New Testament Words and Verses
Galatians 5:22-23, The Fruit of the Spirit
When we finally reach the classic definition of basic Christian virtues in this passage, usually known as the fruit of the Spirit, we have nine nouns. At least four of these nine won’t be my focus here (ἀγάπη “love;” χαρά, “joy”; εἰρήνη, “peace;” and πίστις, “faithfulness”) because the frequency of their appearance (none of them appears less frequently than 59x) has led many others to do more detailed studies on them. An example of a careful treatment of ἀγάπη, for example, is Nygren’s Eros and Agape (Eng. translation 1953). But the remaining five words are redolent with meaning and also suggestive of many other words that give us a fuller picture of the nature of the Christian life encouraged by Paul and others.
Let’s begin with the text of Gal. 5:22-23, highlighting the words that will be my focus.
ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
μακροθυμία— literally means a “long temper.” Such a person is patient, long-suffering, enduring of things. Two other nouns, and three verbs (each associated with its corresponding noun) give us a full picture. The “pairs” are μακροθυμία (14x) and μακροθυμέω (10x); ὑπομονή (32x) and ὑπομένω (17x); ἀνοχή (2x) and ἀνέχομαι (15x). All come from different verbal roots and mean, respectively, “long temper” or “waiting/remaining under” or “holding/putting up.” When you think about it for a moment, however, they all really mean the same thing: to endure something patiently. The combined total of appearances of these six words is 90x. Though not all of them appear in contexts encouraging the development of this virtue (indeed, occasionally one is used just to describe the “staying behind” after others have departed—Acts 17:14), they usually are. Having three “angles” to see the term—from the perspectives of a long temper, or putting up with something or waiting under something—can actually be helpful for those who are trying to develop the virtue. It is as if one has three “postures” or “positions” to try to become “comfortable” in an uncomfortable space.
χρηστότης— kindness, uprightness, goodness, generosity. The underlying adjective is χρηστός, which means something that is “useful” or “serviceable” or “beneficial.” We might therefore look at the concept of kindness as arising out of utility. Something that has a high degree of usefulness is something that is “good,” and it isn’t a huge leap to go from that goodness of a product or person to its/his/her kindness. Perhaps the most memorable passage in which χρηστός appears is Matt. 11:30, where Jesus says that his yoke is “easy” (χρηστός). The underlying verb is χράομαι, “to make use of” or “to use.” χρηστότης appears 10x in the NT. Sometimes it refers to the kindness of God (Titus 3:4), but what interests me is the way it brings other terms in to the party. For example, in Col. 3:12, we have a series of virtues mentioned, including χρηστότητα ταπεινοφροσύνην πραΰτητα, or “kindness, humility, and gentleness. We will get to gentleness below, but the point to note here is that the word for “humility,” ταπεινοφροσύνην, is made up of two words meaning “humble/low” and “inner perspective/mind.” In Gal. 5:22-23 we will also have χρηστότης and πραΰτης appear, but instead of ταπεινοφροσύνη, we will have ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις splitting those two. One other NT word sometimes translated “kindness” is the 2x-appearing φιλανθρωπία, which really means “love for humanity,” from which we get our word “philanthropy.”
ἀγαθωσύνη—goodness. Unlike most of the words discussed previously, ἀγαθωσύνη seems to be a uniquely New Testament term. The adjectives ἀγαθός and καλός are both generative of several words, such as ἀγαθοποιέω (to do good), ἀγαθοεργέω (also to do good) or καλοδιδάσκαλος (a teacher of good), but this word, appearing 4x in the NT, never receives a precise definition. For example, one appearance (II Thess. 1:11) speaks about the “good pleasure of his goodness,” a kind of circumlocution that sounds good but probably has little precision to it.
πραΰτης— meekness, gentleness. When Jesus said that the “meek” are blessed, he used the word πραΰς, the adjectival form of the word. These people aren’t self-assertive or demanding, but in their mild way they manage to inherit the earth. Perhaps there is something about the calm, mild, gentle disposition that can be disarming for many people, and can lead them to trust the person demonstrating this characteristic so much that they want to affirm them unconditionally. Two other NT words that don’t appear in our list in Gal. 5:22-23, both of which carry with them the notion of “gentleness,” are ἤπιος and ἐπιείκεια. The latter only appears 2x though its adjectival form ἐπιεικής appears 5x. In I Tim. 3 it is interesting that ἐπιεικής is put in between two rare NT adjectives. Commended are people who are not pugnacious (not πλήκτην, which means “to strike a person”) and who are peaceable (ἄμαχον means “not warlike”). Thus, the notion of kindness, gentleness, meekness, mildness receives a multi-form affirmation through the language of πραΰτης and ἐπιεικής. The adjective ἤπιος is a hapax, occurring also in a Pastoral Epistle context (II Tim. 2:24) and meaning just about the same as either πραΰτης or ἐπιείκεια.
ἐγκράτεια— self-control, self-discipline. Two of the four appearances of ἐγκράτεια are in the stair-like ethical progression of II Pet. 1:6, where one goes from ἀρετῇ to γνῶσιν to ἐγκράτειαν to ὑπομονήν and finally to εὐσέβειαν, or from “virtue to knowledge to self-discipline to patience and, finally, to godliness.” The list is fascinating, but I am sure that if you mixed and matched the order of these virtues and read them to the typical Christian congregation not one would have a clue as to the correct biblical order of these virtues.
The proliferation of ethical terminology has left us somewhat balanced between the “bad things” that keep one out of the Kingdom of God and the “good things” that are the fruit of one’s eventual entry to that Kingdom. The most earnest believers will tell you that justification in Christian theology is only through faith, but the Scripture authors surely write as if proper ethical conduct is pretty important, too.
Recovery from Drunkenness
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