Word Study #156 — “Brokenness”

I have been trying without success to track down the provenance of a relatively recent arrival among the “buzz-words” in some popular “Christian” literature and teaching: the characterization of the world, and the lives of both the committed and the uncommitted, as “broken”. I have found no such reference anywhere in the New Testament. Can you help me?

By a huge majority, the primary reference in the New Testament to anything being “broken” is (are you ready for this?) to BREAD! Either as Jesus broke bread to feed the crowds that were following him (Mt.14:19, 15:36; Mk.6:41, 8:6, 8:19; Lk.9:15, etc.), or the pieces that were gathered up afterwards (Mt.14:20, Mk.6:43, 8:9; Lk.9:17) “so that nothing be wasted” (Jn.6:12), or in descriptions of the last supper (Mt.26:26, Mk.14:22, Lk.22:19), and later similar observances by gathered disciples (Lk.24:30, Ac.2:46, 20:7, 20:11, 27:35; I Cor.10:16, 11:24), it is bread that is “broken.”

There are a few other things that are described as “broken” – or not – a fishing net (Lk.5:6, Jn.21:11), improperly prepared wineskins (Mt.9:17), an alabaster container (Mk.14:3), the chains of a demon-possessed man (Mk.5:4), branches from an olive tree (Rom.11:17,19,20), a house invaded by thieves (Mt.24:43, Lk.12:39), and a bone of the Passover lamb (Jn.19:36.) The Law of Moses (Jn.7:23), the Sabbath (Jn.5:18), and the Scripture (Jn.10:35) use a different word, luo, which has many other uses, most frequently with the sense of being released, set free, or made of no effect. But the term “broken”, is never applied to “the world”, and very rarely to people. The only references involving people are Mt.21:44 and its parallel in Lk.20:18, warning of the results of an unfriendly encounter with “the stone the builders rejected”, and Jesus’ announcement (Lk.4:18) that “healing the broken-hearted” was integral to his mission. (Is it, to ours?)

This brief survey covers all five “word families” traditionally rendered “broken” – klao / klaomai / klasma; suntribo / suntribomai; sunthlaomai; diorusso; and schizo (for this last, please also see #127). Only klao appears more than twice with this translation. Suntribo is also rendered “bruised” in Mt.12:20 (Jesus won’t break a bruised reed); Lk.9:39 (the injury of a child by an evil spirit), and Rom.16:20 (the promise of Satan’s ultimate defeat!)
So the word “break/broken” does occur – but there is simply no New Testament reference to either a “broken world” or “broken lives.”

The fervor with which this subject is usually addressed, however, leads me to wonder whether it is not just the plain, old-fashioned Calvinist “original sin” story, re-cast in language deemed more acceptable to contemporary thought. That story is not derived from the New Testament, either, as we saw in word studies 3,5,7, 23, 27, 34, 88, 120, 121, 128, and 141. And may I remind you that even using the very latest of proposed estimates of the dating of New Testament manuscripts, our present New Testament pre-dates Mr. Calvin by more than a thousand years, and consequently is bound to be closer to the “real” story!

Just as surely as our Lord Jesus came to TAKE AWAY old-fashioned “sins” (#7), he certainly has also TAKEN AWAY whatever more euphemistic brokenness” exists. To use the term “broken” without any regard for who “broke” what, constitutes avoidance (whether deliberate or not is not mine to say) of personal responsibility. The first three chapters of Romans make abundantly clear that the futility to which all creation – including people – is presently subject, is the result, NOT of some inherent, inborn defect, but of willful ignorance of the ways and intentions of the Creator.

We do not live in a world that has been “broken” by some invasive, external force, but in a world whose people have selfishly and deliberately chosen (Rom. 1,2,3) to flaunt the gracious plans of its Creator, and to submit rather to the power of darkness.
But this is the very power – the very futility – from which the Lord Jesus rescued us, when he installed us as citizens of his Kingdom! The glorious announcements are all cast in past tenses (Gal.1:4, Col.1:13, I Pet.1:18, and many others)! It is also this same rescue for which the rest of the creation waits with eager anticipation (Rom.8:20).

Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage!” (Gal.5:1, KJV).

I refer you specifically to the conclusions proposed in #141, as relevant here as well. In order properly to function in the Kingdom, the Lord’s people must quit digging themselves into a hole, whether they call it “sinfulness” or “humility” or “brokenness”, and work at moving on toward maturity!

We must learn to distinguish between the errors of deliberate disobedience, the “former life” which was put to death and buried in our baptism (Rom.6:4), and errors of simple immaturity, which will be superseded as we learn to “walk in newness of life”.
Ironically, the folks who make the most noise about being “born again” seem blissfully unaware that new life – of whatever kind – is never “born” as a fully mature individual!
Admonitions to “grow up!” (I Pet.2:2, II Pet.3:18, Eph.4:15), and to “put off” old behavior and “put on” new (I Cor.13:11, 15:53; Gal.3:27, Eph.4:20-25, Col.3:8, 10-12; I Thes.5:8) abound throughout the New Testament text.

We have a choice, folks! We are not victims of a “broken” status quo.

Where will you expend your efforts?

Forget the lamentations over what is/was “broken”.

Let’s choose to “grow up” into life!

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