Word Study #147 — The Land, the Earth

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 –


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