Quotes you might enjoy

May 31, 2012

Quotations gleaned from an exhibit of historical documents visited with Dan in Atlanta, 2012
“It’s only a press – but a press from which will flow a constant stream.
Through it, God will spread his word.
A spring of truth will flow from it.
Like a new star, it will scatter the darkness of ignorance
and cause an unknown light to shine for all.”

J. Gutenberg

 

“Right well he perceived and considered this only or most chiefly to be the cause of all mischief in the church, that the scriptures of God were hidden from the peoples eyes: for so long the abominable doings and idolatries maintained by the Pharasaical Clergy could not be espied, and therefore all their labor was with might and main to keep it down, so that either it should not be read at all, or if it were, they would darken the right sense with the mist of their sophistry, and so entangle them which rebuked or despised their abominations, with arguments of philosophy and with worldly similitudes and apparent reasons of natural wisdom: and with wresting the scripture unto their own purpose, contrary to the process, order, and meaning of the text, would so delude them in descanting upon it with allegories, and amaze them, expounding it in many senses laid before unlearned lay people, that though thou felt in thy heart, and were sure that all were false that they said, yet couldest thou not solve their subtle riddles.”

Description of William Tyndale’s work (1550) , in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

 

“Because the bible is the light to our path,
the key to the kingdom of heaven,
our comfort in affliction,
the source of all wisdom,
the mirror where we see God’s face,
the record of his favor,
and the only food and nourishment for our souls,
we thought we should dedicate our efforts and study
to nothing that could be more acceptable to God and beneficial to his church
than translating of the Bible into English. “

Geneva Bible Preface, 1560

 

Those of us who are still working at the task are in good company!
Substitute “the internet” for “a press” in Gutenberg’s statement, and it still applies! So does much of the rest!
May we all labor faithfully, to the same end!

 

 

 


We need your feedback please!

May 28, 2012

Hi folks, it’s your rarely-seen administrator here (that would be Ruth’s geek son).  We’re just getting ready to publish the next 50 word studies, and we need your opinion.  What we’d like to know, is how many of you would prefer to see the next 50 as a separate companion volume to the first 100 (previously published as 100 Word Studies That Could Change Your Life), or whether you’d prefer to see all 150 combined into a single indexed volume.

To get a sense of your preferences, we have created a SurveyMonkey poll.  Please click over to that poll and express your preference for how you’d like us to proceed, as we prefer to invest our editorial efforts in the version that will best serve you, our faithful readers.  Thanks for taking the time to share your opinion!


Word Study #148 — The Scriptures

May 24, 2012

Although “scripture” is an old English translation of one of the most ordinary of words, few such translations have engendered more controversy, among both “scholars” and “ordinary” adherents to varied theological perspectives. The Greek words, graphe, gramma (nouns) and grapho, graphomai (active and passive verbs, respectively), carry no defined “perspectives” at all. The two nouns, which lexicons do not differentiate, may refer to any sort of drawing, painting, mathematical diagram, or legal records, as well as any written document, letter, or inscription, whether intended for public or private use. The term “holy scripture” appears in an extensive L/S list that also includes musical notes, medical prescriptions, criminal records, catalogs, and various other sorts of lists! The verbs are just as diverse, including “to draw a map, to describe a mathematical figure, to brand or mark, to invoke a curse upon, to propose a law, to write a letter, to enroll oneself or another, to take notes, or to petition for a hearing before a council!” Consequently, there is clearly no theological case to be made by etymology!

Nevertheless, even if one (correctly) interprets these common Greek words simply as “writings, documents, or records”, it is clear that in the minds of the readers and writers of the New Testament documents, some “writings” carried greater authority than others.
While “the Law” (#37,38), among its most devoted adherents, was honored almost (if not altogether) to the point of worship, and “It is written” (more than 40x in the Gospels alone) seems to have been expected to end all speculation or argument with a “proof-text” from the law, the psalms, or a prophet, please note that Jesus did not hesitate to make corrections (Mt.5,6,7 and elsewhere) to its precepts, and even to refer to it as “your law” (Jn.8:17, 10:24) rather than “God’s”. He exhibited careful selectivity, also, in his view of the “authoritative” quality of the prophets. His statement in Lk.18:31, “Everything that has been written by the prophets about the son of man will be completed”, is modified in Lk.22:37 to “all this that has been written about me,” indicating the distinct possibility that not “everything” assumed to refer to his person or his mission was necessarily accurate or relevant!

Both Jesus and the apostles quoted “the law and the prophets” – sometimes in support of their message (Jn.2:22, 7:38, Ac.8:32,35) and sometimes in contrast to it (Mt.22:29, Rom.7:6, 2:29; II Cor.3:6).
Some things only made sense to the disciples after the fact (Jn.20:9, Lk.24:27,32,45), and it is not unreasonable to assume that faithful followers may still find that to be the case.

But for committed followers of Jesus, it is Jesus himself who must be the definitive arbiter as to what is or is not reliable “scripture.” He challenged the Pharisees’ minute attention to the details of their “scriptures [writings]” (Jn.5:39), with the observation that, had they paid proper attention to those very scriptures, they would have seen that all which had legitimately gone before, bore testimony to him!
But how do we discern what actually does apply to him?

At a distance of more than 2000 years, it must be acknowledged that evaluating and sorting bits of recorded information and observations is problematic at best. Scholars correctly point out that the presently recognized “canon of scripture” represents only a portion of the “writings” of the New Testament era. The official councils that ruled upon the inclusion or exclusion of specific documents were no more composed of unbiased scholars than are subsequent translation committees!
Nevertheless, anyone who reads many of the rejected accounts – some of which bear closer resemblance to Greek mythology, philosophical polemics, or simple flights of fancy than to responsible reporting or thoughtful teaching – can readily discern a sharp difference in the quality of writing. Documentary study, when responsibly done, is a separate and respectable discipline, but it is beyond the scope of this brief paper.

For the purpose of this discussion, I have chosen to assume that we have, in the New Testament text, a reasonably accurate account of the life and teachings of Jesus and the practices and understandings of his earliest followers.
The integrity of the existing account is additionally evidenced by the “warts and all” presentation of both individuals (including those recognized as “leaders”) and group interactions. There is no credible evidence of whitewashing.
That is not to say, however, that “every word” was divinely dictated! No such claim is made anywhere in the text. In fact, Paul overtly notes (I Cor.7:12,25) when he is expressing his own opinion, “not the Lord”! His statement to Timothy (II Tim.3:16) has been seriously misinterpreted. The problem derives from the textual absence of any verb from the sentence. An English translation needs a verb. But where does it belong? Most translators, conforming to their prior teaching, have rendered it “All Scripture [writing] (is) inspired [breathed] by God, and (is) useful …”, but the grammar would equally support, “All God-breathed [inspired] writing (is) useful …”. There is no grammatical clue as to where the “is” belongs – or to how many there are! It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to maintain that “all writing” – of whatever provenance – is either “inspired by God” OR “useful”! Clearly, Paul’s point is that inspired writing is useful – for teaching, correction, and discipline. Remember, “scripture” in the text, is NOT a “different word” from “writing”!   This is the only use of the word theopneustos in the entire text of the New Testament. And “inspired” does not mean “dictated”!
The same caveat applies to Peter’s complaint (II Pet.3:16) about Paul’s writings, and the much-quoted reference to the “other scriptures”. Peter calls for discernment, on the part of both teachers and hearers. This is still a serious need among God’s people.

I believe that the lack of such discernment is the key to a very large percentage of “theological” disagreement among well-meaning disciples yet today. Quoting the passages mentioned above, a large contingent of teachers / writers subscribes to the “flat book” theory of “inspiration”, claiming that “every word from Genesis to Revelation” was directly chosen by God (in KJV English, no less), and is equally authoritative. As we have seen, Jesus did not subscribe to that theory, nor did he ask it of his followers. In fact, his frequent use of “BUT I SAY …” (Mt.5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44) or “because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses wrote that for you” (Mt.19:8, Mk.10:5), grows out of his understanding that he needed to correct the errors of the old ways of thinking, behaving, and interpreting the plans and instructions of the Father. The entire letter to the Hebrews is devoted to that same subject: The old ways did not work! That’s why Jesus had to come, personally, and straighten things out!

Jesus explained (Mt.11:13, Lk.16:16) that the law and the prophets were (in effect) until John (the Baptist), and “Since then, the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed!”
Paul understood this (II Cor.3:12-14), “In Christ it has come to an end!” and Eph.2:15, “He eliminated the law of commands and decrees!”
Folks who quote Jesus’ statement in Mt.5:17-18 regarding the permanence of the law and the prophets, neglect the last phrase: “until it all happens [is fulfilled]!” Jesus himself IS that fulfillment! (Lk.18:31, Jn.19:28).
Luke’s version of the “great commission” (Lk.24:44-48) is the proclamation of that fulfillment!

So – how does an earnest disciple identify “authoritative Scripture”? Basically, it is a choice.
Personally, I have chosen the New Testament as my standard. I impose that choice upon no one else, but I identify the most closely with folks who have chosen similarly. If there seems to be some sort of conflict in the text, Jesus’ own words make the call.
Luke described his quest in the prologue to his gospel (1:1-4) – he carefully researched the available information, and checked it out with folks who had “been there, done that.” The other writers may have combined their own experience with the accounts of others – they don’t say. But Jesus had the final word. There are few discrepancies in direct quotes.
Pre-Christian writings can be helpful – indeed, the apostles referred to them frequently, when their audiences were familiar with the ancient texts. The Jews at Berea used them to confirm Paul’s message. But they were not imposed upon Gentile groups (Ac.15).
The judgment of others who are well- acquainted with the Lord is also helpful. It’s fairly easy to discern whether a statement, idea, or action is consistent with the personality of someone you know very well.
The Biblical writers and teachers challenged each other (Gal.2) and corrected one another (Ac.18:24-28).

Paul summarized it well in Rom.15:4-6:
“For whatever was written before, was written for our instruction, in order that by means of the endurance and the ‘coaching’ of the Scriptures [writings] we might have hope [confidence].
May God, (the source)of endurance and encouragement, give you all concern (about) the same things, among each other, with Christ Jesus as the standard, in order that unitedly, with one mouth [voice] you all may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Amen!


Word Study #147 — The Land, the Earth

May 20, 2012

I recently encountered an author, during what was called “a study of the Beatitudes”, who made a statement that I could only describe as not just unfounded, but as totally bizarre. He confidently asserted that when the Greek word ge appeared in the New Testament, it referred not to the “earth” (as it is correctly translated in Mt.5:5), but to the “promised land” of Israel! His claim was shakily based upon a single phrase quoted from Psalm 37:11, “the meek shall inherit the land.”
This is an excellent illustration of the error of piecing together bits of disconnected “verses” to “prove” a point. If you slice and dice the pieces small enough, you can scramble the results to make any piece of literature say virtually anything.
Careful perusal of the Gospel accounts reveals not a single instance where Jesus spoke of restoring ancient boundaries, but several (Mt.24, Mk.13, Lk.21) where he warned of even greater destruction than his hearers had ever seen! The Son of Man who “had no place to lay his head” was (and is) NOT INTO REAL ESTATE!!! This, in spite of the glorious truth that by virtue of creation, he rightfully owns it ALL (Col.1:15).

Nevertheless, we owe it to this well-meaning but sadly misguided author to explore the ways that the concept of “land” is used in the New Testament. It represents five different Greek words, which are only minimally differentiated in the lexicons. We’ll start, this time, with the least frequent.
Xeros, the adjective meaning “dry”, is used as a noun only once (Mt.23:15), where Jesus is describing the Pharisees’ “exploring land and sea” to make proselytes. Clearly, it is the universal extent of their efforts that is being emphasized. L/S calls xeros “terra firma”, or “the mainland.”
Chorion, translated 2x “field”, 3x “land”, 1x “parcel of ground”, 2x “place”, and 1x “possession”, refers specifically to the ownership or sale of real estate (Ac.4:34, 5:3, 5, 8; 1:18-19, 28:7), or, in the case of Mt.26:36 and Mk.14:32, simply “a place”. L/S also suggests “a place of business or office, a space enclosed by lines – as in geometry – or other boundaries,” and Bauer adds “a city or other economic or political region or district.”
Chora – “land” 3x, “country”14x, “field”2x, “ground” 1x, “region” 5x – L/S “land, country, or territory; one’s position or proper place”, and Bauer “open country as opposed to a city or town”, is most frequently simply a geographical location: “the land of Judah (Mk.1:5), “the land of the Jews” (Ac.10:39), the Magi returning to their own country (Mt.2:12), the country of the Gadarenes (Mk.5:1), journeying to a far country (Lk.15:13), and “the country of Galatia” (Ac.18:23), among others.
Agros, “land”4x, “farm” 1x, “field” 22x, is a fairly easy one (think agriculture). It’s where seeds are planted (Mt.13:24, 13:31, 38; Lk.15:15,25), where wild flowers grow (Mt.6:28,30) or a potter digs clay (Mt.27:7). Additionally, it was translated “country” (as opposed to a city) 8x (Mt.5:14, 6:36,56; 15:21, 16:12, Lk.8:34, 9:12, 23:26). L/S calls it “tilled land” (as opposed to “fallow”), “the country – not town”, or even “the fruits of the land.”

All of these together, though, seem few, next to the uses of ge. It was traditionally translated “land” 42x, and “earth” 188x, as well as “ground” 18x, “country” 2x, and “world” 1x. This was the word (think geology) used to differentiate the normal abode of people and animals from “the heavens” (#118), and “the underworld”, both classically and in New Testament usages such as Mt.5:18, 35; 6:19, 11:25, 14:42, 18:18 and parallels; Jn.3:31, Ac.1:8, 4:24, 7:49; Rom.11:18, Eph.1:10.
It, along with xeros, is also used as the opposite of “the sea” (Lk.5:11, 21:8,9; Ac.27:39,43,44).
Like chora, it’s where seed is planted (Mk.4:5 and parallels), but ge is more likely to refer to the ground (soil) than to a specific field or location.
It’s where you land if you fall down (Ac.9:4), or where the people sat for a picnic (Mt.15:35).
Classically, ge was also one of the four “elements” that were thought to make up all created things – earth, air, fire, and water. This aspect does not occur in NT writings, but was prominent in others.

Apparently, traditional translators chose to change the word from “earth” to “land” when they thought it referred to a particular geographical entity – which is ok, IF you remember that it is not a different word in the text. Matthew mentions “the land of Judah (2:6), the land of Israel (2:20,21), the land of Zebulon and Naphtali (4:15), the land of Sodom (10:15, 11:24), the land of Gennesseret (14:34).
Mark (4:1, 6:47) and Luke (5:3, 11; 8:27) and John (6:21, 21:8,9 11) mention ships either arriving or departing from “land.”
Stephen’s sermon (Ac.7) lists comings and goings from many “lands” (3,4,6,11,29,36,40) throughout Jewish history, and Paul’s historical review in the synagogue at Antioch mentions the “land of Egypt” and the “land of Canaan” (Ac.13:17, 19). The only New Testament reference to the “land of promise” is in Heb.11:9, of Abraham’s wandering there. Check it out. There is no other place where those two words are used together!
The other references to “promise” (a digression, but one critical to the point) involve the charge to Abraham to be the agent of “blessing” to all nations, Jesus’ Kingdom, the Holy Spirit, and the building together of the family of Jesus’ people! Jesus himself never connected the words “promise” and “land” AT ALL.
In fact, the Gospels, using four different words, use the English word “promise” only four times, and only once quoting Jesus:
Lk.24:49 – epaggelia – “I send the promise of my Father upon you” (the Holy Spirit)
Mt.14:7 – homologeo – Herod’s promise (oath) to Salome!
Lk.22:16 – exomologeomai— Judas’ promise to the priests, to betray Jesus
Mk.14:11 – epaggellomai – parallel to Lk.22.
For a more complete treatment of the concept of “promise”, see #83.

Whether you choose to call ge “land” or “earth”, however, it is in every instance a finite concept. According to Jesus, “Heaven (#118) and earth will pass away” (Mt.24:35, Mk.13:31, Lk.21:33), but his words will not!
Years later, Peter took up the same theme regarding the destruction of both heaven and earth (II Pet.3:10-13), and John ends the account of the Revelation with the advent of “a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and the first earth were gone!” (Rv.21:1)
Paul’s admonition to those who share in the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus, is as apt today as it was when first written (Col.3:2): “Keep paying attention to what’s above, not what’s on the earth!”

It was the former covenant (See #79 and 80) – now declared in Hebrews to be obsolete (7:18, 8:7-13) – which proclaimed a promise of land. And even then, (a matter that is usually forgotten), it was contingent upon obedience to the directives of God (Dt.11:26-28 and all of chapter 28).
The New Covenant, established by the Lord Jesus, proclaims, not a “land”, but a Kingdom (see #19,20,21), which is also contingent upon following the instructions of its King –
ON EARTH!!!!


Word Study #146 — The Sabbath –Part 2

May 16, 2012

Please refer to #110 for more historical information.

Observance of the Jewish “Sabbath” was, if such is possible, even more controversial in the first century than the term has become among some Christian groups today. It got Jesus into a lot of trouble, so I guess it should be no surprise if it does the same for others who are serious about faithfulness.
Although sabbath observance was only one among many requirements enshrined in the Jewish Law (W.S.#37 and 38), by the time of Jesus, it may have been considered the most important. Issues of civic consequence, for example, were no longer open to the discretion of either individuals or their ruling hierarchy, but were dictated by the Roman occupiers. “Religious” requirements were all they had left, with which to define and / or maintain their group identity. So please remember, they meant well. The leaders who became Jesus’ opponents, critics, and eventual executioners, honestly believed that they were acting as “defenders of the faith”, and consequently they had carefully developed extensive commentaries – and commentaries on those commentaries – to assure that their revered Law would be correctly observed in every detail, especially its hallmark, the Sabbath, which was defined and re-defined with more than a thousand detailed instructions and regulations.

Lexical references to to sabbaton, or its plural form, ta sabbata, which are used interchangeably, are almost totally confined to LXX and NT sources, except for the occasional reference to seven days as a “week” – a concept which appears historically in ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, and Persian cultures, prior to any contact with Jewish or Christian thought.
In the New Testament, 14 of the uses of sabbaton / sabbata are simply fixing the date when something happened. Four are when Jesus showed up at a synagogue, and four when Paul did likewise (except that one of those was a gathering on a river bank, not a synagogue). Quite simply, that’s where people were – so it was a sensible place to teach or preach. “Showing up” was not controversial.

The trouble started when it came to specifics. Jesus’ announcement of his mission (Lk.4:16) during the course of his visit to the synagogue at Nazareth nearly got him thrown off a cliff! His healings on similar occasions caused an uproar. The “authorities” (Lk.13:14) scolded the beneficiaries of his ministrations, “Come on other days to be healed, not on the Sabbath!” Their objections frequently precipitated discussions about what was and was not appropriate Sabbath behavior (Mt.12:10-12, Lk.6:5-9, 13:14; Mk.3:2-4). Jesus’ reply is classic: “should I treat people with less concern that you have for your animals?” (Lk.13:15, 14:5; Mt.12:10-12), but even more telling is his question, recorded only by Mark (3:4), “Is it permissible on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil? To save a life, or to kill?” Here is summarized one of the most significantly different aspects of Jesus’ teaching, in contrast to the Law which his critics so staunchly defended. It’s no longer a question of prohibitions, but of positive actions for another’s welfare. In Jesus’ universe, to fail (or refuse) to do good IS to do evil, and to refuse to save a life IS to kill. And the day of the week on which it happens is quite irrelevant!

John (5:1-18) describes an incident of healing – also on a sabbath – at the pool of Bethzatha, and its aftermath in the temple. First, the Jewish rulers berated the healed man for carrying his no-longer-needed cot (probably calling it “work”), and then they turned on Jesus, who was their real target anyway. He mildly observed, “My Father is still working, and so am I!” (v.17). John then explains, “Because of this, therefore, the Jews were seeking to kill him, because he not only was ‘breaking’ the Sabbath, but was saying that his own Father was God, equating himself with God!” (v.18)
The Synoptics all record (Mt.12:8, Mk.2:28, Lk.6:5) Jesus’ claim that “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” They place that statement at the time when the disciples were criticized for snacking in a grain field. “Harvesting” was “work”, and therefore forbidden on the Sabbath, although the Law had specified that grain be deliberately left at the edges of a field for the benefit of strangers (Lv.19:9,10).
Mark includes a second statement which Matthew and Luke missed: “The Sabbath came to be, for the benefit of people, not people for the Sabbath.” (v.27)
Indeed, a day or rest and worship among the Lord’s people is a wonderful, life-giving gift. How sad, that the desires of men to rule over others should make it a day of restrictions and prohibitions, rather than one of the celebration of the kindness and goodness of God!
In Heb.3 and 4, the writer details the “sabbath rest” (sabbatismos – used only here) provided for faithful followers of the Lord Jesus (See “Rest” #77). This is offered, not once-a-week, but permanently, in union with him, although it certainly requires continuous attention and effort (4:11).
By Jesus’ own testimony, besides being himself the Lord of the Sabbath as noted above – as well as Lord of everything else! – he has already fulfilled everything that was formerly written truly “about him” in the Law and the Prophets, and is himself the provider of rest (Mt.11:28). He issued no regulations about a particular day or observance – except, as noted, “to do good” and “to save life”– every day!

There are eight places in the New Testament where the word sabbaton / sabbata is not translated “sabbath”, but is part of the phrase, “the first day of the week”. Six of these refer to the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and of the joyful discovery by his followers that HE IS ALIVE!!! The other two are I Cor.16:2, where the readers are encouraged to set aside what they have committed for the relief offering “on the first day of the week”, and Ac.20:7, the meeting where Paul preached young Eutychus to sleep. Some folks insist that these two meetings indicate that the “first day” had been declared the “new Sabbath” – but there is no such statement to be found. Others are just as adamant that the “original” Jewish Sabbath be required. One also searches in vain for any admonition to that effect. Some folks have extensive lists of activities that must be avoided – or performed – on whichever day they have chosen, and eagerly try to force them, legally, upon the general population.
By contrast, Paul warns in Col.2:16 against being deceived by those who “pass judgment on you all, about food or drink, or observance of feasts, or new moons, or sabbaths.” At the Jerusalem Conference (Ac.15), which dealt with the inclusion of Gentile converts, there was no mention of a Sabbath requirement being imposed upon the newcomers – only the avoidance of things connected to idol worship. Paul notes in Eph.2:15, that Jesus “eliminated the law of commands and decrees, in order that he might create the two, in himself, into one new person [humanity], thus making peace.”
As for “meetings”, we have the testimony of Ac.2:46,47 that the brethren met daily to learn, to share, and to worship. Later, it seems as if they assembled whenever Paul or another of the teachers was in the vicinity, as well as “from house to house”. Heb.10:25 reminds us not to neglect getting together. But when and where seems to be flexible.

So – Celebrate the gift of Sabbath rest! If you choose to do it on the day honored by Jewish tradition, do it giving thanks to the Lord of the Sabbath!
If you prefer to commemorate the resurrection of our Lord and his present life among us,on the day when he definitively defeated evil and death, celebrate his triumph, giving thanks!
Celebrate becoming loving siblings in his family!
Celebrate by actively “doing good” and “saving life” – the only two “Sabbath” activities that Jesus specifically commended to our observance.
More is better, when it involves folks who love the Lord and each other!


Word Study #145 — Of Neighbors and Enemies

May 14, 2012

Does this seem to you like a strange pairing of words? Quite aside from the sad reality that some “neighbors” can certainly be a serious test of one’s commitment to Kingdom attitudes and behavior, the ancient admonition (which, remember, Jesus flatly contradicted) to “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Mt.5:43) makes a lot of sense to a tragically astonishing number of people who claim to follow him. But Jesus insists that both are to be loved (Mt.5:44) – not just tolerated, but actively loved. The verb is agapao (see #87), and if it needs greater clarification, the Lord has amply provided it: the neighbor is to be loved equally with one’s “self” (Mt.19:19, 22:29; Mk.12:31,33; Lk.10:27, Rom.13:9, Gal.5:14, Jas.2:8), and love for one’s enemy is to be expressed in actively doing good (Lk.6:27,35) to those who hate you, “blessing / speaking well of” those who curse you (Lk.6:28), and praying for one’s abusers.
The vocabulary is not the problem here. The words are quite without a trace of ambiguity.
Although there are three different terms translated “neighbor”, geiton (4x), perioikos (1x as a noun, 1x as a verb), and plesion (16x), none of the lexicons offer any distinctions. Uniformly, they refer to “someone living in one’s vicinity”, although plesion, the most common, is also rendered “one’s fellow man” (Bauer) and “friend, countryman, or companion” (Thayer).
No, the problem for most folks lies not in semantics, but in Jesus’ explicit instructions.

It’s not just that, as noted above, fully half of the uses of plesion – 8 out of 16 – insist that the neighbor is to be loved “as yourself”. This admonition has been twisted by advocates of a brand of pop-psychology to justify a narcissistic focus upon one’s “self” as a positive thing – but such an attitude is diametrically opposed both to Jesus’ own life and to his message. Jesus’ focus is consistently outward, and his concept of “neighborhood” is expansive.
Although in parables, he refers to “friends (philoi) and neighbors” (geiton) (Lk.15:6,9), Luke also refers to “relatives (suggeneis) and neighbors” (Lk.14:12, 1:58), and in Ac.3:37, seems to define the word as “a fellow-Hebrew” as does the prophet Jeremiah (31:34) quoted in Heb.8:11. Paul may be using it some of the same ways, calling for doing no wrong to a neighbor (Rom.13:10), “pleasing” him for his up-building (Rom.15:2), and interacting with absolute truthfulness (Eph.4:28), or he may be referring to fellow-disciples, although he usually calls the latter “brethren.”
Of course such instructions would be equally applicable to any associates, which would fit well with Jesus’ own departure from a narrow definition of “neighbor.

The classic example, of course, is the parable (Lk.10:27-36) of the “Good Samaritan” where we see a stark contrast between the comfortable “neighbor / countryman” image and the “enemy”. The “good guys” (neighbors) were too busy or too preoccupied to care for the unfortunate traveler. It is the perceived “enemy” who acts in a loving manner in Jesus’ story. And when the Lord pinned down the “legal expert” with the blunt question as to which of the men was “neighborly”, the lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to utter the word “Samaritan”, so thoroughly schooled was he in the assumption that Samaritans were, if not outright enemies, at least unacceptable creatures. He simply stammered, “the one who showed mercy” and let it go at that. One wonders how he later reflected upon that encounter.

Although “enemy” is the only translation of the 29 uses of echthrous (except for two places where “foe” was substituted), its application covers a much wider scope than does “neighbor”, ranging from describing personal animosity (Mt.5:43,44; 10:36; Lk.6:27,35: Gal.4:16), or deliberate efforts to destroy a person’s enterprises – a rival or competitor? (Mt.13:25, 28, and possibly Rv.11:5,12), to political opposition (Lk.1:71,74; 19:27,43), active opposition to the Gospel message and its promoters (Rom.5:10, 11:28; Phil.3:18, Col.1:21, Jas.4:4), and even to the devil himself (Mt.13:39, Lk.10:19, Ac.13:10). Seven of the references (Mt.22:44, Mk.12:36, Lk.20:43, Ac.2:35, I Cor.15:25, Heb.1:13,10:13) deal with the opponents of Jesus being made his “footstool” – a quote from Ps.110:1, numbered 109 in the LXX – denoting their total subjugation.
Paul also notes (I Cor.15:26), “The last enemy to be destroyed is death!”
But please note, that even in the cases where an “enemy” is eventually put down or destroyed, that destruction is an act of God! It is NOT an assignment delegated to any fellow-human!

The admonition in Rom.12:20 to provide food and water for an “enemy” is part of more detailed instructions (17-21), “Never give back wrong for wrong, but pay attention to what is right before everyone. If possible, in whatever has its source from you, (be) at peace with all people. Don’t avenge yourselves, dear ones, but give place for God’s wrath ….don’t be conquered (passive voice) by what is wrong, but overcome wrong (active voice) by doing good!”
Similarly, when a brother stands in need of correction (II Thes.3:15), the reminder is repeated, “don’t consider him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother!”

Review these references, and you cannot miss the observation that the only proactive behavior toward either a “neighbor” or an “enemy” asked – or even permitted – for a Kingdom citizen, consists of love: love in “shoe-leather”, actively doing good, providing food and water, blessing, and praying.

Perhaps it is at best a waste of time and effort, and at worst deliberate avoidance or delay tactics, to devote ourselves to the task of “defining” either a “neighbor” or an “enemy”, or to accept such a definition from anyone else, be it an individual, a group, or a civil government.

For the people of God, there is a single assignment:

With respect to a neighbor: actively to love and serve him.
With respect to an enemy: actively to love and serve him.

He may, as in Col.1:21, or Rom.5:10, become a brother!

The Lord has reserved for himself the task of seeing that things and people are properly and finally sorted out.

Thanks be to God.


Word Study #144 — “The Poor”

May 8, 2012

This is an even more difficult study than the ones dealing with “riches/wealth” (#72) and “possessions” (#143). I strongly suspect that none of us in “developed” areas, even those at the lowest economic levels, have any real understanding of the depth of material poverty in much of the rest of the world – or, for that matter, the wealth, either, that exists in other than material realms! Comparing our own situations with those of folks only a few rungs higher or lower on a perceived “ladder”, whether of income, education, or other circumstance, obscures our view of genuine, desperate need. Picture being reduced to “dumpster-diving” in a place where there are no dumpsters, because nothing is ever thrown away; or sheltering under recycled metal or cardboard, where neither exists, for the same reason, and you may be beginning to approach understanding.

There is little doubt about the meaning of “poverty” in the New Testament. I suspect that the references to the term may have been less precise than the language would lead one to expect, because of the lexical information available regarding the words, but the picture is stark, nevertheless, and most of the appearances of any such vocabulary implies an economic condition lower than we can readily imagine.
Penes, classically “a day-laborer”, one who toils at heavy manual labor for his daily sustenance – the lexical opposite of plousios, “rich” – appears only a single time in the New Testament. In II Cor.9:9, Paul, quoting the LXX, speaks of one who has “given to the poor” as a just person. The lack of any other reference caused me to ask, “What about the day-laborers hired to work in the vineyard in Jesus’ parable (Mt.20:1-16)?” But these are ergates, skilled workers, tradesmen, or those who work the soil. They are a cut above those called “penes”. (And even these skilled men were only paid the subsistence wage of a denarius a day!)
Luke used a related word, penichros, (lexically, “poor, needy”) of the poor widow making her contribution in the temple (21:2). This is the only New Testament use of that word. Both he (21:3) and Mark (12:42,43) use the more common word, ptochos, describing the same incident.

Trench contrasts the words, observing that while penes and ptochos are usually used together in the LXX, and translated “poor and needy”, the former, applied by Xenophon and Sophocles to serfs or cultivators of the soil (and also to themselves), refers to one who “has nothing superfluous”, while the latter to one who “has nothing at all.” L/S says “a beggar, a person poorly provided-for,” and Bauer “a person dependent upon others for support.” Thayer suggests the picture of “one whose living depends upon alms” and also includes “destitute of power, wealth, influence, or position” and “to be so frightened as to cower or hide” as well as “to be reduced to begging.” The noun form, ptocheia, referred to “extreme poverty”. The picture is of a person wholly without resources.

 These are the folks that we are encouraged to “remember” (Gal.2:10), to whom “good news” is preached in/by the Lord Jesus (Mt.11:5, Lk.4:18, 7:22), and who are to be invited to a party (Lk.14:13,21). It is these that Jesus describes as “blessed” (see #89) in Mt.5:3 and Lk.6:20, and asserts that the Kingdom “belongs” (present tense – NOT “pie in the sky bye and bye!”) to them.
Already the poor were identified as the intended recipients of required almsgiving under Jewish law; similar responsibility on the part of Kingdom people was clearly re-stated by Jesus on several occasions, notably the rich young man who asked about “inheriting life” (Mt.19:21, Mk.10:21, Lk.18:22), in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk.16:20,22) where the same word is translated “beggar”, and at the conclusion of the scene where Jesus rejected the criticism of the gift of perfume, reminding the disciples that “the poor” would always be in need of their compassionate care (Mt.26:9,11; Mk.14:5,7; Jn.12:5,6,8). Jesus commended Zacchaeus’ charity (Lk.19:8), and must have frequently set an example of that behavior, since John notes (13:29) that the others assumed he was instructing Judas to “give something to the poor” – a Passover custom – when the latter was dismissed from the group.
These are the brethren for whom James advocates (2:2,3,5,6), roundly scolding those who would disparage or insult them, and the “poor saints” in Jerusalem (Rom.15:26) suffering from famine (Ac.11:28).
It is abundantly clear, therefore, that folks at the bottom of the economic system are to be honored, cared-for, and generously supported by followers of the Lord Jesus.

At the same time, there are a few other appearances of ptochos that do not fit this picture. It is used in Gal.4:9 as a deprecatory adjective describing the inferiority of the elements of people’s life and thought before their commitment to the Kingdom, and in Rv.13:6, “rich and poor, bond and free,” simply serves to include all levels of society.
In II Cor.8:9, Paul uses it of Jesus himself, who laid aside the “riches” that were rightly his as Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, “becoming poor for your sake” – living among men “with no place to lay his head” – in order to elevate his people to his own estate!
Paul describes a similar attitude among the brethren in Macedonia (II Cor.8:2) who, “despite their deep poverty”, eagerly and generously participated in the famine relief. Extraordinary generosity on the part of people of meager means is not rare – and may be a factor in the “blessedness” of which Jesus spoke.

In the Revelation to John, Jesus himself re-defines the concept of “poverty” in his messages to the churches at Smyrna (Rv.2:9) and Laodicea (3:17). To the former, who are being robbed, abused, and battered by persecutors, Jesus acknowledges, “I know … your poverty … but you are rich!” He warns of still greater trials ahead, but limits their duration.
To the latter, who carelessly boast about their prosperity and independence, his reprimand is stern: “you don’t realize that you are miserable, and in need of mercy, and poor, and blind, and naked!”

So perhaps, rather than the “cop-out” which I initially suspected in Bauer’s and Thayer’s additions to the classical definitions of penes, ptochos and related words, their insight regarding “dependence upon others for support”, “destitute of wealth, influence, or position”, and abject fear, may actually expand, rather than diminish, our responsibility, to extend – to any sort of people in any kind of need – even if, as in Laodicea, they are unaware of their “poverty”, the same care and compassion.
The one we call Master and Lord addressed – and alleviated – need wherever he found it.
Can his followers do less?