Word Study #160 — Revenge, Avenge, Vengeance

September 26, 2012

We saw in the previous posting how a flagrant error in the translation of paideuo has resulted in an incorrect focus on punishment, where the actual intent of several passages is actually education or training. A similar error has caused similar results, when one considers the common rendering of ekdikeo, ekdikesis, and ekdikos as “avenge, revenge, or vengeance” in spite of the fact that three out of the four lexical definitions deal with the vindication of a wronged person (or God himself) by an act of legal justice or remedy; the formulation of a verdict (either positive or negative) by a court of law; and the noun form’s application to any legal advocate, whether of defense or prosecution.

None of these words appear frequently in the New Testament.
Ekdikesis (6x) is traditionally translated “revenge” once (II Cor.:11), “punishment” once (I Pet.2:14), and “vengeance” 4x (Lk.21:22, Rom.12:19, II Thes.1:8, Heb.10:30).
Ekdikeo (also used 6x) appears once as “revenge” (II Cor.10:6) and 5x “avenge” (Lk.18:3,5; Rom.12:19, Rv.6:10, 19:2).
Ekdikos occurs only twice: once as “avenger” (I Thes.4:6) and once as “revenger” (Rom.13:4).

Revisit each of these passages, deliberately avoiding your normal assumption of vindictiveness, and imagine how you would read them if you assumed only the administration of justice, rather than retaliation. This is especially noteworthy if you consider the context – for example, II Thes.1:5-10, where the real burden of the message is one of justice for the faithful who have been mightily abused.
You might also find it useful to refer to the studies on justice (#3) and judgment (#9,10), where we also found it necessary to challenge the automatic presumption of a negative tone. Try to realize that one’s assessment of the nature of any of these situations will depend entirely upon his choice of with which side he has decided to identify!
The same situation is true of the un-prefixed form, dike, which appears only three times. Especially instructive is the description of Paul’s experience with the snake bite at the bonfire (Ac.28:4), where the local folks first assumed that dike (“vengeance” or “justice”) had caught up with an evil person, and then changed their minds and decided that he must be a god! So quickly does people’s perception change!
The same word in Jude 7, applied to Sodom, can be interpreted more in line with prevailing stereotypes, but in Ac.25:15, it is simply a demand for a legal verdict.
In virtually every case, “to do or accomplish justice” would be a much clearer expression of the lexical meaning of the words.

How, then, did both translators and interpreters become so obsessed with vindictiveness, and (often cruel) vengeance? I think the answer has at least two components.

One clue may be found in the vocabulary of the LXX – the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This would make it one of the many errors which have at least a partial source in the reluctance on the part of many well-meaning people to realize that since Jesus came, THINGS HAVE CHANGED!!! Consequently, they treat both testaments as if they were equivalent – which they are not. (See #148). But even so, it should be clear that most of the references, especially to the defeat of enemies, are recorded from the perspective of the Israelite kings and heroes. Only Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and a few of the minor prophets attribute destruction to the act of God – and for them, it is usually his judgment on their own nation, much more frequently than upon others. This, however, could be a partial source of the threats levied by members of ecclesiastical hierarchies to keep their (perceived) underlings subservient to their pronouncements.

Secondly, please remember that English translations were made more than a thousand years after the writing of the texts – well after the codification of “doctrines” and the rise of the hierarchical structures – and they were made, for the most part, at the behest of the powerful, to reinforce their dominance. (Have you ever read the introduction to the King James Version? I was shocked, when challenged to do so!) Threats, both “temporal” and “eternal” are a great way to do this.

To be fair, we must acknowledge that the concept of “punishment” does exist, although rarely, in the presence of two word groups which are correctly translated in that way.

Timoreo, used only twice (Ac.22:5 and 26:11), refers to the persecution inflicted upon believers by Paul, before his conversion. Its noun counterpart, timoria, occurs only in Heb.10:9, a warning against overtly disparaging the Lord Jesus. A prefixed form, epitimia, also occurring only a single time, refers to the discipline of an erring brother (II Cor.2:6).

Of the other group, kolazo (Ac.4:21) refers to the Sanhedrin trying to figure out what to do with the apostles (how to “punish” them), but only once (II Pet.2:9) is it attributed to God. Its noun equivalent, kolasis, is used of the lot of those who had exercised no compassion (Mt.25:46). This is the only place where it appears with aionion (“eternal” – an uncertain translation – see #28) besides the Jude 7 use with dike.

Much of the threatening “evangelical” (gross misnomer) rhetoric makes lurid use of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk.16:19-31), in which not one of these words appears! I will not attempt here to exegete that whole story, but will simply note its parallel to the Matthew 25 passage. In neither parable is any reference made either to what anyone “believed” or to any flagrant wickedness! All are judged simply for their lack of compassionate action.

There remains one admonition, however, that is worthy of note, regardless of whether ekdikesis is interpreted as “vengeance” or as simple justice. It is the quote from Dt.32:35 in both Rom.12:19 and Heb.10:30, and addressed, in theme, in Jesus’ parable in Lk.18:7,8: that “vengeance / justice” is the responsibility of GOD, and not of the wronged individual. Although the Old Testament refers frequently to kings, warriors, or others, wreaking “vengeance” upon their enemies, there is no such reference in the New Testament! All three reports in the Revelation – ekdikeo in 6:10 and 19:2, and krino in 18:20 – are the proprietary action of God, as are the assurances given by both Peter and Paul, noted above, of the eventual triumph of Jesus’ Kingdom.

Please note that this is NOT to excuse his people from their obligation to act in justice, and to seek it for others (see #3); but neither is it a license to usurp God’s sovereign prerogative to judge and to act.

For the citizens of his Kingdom, these words, like so many others that have been incorrectly used, are intended not as a threat, but as loving encouragement, as reassurance that under the sovereignty of our King, the eventual outcome will be consummately just and fair. We just need to leave it in his hands.

Thanks be to God!

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Word Study #159 — Study, Learn

September 14, 2012

“Study” is another requested word, which appears only twice in traditional English New Testaments – and not at all in some of them – although the idea is quite prevalent, in references to disciples (“students” or “learners”) #51, teachers #46 and 47, and “following instructions” #55. Please include these studies as you consider the present topic.

Two Greek words are involved. Philotimeomai, translated once “study” (I Thes.4:11), once “strive” (Rom.15:20), and once “labor” (II Cor.5:9), was used classically of ambition, earnest endeavor, or aspiration, in addition to the meaning of its component parts, which indicate “to love or seek after honor”. It’s not hard to see that translators must have puzzled over that one!

The more common word, spoudazo, also only once rendered “study”, in Paul’s familiar admonition to Timothy (II Tim.2:15), appears a total of 11 times, with 7 different translations! Its noun equivalent, spoude, is also represented by seven different translations in twelve appearances. Classical usage of both of these includes a sense of urgency, of serious attentiveness, strenuous effort, engagement, or pursuit, and sometimes hurry, eagerness, or ardent zeal, although in the middle of these, lexicographers Liddell and Scott include “to study, lecture or teach”.
Paul uses the same word in urging Timothy (II Tim.4:9, 21) and Titus (3:12), to try really hard to meet him at a particular place and time; in encouraging the Corinthian church to get their act together regarding the relief offering (II Cor.8:7,8:10) and to straighten out their problems (II Cor.7:11,12); and in expressing his concern and that of others for the welfare of the brethren in Thessalonica (I Thes.2:17) and Corinth (II Cor.8:16).

Peter, also using the same word, urges his readers to make faithfulness their top priority (II Pet.1:5,10; 3:14), as well as expressing his own eagerness (1:15) to provide them with helpful reminders of his teaching. “Diligence” is the traditional translation here, but the word is still spoudazo.
Both Paul (Eph.4:3) and the writer to the Hebrews (4:11) advocate similar determined effort, translated “endeavor” in Ephesians and “labor” in Hebrews, still making use of spoudazo.
None of these really fit into a modern English idea of “study”, and for this reason, the II Tim.2:15 passage would probably also be better understood in the sense of “make a strenuous effort”.

Nevertheless, any folks who are committed to such an effort most definitely have a lot to “learn”. In addition to the frequent admonition to discipleship already treated in #51, manthano, a related verb, appears 25 times, 24 of which rendered “learn” and one as “understand”. Manthano was classically used of “learning from a teacher” or “learning by study”, ever since Homer! It also referred to forming a habit, or “learning by heart” (memorizing). This is the word with which Jesus challenged the Pharisees to “learn” Gods desire for mercy as opposed to sacrifice (Mt.9:13), and invited his disciples to “learn” by sharing his yoke (Mt.11:29). Both Matthew (24:32) and Mark (13:28) include his instruction to “learn the parable of the fig tree.” Jesus’ opponents used the same word to critique his failure to seek apprenticeship under their approved teachers (Jn.7:15), which was the only culturally acceptable way to become recognized as a legitimate “teacher”.

Paul is quite specific about the “course syllabus” for the Kingdom’s “citizenship class”, including Rom.16:17 – the original teaching they had “learned”, I Cor.4:6 – “learning” not to go beyond what has been written and start elevating particular individuals, I Cor.14:31 – that all may “learn” from wisdom given to / through other members of the Body, Eph.4:20 – “learning”to sort out what is or is not compatible with what they had already “learned”, Col.1:5-7 – the word of the genuine Gospel which they had “learned”, I Tim.5:4 – “learning” to show one’s devotion to the Lord by his life in his/her own family, and Titus 3:14 – “learning” how to maintain good works.
He also speaks of his own having learned (Phil.4:11) to be content under all circumstances, adapting equally well to adverse or pleasant conditions, and warns against “learning to be idle” (I Tim.5:13), or making such a fetish of “learning” as never to settle in upon the truth (II Tim.3:7).
Hebrews even speaks of Jesus himself needing to “learn obedience from the things that he suffered” (5:8), in order to be merciful to his people, as well as to serve as their example.

The other primary word associated with learning is paideuo, traditionally translated “learn” only once out of 13 appearances. Here, traditional translators have seriously skewed our understanding of a vital concept. The word itself, lexically related to pais, “child”, is classically defined as “to teach or educate, to rear a child” (or, in the passive voice, to be so taught), and only marginally “to correct or discipline”. (The word “discipline” does not occur anywhere in traditional translations of the New Testament.) Unfortunately, traditional translators chose this secondary sense as their primary rendering of paideuo, and then compounded the error by using “chasten” six times (I Cor.11:32, II Cor.6:9, Heb.12:6,7,10; Rv.3:19), and “chastise” twice (Lk.23:16,22). This error has prompted most interpreters to promulgate the notion of “punishment”, a concept which does not exist at all in the lexical meaning of the word! These translators (who should really be called editors or revisionists!) used “teach”, the primary meaning, only twice (Ac.22:3 and Tit.2:12), and “instruct” once (II Tim.2:25). This is an egregious distortion of the idea of “educating” or “rearing” a child of the Kingdom!
The perversity – ubiquity – and tragic results – of this error will be explored in a later study.

Two other words translated “learning” are treated in other studies.

In Romans 15:4, where Paul asserts that the purpose of former writings is “for our learning”, the word is didaskalia, teaching – see #47; and in Ac.26:24, using gramma (a derivative of grapho, to write) – see #148 – the frustrated and uncomprehending Governor Festus shouts at Paul, “Your much learning/study/writing has driven you crazy!”

You may also find the words translated “understanding” helpful. They are explored under their more common translations, akouo – listen, hear, #27; ginosko – know – along with eido, oida, and epistamai, #29; and nous – mind – #96,

Suniemi, mentioned briefly in #130 – wise – is usually (25x) rendered “understand”, in the sense of figuring something out, or comprehending a point of teaching (or being unable to do so). Two of these, Lk.24:45 and Eph.5:17, involve specific enabling granted to people earnestly committed to following the Lord to understand his ways, and one, Rom.15:21, refers to people who have yet to make such a commitment.

Neither “study”, “learning”, nor “understanding” is ever represented as a purely intellectual exercise, except possibly the situation described in II Tim.3:7. Practical results are always expected!
Toward this end, all of these efforts are of value, but only as they enable faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and service to his people.
As such, they deserve our most “strenuous effort”!


New Downloads

September 8, 2012

Well, folks, we finally got it done.  Dan has just posted a corrected version of the Translation Notes, and a combined document of the first 150 Word Studies.  If you already copied the first 100, and want just the supplement of 50, email me, and I will send it to you as a separate document.

We have also updated the searchable index in the “Indexes” tab.

As always, you are free to download and/or print anything you want, for  your own use.  No part of this work may be sold at any time.  It is the Lord’s stuff, and his only “price” is following his directions!

In the service of the King —

Ruth and Dan