Word Study #183 — “The Blood”

April 25, 2013

There are few concepts that have generated as much heated rhetoric, from all sides of purported “Christian teaching”, as has the simple word haima, “blood.”

Classically (L/S), it referred to the blood circulating in the bodies of men and beasts, to anything resembling blood, such as dye, wine, or other red liquid; and to courage or spirit, as opposed to “spiritless or pale.” Secondarily, it became an euphemism for murder or other violence (as in “bloodshed”), a corpse, or revenge; and also frequently referred to kinship – “blood relationship” – or to simple humanity – “flesh and blood”. Bauer also notes its use as a synonym for “life”, and Thayer adds “one’s generation or origin” or “punishment for bloodshed.” Lexically, there is no justification, in any direction, for the multitude of theological constructs with which (presumably) well-meaning folks try to clobber each other!

Of the 99 appearances of haima in the New Testament, 14 are clearly references to the physical substance. Fourteen describe violence or murder, and 6 deal with responsibility for another’s violent death. Twelve, in the letter to the Hebrews, relate to the ancient ritual sacrifices of the Jewish Law (and their woeful inadequacy), and three (Ac.15:20, 29; 21:25) to the pagan equivalent. That is nearly half of the usage!
These ideas also account for most of the LXX uses: heavily weighted toward wars and vengeance (both personal and national) in all the historical books, and toward offerings and sacrifices in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It is these latter two (Lev.7:27 and 17:10-14, and Dt.12:23) where a significant explanation is given: one which is absent in the classical lexicons, but crucial to accurate understanding. The writer (who says he is quoting God’s directives) emphasizes the absolute prohibition of any consumption of blood (which was common in pagan rites – see Ac.15) on the grounds that “the life of every creature is in its blood”. Many times, the “taking of life” and the “shedding of blood” are used synonymously. And since all life belongs exclusively to God who gave it, even the blood of legitimately hunted game is to be avoided. Therefore, it should be borne in mind continually that any occurrence of the word “blood” MAY be a reference to life, rather than, or in addition to, actual physical blood.
Exactly how this relates to Jesus’ enigmatic statement quoted in Jn.6:53-56 is not clear, but I am sure that (1) there is a connection, and that (2) it is as obscure to us as it was to the original listeners (who were just more honest about their confusion!)

Although the gospel uses of haima also refer primarily either to violence (Mt.23:30, 32; Mt. 27:4,6,8; Lk.11:50, 51) or to responsibility for it (Mt.27:24,25; Lk.13:1), and they also include physical conditions (Mk.5:25,29; Lk.8:43,44; Lk.22:44; Jn.19:34), two entirely different ideas are also introduced. In Mt.16:17 and Jn.1:13, also picked up by Paul in I Cor.15:50, Gal.1:6, and Eph.6:2, (all but the John reference accompanied by “flesh”), the intent is simple humanity. The same phrase in Heb.2:14 emphasizes kinship – a critical element in Jesus’ identification with our human condition.
The only place where Jesus speaks of his own blood (beside the John reference above) is Mt.26:28 and its parallels in Mk.14:24 and Luke 22:20, where he relates it to the establishment of the New Covenant. This connection is explained in greater detail in Heb.9:20, 10:20, and 13:20, where (especially in chapter 9) the writer connects the idea of “covenant” to a legal will (see #79,80), which takes effect only upon the death of the testator. Please note also that although Matthew added “for the removal of failures [trad.: forgiveness of sins]” to the concept of covenant, neither Mark nor Luke quotes Jesus as making any such connection to “debt”, “sin”, “guilt”, “forgiveness”, or any of the other popular buzz-words, nor does the expanded treatise in Hebrews.

The twelve references in Acts cover a considerable spectrum as well. Ac.5:28 and 18:6 reprise the idea of responsibility, as does 20:26 with a slightly different (probably not physical) slant. Ac.22:20 refers to the stoning of Stephen, which is definitely physical, as is the mention of the purchased field in 1:19, while 15:20, 29 and 21:25 deal with pagan sacrifice. Paul’s sermon in Athens (17:26) highlights the kinship of common humanity. Only his message to the Ephesian elders (20:28) specifically mentions Jesus’ blood [life? violent death? humanity?] as having periepoiesato – traditionally “purchased” – the church for himself. That translation has to have been a “doctrinal” choice, since the word is classically defined (L/S) as “kept safe, preserved; procure secure; acquire, gain possession of”. Could this erroneous translation be the source of the otherwise undocumented notion of Jesus having satisfied some sort of a “debt”?
I do not feel competent to exegete the references to Joel’s prophecy (Ac.2:19,20), since my field of study is Greek, not Hebrew.

In contrast, with the exception of the few passages already noted referring to simple humanity (I Cor.15:50, Gal.1:6, Eph.6:12) and the Old Testament quote in Rom.3:15, Paul’s epistles uniformly reference “the blood of Christ” or “his blood”, although not nearly as frequently as the purveyors of “doctrine” would like you to believe. I was able to find haima used only nine times in that way in his writing, and although one, Col.1:20, specifically makes reference to the cross, the others are equally likely to intend the synonymous alternatives of life, kinship, or humanity explored above. Or perhaps (more likely) all of these figure into the picture, because the emphasis in each instance is not on the “substance” in question, but rather upon its effect.

Consider: (and please refer to the indicated studies)
Rom.3:25 – traditionally “propitiation” (see #69 and #151)
Rom.5:19 – we are “made just” (#3) by his blood (see also “transformation,” #97)
I Cor.10:16 – sharing (koinonia – #8) in the Body and Blood of Christ
I Cor.11:25 – Jesus’ statement regarding the New Covenant (#80)
I Cor.11:27 – the danger of not perceiving the Body of Christ (#84)
Eph.1:7 – redemption (#16) also in Col.1:14, and I Pet.1:18-19, where it is translated “ransomed
Eph.2:13 – previously alienated people are brought near,
Col.1:20 – making peace among former enemies (#70)

Every one of these is hugely more practical than most, if not all, of the common theological rhetoric about “the blood of Jesus” – as well as being more Scriptural!

Only the letter to the Hebrews relates the coming, life, and death of Jesus to the sacrificial system of the old covenant – and the burden of its entire narrative is to point out the abject failure of that system to produce the results for which it was designed, and to illustrate the absolute supremacy of the Lord Jesus! The detailed descriptions in Heb.9:7, 12,13,18,19,21,25; 10:4; 11:28; 12:24; 13:11 of the old ways, and their separation of “ordinary people” from the presence of God – an idea much more akin to pagan rituals – are in sharp contrast to the accomplishment of the Lord himself, who by offering his own “blood” [life? violent death? humanity?]
Heb.9:12 – secured eternal redemption (#61)
Heb.10:19 – allowed his people to enter the holiest place (#32)
Heb.13:12 – made all his people “holy” (#3,32)

Notice that it was “UNDER THE LAW” (the phrase that self-styled “evangelists” consistently omit) that “without pouring out blood, deliverance doesn’t happen.” (Heb.9:22), and that the oft-repeated message of the entire letter is that the law has been superseded!

Peter (I Pet.1:2) and John (I Jn.1:7, Rv.1:5) are the only ones who specifically connect the idea of “cleansing” with haima, and only in those three settings. How, then, did that idea become so central in so-called “gospel” singing and preaching, in spite of the fact that Jesus never said it? And why is it assumed that none of the other senses of the word are equally appropriate here? As elsewhere, the life, kinship, and humanity of Jesus factor equally into that process.

In no instance does any New Testament writer represent “blood” – whether of Jesus or anyone/anything else – as some sort of magical potion to be dispensed, either naturally or supernaturally, for the correction of physical, moral, or spiritual ills. They speak consistently of the kinship, with the Lord and with one another, graciously provided for those who joyfully submit to his sovereignty.

Thanks be to God!

Advertisements

Word Study #182 — Of Eis and En

April 13, 2013

Because it has had a profound influence on my choice to translate many New Testament passages in a manner distinctly different from most other versions – notably more practical (active) and less theoretical – I have often been asked to write a posting detailing some of the grammatical implications of these two common prepositions and the cases of their objects.
I have frequently confessed to being a “language junkie”. I love the interplay of language and culture and the ways people have developed to express ideas and experiences that are important to them.
So if you “hate grammar”, you can skip this one – but in doing so, you will sacrifice a very significant key to understanding the New Testament text.

As noted in the Appendix to my Translation Notes (available as another free download from the home page), many prepositions in the Greek language have multiple meanings or implications which vary according to the case of their object (See “Basic uses of Cases” and “Prepositions”, or any comprehensive lexicon). But there are some, eis and en among them, which always require the same form for their object: the former is accompanied only by an accusative object, and the latter a dative.
If you want a technical exposition of the development of cases, the grammar by A.T. Robertson will take you all the way back to Sanskrit, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. For our purpose, it is sufficient to recognize that the dative case is basically static, and the accusative is active.

The dative case (with or without prepositions) may express location in time or place – historically it was treated as a separate case, called locative, but with the same forms – (the star – Mt.2:2 – was “in” the east, and the shepherds were “in” the field – Lk.2:8). It may describe prevailing circumstances, in which case it is called circumstantial (as in I Thes.5:18, “IN everything give thanks” – the more commonly quoted “FOR everything” would require eis and an accusative object!). The means or agency by which anything occurs, labeled instrumental (Phil.4:6, “in prayer”), and various states of feeling (Rom.12:12 expresses this as a dative with no preposition). A more detailed survey of these can be found in L/S.
En is usually rendered “in” or “within” if the object is singular, but would be more accurately represented by “among” when the object is plural. Please see #142 regarding the singular and plural forms of “you”, which are seldom adequately distinguished. THIS IS VITAL to proper understanding.

But even in simple narrative, there is a difference. For example, the scheming of the scribes (Mt.3:9, 9:3, Mk.2:28, Lk.3:8) was not individual, “within themselves”, but corporate “among themselves.” But the unjust steward in the parable (Lk.16:3) hatched his nefarious idea “in” himself. A similar discrepancy appears in the failure to realize that Jesus’ promise is to dwell among his people (the “you” is plural), not “inside of” individuals.

The accusative case, on the other hand, always accompanies eis, which is uniformly active. It appears with verbs of motion, or in constructions of purpose or cause (L/S). This realization should affect the translation of any concepts with which it is associated. Unfortunately, the doctrinal presuppositions of most (hired) “official” translators have constrained them to ignore the obvious fact that Jesus calls people, NOT to a static (dative) “belief in” him – a purely private assent to some sort of idea or narrative – but to active faithfulness [loyalty] toward (eis) him!
Jesus directed his disciples to baptize their new recruits INTO (eis) the Name [identity – see #24] of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt.28:19).
Paul reminded the Roman brethren (6:3) that baptism INTO (eis) Christ was also INTO his death, and ultimately, his resurrection.
Jesus himself consistently used eis, not en, in his conversation with Martha (Jn.11:25-26). Usually glibly (and incorrectly) quoted almost as if it were a charm by advocates of “doctrine” [“belief”] as a means of salvation – a concept totally absent from the New Testament – “he that believes in me”, a more accurate rendition would be “the one who is faithful [loyal] to [toward] me….”
(Please see study #1 for a proper understanding of pisteuo). “Faithfulness”, biblically, is NEVER a matter of intellectual assent, but rather of active loyalty. Forms of pisteuo almost exclusively are followed with a phrase introduced by eis. Likewise, the object is uniformly a person or a cause, never merely an idea or formula.
Eis is also frequently used in purpose constructions, where it may also be translated “for”, as in Mt.24:14, 26:13; Lk.2:34, 9:3; Jn.1:7; Ac.13:2, etc. An expression of purpose necessarily involves action, as does the idea of cause (Jn.12:27, Rom.1:5, 4:5, 8:28; Gal.3:6, 5:13, and many others).

This is not by any means to suggest that the use of eis or en implies that one is superior or inferior to the other: simply that they are different, and that the distinction is important.
In Col.1:13, Paul speaks of our having been transported into (eis) the Kingdom of the Son of God, but in Phil.3:9, expresses his desire to “be found in (en) him…”
In Rom.6:3, baptism is described as being into (eis) Christ Jesus, and its result is that we might henceforth “walk[live] in (en)” a completely new life.

“En Christo” – one of Paul’s apparent favorite phrases – (a quick count found it at least 89x) – describes the environment – the constant condition – in which faithful disciples live and function. It is the air we breathe, the universe we inhabit.
“Eis”, besides representing our initial entrance into that universe, describes the purpose to which and for which we are called and given life.

For any serious student of the New Testament, even if he does not have the immediate opportunity to explore the Greek language academically (and not all academic courses delve deeply into the implications of grammatical structure), an interlinear New Testament (make sure it uses the latest manuscript research!) , which will enable the identification of specific words, and an analytical Greek lexicon, which identifies the grammatical form of every word, would be a very worthwhile investment.

When encountering other prepositions, it is likewise important to be aware of the cases of their respective objects. Please refer to the chart in the Appendix, or to any comprehensive lexicon. For example, epi is translated “over, on top of, above” if its object is genitive, “by, beside, at, on” if it is dative, and “toward, against” if it is accusative.
Pros with the genitive indicates “from”, with the dative “near, beside”, and with accusative “toward.”
There IS a difference, and it needs to be reflected responsibly, if one is to translate or to understand accurately.

To the folks who requested this explanation, I hope it helps. Please feel free to ask for clarification or to add any insight I may have missed.
May we all find our way, in (en) the service of our King, into (eis) greater faithfulness!


Word Study #181 — The Yoke: Bondage or Blessing?

April 6, 2013

For a word that appears in the New Testament only eight times, despite being used for two different Greek words, the idea of a yoke receives a surprising amount of attention – most of which centers around a syrupy, less-than-practical interpretation of Jesus’ gracious invitation in Mt.11:29-30. The word is found more commonly in the LXX, but in both cases, it is used in a much narrower sense than a classical understanding of either original term would suggest.

The words in the text are quite similar. Zeugos, (L/S: “a pair of anything; a team of animals; a carriage or chariot drawn by a “yoke” of beasts; or a married couple”), is used exclusively of animals – draft or sacrificial – in both the New Testament (Lk.2:24, 14:19) and the LXX (10x).

Its corresponding verb, zeugnumi (L/S: “to harness, saddle or bridle; to fasten securely; to join together – as in setting a broken bone; to join in wedlock; to join opposite banks of a body of water with a bridge; to pair or match gladiators; to join an issue at law”), does not appear at all in the New Testament, and of its seven uses in the LXX, six refer simply to hitching up a chariot or wagon, and one to an assassin wearing a sword.

Two words, each appearing twice, prefixed with “sun” (together), are related to zeugos:
suzeugnumi,
a passive verb, in Ezk.1:11 and 23, describes the joining together of the wings of the creatures in the prophet’s vision, and
suzeugnuo, the active form, is the choice in Jesus’ description of marriage,as “what God hath joined together” (Mt.19:6, Mk.10:9).

Differing by only a single letter, zugos (L/S: “the yoke of a plow or carriage; thwarts or benches joining opposite sides of a ship; the panels of a door; the beam of a balance [scales]; a pair of persons; a rank or line of soldiers; and metaphorically, the yoke of slavery”) appears in the New Testament as a reference to bondage or slavery three times (Ac.15:10, Gal.5:1, I Tim.6:1), and once to a balance [scale] (Rv.6:5), in addition to Jesus’ offer noted above in Mt.11. LXX uses are divided among references to bondage (12x), to deliverance from bondage – a “broken yoke”– (13x), to just or unjust balances [weights] (14x), and to rebellious refusal to serve (2x).
The related verb, zugoo (L/S: “to yoke or join together, to bring under a yoke, to subdue”) is completely absent from the New Testament, although the idea is present in its noun form in the Ac.15 reference, where the folks at the Jerusalem Conference are admonished NOT to inflict the bondage of the Jewish Law upon Gentile converts, and Paul’s similar urging of the brethren in Galatia NOT to return to the legalism from which Christ had set them free. The verb appears only twice in the LXX, in both instances referring to careful craftsmanship (I Ki.7:43 and Ezk.41:26).

Zugos is also found in two compound words, each used only a single time in the New Testament:
suzugos (the prefix is from the pronoun sun – “with” or “together”) may be Paul’s style of addressing a fellow-servant of the Lord, or may be a proper name. Scholars do not seem to be sure. The request that the addressee help to make peace in a disagreement between two faithful sisters could fit either understanding of Phil.4:3. Here, too, L/S offers much more (classical) variety: “to draw together in a yoke; a syzygy of two stars (where one rises as the other sets), joining or uniting, one’s comrade, wife, or brother; or a gladiator’s adversary!”
Heterozugeo (L/S: “to draw unequally, to be in an unequal partnership, a yoke of animals of diverse kind”) is found only in Paul’s warning (II Cor.6:14) against being “unequally yoked with the unfaithful”. This has usually been interpreted as referring to marriage – which may be correct – although it is also good advice in business or other relationships. Note that the apostle is not advocating avoidance of the uncommitted: that would preclude introducing them to the Kingdom. But sharing a “yoke” implies mutuality of some depth, and requires unity of purpose.
The noun form, heterozugos, appears once in the LXX (Lv.19:19), where it prohibits the cross-breeding of cattle. (I wonder to what extent that is still observed?)

Have you noticed, in all these references, that Jesus himself never spoke of a “yoke” in a context of bondage? Or even a “broken” one, as symbolic of deliverance?
Although the Old Covenant spoke repeatedly of a yoke as a synonym for slavery to a conqueror, and its “breaking” as a figure of deliverance from that bondage, the plain fact is, in a society that functions on animal-power, without a yoke, absolutely no work can be accomplished! A field is neither plowed, planted, nor harvested; a cart, wagon, or other conveyance does not move, without a yoke and team.

The beauty of Jesus’ invitation to take on his own yoke, in order that we share in the work of his Kingdom, is that he chooses, personally, to share the yoke with the willing disciple!
Please refer to the treatment of this subject in the study of “rest” #77.
A yoke enables two draft animals to work together, and share the load. Well-made and properly adjusted to the strength and ability of each animal, it enables the “novice” to learn from the well-trained and experienced lead animal, in order that both may become more productive!
What an incredible privilege, to work with the Lord of Glory on such a team!

Jesus has created an entirely new paradigm, transforming a symbol of bondage to oppressors into one of learning to function at his side in “the glorious liberty of the sons of God”!
And who could be a better, kinder, more highly skilled teacher than “the Firstborn” among those “many brethren”?
May we eagerly share his yoke, in thankfulness and joy!


Word Study #180 — “Is it Lawful?”

April 4, 2013

This is a question which, although it is asked many times in traditional translations of the New Testament, may actually have been invented by translators who had a Pharisaical obsession with lists of required or forbidden behaviors as a means of sorting others into categories of “in” and “out”. The word which they have rendered “Is it lawful?” has no etymological connection whatever with “law”, whether Jewish (religious) or Roman (civil).
L/S offers for exesti simply “it is allowed” or “it is possible”. Bauer explains that this is “an impersonal verb, which occurs only in the third person singular. Its verb of origin, exeimi, does not occur at all.” The reference is to a thing or action that is culturally permissible or acceptable, and has nothing to do with legality.
Concepts relating to civil or religious law use either nomos, or a compound word containing it, as in I Tim.1:8. The only two occurrences of exesti in the LXX, Ezra 4:14 and Esther 4:2, reference customs of foreign royal courts. It is never used of the Jewish Law, which is uniformly represented by nomos. Please also see studies #37 and 38 dealing with “the Law”.

There is also a host of words used for asking or granting permission of some sort, of which only epitrepo has any overlap with exesti.
Nevertheless, out of 31 New Testament appearances of exesti, all but three – Ac.2:29, 8:37, 21:37, referring only to permission – are traditionally rendered “Is it lawful?” or “It is lawful”, whether the speakers are scribes and Pharisees trying to impose or strengthen restrictions, or Jesus and his followers rising above them.

The incidents about which Jesus’ critics raise questions with exesti do not involve things specifically required or forbidden in the Old Testament Law. The plucking of grain (Mt.12:2, Mk.2:24, Lk.6:2), healing (Mt.12:10, Lk.14:3), the incident with David’s army and the “sacred” temple bread (Mt.12:4, Mk.2:6, Lk.6:4), carrying one’s bedroll (Jn.5:10), or putting “blood money” into the temple treasury (Mt.27:6) were among the thousands of “clarifying” regulations which had accumulated over the centuries, and which purists deemed equally binding.

The question of divorce (Mk.10:2) was mentioned in the Law, but here, it is Jesus who advocates a higher standard.
Similarly, John the Baptist, in his challenge of Herod’s profligacy, does not quote the law, but appeals to human decency!

Roman law is referenced in Jn.18:31, in that the Jewish authorities were not permitted to impose capital punishment, but the protest in Philippi (Ac.16:21) was not legal, but mercenary! Although Paul repeatedly used Roman law, and his Roman citizenship, to his advantage, he only employed exesti once, in Ac.22:25.

The issue of paying tribute to Caesar (Mt.22:17, Mk.12:14, Lk.20:22) created an interesting scene. Clearly, the conflict centered on the principle of tax resistance. The tax in question was the “tribute” which Rome required of all conquered nations. Please see the treatment of that encounter in #15. Jesus’ reply indicates that they are asking the wrong question, and focusing on the wrong issue, making the point that “image”, in this case, implies ownership.
A similar message is intended in Jesus’ parable of the man who hired vineyard workers. Jesus is all about re-defining what is appropriate / permissible.

Exesti appears in Paul’s letters only five times (three references). In II Cor.12:4, he declines to describe (brag about) a supernatural revelation. The others, I Cor.6:12 and 10:23, where he uses the term twice in each, are nearly the same. In both cases, he is addressing the “lawful” dietary requirements advocated by those who were insisting upon the observance of traditional Jewish practice. But notice that he does NOT do this by throwing out either the observance or the people to whom it is important! In chapter 6, he includes it in a discussion of the deliberate renunciation of all forms of physical debauchery as an integral part of one’s transformed life. The reference to food is secondary. It is necessary to include the whole passage (vv.9-19) for accurate understanding. The point is not to pick and choose from a list of forbidden activity, but to shun any behavior that degrades.
Chapter 10 is more specifically focused upon the problem of the availability, in a pagan culture, of any food that has not been a part of idolatrous sacrifice (vv.14-33). Planting, harvesting, and butchering would all have been accompanied by pagan ritual. Here, Paul teaches that one need make an issue of the food’s source only if it threatens or damages the welfare of a brother.

In both instances, the question is not whether behavior is permissible, but whether it is positively helpful (v.23).

For far too long, earnest would-be “believers” have asked (and been encouraged to ask), “Do I have to ….. to be a Christian?” or “will I be lost if I …..?” (fill in the blank with your choice of no-no’s.) Every group, whether it calls itself “conservative” or “liberal”, has had its own defining list, to which, either overtly or implicitly, it requires members to subscribe.

Far better is Jesus’ response in Mk.3:4 and Lk.6:9, when confronted with the ubiquitous “healing on the Sabbath” question. (The same event is less pointedly reported in Mt.12:10-12). He counters with an expanded version of the same question: “Is it permissible on the Sabbath to do good – or to do evil? To save a life, or to destroy [kill]?”
This, in the final analysis, is the real question: because by Kingdom definitions, to neglect or refuse to do good IS to do evil, and to neglect or refuse to save life IS to destroy it.

“Is it lawful?” [acceptable in the ambient society] is no longer a pertinent question – on the Sabbath or any other day.
Is it helpful? Is it life-giving? Is it pleasing to the King?

If so, then in the Kingdom, exesti – it is appropriate.


Word Study #179 — Seal, Sealed, Sealing

April 2, 2013

The use of a seal as a sign of ownership, approval, or authentication is very ancient, and is found across many cultures. The earliest archaeological reference I could find is Chinese, about 3000 years BC. Carved into wood or stone, proprietary symbols were impressed on wax, clay, or later, on paper with ink or dye.
In the Indus Valley, merchants used a seal to identify their trade goods.
In the ancient Middle East, Mesopotamian peoples used an engraved cylinder, and Egyptians a signet ring to make these impressions.
The elite of conquering Greek and Roman forces amassed impressive collections of these seals, thought to be symbolic of their having assumed the power and authority of the former owners.

The understanding of a seal is unusual for its uniformity across such diverse cultures, and its similar employment in modern times, for legal documents, or certification of approval by recognized organizations or authorities.
Unlike many artifacts of culture, the use of a seal, as biblically referenced, is therefore not unique to first century Greek or Roman culture, nor to Hebrew tradition, where it is noticeably rare. In fact, many of the LXX references are to seals used for official edicts by foreign kings (in Esther and Daniel), to people exercising the authority of rulers (Jezebel in I Ki.20), and to specifications for the regalia of the Jewish high priest (Ex.28,35,36). Isaiah (29:11) and Daniel (8:26, 9:24, and 12:4,9) are told to “seal” (conceal) a word of prophecy until a designated time. Deut.32:34 and II Ki.22:4 refer to the securing of a treasury. In the Song of Solomon (4:12, 8:6) it appears to be a term of endearment – perhaps also in Hag.2:24?. A legal deed to land is “sealed” as well (Jer.39:10, 11, 25, 44).

For the verb, sphragizo, L/S lists “to close or enclose with a seal, to authenticate a document, to certify an object after examination, to seal (mark) an article to show that it is pledged, to accredit an envoy, to confirm or set a seal of approval on, to set an end or limit.” Bauer adds “to secure something so as not to be disturbed, to keep secret, to mark as a means of identification of ownership.”
The noun form, sphragis, refers to “a seal or signet, a gem or stone for a ring, a warrant, a mark of ownership, a wound or blow, a governmentally defined and numbered area of land” (L/S), “the certification of a last will and testament, a sign or stamp of approval, that which confirms” (Bauer), with the additional note that some second century writers used sphragis as a synonym for baptism.

Many of these ideas appear in the New Testament uses of the words. Clearly, the “seal/sealing” referenced in Rv.7:2,3,4, is a mark of identification, of God’s “ownership” of his people, in contrast to his opponents mentioned in 9:4. This identification also affords protected status to those who are so identified, as is apparent as well in II Cor.1:22, Eph.1:3, 4:30; and II Tim.2:19, despite the chaos and destruction that may also surround the people concerned.
The seal placed on Jesus’ tomb (Mt.27:66), on the other hand, was intended to keep anyone from meddling with the body. (The authorities mistakenly thought that it would keep him IN – like the seal (Rv.20:3) on the pit where Satan and his minions are confined.)
The seals of the “little book” [scroll] in Rv.5, 6, and 8:1, however, which could only be opened by the eminently qualified Lamb, in addition to securing its wrapper, were obviously to restrict, but not to prohibit, access to its contents. This is reminiscent of the instructions to Isaiah and Daniel mentioned above, to “seal up” particular elements of prophecy until the proper time, which instructions were repeated to John regarding what he had heard in the thunder (Rv.10:4). In contrast, the Revelation ends with the admonition NOT to “seal” [keep secret] the information he had been given, because “the time is near” and these were instructions that folks were going to need for their present circumstances.

The sense of certification of authenticity comes through in Paul’s concern for the safe and responsible delivery of the relief offering to Judea (Rom.15:28), and his reference to the brethren in Corinth as “the seal of my apostleship” (I Cor.9:2) – they themselves constitute the evidence they are seeking that his work is genuine, and that he is the Lord’s accredited envoy.
In a similar vein, John observes that a person who pays attention to Jesus has thereby contributed his own certification [seal] that God is real / true / genuine (Jn.3:33), and in 6:27, that God the Father has granted his personal credential [seal] to his Son, enabling him to bestow on his faithful followers “the food that remains [endures] for eternal life.”
And just as circumcision became for Abraham (Rom.4:11) God’s “seal” [certification] of their relationship, so for faithful followers of Jesus (Eph.1:13 and 4:30), the promised Holy Spirit becomes the mark of God’s ownership, as well as the “down-payment” on their inheritance as his sons.

After a series of warnings about the very real dangers posed by deceptive teachers, Paul reminds his young assistant, Timothy, (II Tim.2:19), “But God’s foundation is still solid! It has this guarantee [seal] – “The Lord knows who belongs to him! And everyone who claims the Lord’s name must stay away from injustice!”

Here, then, in simple summary, is the evidence of God’s “seal” of ownership, approval, and authority:

  • the Lord himself knows who belongs to him
  • he has identified and empowered them by the gift of his Holy Spirit
  • they are recognizable, both within and from outside their company, by their practice of, and devotion to, his justice.

    Beyond that, we need not – and dare not – make further claim or requirement.