanding [mind]” – with either prescribed or Spirit-led language and music. It is the suggestion of James (5:3) for celebrating one’s rejoicing, and one of the vehicles of praise and tribute to the King in his consummated Kingdom (Rev.5:9, 14:3, 15:3).

In our day, as throughout the history of the people of God, “singing praises” may still be either rightly or wrongly focused. As someone has observed, “you can’t always tell whether they’re singing to/about the Lord or their girl/boyfriend!”
In the third century, Augustine, coming out of a culture not all that different from ours, prescribed three requirements for “Christian” music:

  1. It must be sung.
  2. It must be praise.
  3. It must be to/about God.

That might still be an appropriate guide!

Songs of praise have habitually accompanied movements of renewal among the Lord’s people, both the source and the expression of great joy.

After all, by his gracious provision, (Eph.1:6), “We exist for the praise of his glory!”

We might as well start practicing!

“Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord!” (Ps.150)

Word Study #89 — Bless, Blessed, Blessing

January 25, 2011

As is so frequently the case, a study of the concept of “blessing” bears little resemblance to common assumptions about the word. In all the 44 New Testament uses of the verb, eulogeo, the 8 uses of the adjective or participle eulogetos, and the 13 uses of the noun form, eulogia, only one, II Cor.9:5, where Paul applies it to the generosity of the relief offering which the Gentile churches sent to their famine-stricken Judean brethren, makes reference to anything material being given or received. The other words, makarios (49x), makarizo (2x), and makarismos (3x), have no such reference at all.
So although giving thanks for “every good gift” (W.S.#25) is certainly appropriate, the common admonition to “count (or brag about) your blessings”, if applied to acquisitions, benefits, possessions or prerogatives, might well be questioned.

Classically, eulogeo (etymologically, a combination of the prefix eu- , “good or well”, and logeo, a form of lego, “to speak or say”), usually intended “to bless or praise a god, to honor a person, or to call down or bestow blessings on someone” (L/S), and the noun form, eulogia, “a eulogy, glory or good repute, or a gift or bounty”.
The New Testament, however, tends toward a narrower usage. Frequently, it is paired with “pray / prayer” – proseuchomai , or even treated as its synonym (I Cor.14:16); or as when Jesus preceded his feeding of a crowd (Mt.14:19, Mk.6:41,8:7; Lk.9:16) with prayer, and in accounts of the Last Supper (Mt.26:26, Mk.14:22, Lk.24:30, I Cor.10:16). The use of aorist participles in those latter accounts makes “after he had prayed” a more likely rendition than the common idea of “blessing the bread” as if it were somehow magically changing its substance or character. People, and God, are “blessed” in the New Testament. Inanimate objects are not. Jesus “blessed” children (Mk.10:16), his disciples (Lk.24:50,51), and humanity in general (Ac.3:26). Simeon (Lk.2:28), the disciples (Lk.24:53), and faithful people (Jas.3:9) are said to “bless God.” The crowds that greeted Jesus in Jerusalem (Mt.21:9, 23:9, Mk.11:9,10; Lk.13:35, 19:38; Jn.12:13) proclaimed Jesus and his Kingdom “blessed”. The faithful are admonished to “bless” their persecutors (Mt.5:44, Lk.6:28, Rom.12:14, I Cor.4:12, I Pet.3:9), as well as to pray for them (Mt.5:44), and actively to do good to them (Lk.6:27).

Blessing also has to do with the conveying of an inheritance (W.S.#79,80), as in Heb.11:20,21 and 12:17, Gal.3:14, I Pet.3:9, and most notably, Jesus’ gracious invitation to the Gentiles/nations who had behaved in a faithful manner (Mt.25:34) even without recognizing him, addressing them as “blessed by my Father”, and offering them the inheritance “prepared for you from the foundation of the world”!

The title, eulogetos, “the Blessed” or “the Blessed One”, is applied exclusively to God (Mk.14:61, Lk.1:68, Rom.1:25, 9:5; II Cor.1:3,11:31; Eph.1:3, I Pet.1:3), never to anyone else.
“Blessing” is on the list of praises ascribed to the Lord Jesus in Rev.5:12,13; 7:12, although all the other uses of eulogia are specifically from God.

Makarios, on the other hand, is in another category altogether. Classically, it was used primarily of the “bliss” of the gods, or of dead heroes, although it was also used in extremely deferential address, as “honored sir…” It conveyed an especially close relationship with one’s patron gods.
This was the word Jesus chose for the faithful, according to both Matthew’s (5:3-11) and Luke’s (6:20-22) account of the “beatitudes”, in which he enumerated the results of the characteristics he expected of the citizens of his Kingdom. This deviated as sharply from the extant cultural definitions and expectations as it does from ours today. He also applied it to Peter’s recognition of his identity (Mt.16:1), and the privilege extended to his disciples to see (Mt.13:16, Lk.10:23) what many generations had longed for. It describes the condition of a servant who is found to be carefully following his master’s instructions (Mt.24:46, Lk.12:37, 38,43); the person who (Mt.11:6, Lk.7:23) “does not take offense” at Jesus and the things he is doing; and the one whose hospitality is extended to folks unable to reciprocate (Lk.14:14). Jesus gently corrected the enthusiast who cried out in the crowd, “Blessed is the one who bore you and nursed you” (Lk.11:27) by responding, (v.28) “Rather, blessed are those who are listening to the Word of God, and keeping it!”

Paul uses “blessed” of God (I Tim.1:11, 6:15), and of Jesus’ return (Tit.2:13); and James (1:12,25) of the person who persists in working at faithfulness. It is the preferred description of the faithful in the Revelation – 1:3, those who read and hear the message; 14:13, those who die in the Lord; 16:15, who stay alert for the Lord’s coming; 19:9, who are invited to the Lamb’s wedding feast; 20:6, who are a part of the first resurrection; 22:7, who keep the sayings of this book; and 22:14, who do as Jesus commands.

I think, despite the one single instance where Paul calls himself makarios to be presenting his case before Agrippa (Ac.26:2), it is safe to say that for the most part, people are not – and probably can not be – the initiators of a condition of makarios / makarismos (blessedness). It is received from the gracious hand of the Lord, as the result of a relationship of obedient conformity to his directions.
Eulogeo and its associated words, however, are within our prerogative – and indeed our responsibility – to share and convey to others, be they brethren, or antagonists, or the Lord himself.
Nineteen of the uses of eulogeo refer to “blessing” received by people, and ten by God. In fifteen instances, people are doing the “blessing” (or instructed to do so); eight time it is God/Jesus. And there are nine references where it could be a synonym for prayer. We see an interesting slant in Heb.6:7: rather than calling the provision of sun and rain on the fields “blessings”, the writer suggests that the land is “blessed” when that provision is rightly used to bear a fruitful harvest! The “blessing” appears not to be the provision, but the reward for its intended use!

Indeed, in the case of either eulogeo or makarios, “blessing” consists, not of “stuff”, nor favorably manipulated circumstances, nor of abilities, power or prestige, but rather of connectedness, through the Lord Jesus, to the Kingdom of God and its gracious Sovereign.
“(Eulogetos) Blessed (be) [praise to] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed (eulogesos) us with every spiritual blessing (eulogia) in the heavens, in Christ!” (Eph.1:3)

May we gratefully receive, and faithfully share, his gracious blessing!

Word Study #88 — Obedience / Obey

January 10, 2011

(See also word studies 27, 39, and 55 for more on this subject.)

“Why do you all keep calling me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and you don’t do what I say?” (Lk.6:46)
If you all love me, you will follow my instructions [keep my commands]”. (Jn.14:15)

A perfectly reasonable question, and a perfectly reasonable statement, from the Lord Jesus himself.
Yet rare is the assembly of “believers”, seduced, as so many are, by the popular “unconditional” rhetoric, where serious attention is paid to those words.
You may notice, in the second quote, that I have violated my own rule about not using multiple translations for the same word. This is deliberate – although I do offer the alternative – because of the popular application of negative connotations which associate “commands” with threats: “You’ll be in big trouble if you don’t …..”, whereas “instructions” imply “Wonderful things can happen if you do…”or simply, “this is how it works.”
Entole, classically “a command or order”, but also “an authorization, prescription (medical), recipe, or power of attorney”, may signify either of these understandings. The difference, the interpretation, is entirely dependent upon the relationship between the people giving or receiving the commands / instructions.

The concept of obedience (v. hupakouo, n. hupakoe) in the New Testament is likewise colored by the relationship. The gospel writers marvel that the forces of nature (Mt.8:27, Mk.4:41, Lk.8:25), and even evil spirits (Mk.1:27) have no choice but to obey Jesus’ orders. Yet “obedience to the gospel” on the part of some of the priests (Ac.6:7), and others who chose loyalty to Jesus’ Kingdom (Rom.6:17, 16:19; II Cor.7:15, Phil.2:12, Heb.5:9), is in every case voluntary, and a cause for celebration, not compulsion! As Paul expressed it quite matter-of-factly, (Rom.6:16), “You all are slaves to whomever you obey,” whether for good or ill. Everybody chooses to obey someone or something.

This becomes clear if one lists the words used as objects of huupakouo: servants/slaves to masters (Eph.6:5, Col.3:22), the desires of the mortal body (Rom.6:12), “the teaching you were given” (Rom.6:17, Phil.2:12), “the gospel” (Rom.10:16, I Thes.1:8), children to parents (Eph.6:1, Col.3:20), Jesus himself (Heb.5:9), Abraham to his calling (Heb.11:8), “to the faith / faithfulness” (Rom.1:5), “the truth” (I Pet.1:22), “righteousness / justice” (Rom.6:16), and others where the object is not specified but is clearly intended to be the Lord Jesus and his Kingdom.
Classical uses of hupakouo are “to hearken, pay attention, to answer, listen, heed, or regard; to accept an invitation, to submit, comply, obey; to yield to a remedy (medical), to conform to a theory or principle (in grammar, science, or philosophy), or “to answer” as in the task of a doorkeeper.” You will note that most of these are more an indication of a general attitude than any specific details.

This is also the case with the lesser-used term, peitharcheo, “to obey a ruler or superior”. This has only four uses, of which there are two referring to God (Ac.5:29 and 5:32), and two to people: (Tit.3:1) magistrates, and Ac.27:21, where Paul is telling the ship’s captain , “You should have listened to me!”

A related, also less frequent word, peitho, more commonly rendered “persuade” (21x) or “trust” (8x), and only 7x “obey, (Ac.5:36, 37; Rom.2:8, Gal.3:1,5:7; Heb.13:17; Jas.3:3), as well as its negative apeitheo which, like the corresponding noun form apeitheia, is rendered equally “disobedience” and “unbelief”, illustrates vividly that those are not two concepts, but one – highlighting the appropriateness of the two statements of Jesus with which we began. One does not “believe” if he does not “obey!”

Interestingly, “obey” in any of its forms never occurs with “commands” as its object! Obedience, whether to a person, to the Lord, or to the principles of his Kingdom (or of another kingdom!), is a much broader concept, referring more to an orientation of one’s life than to any specific behavior. Perhaps the concept of “allegiance” is more to the point. In fact, even commands/instructions (entole), in the New Testament, are not provided as a “check-list” as they had been in the past (and still are, by some groups!) They are to be “kept” (tereo), rather than “obeyed” (hupotasso). Quite a variety of objects occur with tereo, (classically “to watch, guard, or maintain, to test by observation of trial, to keep an engagement”). These include “the commandments (of the Law) – Mt.19:17, Ac.15:5,24; Jas.2:10; “your own tradition” (Mk.7:9), “the good wine” (Jn.2:10), “my (Jesus’) sayings” (Jn.8:5,52,55), the Sabbath (Jn.9:16), “my (Jesus’) commandments” (Jn.14:15,21,23,24,15:10), “Thy word” (Jn.17:6); the disciples (Jn.17:11,12,15); “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph.4:3), and many more.

It is instructive that the “commandments / instructions” that Jesus himself speaks of “keeping”, primarily in Jn.14 and 15, uniformly concern the love that he directs and teaches his disciples to have among one another. Period.  All the rest is commentary.
Paul gets more specific on occasion, I Cor.14:31, Eph.6:2, Col.4:10. But even he spends more time detailing the failures of the “commandments of the Law” (Rom.7:8-13, I Cor.7:19, Eph.2:15, Tit.1:14) – as does the writer to the Hebrews (7:5, 16, 18; 9:19) – than he does instituting replacements.
Of course the whole New Testament is, from one perspective, a “blueprint” or “instruction manual” for the building of the Kingdom. Many admonitions, in both gospels and epistles, are cast in the imperative mood, and compliance is expected. Kingdom living is described in detail, but most of its specifics are not labeled “commands”. Hence, again, the quotation with which we began.

The prime example of obedience is described in Phil.2:6-8, where Paul notes Jesus’ deliberate renunciation of his well-deserved, privileged position, in favor of meticulous – one might even say “extreme”  — obedience. This is the attitude (v.5) that his people are urged to emulate – II Cor. 10:5 – “subjugating every mind [thought] for obedience to [of] Christ” [i.e. , modeled after his!]

We all have a lot to learn!

Word Study #87 — Debunking the “Love” Myth

January 7, 2011

A favorite theme of the crowd who try to flaunt their superior wisdom by thundering authoritatively, “THE GREEK SAYS…..” is the canned, neatly-sorted lecture on “different words for different kinds of love”. The only problem, other than the fact that this represents nobody’s original first-hand study, is that it is flat-out mistaken, as even a minimal perusal of New Testament usage makes abundantly clear.

Agape, which such speakers effusively characterize as “self-giving, Godly, sacrificial love”, is the word used (in verb form) in Lk.6:32-35 and parallels – “even sinners love those who love them”; in Mt.6:24 – a slave juggling two masters; and in Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees (Lk.11:43) “loving the highest seats in the synagogues,” and (Jn.12:43) “the praise of men rather than God!” So let’s back off from the artificially created stereotypes, and take a sober look at the background of the words. Incidentally, only two words, not three, are used in the New Testament.

L/S lists, for agapao, “to greet with affection, to show affection” (Homer), “to caress or pet” (Plutarch), “to be fond of, to prize, or to desire” (Plato),“to be pleased or contented” (Homer), “to tolerate or put up with” (Plato), and “to be fond of doing something” (Aristotle). The noun form, agape, which some “scholars” mistakenly insist “never occurs in pagan writings”, according to the same lexicon has “the love of husband and wife” (Philodemos, 1st Century BC) as its first entry; and then moves on to (LXX and NT) “the love of God for man or man for God, brotherly love, charity, or alms”, but notes that it was also a title for the Egyptian goddess, Isis!

The same reference work lists for the other word, phileo, (the one supposed to mean “only friendship”), includes “to love or regard with affection; the love of gods for men, or men for children or animals; to welcome or entertain a guest; the love of man and wife; to be fond of doing something”. If these lists look nearly parallel, it just might be because they are! The noun form, philos, in the New Testament occurs only as “friend” (W.S. #22). This may be applied casually, but L/S also quotes Aristotle, “A friend is another self!”

Both words are used by Jesus in the gospels of the mutual love between Father and Son (agape – Jn.17:26, 3;35, 15:9; phileo – Jn.5:20); of Jesus’ love for his disciples and others (agape – Jn.13:1, 14:21, chapters 15 and 17; phileo – Jn 11:3,36); and of Jesus’ admonitions regarding his people’s love for him (agape – Lk.7:47, Jn.8:42, 14:15, 24; 17; phileo – Mt.10:37, Jn.16:27). However, phileo is far less common (only 22 x total) than agape – 86 x as “love” and 27 x as “charity” and agapao 135 x.

Instructions regarding the love of one’s neighbor (Mt.19:19, 22:33-39, Rom.13:8-10, Jas.2:8), one’s enemy (Mt.5:44, Lk.6:27), and “the brethren,”or “one another” (Jn.13:34-35, 15:12, 15:17; Rom.12:9, 13:8; Gal.5:13, Eph.1:15,4:2; Col.1:4, 2:2; I Thes.3:12, 4:9; Heb.10:24, I Pet.1:22,2:17, and most of I Jn.) consistently use a form of agapao.

One rather surprising observation – also involving both words – is the choice of the tenses of verbs and participles. References to the love of either the Father or Jesus toward people are almost exclusively in the aorist tense. I’m not sure what to make of this. In some cases, it is a historical reference, which is understandable; or mentioned as the motivation for some action, as in “because he loved” (aorist)…he gave his Son…” But I was surprised to discover only four places where this “godly love” is expressed in the present (continuous) tense: Jn.16:27, Heb.12:6 and its parallel in Rev.3:19; and Rev.1:5. I think it is significant that two of those four declare, “Those whom I love, I discipline!” (Heb.12 and Rev.3) – where both words are present (continuous) tense.

When disciples are instructed to love, however, the forms are almost uniformly present. Is this because such love (again, both agapao and phileo) requires constant effort and attention? Because it is the consistent response of a permanently transformed life? Or simply because it is expected to become a character trait, a habitual behavior? Or have you another suggestion?

Another frequent theme is the appearance of these words in conditional clauses: a grammatical structure introduced by “if” (ei, ean), “in order that” (hina , hos) , or “because” (dia touto, hoti). In fact, I have found no reference at all to the popularly-touted phrase “unconditional love.” I’m sure that its perpetrators mean well: they intend to be “welcoming”, and they are correct that Jesus called many folks whose lives were less than exemplary. But they forget that Jesus himself also says plainly, “This is why the Father loves me, because I am laying down my life” (Jn.10:17), and (Jn.16:27) “The Father loves you because you have loved me!” In the longer discussion in Jn.14:15-24 he repeatedly predicates the promise of his own and the Father’s presence and love upon “following my instructions”! And in Jn.15:9-17, it depends upon the disciples’ replicating his love in their own interaction. Paul (I Cor.2:9, 8:13, II Cor.9:7), James (1:12), and John (I Jn.3 and 4), all assume that the life Jesus offers must be reciprocated with loving obedience in order to be actualized.

Love in the brotherhood is to be patterned after Jesus’ own example (Jn.13:34, 15:12,17; Eph.5:2, I Thes.4:9, I Pet.1:22, 2:17, and all of John’s first letter). The same pattern is to be seen in Christian marriage (Eph.5:25-33, Col.3:19). Is the church’s failure to “love as Jesus loved” partly responsible for the failure of so many homes? The church was intended to set the example for husbands and wives to follow! Where else can anyone learn “another kind of love?” It may be easier (for churches and families) to “split” than to commit to the hard work of faithful love – but it does not follow the New Testament pattern.

Like so many things we have examined before, perhaps here too we need to check our focus: to replace nit-picking the non-existent intricacies of the words with careful attention to the object we choose for either agapao or phileo. Is it directed toward “the praise of men” (Jn.12:43), “the highest seats” (Lk.11:43), and other elements of “this present world” (II Tim.4:10), or toward the Lord Jesus, his Father, and his Kingdom?

In I Thes.4:9, Paul writes that “you yourselves are being taught by God to love each other.” Jesus, of course, provided the ultimate example (Jn.14 and 15), and much later, John (II Jn.6) succinctly defines the “kind of love” he was talking about. This is how the Body is created (Eph.3:17), and is intended to grow (Eph.4:15-16; Col.2:2), and function (Gal.5:13 and Eph.4:2).
“May the Lord guide your [our] hearts into the love of God, and the endurance (supplied by) Christ!” (II Thes.3:5)


Word Study #86 — “The World”

January 4, 2011

“The world” has long been a difficult and ambiguous concept for people and groups seeking to be faithful. We are assured that “God so loved” it (Jn.3:16), but warned that we aren’t supposed to (I Jn.2:15). Jesus wants the Good News of his Kingdom preached “into all the world” (Mk.16:15), but promises to “show himself” (Jn.14:19-22) only to his disciples, and specifically not “to the world.” The dilemma Paul describes in I Cor.5:9-13 is a constant challenge for the people of God, of whom, although they must continue to interact with “the world” in which they live, a much higher standard of behavior is expected. How do we sort this out?

For starters, we need to recognize that the English word, “world”, represents three vastly different Greek words.
Oikoumene, used only 14x, classically referred to any inhabited region. Later, it was narrowed to the Greek world as opposed to “barbarian” (non-Greek) territory, and later still, to the Roman Empire. The reference is primarily political (Lk.2:1, 4:5), cultural (Ac.17:6, 19:27), or geographical (Ac.11:28, 24:5, Rom.10:18, Rev.3:10,6:14), although it is also noted that “the whole world” is deceived by Satan (Rev.12:9), judged by the Lord Jesus (Ac.17:31), and subjected (Heb.2:5) to his sovereignty.

Aion (32x), on the other hand, with its adjectival form aionios (61x), had no classical reference to “the world” at all. L/S lists “a lifetime; an age or generation; a long, but clearly marked-out space of time; an epoch”, and for the adjective, “perpetual”, or “a title held for one’s lifetime.” Even Trench, who usually endorses traditional versions, laments the translation “world” rather than “age” because of the resultant failure to distinguish aion from kosmos, which he characterizes as the difference between measuring time, or space, noting that aion is the only one ever spoken of as “ending”! (“Eternal”???) Thayer notes Plato’s and Aristotle’s use of aion as “life force”, and says that the idea of “perpetuity” only entered with Hebrew rabbinic influence. Herodotus and others considered that numerous “ages” (aion) comprised “eternity”, for which he used the same term.
A similar thought is seen in New Testament references to “this age” (Mt.12:32), “the age to come” (Mk.10:30, Lk.18:30), and “the end of the age” (Mt.13:39, 24:3, 28:20). Traditional versions use “world” for all of these.
“This present age” carries considerable negative connotation, especially when referring to its “children” (Lk.16:8, 20:24) being preoccupied with their own affairs (Mt.13:22, I Tim.4:10), with its being ruled by malevolent powers (I Cor.2:8, II Cor.4:4, Eph.6:12), and itself characterized as “evil” (Gal.1:4). The faithful are cautioned not to be patterned after its ways (Rom.12:2), nor to be overly impressed by its philosophers (I Cor.1:20, 3:18), but to live carefully (Tit.2:12) in order to be found worthy (Lk.20:35) of the age yet to come.
In view of the preponderance of temporary implications of aion, it is puzzling why the adjectival form has almost exclusively been translated “eternal” and popularly understood to mean “endless”. I rather suspect that the adjective probably refers more to the quality than the quantity of whatever noun it modifies, but this whole idea should have serious further study by a faithful brotherhood. It is beyond the scope of this brief summary. At the very least, aion , age, should be carefully divided from the more general term “world”.  Please see also #28.

Kosmos, the most frequently used term (187x), also represents the greatest variety of classical usage. L/S lists “order, or good behavior (Aristotle); “the natural order of things” (Herodotus), or “the order of government – especially the constitution of Sparta”; “the order of the universe (Pythagoras) or “the earth as opposed to the heavens or the underworld”; “ornament or honor” (Homer); or, among various philosophers, “any specific region of the universe or its inhabitants.” Not until the New Testament writers did the term acquire the negative connotations of a kingdom of evil, or estrangement from God.
The context usually reveals whether the use of kosmos intends simply the physical creation and/or its human inhabitants (Mt.13:15,38; 26:13; Lk.12:20, Jn.1:9, 6:14, 16:28, 21:25; Ac.17:24, Rom.1:8, I Cor.14:10, Eph.1:4, Heb.4:3), people ignorant of God’s ways (Mt.5:14, 26:13; Jn.1:9, 3:19,14:31, 16:8, I Cor.1:20-28, 3:19; Gal.4:3, Eph.2:2,12; I Jn.3:1); overt antagonism toward Jesus, his people, or his Kingdom (Mt.18:7, Jn.1:10, 3:19, 7:4-7, 12:31, 14:30,15:18-19, 16:11,20,33; Rom.3:19, I Cor.4:9-13, Col.2:8, Heb.11:7, 38; Jas.4:4, and all of II Peter), or the contrast between the faithful and their surroundings (Mt.5:14, 16:26,Lk.12:30,Jn.12:25, 14:22,27; all of Jn.17, 18:36-37; I Cor.2:12,5:10, 6:2; I Cor.7:31-34,11:32; Gal.6:14, Phil.2:15; Heb.11:38; all of James, I Jn.3, 5:19).
Please note that these lists are not exhaustive. Feel free to add to them.

There are many instances describing Jesus’ own relation to the kosmos. He is its Creator (Jn.1:10), its Light (Jn.1:9, 8:12, 9:5, 12:46), he takes away its failures [“sins”] (Jn.1:29) – and see W.S.#7, he is its Savior (Jn.4:42, 3:17, 12:46, I Tim.1:15 – W.S.#5. He came to give it life (Jn.6:33), and to give his life in its behalf (Jn.6:51) – note that these are different grammatical constructions. He was sent by the Father into the world (Jn.10:36, Heb.10:5), in order to speak to the world from the Father (Jn.8:26), for judgment – W.S.#9 & 10 – (Jn.9:39); to reconcile – W.S.#69 – it to himself (II Cor.5:19). His kingdom is neither derived from nor controlled by the world (Jn.18:36-37), but he has overcome the world (Jn.16:33). It is all subject to him (I Cor.3:22)!

This lends a very sobering weight to John’s summary statement to the faithful in I Jn.4:17: “We are just like he is, in the world!” And if we look at descriptions of faithful disciples in relation to the world, the similarity is striking. Mt.5:14: “You all are the light of the world!” Mk.16:15: “As you all are going into the world, preach the good news!” Jn.17:14: “The world hated them, because they are not from [do not belong to] the world, just as I am not from [do not belong to] the world”. I Cor.2:12: “We did not receive the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God!” You can find many more.
At the same time, we must remember that “the world” is also God’s good creation, which, like all of his creation, can be used rightly or wrongly (see previous post, and chapter 3 of Citizens of the Kingdom). It’s “wisdom”, (I Cor. 1-3) apart from his, is “foolishness”, but its “goods” (I Jn.3:17) are to be used for the welfare of the brotherhood. Although our time of identification with the world and its ways is represented as negative, and in the past tense (II Cor.1:12 and elsewhere), it is that very “world” that Jesus came to “reconcile to himself” (II Cor.5:19), and which will eventually be fully subject to his reign (Rev.11:15)! Another place where it is the focus that matters?

Perhaps this constitutes at least a partial resolution to the dilemma regarding John’s statements with which we began, of God’s love for the world (Jn.3:16) and his warning against love for the world (I Jn.2:15). The same word – agapao – is used in both places (we will deal with that in a later post), but the form in the first is aorist (past, “snapshot”) tense, and the latter a present (continuous) tense. I think this is probably significant, but am not sure of the implication. Does anyone have a suggestion? John’s own elaboration in I Jn.4:9,14,17 may offer some assistance. James (4:4) treats a similar idea in terms of “friendship”.

It may, however, be “on purpose” that the concept of “the world” is so difficult to nail down.
John’s “we are just like he is in the world” may be intended as a perennial challenge to us as his people – his functioning Body – to discern together, in every situation, the specifics of that responsibility.
Faithfully representing its (and our) Creator, Owner, and Sovereign, may we walk kindly and confidently through his world.

2010 in review

January 2, 2011

Hello, folks.  This just came out today, and I thought you all would enjoy seeing it.
Thanks to all who have been a part of the readership.  I would be delighted if you would also participate, and add observations that you would consider helpful!

In the service of the King!


The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,400 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 57 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 96 posts.

The busiest day of the year was February 15th with 102 views. The most popular post that day was Word Study #24 — “In the Name of Jesus”.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were ifreestores.com, bibles.wikidot.com, lookhigher.net, betterbibles.com, and biblereadersmuseum.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for word study for worthy, word study on humility, pioneers new testament, worship in the newtestament “spirit and truth”, and word study on hope.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Word Study #24 — “In the Name of Jesus” November 2009


Word Study 101 October 2009


Word Study #31 — Power February 2010


Get PNT June 2009


Word Study #11 — “Test / Trial / Temptation” –Don’t blame God! June 2009