Word Study #188 — Debt, and Debtors

May 30, 2013

Here is another subject, much celebrated in song and sermon, that has absolutely no basis in any New Testament writings. Neither Jesus, nor any of his disciples, nor the apostles who took up his cause after the Resurrection, ever made any reference to his life or his death as accomplishing the “payment” of any sort of “debt”. We have seen, in the study of the cross (#34), the extensive and wonderful list of its achievements – but none of these include any reference to “debt.” All the “paid my debt and set me free” rhetoric is totally without New Testament precedent. Jesus’ single statement of giving his life as a “ransom”, noted in Mt.20:28 and Mk.10:45, and quoted in I Tim.2:6, is treated in the study of “redemption” (#61). It was a release from slavery or captivity. No “debt” is ever mentioned.
Debt is a legal and financial concept, and has nothing to do with “naughty” behavior. The penalty for failure to pay a debt could be prison (Lk.12:51) or slavery (Mt.18:25-34), but was never execution.
Nevertheless, there are important teachings regarding debt in both the gospels and the epistles, and these are usually overlooked, in favor of the more dramatic, made-up proclamation of payment that we hear more often.

We are here concerned with a single “family” of words: the verb opheilo, (L/S: financial debt, duty, or obligation), and the nouns opheiletes (debtor), opheile, and opheilema (indebtedness, or that which is owed). There does not appear to be any obvious lexical distinction between legal liability (as for tax) and less formal financing. Neither is there any lexical distinction between finance and other sorts of obligations or duties. These must be discerned from the context. Bauer suggests that the implied connection to “sin” (see #7) is of Aramaic, rabbinical origin, where it may have developed as a corollary to the acquisition of obligation by oath, as in Mt.23:16, the “picky details” of which Jesus rejected as utterly irrelevant. The incident recorded in Lk.7:41 is an illustration, not an equation.

Already under the old covenant (LXX), there had been careful instructions for the protection of a poor borrower. Dt.24:12 stipulates that he may not be abused nor intruded upon, and if he pledges a garment as collateral, it must be returned to him at nightfall. Dt.15:2 places a seven-year limit, after which a debt must be forgiven, and the exacting of interest is prohibited in Ex.22:25.
Most manuscripts refer to forgiveness of indebtedness in the Lord’s prayer (Mt.6 and Lk.11), although some substitute hamartia or paraptoma. Even when Peter specifically inquired about dealing with an offending brother (using hamartia), Jesus’ reply changes the focus of the conversation with a parable about debt (Mt.18:21). He did the same thing with Simon the Pharisee, when he criticized a “sinful woman” (Lk.7:39-43), and made a strong point in another parable that generosity received needs to be “passed on” by the recipient (Mt.18:23-35). Paul must have understood this message, and observed it in his very practical offer to Philemon on Onesimus’ behalf (Phm.18).

The epistles, however, seem primarily to turn from the sense of financial debt to that of obligation. There is no hint of having had all of one’s responsibilities “forgiven” or “taken away”! And these are represented by exactly the same vocabulary.
Paul speaks of himself as “indebted” to both Jew and Gentile in Rom.1:14, and clearly connects it to his preaching of the gospel message.
In Rom.8:12, he uses the same word to “declare independence” from slavery to the disciple’s former self-focused way of life,
and in Rom.15:27 of the obligation of brethren to provide for the practical needs of their poor compatriots in Jerusalem.
In his Corinthian letter, (I Cor.7:3,36) he applies the same word to marital responsibilities,
in Rom.13:7 to the payment of taxes, and
in Gal.5:3, as a warning that if one clings to any part of the Law, he incurs obligation to the whole thing.
Far better to heed his advice in Rom.13:8, to owe no one anything but brotherly love, which “fulfills the Law” by doing no wrong (v.10) to anyone. Laws are about prohibitions. Kingdom living is positive, not negative.

The most frequent New Testament translation of opheilo is “ought” (15x) – not phrased as the commandments of a new or revised Law, but simply identifying some of the characteristics of a changed life. It is to be expected that:
Jn.13:14 – disciples will offer one another the service of washing feet (see ch.11 of Citizens)
Ac.17:29 – they will not attribute human characteristics or failings to God
Rom.15:1 – they will bear the infirmities of the weak
I Cor.11:7,10 – they will observe the right and duty of participation for all, symbolized by the use of head coverings (Citizens, ch.13)
II Cor.12:11 – parents will care and provide for children
Eph.5:28 – husbands will love and care for their wives, as Christ does for the church
Heb.5:12 – They will “grow up”, and be teachers of others
I Jn.2:6 – they will “walk” [live] as Jesus did
I Jn.3:16 – they will lay down their lives for one another
III Jn.8 – they will welcome itinerant brethren.
This is not law: it is simply the culture of the Kingdom.

The primary principle to be derived from this survey is quite simple: ITS NOT ABOUT KEEPING SCORE!!! That was the obsession of people who were in bondage to the minutiae of the Law.
Faithful disciples of Jesus rather take their cues from the servant described in his parable recorded in Lk.17:7-10. The most meticulous obedience is “only what we ought to have done”.

“The one who keeps saying he’s living in relationship with him ought (opheile) to walk [live, behave] as he did!” (I Jn.2:6) – not as a “debtor”, under the threat of prison or slavery, but in gratitude for being included in the Kingdom – in the very family of the King!

Advertisements

Word Study #187 — Pentecost

May 21, 2013

After finding that there was so much to be learned about Epiphany (#171), I wondered if the same would be true of another “event” in the “church year”. Pentecost is effusively celebrated by some groups, and virtually ignored by others. As before, there is very little direct information in the New Testament. The word appears only three times: the description of the initial “grand entrance” of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection (Ac.2:1), Paul’s letter to the Corinthian brethren mentioning his intention to stay in Ephesus “until Pentecost” (I Cor.16:8), and his telling the Ephesian elders at their farewell meeting that he wanted to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost (Ac.20:16). Either of these latter two leaves one with the impression that some sort of observance may have been planned. Although reference is made to the event on other occasions (for example, Ac.11:15 and 19:1-5), the word itself is not used. There are no classical references: L/S notes that it was applied to the Jewish feast day because it was 50 days after Passover, but has no literary reference outside the NT except for its use as the date of a battle in II Maccabees 12:32.

It was equally difficult to find Biblical information about the Jewish feast for which the crowd “from every nation under heaven” (Ac.2:5) had assembled in Jerusalem. Most scholars assume that the event was the “Feast of Weeks”, also called Shavuot – the offering of the firstfruits of the grain harvest, which occurred 50 days after the Passover. Ex.34:22 describes that offering, but does not name it. It was one of three occasions where every adult male was expected to appear at the designated place (eventually Jerusalem), bearing the prescribed sacrifice, but the word pentekostes does not occur at all in the Old Testament portion of the LXX. Related words, simply referring to “fifty” of anything – people, animals, etc. – are fairly common.
This firstfruits feast seems to be a somewhat plausible candidate. The celebration of the Passover related to the deliverance from bondage in Egypt, and the “firstfruits” somehow became connected to the celebration of the giving of the Law at Sinai. There is however no direct OT formula or command concerning this juxtaposition. I was interested to find one reference to a Talmudic assertion that the Law was given at Sinai in 70 languages! Apocryphal or not, that would be a curious precedent for the events at Pentecost.

The idea of “firstfruits” – aparche – shows up a few more times than does pentekostes. The word, classically, reached far beyond the concept of a grateful offering. L/S includes “a 2% tax on inheritance, an entrance fee to an event or organization, a board of officials, the birth certificate of a free person,” as well as “the beginning of an offering or sacrifice.” Bauer notes that it had to be offered before using any part of the harvest, and was considered a foretaste of the future.

Traditionally, a harvest offering of firstfruits was an acknowledgment that all of produce, and indeed all of life itself, belonged to God. In the New Testament, Jesus himself is called “firstfruits” (I Cor.15:20, 23) from the dead;, converts are called the “firstfruits” of their region of origin (Rom.11:16, 16:5, I Cor.16:15, Jas.1:18); and Paul refers to the activity of the Spirit among his people (Rom.8:23) as the “firstfruits” of their adoption into God’s family! So it is entirely proper that this image should go both ways: the gift of the Holy Spirit as what Paul also called the “down-payment” (II Cor.1:22) on our inheritance, and the worship, service and praise to God enabled by that gift as the firstfruits to God of the eventual triumph of his Kingdom. (Please see also #52 and 53.)

But what are we to make of the events of Pentecost itself? Historically, both Eastern and Western churches considered it the appropriate time for baptisms, ordinations, and confirmations, all of which are clearly assumed to be connected to the agency of the Holy Spirit. (Please refer to #76). Other groups focus on the wind, the fire, and the languages. This is where things can get messy.
Wind can cool the heat of summer and bring refreshing rain – or it can wreak terrible destruction.
Fire can provide light and warmth, enable the preparation of food, or destroy everything in its path.
And language can encourage, heal, and build relationships of love and trust, or communicate anger and strife, provoking misunderstanding and wars.

Regarding the wind – this is the only New Testament use of the word pnoe (NOT pneuma) except for Ac.17:25. There are none in the LXX. It is used of storms, and never a synonym for “spirit”. I thought that might be the word used where Elijah discovered that “the Lord was NOT in the wind,” but it is not: that uses pneuma – I can’t figure that one out! Can you? Here, though, in the Acts account, it may be that Luke simply needed it to distinguish it from his use of pneuma for the Spirit.

John the Baptist had spoken of fire (Mt.3:11, Lk.3:16) when distinguishing his baptism “for a changed life” from the baptism that Jesus would perform “in the Holy Spirit”. Other gospel references to fire are primarily negative – the fate of the “weeds.” Although fire is also symbolic of Godly power in many ancient cultures, the significant words here are diamerizomai (divided, distributed) and eph hena hekaston auton ( upon each one of them). This picture is in sharp contrast to the single “pillar of fire” that had led the Israelites through the desert. This fire is divided, and parceled out to every single person! This is one of the rare instances where individuals are the focus, as opposed to the group as a unit. But notice that it is not a leader, not a group of leaders. Everyone is singled out!

Then there is the language phenomenon. People – apparently observant Jews – were assembled in Jerusalem from all over the (known) world. They would have had at least a passing knowledge of the languages of the most recent conquerors (Greek and Latin), and probably whatever iteration of ancient Hebrew was current in temple worship. But they all heard the message of the greatness of God in their own native dialects (ta idia dialekto)! We are told that the speakers were using different languages (glossais) as the Spirit gave them things to say. Dialects are a sub-group of languages.

Some folks make a big to-do about whether the miracle was in the speaking or the hearing – or both. Why would that matter? The point is, people understood what was said! They received the message about the “wonderful works of God” in the dialect they learned as children! That speaks to hearts!
Neither here nor elsewhere in Scripture is a totally unintelligible outburst of speech advocated. Our brother Paul has provided very helpful guidelines for the use of this very valuable gift in I Cor.14.
The purpose of language is communication! Natural or supernatural, with people or with God: no more and no less. Although speech in an unlearned language is several times (Ac.8:14-18, 10:46, 15:8) considered evidence of genuine faithfulness, nowhere is it demanded as either a qualification – or a disqualification! – for acceptance or service.

The most significant “accomplishment” of Pentecost is evidenced rather in its tangible results (Ac.2:42-47, 4:32-35). Having heard the word, three thousand new people sought baptism. They gathered daily, eager to learn more (#47). They shared their lives (#8). Whether the “breaking of bread” refers simply to shared meals, or to an observance of “communion” (koininia) #8, matters little. There was mutual prayer (#91). “Wonders and signs” (#168) were manifested through the apostles. They shared (#8 again) all they had, as anyone had need. In short, the loving mutuality created by the Spirit bestowed at Pentecost created a community to which the Lord could continually add the folks he was recruiting!

This is the most convincing evidence of Pentecost!
I can’t imagine that such a brotherhood, contrasting with the individualistic self-focus of our present society, would not be as attractive today as it was in Imperial Rome.

May this Pentecost become reality among us!


Word Study #186 — Heresy and Division

May 16, 2013

I had a college friend – a brother deeply devoted to the Lord – who, some years ago, broke with the denomination for which he had been a “minister”, and affiliated with a “non-denominational” group that he considered “more Scriptural.” I was therefore startled to hear him say that he “needed to learn a whole new theology”, and when encountering an unfamiliar teaching, he needed to submit it to a person in authority to find out whether it was “heresy”! He then proceeded to warn me of the dangers of being “led astray”, when I wondered if it would not be more appropriate to check it out in the Scripture itself! And we had taken the same Greek class, with a professor who was a stickler for linguistic accuracy! That encounter has troubled me ever since.

I was reminded of that incident when our brother Jim, in an excellent message about the unity for which Jesus prayed, made reference to the account in I Corinthians of the dissension centering upon certain individuals in that group (I Cor.1:10 and 11:18-19), where Paul appears to connect divisions in the brotherhood with “heresies”. Although the association of those two concepts is not common in contemporary thought, it fits very well with the lexical meaning of hairesis, the word from which our English term “heresy” is derived.
Historically, hairesis had nothing whatever to do with the truth or falsehood of a statement, “doctrine”, or claim. L/S lists “the taking of a town by a conqueror, acquisition of power, the election of magistrates, a purpose or course of action, any system of philosophical principles or those who profess it: a sect, school, or religious or political party.” The verb, haireo, likewise indicates “to take or seize, to assume power, to win or gain, to catch (as in hunting), to join a party or adopt an opinion.” The middle or passive haireomai (to be chosen or elected), and the related verb, hairetizo (to choose) also carry no indication whether the “choice” is for good or ill.

How does this bear out in New Testament usage?
Hairesis is actually translated “sect” in the majority of its appearances (Ac. 5:17, 15:5, 24:5, 26:5, 28:22), and has neither positive nor negative connotation: it simply identifies a defined group: Pharisees, Sadducees, (both of whom wielded both religious and political power, often in competition with one another), and even “Nazarenes” or “followers of the Way”. Traditional translators used “heresy” in the latter reference, but the word is the same. The verbs are consistently rendered “choose” (hairetizo in Mt.12:18, and haireomai in Phil.1:22, II Thes.2:13, Heb.11:25), and are uniformly positive in tone.
The references with negative overtones are few, but significant. None, however, are overtly connected with what a person thinks or “believes” about any particular subject.
Paul’s concern about the situation in Corinth is not “doctrinal”, but concerns divisions – rivalry – in the brotherhood. Please refer to the treatment of schisma, schismata in #127. Divisions can be a good thing – for example, when referring to a “division” in the crowds among those who paid attention to Jesus and his message, and those who rejected him (Jn.7:43, 9:16, 10:19; Ac.14:4, 23:7) – but within a brotherhood, it is completely unacceptable. I Cor.1:10-17 deals with different factions promoting and following different leaders / teachers. “Church politics,” anyone? Remember that hairesis started out as a political concept – a conqueror and his deputies, or even “democratically elected”officials!
I Cor.11:18—19 addresses an even more egregious violation of the brotherhood: status-tripping and abuse of the needy at an event intended to express and teach mutuality of love and care! This is reinforced in Paul’s eloquent treatise on the Body of Christ in the next chapter – especially v.25. See also chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom.

In this context, and in view of the lexical meaning of hairesis, it becomes clear that Paul’s reference traditionally translated “heresy” in 11:19 is a challenging question , not a statement encouraging the sorting of who is “in” or “out.”

The list of “deeds of the human nature [flesh]” in Gal.5:19-21, likewise, by including hairesis in the company of echthrai (hostility), eris (strife), zelos (jealousy), thumoi (rage), eritheiai (factionalism), and dichostasiai (divisions), and followed by phthonoi (murders), places it clearly in the realm of active jockeying for power, and not theoretical theological speculation!

The context is also the key to realizing that Peter (II Pet.2:1) is talking about the advocacy of licentious behavior. Read the whole paragraph, not just a couple phrases out of the first “verse”, for a description of what traditional translators labeled “damnable heresies”!

The only other appearance of any of these terms is in Paul’s letter to Titus (3:10), where he is giving instructions for dealing with a trouble-maker in the congregation. Traditional translators call him “a man who is an heretic” – but again, attention to the whole paragraph requires consideration that the reference may be to a person who prefers “foolish arguments, genealogies, strife, and legal battles” (v.9) to “being careful to keep practicing good deeds [behavior]!” (v.8). Such a person is to be duly confronted – twice – but then avoided if he refuses correction.

So how did hairesis morph from the idea of political strife and power-grabbing into obsession with theoretical details of “doctrine”? The first recorded use of the English word (according to Webster) is in the thirteenth century.. I submit that this must have happened as the “church” itself morphed from a persecuted brotherhood of mutuality into a power structure with the ability to do its own persecuting of any who challenged the powerful. Jesus had forbidden titles of honor and positions of prestige (Mt.23:1-12), and Paul strongly opposed divisive leadership, as we have seen. Please also see chapters 6 and 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom.

But as powerful people emerged and began to define “correct doctrine” – having long since abandoned the idea of mutuality, and its focus on godly behavior in the brotherhood – the very patterns against which Paul had warned Titus became institutionalized. “Heresy” became anything that challenged the grip of the powerful, or their prerogative to include and exclude people from the ranks of the “chosen”, and to revise the “rules” in order to maintain their own dominance.

This – not a deviation from even the most cherished of theoretical “doctrines” codified by these same powerful people, but the very existence of a power structure at all, and its consequent divisions led by competitors with a heavy political agenda – is the ultimate heresy!


Word Study #185 — Born, and “Born Again”

May 10, 2013

Most people would be rather thoroughly baffled if they were asked, “Have you been born?” How else would one have become a sentient being? The evidence is obvious.
It should be deemed equally silly to raise the same question about having been “born again”, as if that designation were an earned – or honorary – degree, or some celestial merit-badge, which produced no observable evidence in one’s life.

Those who demand such a “degree” would probably be amazed – perhaps even incredulous – to learn that their favorite “qualification” appears only four times in the entire New Testament, and that their most loudly trumpeted “proof-text”, Jn.3:3,7, is NOT among them! As is our custom, let’s look at the evidence.
By far the majority of references to birth, in any form, refer simply to the physical event of the arrival of a baby. The same word is traditionally translated “beget” if it refers to a father, “conceive, bear, deliver, or bring forth” if it refers to a mother, and “born” if to a child.
The word appears in many variant forms – primarily the verb, gennao, but also nouns genesis (origin, source, descent), genEma (produce, or fruit), genos (stock, or kin), genna (offspring, race, family), gennEma (that which is born), and genetE (an adverb, “by, from, or since birth). The lexicons make very little distinction, and the usage makes even less.

New Testament appearances relating to other than the physical process of birth include references to one’s origin (Jn.1:13, 8:41, 9:2, Ac.2:8, 22:3, 28). Note especially Jn.9:34, where it was the Pharisees who spoke of being “born in sin”: JESUS NEVER SAID THAT ABOUT ANYBODY!!! Also included are kinship or nationality (usually using genos) (Ac.4:6, 4:36, 7:13, 7:19, 13:26, 18:2, 18:24; Mk.7:26, Gal.1:14, Phil 3:5, II Cor.11:26), and “fruit or harvest”, as in Jesus’ reference to “the fruit of the vine” (Mt.26:29, Mk.14:25, Lk.22:18) , and in the parable of the rich fool (Lk.12:18). Interestingly, gennEma, the form used on these latter occasions, is the same word used by both John the Baptist and Jesus in critiquing their opponents as a “generation [offspring] of vipers”, as well as Paul’s description of a faithful life as “the fruit of justice [“righteousness”] (II Cor.9:10).

The verb gennao also reaches beyond reference to physical birth or provenance. It appears in the statement from heaven, quoted from the coronation Psalm 2:7 in Heb.1:5 and 5:5, as well as Ac.13:33, although it was not used in either of the events to which those passages refer – Jesus’ baptism by John or his transfiguration: an interesting discrepancy that could bear further study, except that any analysis would necessarily have to be entirely conjecture.
Paul also uses it of his having been the messenger who enabled both the Corinthian church (I Cor.4:15) and Philemon (Phm.10) to learn and choose faithfulness.

These latter uses of gennao serve as a transition to the understanding of birth as becoming a participant in a new and different life. Please also refer in this regard to #35, 96, 97, 134, 135, 174.
John’s choice of words in describing a person who has chosen faithfulness is “born of [from] God.” He asserts that “Everyone who does justice [righteousness – see #3] is born from him” (I Jn.2:29), although it is unclear whether the grammatical reference of autou (him) is “Father” or “Son”.
In I Jn. 3:9, both instances represent having been “born of God” as enabling one to leave his life of shortcoming [failure, “sin”] , and then John goes on to point out quite bluntly the need to discern between “God’s children” and “the devil’s children”. (You will not find in the New Testament the popular modern affirmation that “all people are the children of God”!)   John goes on to explain (4:7) “everyone who keeps on loving, has been born from God”, (5:1) “Everyone who keeps trusting that Jesus is the Anointed One has been born from God”, and (5:4) “Everyone that has been born from God is (in the process of) conquering the world!” He then concludes (5:18) “We know that anyone who has been born from God does not keep on (living in) failure: but the one [One?] born from God continually keeps him [some MSS have “guards himself”], and the evil one does not touch him.” Clearly, John is referring to something far beyond physical birth.
These statements in his letter cast light on his Gospel account, and also receive light from it. Jesus’ much-quoted statement to Nicodemus in Jn.3:3,7 has been poorly translated. Please see the grammatical comments in Translation Notes (free download). Here, we are simply concerned with the vocabulary – specifically, the adverb anOthen, which appears in both places. The adverb, classically, was translated “from above, from on high, or from the gods” (L/S). It is a description of provenance, not time or counting. L/S notes that only in the New Testament was it translated “anew, afresh, over again”. This has to have been a theological, not a linguistic choice. It is clear from John’s letter that he understood Jesus to be saying “born from God.”

Peter is the only one to use the word anagennao, literally “born / begotten again.” In I Pet.1:3, the subject is “God”, the object is “us”, the means by which it is effected is Jesus’ resurrection, and the result is our being included in his inheritance. In 1:23, he reminds his readers that this new life is from an “imperishable source”, and is characterized, as John also insisted, by genuine love of the brethren.

There is one other word, paliggenesia, also occurring only twice, and traditionally translated “regeneration”, that may be relevant to this conversation. As you can see by comparing the words, it is marginally related to the others, but with a different prefix. Trench makes an effort to distinguish it from the others, adding anakainOsis to the mix, although that word is exclusively translated “renewal.”
This is not much help, since he is making a complex theological and liturgical argument out of active and passive, progressive and accomplished ideas, which is a useful tool in understanding verbs, but these words are both nouns , and as such have neither tense nor voice. Although paliggenesia and anakainOsis may be similar, they could not possibly be synonyms, or they would not be used together in Tit.3:5. Trench is fond of referencing the “Church Fathers” as a tool of interpretation, forgetting that they wrote a century or more after the Biblical accounts, and in the context of early efforts to codify “doctrines”and define and fight “heresies”.
Paliggenesia is very common in classical literature. The Stoic philosophers made frequent reference to a cyclical renewal of the cosmos, after destruction by fire or flood. Some also included the notion of reincarnation or the transmigration of “souls” in this process. The word was also used of a nation or a person returning from exile or shame, or, medically, of either recovery from a disease or the recurrence of a tumor! It appears only twice in the New Testament – used once by Jesus, in reference to the consummation of his Kingdom (Mt.19:28), and once in Paul’s letter to Titus (3:5), where (vv.4-6) he could be speaking of either baptism or the gift of the Holy Spirit – or both.

In connection with baptism, resurrection is a much more common figure than birth (see #35), with the act of baptism serving as a symbol of the disciple’s deliberate identification with Jesus’ own burial and resurrection, and that individual’s consequent transformation of life. Romans 6:4 calls it “newness of life”. In other places, “a new creation” (II Cor.5:17, Gal.6:15), “the new man” (Eph.2:15, 4:24; Col.3:10) and other figures convey similar ideas.
Please refer again to the other previous studies listed above.
Whatever you choose to call it, we would all do well to follow the example of the whole New Testament, focusing less on demanding a “birth certificate”, and more on the development of a LIFE that rightly represents and honors its Giver!

 


Word Study #184 — Wash, Washed, Washing

May 2, 2013

Here is yet another word, plentiful in song and sermon, but only quite rarely used in the New Testament of anything but ordinary physical cleanliness. An English reference to “washing” is used for no less than ten different Greek words, of which the most common are quite readily distinguishable, and only one (in three forms) has even limited direct reference to “spiritual” cleansing. Let’s look at the evidence.
One of them can be disposed of very quickly. Brecho, usually translated “rain” (Mt.5:45, Lk.17:29, Jas.5:17, Rv.11:6), is rendered “wash” only twice (Lk.7:38, 44), where it is used of tears.

The three primary root words, classically, occupied simple but specific domains.
Louo, with its related noun loutron and its prefixed form apolouo, refers to bathing: washing one’s entire body. Sometimes, but not always, there is an accompanying sense of ritual purification.
Nipto (historically nizo) and its prefixed form in the middle voice, aponiptomai, while it also occasionally implied purification, more frequently intended simply washing one’s hands or feet. In both LXX and New Testament accounts, the offering of water for washing the feet of a guest was a normal expectation of hospitality (Gen.18:4, 19:2, 24:32; Lk.7:44, I Tim.5:10, Jn.13). This word is not used of bathing.
Pluno and its prefixed form apopluno, appearing only once each in the New Testament but frequently in the LXX, refers to the washing of garments or other inanimate objects: mandatory purification under the Law, but except for two occurrences (Lk.5:2 and Rv.7:14), absent from the New Testament writings. L/S notes that it would have been applied to people only with derogatory overtones. It could also imply “worn out” or “threadbare”, as by many washings of a garment.
These divisions fit very well with the New Testament appearances of the words, although there are several marked deviations in the LXX.
Both louo and nipto, for example, are used in Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 13, where references to the washing of feet consistently employs nipto, but Jesus’ word to Peter that a person who has had a bath (louo) only needs his feet washed (nipto) makes a clear distinction. Washing one’s face (Mt.6:17 and probably Jn.9:7,11), hands (Mt.15:12, Mk.7:3) and feet (Jn.13:6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and I Tim.5:10) are all expressed with nipto, whereas bathing the body (louo) is obvious in Jn.13:10, Ac.9:37, 16:33, and Heb.10:22,23 (where it could also reference baptism). Interestingly, Peter (II Pet.2:22) even uses it of a pig!

Please note that none of these, except the Hebrews reference (to which we will return) refers to anything but a simple, physical act of cleansing. Different vocabulary is usually employed when more-than-ordinary cleansing is intended, for which please consult #65.
Of the three prefixed forms, aponiptomai describes Pilate’s ostentatious “washing his hands” of the sordid affair of Jesus’ lynching (Mt.27:24) – which Bauer attributes to Jewish, rather than Roman culture as a gesture of innocence.  Apopluno is used for the washing of fishing nets (Lk.5:2). Only apolouo carries any “spiritual” connotation (Ac.22:16 and I Cor.6:11), as does loutron in Eph.5:26 and Titus 3:5, and the Heb.10:22 use of louo.

This latter group is often connected with baptism. Interestingly, baptizo (v) and baptismos (n), although usually translated “baptize” or “baptism”, are also rarely rendered “wash” : the verb twice (Mk.7:4 and Lk.11:38) – against 74x “baptize” – and the noun three times (Mk.7:4, 8; Heb.9:10). In each of these, the reference clearly is not symbolic of commitment to Jesus’ lordship.
The more common form for “baptism” is baptisma (22x). You can find a more detailed treatment of baptism in chapter 10 of Citizens of the Kingdom. (free download.)
Inexplicably, Bauer connects this word with Jewish ritual washings, despite the fact that it occurs only twice in the LXX: once of Naaman the Syrian in the Jordan (II Ki 5:14) and once where Isaiah (21:4) speaks of being “overwhelmed” by transgressions: neither of which makes any reference to Jewish ceremony. The above references to Mark and Luke may provide a tenuous connection, but certainly no strong evidence.

By way of contrast, Paul, in the Ac.22:16 passage cited above, quotes Ananias as directly connecting his baptism (baptisai) with the “washing away” (apolousai) of his shortcomings [“sins”] (#141) by “calling upon the name of Jesus”. All of the verbs here are aorist tenses, which indicate a single, definitive act. Likewise, in I Cor.6:11, “washed” (apelousasthe), “made holy” (hEgiasthEte), and “made just” (edikaiothEte) are all aorist passive verbs. All of this, therefore, is assumed to have taken place upon the occasion of one’s baptism!
In Eph.5:26, a similar transformation is described as having taken place for the church as a whole – but this time, the agent (dative case) is not only “washing with water” but also “the word” (see #66). The verbs, however, are still aorist. We are dealing with accomplished fact here, not a process, which we saw to be the case with “salvation” (#5). To Titus (3:5), Paul associates “washing” with “rebirth [regeneration]” – the beginning of one’s life in Christ.

This is not, however, to contradict Jesus’ statement already noted in Jn.13, that even those who have had a bath will still need to wash from their feet the residue from walking through a world that has not submitted to his cleansing. But that realization needs to be held in balance with Heb.10:22, as we “approach him with full confidence”! Here, the cleansing of having been “sprinkled” (rherhantismenoi) and thereby cleansed “from consciousness of evil”, as well as “washed” (leloumenoi) are perfect participles – past events with present consequences! (Please see #6, 7, 14, and 128). Rhantizo, a very common word in the LXX describing purification rites, appears only in the letter to the Hebrews in summaries of those processes (9:13,19, 21 and 12:24) and a single reference in I Pet.1:2, where the reference is also to purification.

And here, with only three references (I Pet.1:2, Rv.1:5, and Rv.7:14), one can finally discover a source for all the noise about being “washed in blood”. (Peter only refers to a ceremonial “sprinkling”.)
In Rv.1:5, the actor is Jesus (not people); and the “washing” appears fifth on a list of six descriptions of the accomplishments of the Lord Jesus. In Rv.7:14, the reference is in a highly allegorical description of a contingent of martyrs having “washed their robes.” (And by the way, a “fountain / well” – pEgE – same word – is simply a natural source of water in Jas.3:11,12; Rv.7:17, 8:10, 14:7, 16:4, 21:6; Jn.4:6, 14; II Pet.2:17. The only exception is the Mk.5:29 reference to the healing of the woman who had a hemorrhage – and nobody “washes” in that!)
All the common rhetoric, verbal or musical, is seriously out of balance!

Where is the proclamation (also in Rv.1:5) of Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, who loves us”? Where is the announcement that he has “made(of) us a kingdom of priests to God his Father”? All of these have multiple New Testament references, and should therefore have enormous influence upon the life of his people!

Please understand that this is not to ignore or disparage either the “shedding of his blood” (see previous post) or being “washed” with it  as an operative factor in the process – whether that phrase is taken as a reference to physical blood, to Jesus’ life, his humanity, or any other part of his activity during or after his years on the earth. It is simply a plea that those who claim to represent our Lord and King pay proportionate attention to aspects of his life, teaching, example, and accomplishments that are much more frequently described and explained in Scripture,and therefore equally, if not more essential to the life and health of his Body.

May we represent him faithfully!