New Testament Words and Verses
A Few More New Testament Ethical Terms
The lists of Greek terms in the New Testament encouraging certain behaviors and discouraging others seem almost endless, but we are actually just about reaching the end of the important words. In this essay I will give one more verse with eight things to avoid, and then focus on four unusual and rare words.
Things to Avoid
Paul has already provided us with two lists totaling nineteen things that will keep us out of the Kingdom of God. In II Cor. 12:20 he is more gentle about it, but still he mentions eight things that ought not “to be found” among Christians. We have already seen the first four of these:
ἔρις—strife, conflict (also in Gal. 5:20)
ζῆλος—jealousy (also in Gal. 5:20),
θυμοί—rage, outbursts of anger (also in Gal. 5:20),
ἐριθεῖαι—contentions, strife, unhealthy ambition (also in Gal. 5:20).
This list appears to be copied so far from Gal. 5:20, for they not only appear there, but they also appear in the same order. Whether the list originated with Paul or whether he was borrowing it from someone else isn’t clear. But the next two from the Galatians list (διχοστασία, αἵρεσις), perhaps because they were group sins rather than individual transgressions, weren’t repeated in II Cor. 12:20. Instead we have, in II Cor. 12:20 four more:
καταλαλιαί—slander, evil speaking (only appears elsewhere in I Pet. 2:1)
ψιθυρισμοί—whispering, gossip (a NT hapax, but the noun, ψιθυριστής, is in Rom 1:29)
φυσιώσεις—conceit, arrogance (a NT hapax)
ἀκαταστασίαι—disorder, general confusion (5x in NT). Paul tells us that God is not a God of disorder but of peace (I Cor. 14:33).
God is not a God of confusion but of peace. Therefore, avoid “disorders” or “tumults” or “confusions”—all of which are captured by ἀκαταστασία. If we take the word apart we have alpha privative, and against/down and stand/set in order. Thus, it is “not standing/set against” someone or something; thus, not causing disturbances. Its adjectival form, ἀκατάστατος, appears twice in James (1:8; 3:8), the first describing a δίψυχος (literally, “double-souled”) man, and the second describing the unpredictability of the tongue. It is interesting to me that this word could probably have been used far more frequently by the NT authors given their interests in maintaining congregational peace and social quiet.
The positive (without the alpha privative) sense of the word is captured in the NT hapax κατάστημα, which means “behavior” or a “conduct” of a person (literally, how a person “stands down”). In Titus 2:3 the female elders are encouraged to be ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, or “reverent in behavior.”
ἱεροπρεπεῖς is such a rare word in the history of Greek literature that one ought to pause on it. If we take it apart we have two common words that simply aren’t regularly put together. Those words are “sacred” or “holy” and “fitting” or “suitable.” The underlying Greek verb is πρέπω, which appears 7x in the NT and means “to be proper or fitting.” It appears just two verses earlier in Titus (2:1), where the recipient is urged to speak what is “fitting” or “appropriate” (πρέπει) for healthy teaching. Thus, something that is ἱεροπρεπεῖς is something that is appropriate in a sacred venue.
In Titus 2:6, the younger men are encouraged to live with self control (σωφρονεῖν) in all things, by “furnishing a type of good works” (an interesting phrase that seems to suggest that one ought to live a model life ethically), and by “furnishing incorruptibility in teaching.” Then, after “seriousness” (σεμνότης) is added, we have the unusual phrase λόγον ὑγιῆ ἀκατάγνωστον or “a healthy word not to be condemned.” The word ἀκατάγνωστον is a NT hapax and is rare in Greek literature. The underlying verb καταγινώσκω means to “condemn” or “blame.” The meaning of the adjective is made clearer if we see it at work in its only LXX appearance, in II Macc 4:47. There we have people that were “without reproach” or “without blame” or “innocent” (ἀκατάγνωστοι), whose cases would have been dismissed even if the jurors were Scythians (and Scythian mercilessness was legendary among Greek writers) but, instead, they were judged worthy of death. This makes the meaning vivid. Now, let’s return to Titus 2. The teaching is healthy and irreproachable. No one can find fault with it.
Finally, we have the noun ἀνεπίλημπτον. It, too, is a NT hapax, and appears in the Pastoral Epistles when instruction is given about ethical character of bishops. The relevant verse is:
δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι (I Tim. 3:2), or “It is necessary for a bishop to be without reproach.” ἀνεπίλημπτον comes from two words, the alpha privative and the verb ἐπιλαμβάνομαι, which means to “take” or “lay hands on” or “take hold of.” But its translation in Greek literature is somewhat complex, with each appearance yielding a slightly different rendering. For example, it can be translated, when referring to enemies, as “not open to attack” or, with respect to one’s ethical conduct, “blameless” or, with respect to an activity, “not subject to cancellation.” In this instance, referring to a bishop’s conduct and style of life, it most likely means “unassailable” or “not open to criticism.” Many translations have “above reproach” or “blameless,” but I think the verbal idea of attack or assailing, which is contained in the ἐπιλαμβάνομαι, makes the notion of “unassailable” conduct more convincing.
Though I have argued that the NT authors don’t have a consistent ethical theory, and that there is no consistent or anchoring ethical terminology, there are enough powerful words, which I have exposited, which support a “be good” ethic of living. The only remaining, and troubling, thing for me is that nineteen categories of people will be cast from the celebration; bumped or banished or barred from the banquet; tossed from the table; flung from the feast--which seems a bit harsh, especially because almost all of those who even try to live “good” lives have not only participated in some of these nineteen activities on an occasional basis but also on a frequent basis.
A Prelude to Gifts
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