Word Study #121 — Convict, Conviction

Many of the words that are favorites of folks whose “gospel preaching” consists primarily of attempts to put their audience (read,”victims”) on a massive guilt-trip, occur rarely, if at all, in the New Testament, and seldom with the connotations which those “preachers” trumpet with such insistence. But this has to be one of the most abused words of all. In the traditional KJV that is so dear to their hearts, the English word “convict”appears only one single time (Jn.8:9),and “conviction” not at all! So much for their need to gloat over having brought people “under conviction”, to boast of the “strength of one’s convictions”, or of threatening folks with tender consciences that they must ransack their memories in order to be “convicted” of forgotten (or imagined) transgressions. There is no such teaching to be found in the New Testament – anywhere! (If you can find any, please feel free to comment. But be certain that you accurately quote a New Testament passage!)

The Greek word, elegcho, translated “convict” only in minor manuscripts of the John 8 passage cited above, where it describes the scene of the wannabe executioners slinking away at Jesus’ rebuke, does occur elsewhere, with other translations: “convince” 4x, “rebuke”5x, “reprove” 5x, and “tell one’s fault” 1x. Classically, it represents the language of the courtroom, or of philosophical debate. L/S lists “to disgrace, or put to shame; to treat with contempt; to cross-examine or question; to accuse one of doing wrong; to test or bring to proof; to be convicted (legally) of wrongdoing; to bring convincing proof; to refute (in a debate); to put right or correct; to decide a dispute; to expose a wrong or betray a weakness.”
The common English understanding of “convict” more closely parallels the passages where elegcho is rendered “convince” – Jesus challenges his accusers that they cannot “convince/convict” him of failing God’s standard (Jn.8:46); Paul describes an outsider being “convinced / convicted” (I Cor.14:24) by the prophetic messages of all the brotherhood to acknowledge that “God is surely among you all!”; and James makes the point that one dare not pick and choose only parts of the Law for observation, but that the Law itself passes equal judgment (“conviction”) on every transgression (2:9). Only in his letter to Titus (1:9) does Paul use elegcho in the context of debate or instruction.

Although elegcho was rendered “rebuke” and “reprove” 5x each, the more common word for those terms in Greek was epitimao (24x). Trench distinguishes between the two words, taking issue with the use of the word “reprove” for elegcho, considering that it fails to take into account the possibility of “being brought to one’s senses.” He holds that epitimao carries the notion of blaming, with no indication of whether the blame is deserved or not, and no assurance of its having any effect; whereas he thinks that elegcho describes a confrontation that at least causes a person to see his error, and hopefully to remedy it. This is more or less consistent with the L/S listing of “to assign blame, to censure, or the assessment of a penalty by a judge, for epitimao, although earlier, the term was also used for honor, or a price (the meaning of the root word, timao).

Epitimao is used of Jesus “rebuking” a storm (Mt.8:26, Mk.4:39, Lk.8:24), evil spirits (Mt.17:18, Mk.1:25, 9:25; Lk.4:35, 9:42), and a fever (Lk.4:39), however, and in all of these cases, the effect was both expected and dramatic – so that particular differentiation is probably not valid.

Certainly the use of elegcho in I Tim.5:20, Tit.1:13, 2:15; Heb.12:5, Rv.3:19 (translated “rebuke”) anticipates a change in behavior, as it does also in Jn.3:20, 16:8; Eph.5:11 and 13; II Tim.4:2 (translated “reprove”. Only the confrontation between Herod and John the Baptist (Lk.3:19) seems to have no expectation of improvement.
The instructions for dealing with a brother’s error uses elegcho in Mt.18:15 and epitimao in Lk.17:3.
In II Tim.4:2, both words are used together.
The usage, therefore, seems to suggest that the terms are nearly, if not entirely, synonymous.

Epitimao is the word used of the discussion between Jesus and Peter in Mt.16:22 and Mk.8:32-33, as well as in the incident of the disciples scolding the crowds for “bothering” Jesus with their children (Mk.10:13, Mt.19:13, Lk.18:15) and his correcting (Lk.9:55) their misunderstanding. This was also the demand of the Pharisees who thought Jesus should forbid the praises of his disciples and the children in the Palm Sunday procession and later in the temple (Lk.19:39), and also describes the efforts of the crowd who tried to silence the blind men who were calling to Jesus for help (Mt.20:31), as well as to refer to Jesus’ instructions to his disciples (translated “charged them”) (Mt.3:12, 8:30, 10:48, 12:16; Lk.9:21).

It remains for us to examine the much-quoted passage in John 16:8-11, which is frequently cited as justification for much of the guilt-tripping perpetrated under the guise of “evangelism” (See #18, 43, and 67). First of all, please note that the subject of the verb, elegxei (future tense), no matter how you choose to translate it, is parakletos, the “coach”, the Holy Spirit. It is his job, not ours!
Please note also that the object of the verb is “the world” (ton kosmon), not the disciples, nor those who are contemplating joining them! Indeed, it is in the disciple group, coached and enabled by the Holy Spirit, that “the world” is intended to see a demonstration of Kingdom living, and the revelation that “the ruler of this world” has been defeated!!! (Jn.16:11)
As we have seen, it is perfectly in order for more mature members of the Kingdom to correct the brethren when necessary – please refer to #116, and see earlier references to the epistles to Timothy and Titus in this study, and the familiar Mt.18:15 passage – but it is not our job to reform (convict, rebuke, or reprove) the world, or to attempt to force Kingdom behavior upon those who have no commitment to our King. Kingdom behavior must be enabled by the Holy Spirit – there is no other way!

It is as the “outsider” experiences the life of the gathered group of disciples (I Cor.14-24-25), prophesying (see #45) and interacting under the instruction of the Holy Spirit, that he will be “convinced / convicted”, acknowledging the presence of God.

May we continually strive to become the welcoming brotherhood where this can happen!

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