Word Study #197 — Unity: Being/becoming One

July 25, 2013

In view of all the attention given in the New Testament to the idea of the mutual dependence and community life of the citizens of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus, it would be reasonable to assume that “unity” would be a common subject of discussion. I expect that many of you will be as surprised as I to realize that the word “unity” itself occurs only twice in the entire New Testament. Maybe if you’re busy “doing it” you don’t spend as much time “talking about it”!
Henotes – (L/S) “union, unity”, a common word in the mathematical works of Aristotle and Pythagoras and the philosophical writings of Epicurus, is used only by Paul, and only in Eph.4:3 of “the unity of the Spirit” and Eph.4:13 of “the unity of the faith [faithfulness]”. These are indeed critical to the life and health of the brotherhood, whose members are urged to work at maintaining the unity that the Spirit is in the process of building. Note that people are not to do the “creating”. No one but the Lord can do that. We are charged only with the maintenance work.
The building process is described in the immediately following paragraphs, and “faithfulness” is presented as both its source and its goal in vv.13-16. Both “the Spirit” and “faithfulness” are cast in the genitive case, of which one of the primary uses is to identify the source or origin of the principal noun (“unity”, in this case). This use of the genitive is second only to possession, which would not make any sense here. These two, together, are essential to genuine unity.

For clarification of specifics, however, we must turn to other vocabulary. In contrast to henotes, the word “one” (heis, mia, hen), which is so prominent in Jesus’ final recorded prayer for his followers in Jn.17, occurs in the New Testament (with varying implications) more than 300 times! The vast majority of these are simply counting (229x), or referring to “someone, a certain – , other, some, another, or simply a/an” (about 50x). It is the outliers with which we are concerned.

Jesus had shocked people earlier, already (Jn.10:30), with the simple statement, “The Father and I are one.” It nearly got him stoned! (v.31). His opponents correctly discerned – but did not understand or accept – the import of his words. Some of the implications of that statement are explored in chapter 2 of Citizens of the Kingdom. The union of Father and Son was so complete that the words, actions, goals, and even personalities of Jesus and the Father were virtually inseparable. And this relationship is the pattern (Jn.17:11) for the object of Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one, as we are”! The same phrase is repeated in Jn.17:21,22,23. Notice, please, that this is not a list of instructions to the disciples! Mere people could never possibly achieve it! It is a prayer for the sovereign action of God, which began to be answered with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and has been in process ever since. Ac.4:32 describes the “multitude” being “of one heart and one life [identity, “soul”]”. Paul’s later descriptions of the Body of Christ (see #84, and chapter 7 of Citizens) detail some of the ways this unity found expression. Consult Ac.2:42-47, 4:32-37; Rom.12:4,5; I Cor.10:17, 12 (whole chapter); Gal.3:28, Eph. 2 and 4; Col.3:15.

Second in frequency of New Testament usage is the figure, also initiated by Jesus, in Mt.19:5,6 and Mk.10:8,9, of the union of husband and wife. The idea is repeated in I Cor.6:16,17 and Eph.5:31. This, too, is represented as an act of God – not the whim, desire, custom, or law of people. Only God is able to “out of two create one”, since in the beginning it was he who created “out of one, two” (Gen.2).

Another outstanding aspect is seen in the “breaking down of walls” (Eph.2:14) – the bringing together of folks whose former alienation certainly equaled that of any modern foes, and forming them into a single unit, demonstrating the power and glory of their Lord (Rom.15:6-13, Gal.3:28, Eph.2:13-17, Col.3:12-15). A similar admonition to the folks at Philippi (1:27, 2:2), while not as specifically addressing opposing groups, advocates the same mutuality. (Refer again to #84).

Finally, there are clues to be found in the cases, many of which occur only in Christian writings, where the preposition sun– – “with, together, belonging to, with the help of, in company with” – is prefixed to other words. It is significant that Christian writers needed essentially to create a whole new vocabulary since their Greco-Roman culture was as individualistic as ours, and the principles of mutuality were just as foreign in the first century as they are in the twenty-first! Here is a partial list, with relevant references and lexical information. (Note: the substitution of gamma (g), mu (m), or sigma (s) for the nu (n) in “sun-” , as well as its occasional omission, is due to the written accommodation to phonetic issues, a common practice in the Greek language. It does not change the meaning.)
sugkleronomos – “joint heir, neighbor, one having adjoining property” – Rom.8:7, Heb.11:9 with Christ, Eph.3:6, I Pet.3:7 with each other
sugkoinoneo – “to have a joint share, to take part in, to be in partnership, to have fellowship with” – I Cor.9:23, Phil.4:14, Eph.5:11, Rv.1:9, 18:4. Note that two of these warn against unwholesome partnerships
suzeugnumi – “yoked together, paired, closely united. Commonly refers to marriage.” Used only twice: Mt.19:6, Mk.10:9
sumbibazo – “to be knit together, brought together, reconciled, or taught”. Referring to people: Col.2:2, 19; Eph.4:16. Referring to instructions: Ac.16:10, I Cor.2:16, Ac.9:22
summathetes – “fellow disciple, schoolmate”. Only used in Jn.11:16
sumphoneo – “to fit in or agree with, to fit together, as cut stones in a building, to harmonize”. Mt.18:19, 20:2,13; Lk.5:36, Ac.5:9, 15:15
sumpsuchos – “of one mind, at unity”. Used only once: Phil.2:2
sunagonizomai – “to struggle together” . Used only once: Rom.15:30, of urgent prayer
sunathleo – “to struggle together, to fight side by side, to practice”. Phil.1:27, 4:3, of working together in the interest of the kingdom
sunarmologeo – “to be fitted together like the blocks of a pyramid”. Eph,2:21, 4:16
sunoikodomeo – “to be built up together” . Only use: Eph.2:22
sussomos – does not exist at all in pagan literature, and is used only once in the N.T. Eph.4:6, where Paul speaks of Jews and Gentiles being a part “of the same Body”. This concept would have been foreign to anyone who lacked understanding of the Body of Christ.

Take particular note of the preponderance of instances where the operative verb is passive. The unity described in the New Testament is not and cannot be a do-it-yourself project. Notice that none of these words suggests the “anything goes” or “I’m ok, you’re ok” attitudes which today are often confused with the idea of “unity.” Neither do they suggest the slavish uniformity demanded by folks of more rigid persuasions. The goal is neither a hodge-podge of individuals blithely “doing their own thing” without challenge, nor a collection of identical automatons marching in artificial unison. Quite the opposite: the New Testament concept of unity requires the supernatural transformation of committed individuals into a supernatural unity that can faithfully reflect the image of its Creator!
Faithful individuals need to cooperate with the Builder, but dare not try to usurp his authority. The carefully fitted blocks of the pyramids (see sunarmalogeo, above) did not shape themselves! They were carefully cut and shaped, each to fit in its designated place, by master craftsmen. This is equally true of the building of “God’s dwelling place”.
The remaining, lexically unrelated, word reveals the same need for outside intervention. Katartizo, rendered “framed” in Heb.11:3 and “joined” in I Cor.10 is also used of “mending nets” (Mt.4:21, Mk.1:19) and the “restoration” of a fallen brother (Gal.6:1). Lexically, it also includes “to adjust or put in order, to set a dislocated limb, to learn, to discipline.”

If the unlikely combination of folks representing vastly different cultural backgrounds and assumptions that makes up the mixed multitude who are called into the Kingdom are ever going to be built together as the dwelling place of God and the manifestation of his kingly rule, it will take a lot of fitting and adjustment! But it is beyond the bound of possibility that the prayer of his own Son, asking that his people be “perfectly one, as we are”, should not be answered!
For exactly that purpose, we have been lovingly placed into the hands of the supreme Architect of the universe – and he is certainly equal to the task!

Thanks be to God!

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Word Study #196 — The Head

July 14, 2013

I am well aware that in approaching this subject, I am opening the proverbial “can of worms”. Few seemingly simple words have been used so viciously to abuse and suppress the very people that they were intended to empower and protect! And we will get to that; but first, a few interesting observations.
For those who get bent-out-of-shape about words that in nearly every European language except English have “gender” as a part of their grammatical form: I find it amusing that kephale, the only Greek word translated “head”, happens to be a feminine noun! Since grammatical “gender” is completely independent of actual fact, this observation is just as irrelevant to correct translation as is the masculine grammatical form of anthropos – usually rendered “man” (the species), but just as accurately “person” or “human”. I only mention it by way of illustration, and with this reminder: don’t get hung up on grammatical gender! To do so only displays linguistic ignorance.
To those who consider the concept of “head” to denote the top of a hierarchy: there is a related word for that, kephalaios, “principal or chief”, but it never occurs in the New Testament. Lexically, the idea of “head honcho” is completely absent from the extensive uses of kephale.
These include (L/S) the physical head of a person or animal, a way of counting people, philosophically the “noblest” part of a person, life (as in risking – see Lk.21:8, Ac.27:34), a term used in imprecations or oaths (as in Mt.5:36, Ac.18:6); of inanimate things: the inflorescence of a plant, the top or brim of a vessel, the capital of a column, the source of a river; of statuary: a bust; and metaphorically: crown, completion, consummation, sum, or total.
Of the 76 appearances of the word in the New Testament, 47 have merely anatomical reference. Most of these are in the gospels or the Revelation. Other than those, Ac.18:18 and 21:24 refer to the Jewish custom of shaving one’s head in connection with a vow, and in Paul’s insightful description of the functions of the parts of a body, he mentions the head in I Cor.12:21.

There are two other clusters of the use of kephale. In Mt.21:42, Mk.12:10, Lk.20:17, and Ac.4:11, reference is made to Ps.118:22, regarding “the stone that the builders rejected” having been made “the head of the corner” (KJV). Peter quotes the same passage (I Pet.2:6,7) and adds the comment from Is.28:16. In doing so, he agrees with Paul’s statement in I Cor.3:11 where he speaks of Jesus as the “foundation,” but these are completely different from the former group. Clearly, the KJV translators did not understand the construction of the Roman arch, which was ubiquitous in the first century, and consequently, they totally missed the wry humor in the statement. The writers/speakers are calling attention to the utter cluelessness of those who considered themselves the “builders”, pointing out that they did not even know what the carefully but oddly shaped keystone of an arch is for! It bears no resemblance to a cornerstone – a ceremonial, decorative (but useless) component slipped into place at the dedication of a building – or even if it were a part of the foundation. The keystone, uniquely shaped for a perfect fit, is integral to the integrity of the entire structure! Without it, the whole building – arch or dome – would collapse! The point is that only Jesus is capable of holding the “building of God” (whether one applies that term to the church or to the entire universe) intact. These same translators likewise erred in the rendering of the alternate word, akrogoniaios. Used only twice, it refers also to the top of the arch: The prefix akro– is from the word “high” (think “acropolis”). It has no reference to their choice of “chief” (Eph.2:20, I Pet.2:6). There is no such thing as a “chief” cornerstone.

Finally, and arguably the most important, are the references, all in Paul’s epistles, to Jesus himself as the “head”: not only of the church, which is represented as his Body (Eph.4:15, Col.1:18), but of “all things” (Eph.1:22), even of “all principality and power” (Col.2:10) – spiritual forces of all kinds! Although the word is not repeated there, the statement in Col.1:15-17 succinctly summarizes the realization that from the beginning of creation (perhaps even before that!) it is only in Jesus that “everything holds together” – precisely the function of a keystone (Col.2:19). He is the only way the Body can work together as intended. The reverse is also true: one may observe that while a Body is unable to function without its head – it simply dies – neither can a Head accomplish much unless it has a Body with which it can interact with its surroundings!

It is this glorious truth of Jesus as the Head of the Body that must be the context for any responsible interpretation of the remaining passages (I Cor. 11:1-10 and Eph.5:32-33). Reinforced (or perhaps established) by Jesus’ prayer in Jn.17, especially v.22, a New Testament understanding of the function of the “head” is, like so many other aspects of life, radically different from any patterns that exist outside Jesus’ Kingdom. Whether the “list” is the I Cor. “God – Christ – husband – wife” or the Ephesians “Christ – church – husband – wife”, it does not describe a hierarchy as has been represented by the arrogant and oppressive “chain of command” teaching that has been prominent in some circles off and on for at least the last 50 years, but an equation!
Perhaps some of you learned as a school-child the expression of relationships in a math or science problem that looked like this: “a:b::c:d”, representing that the pair “a” and “b” are related to each other in the same way as “c” is to “d”. That is exactly what Paul is trying to say here. And all the components of both lists are encompassed in Jesus’ prayer to the Father “that they may (continually) be one, just as we are one”!

In such a context, being designated as a “head” is not an assignment of status, but of responsibility! In his prayer, Jesus detailed the provision, protection, and empowerment that he had afforded to his followers while he was with them. Similar patterns of nurture and protection are noted in the Ephesians passage. Both are in the context of total self-giving love, and are to be emulated, in his present Body, by any who are designated “head”, in any capacity. Remember also that in the Corinthian letter, we are reminded that both men and women have been entrusted with heretofore unheard-of responsibility and privilege (Please see fuller discussion in chapter 13 of Citizens of the Kingdom). Whether on a physical or spiritual level, the “head” is responsible for the protection and the welfare, as well as the direction and enabling of the activity of the rest of the Body.

If you are tempted to react – either gleefully or resentfully – to the idea of a husband as a “head”, take a deep breath, get out your New Testament, and review the characteristics of Jesus’ relationship to his Father, and to the Church, his beloved Bride! Because here, as in everything else concerning the Kingdom, it’s all about Jesus! Make no mistake: Jesus was not a doormat – and neither was he a tyrant! He expects neither of his people! And where there is no husband to serve as enabler and protector, that role is assigned to the church (I Tim.5) as well as to whatever family is available. This would not have been an uncommon situation in a context of intense persecution.

After detailing the superiority of Jesus over all the ideas and beings, hypothetical or actual, to which the Colossian brethren had been introduced, Paul bluntly diagnosed their problem as “not holding on to the Head.” “It’s only from him that all the Body, supplied through its joints and ligaments, and knit together, keeps growing with the growth that comes from God.” (Col.2:19).
“The growth that comes from God”, for all of his people, is neither more nor less than the building together and functioning together of all of the members of the Body of Christ, learning, under the supremely loving and competent direction of its Head, to reflect all that he is, to a world so desperately in need of his loving touch.


Word Study #195 — Hands, and Touch

July 2, 2013

The most common use of the word cheir requires no research or explanation: the hand is the part of one’s body with which he performs the most ordinary of daily tasks. Even in reference to God’s messengers – natural or supernatural – (Mt.4:6), hands may simply be viewed as a tool or implement. However, the figurative uses of the term, referring to custodial care, power, or authority, and the employment of one’s hands to convey blessing and healing, or judgment and arrest, can require discernment, and it is these upon which I propose to focus this study.

The ambiguity is not unique to New Testament usage. It occupies an entire (very large) page of very small print in L/S, the Oxford lexicon of Greek usage. In addition to “hand or paw”, they note that it may refer to position (“on which hand [side]?”), careful rearing (“by hand”) of a child or animal, and leading (by taking one’s hand). It is used of prayer, voting, reaching out to help or protect, or in a hostile sense, to harm or destroy. “In hand” may denote “under control, in process, or at close quarters.” To place someone or something “in the hands” of another confers responsibility; giving or offering one’s hand attests authenticity or trustworthiness. The hand is often used to describe the attributes of the person using it, and may even be represented as acting of itself (“what your hand finds to do”). Indeed, it may be used of any act or deed, a person’s handiwork or handwriting, and even an anchor, axle, or pillar! And that is just a random sampling.

Forty-seven of the New Testament references to “hands” are purely physical. There are however a few significant points among them.
Pilate (Mt.27:24) clearly had in mind something deeper than simple cleanliness in his highly public “hand-washing” as he disclaimed responsibility for Jesus’ execution.
Paul’s statements that “God is not worshiped [helped or assisted] by men’s hands” (Ac.17:25) and “they are not gods which are made by hands” (Ac.19:2), define limits not only to physical hands, but to the domain of human effort.
His repeated (Ac.20:34, I Cor.4:12) reminder of his having personally earned the expenses of his labors and his associates reinforces his admonition that the faithful likewise should “work with their hands” (Eph.4:28, I Thes.4:11) in order to have resources to share with people in need.

“The Hand of God” or “the hand of the Lord” is credited with leading and protection (Lk.1:66, Jn.10:29, Ac.7:25, Heb.8:9) and creation (Ac.7:50, Heb.1:10, 2:7, I Pet.5:6), as well as judgment (Mt.3:!2, Ac.13:11, Heb.10:31). It was “into the hands of the Father” (Lk.23:46) that Jesus released his spirit as he died.

Jesus’ own hands seem to have been constantly busy! Offering loving blessing to children (Mt.19:13-15, Mk.10:16), and to his bewildered disciples (Lk.24:50), identifying his disciples as family (Mt.12:49), rescuing Peter from the consequences of his impetuosity (Mt.14:31), many unspecified “mighty works” (Mk.6:2), and healing “all manner of weaknesses” (at least 20x, probably more) by “laying his hands upon them”.
The Lord Jesus, who personified the love of God, was always touching people! Especially those who were not “supposed “ to be touched! Nothing more effectively communicates love – especially to folks that others deem “untouchable” – than a compassionate touch, or a comforting (or celebratory!) hug! And no, the idea of a “hug” is not a silly modern notion, and not at all extraneous. The word which has been rendered “touch” is haptomai – L/S:”to take hold of, to hang on to, to grasp, cleave, cling to” , and only secondarily “engage, undertake, perceive,” and even “to attack or apprehend”. It appears 13x as Jesus’ initiative toward a person in need, and 17x as people crowded to grab hold of “even the edge of his robe.” The result of those touches was usually healing, except for Jesus’ reassuring his frightened disciples after his transfiguration (Mt.17:7), and blessing little children (Mk.10:13, Lk.18:15). (Could this last have been the origin of the “group hug”?
Only once did he make a negative response to “touching”, gently telling Mary not to hang on to him (Jn.20:17), but to get busy and spread the wonderful news that he was alive. There were also parts of that glorious event yet to be completed.

The disciples, later apostles, and others in the early church, continued this practice of “laying their hands on” folks in need of healing, as Jesus had mentioned before his departure (Mk.16:18), but it seems also to have acquired additional significance among them. People were commissioned in this way for particular assignments (Ac.6:6, 13:3, I Tim.4:14, II Tim.1:6). Remember (#48) that this was simply a sign of brotherly approval and participation, and NOT the conferral of a lifetime title or position of status as it has become in modern rituals of “ordination”.
The gesture also accompanied prayer – not only for healing (Ac.3:7, 5:12, 9:12, 25:8), but also for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Ac.8:17,18; 9:12, 9:41, 19:6) and various unspecified “miracles” (Ac.5:12, 14:3, 19:11). It appears on the list of “basic” teachings in Heb.6:2.
Relief was sent to the sufferers in the Judean famine “by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Ac.11:30). Five times, Paul identifies the authenticity of a letter by his own handwriting (I Cor.16:21, Gal.6:11, Col.4:18, II Thes.3:17, Phm.19).
Some sort of spiritual empowerment seems to have been conferred on at least one occasion (II Tim.1:6).
Paul’s advice to Timothy to use the act of official commissioning cautiously and judiciously (I Tim.5:22) could be better heeded today.

We should also be aware that neither being “in the hands” [power, authority] of someone, nor “laying hands on” a person is always a good thing. Jesus warned that he was about to be “betrayed into the hands” of his enemies, who had repeatedly tried to “lay hands upon him” (13x), and that his followers could face similar treatment (9 or 10 times) – which they did.

But they did so with the full assurance of their Master’s confidence, promised in Jn.3:34, 10:28,29; and demonstrated in Jn.13:34, that not only they, but “all things” had been “given into his hands” by the Father – and that no force in heaven or earth could snatch them away.
May we also rest in that certainty, as we offer our hands in his service!