Gal 1:12, 1:16, 2:2: a revelation

Consider the letter from Paul to the Galatians.  Its authenticity is not in question:  theistic, agnostic, and atheistic scholars all accept that this letter was written by Paul to a people group in the Galatian/Phrygian region, which is now part of Turkey.  A large but not overwhelming number of text scholars favor an early authorship date of ~48CE, but it could have been written as many as seven years later.

The letter packs a punch, and several themes and emphases quickly rise to the surface.  Supporting one of the themes, three verses—1:12, 1:16, and 2:2¹—are tied together by a specific word.  In any normal letter or other piece of literature, a reader expects such connections, but especially in the case of scripture, from which tiny excerpts are routinely purloined from context without regard for the whole, it is good to point out this type of thing.  One of the three verses contains a problematic phrase, well known for its ambiguity.  The elusive final words of Galatians 1:12 (αποκαλύπσις ιεσόυ χριστόυ | apokalupsis iesou christou) are often given as “revelation of Jesus Christ.”  At least three translation possibilities exist, however:

1:  “Jesus Christ’s revelation” (or revelation of Jesus Christ)—a simple possessive

2:  “revelation from Jesus Christ”—showing the source of the revelation rather than its ownership

3:  “revelation that is Jesus Christ”—identifying the revelation as Jesus

[Thirty-one English translations from published Bibles are included as a footnote.²  Most of these have opted for either option 1 or option 2.]

At this juncture in my study, I would like to hazard a guess at the import of these three verses, all within the context of Paul’s narrative (1:11 through most or all of chapter 2).  I suggest that the three verses interrelate, overlapping one another.  Here are the three, with possible meanings:

For I did not receive it from a human source and I was not taught it, but it came by a revelation from Jesus Christ. (1:12, HCSB)

(Perhaps “revelation” there has meaning #2 as its primary one, as translated by the HCSB and many other versions, albeit with meaning #1 underlying.)

[God] . . . was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me (1:15b-16a, HCSB)

(1:16 implies something more along the lines of meaning #3 and is not ambiguous, comparatively speaking.)

I went up [to Jerusalem] according to a revelation (2:2, HCSB)

(2:2 is clearly an example of meaning #2.)

Taken together, and considering the narrative of 1:11-2:21 overall, the ideas are complementary:  this Jesus, Who revealed Himself personally (#3) to Saul on the road to Damascus, also revealed (#2) a kind of good news, being simultaneously the Source (#2) and Possessor (#1) of that good news Himself.  This complementary overlap does not necessarily dictate one meaning over the other in 1:12, but the three revelation references do strongly suggest Paul’s sense and personal experience of Jesus.  I have also been thinking about related reference(s) to Paul’s eyes and will take that up in a future post.

A serendipitous aside:  the phrase found in Gal 1:12 closely resembles the title of the “book” of Revelation.  That document, although famously symbolic, was not penned to make anything seem mysterious.  After all, a revelation reveals something, as opposed to concealing it!  And I can well imagine that Paul felt Jesus was anything but concealed during and after that personal encounter on the dusty road to Damascus.  Jesus was revealed to him, and that revelation was the basis of the gospel for which Paul lived afterward.

¹I am not asserting that these three rhetorically/conceptually related texts are the only ones to be considered in this regard.

² Comparison of 31 English versions:  Gal 1:12b

AMP | I received it through a [direct] revelation of Jesus Christ.

ASV 1901 |  it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ.

AV |  by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

CEB | I It came through a revelation from Jesus Christ.

CJB | it came through a direct revelation from Yeshua the Messiah.

CSB |  it came by a revelation of Jesus Christ.

DLNT | I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

ESV |  I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

EXV | ·Jesus Christ showed it to me [L by a revelation of/from/about Jesus Christ; Acts 9].

GW | I didn’t receive it from any person. I wasn’t taught it, but Jesus Christ revealed it to me.

HNV |  it came to me through revelation of Yeshua the Messiah.

ICB | Jesus Christ showed it to me.

ISV |  it was revealed to me by Jesus the Messiah.

LB | For my message comes from no less a person than Jesus Christ himself, who told me what to say.

LEB |  I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

MEV | neither was I taught it, except by a revelation of Jesus Christ.

MSG |  I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ.

NET |  For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ

NASB95 |  I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

NCV |  Jesus Christ showed it to me.

NIrV |  Instead, I received it from Jesus Christ. He showed it to me.

NIV |  I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

NIV84 |  I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

NJB | it came to me through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

NLT |  Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

NRSV |  I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

RSV | it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

VOICE | I was gifted with this message as Jesus the Anointed revealed Himself miraculously to me.

WE | it was Jesus Christ who showed it to me.

WEB | it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ.

YLT | nor was I taught it, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ,

Galatians 1:10

How’s that for a nondescript, non-attention-getting title?  The thing is, Galatians 1:10 is interesting in itself (if you’re into this kind of thing)!  Here are the main things I find in this brief text:

  • two present-tense verbs and two questions in the first half of the verse
  • two imperfect-tense verbs and a statement in the second half
  • three instances of “man” in three successive clauses, followed by “Christ” in the final clause
  • bookends suggested by the use of “God” and “Christ” (and a resulting chiasm or sandwich structure)
  • perhaps one “performance” feature that would have been spotlighted in 1st-century oral reading (but no other “poetic” features such as alliteration, assonance or rhyme)

First, here is the unadorned English text from the ESV (line endings are my own, for sake of consistency):

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?
Or am I trying to please man?
If I were still trying to please man,
I would not be a servant of Christ.

Next, below is the transliterated Greek text.  For the non-Greek-reading followers (probably 94% of you), all you need to do is notice the similar spellings, and maybe the Theon and Christou (God and Christ) in the first and fourth lines, respectively.

arti gar anthropous peitho ē ton Theon?
ē zeto anthropois areskein?
ei eti anthropois ēreskon,
Christou doulos ouk an ēmēn

Next, here is a rough translation—weird-sounding because it’s in the same word order as the original:

Now for to man do I appeal or to God?
          or do I seek man to please?
          If yet/still man (actively) I were pleasing,
of Christ a slave not I would (myself) be being.

I have intentionally indented lines two and three not because Paul would have laid it out that way with his own hand, but because the wordings and syntax suggest that layout.  We may without question assert that Paul is saying something with gusto here.  Arguably, the entire introductory text (1:6-10) includes and predicts the substance of the letter as a whole, and the specific content of v. 10 certainly serves Paul’s aims and emphases.  Clues to his emphatic passion include (1) the initial, emphatic placement of the word for “now,” (2) the repetitions, and (3) the switch from the present to the imperfect tense.  I have some question about the precise import of the imperfects, so I have the word “actively” in parentheses.  I also acknowledge the awkward “be being” at the end (but stay with me to the end here).

The final line amounts to a very strong, culminating emphasis.  Perhaps that phrase would have struck the early hearers something like the “punchline” of threefold question-and-answer with Peter in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest—or perhaps the “Simon, do you love me” sequence of John 21, in which the third question uses a different word.  It seems to me that, in any language, repeating something two or three times and following it with something else sets up an emphasis on the last item.

It bears mention that the conditional statement (essentially an “if . . . then . . .”) in the second half of v. 10 is constructed as a so-called “second-class condition,” which means that the “then” or second part of the statement (above, the last line) is to be seen as contrary to fact.  We might paraphrase this way:  “If I were yet trying to please men and women, you might end up thinking that I was no longer being Christ’s servant, which is obviously not the case!”  The verb “peitho” has several possible renderings but is often thought of meaning “trust in.”  Paul’s sense here might involve trust, but a contextual reading seems to lean more toward “please,” “win the approval of” or even “curry favor with.”

Another translation issue appears in the third line above:  “eti” may be translated “yet” or “still,” and it can also carry a numerical connotation, i.e., “in addition to,” but this last possibility is very unlikely here.  Bob Deffinbaugh explains and interprets as follows:

The issue in question is whether Paul deliberately diluted his message to suit his audience in order to gain status among them.  Paul’s defense begins with the word “still” in verse 10.  He thus turned the tables on his opponents.  His conversion was not a change for the worse, but a change for the better.  It was not that he had begun to be a man-pleaser since his conversion, but that he had ceased to be so.  As a zealous Pharisee he was a man-pleaser.  Had he not been converted, he would still be a man-pleaser.  In verses 11 and 12 Paul gives a general answer in his own defense:  “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”  – Bob Deffinbaugh (full article here)

Paul’s “still” or “yet” in v. 10 could perhaps refer to a hypothetical time in the mind of his audience when they thought was seeking people’s approval.  Given the literary context here (at least chapter 1 and possibly into chapter 2), the scenario described by Deffinbaugh above seems more likely.

The final verb (a “being” verb) is in the imperfect tense, suggesting an ongoing, incomplete action.  I imagine there’s a legitimate way to translate that verb directly into English, but I can’t figure out how.  In the literal-order, word-for-word rendition above, I had “not I would be being,” but that’s obviously awkward.  Although the term “servant” or “slave” (Gk doulos) is a noun, not a verb, it makes sense to me to render that concept as part of the verb (serving instead of servant)—in a moderately expansive paraphrase, that is.  Below, then, is my paraphrase of Galatians 1:10:

So . . . at this juncture, who do I appear to put my trust in or seek the approval of—people or God?  Seriously!  Do you really think I’m attempting to please people at this point?

If I were still seeking the approval of people (as I admit was the case before my conversion), then I would not be actively serving Christ.

That’s smoother than the exact-word-order version, for sure, but I consider it a work in progress.  Do you think I’ve translated the meaning reasonably well?  Does this passage aid your understanding of Paul and early Christianity?  Is there any impact on your view of your own discipleship?  Tell me what you think.


Spirit, breath, air, wind

When you drive a car all the time, never walking or locomoting in any other way, you notice certain things, but you miss others.  On the other hand, riding on two wheels permits one to notice a different set of things, or at least to notice things differently.  When riding a bicycle or motorcycle, I have sometimes been struck with various differences in terms of sights and sounds.

Air is one of the reasons one rides a motorcycle.  I say things like “I love feeling the air” and “I just wanna catch some air.”  (One riding acquaintance called me a “fellow bug-toothed rebel,” but that’s another story.)  The air may be muggy and stultifying, refreshing, or varied.  On motorcycle rides through rural areas in which various types and extents of vegetation have grown, one notices cool-air spots.

I first noticed the difference in the air back in 2003 while heading out of Atchison, Kansas on 6th Street on my Yamaha 600 Radian.  The southward route becomes Old Rt. 73, also called Sheridan Road, as it works its way toward Leavenworth.  In spots along this road, the air may suddenly drop 10 or 15 degrees. Sheridan-Sherman RdYou look around, and you notice a small farm with a horse or two, a grove, or a meadow through which the prairie wind has rolled and cooled things down for the past few hours.  You might for a short time feel ensconced by trees that have banned the afternoon sun.  The air quality and temperature can vary, and you notice it as it rushes past your face.  (You wouldn’t likely have noticed these things if you were driving a car.)

Air.  Wind.  And breath and spirit.

Typically, when one encounters the English word “spirit” in a New Testament document, the Koiné Greek antecedent is pneuma.  (The Hebrew antecedent for an Old Testament instance is likely ruach.)  This Wikipedia page may mislead (it’s not really airheady but is complicated) at the beginning, but it shows some noun connections.  Not that all these terms are exact synonyms—such precise inter-language relationships rarely if ever exist), mind you—but the words have a high correlation, so the possibility does exist, depending on the context, that several English words—e.g., breath or air or spirit—could be substituted.  It intrigues me that the life-giving air around me could be conceptually related to the very breath that the Spirit of God breathed into the first human.  Maybe I’m too far out on a weak limb here.

[Thinking of limbs reminds me of central Arkansas, where the combination of storms and tree types results in more downed tree branches in people’s yards than anywhere else I’ve lived.  And then I go back to air and wind.  Arkansas air is often the stagnant, hot, horrifically humid kind that doesn’t say “motorcycle ride” to me.  Which is one reason I’m glad to be returning to the rolling hills of eastern Kansas, where those cool-air spots are.  Looking forward to breathing and catching some wind again—maybe, just maybe on another motorcycle.]

Divinities, demons, religiousness

Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him.  Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”  Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.”

. . .

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. . . .

– Acts 17:18,22 | NRSV (emph. mine -bc)

In these verses resides a small matter in which I became interested after last week’s Acts class, taught by Dr. Paul Pollard.  First, a couple of requisites:

The antecedent of the word “divinities” (v18) is δαιμονίων | daimoniōn.
The antecedent of the word “religious” (v22) is δεισιδαιμονεστέρους | deisidaimonesterous.

I noticed that daimoniōn and deisidaimonesterous contain the same root.  And thus began a short chase.

Among many exegetical fallacies that may plague interpreters of the scriptures, there exists a “root fallacy” (spotlighted by  D.A. Carson) that deserves mention here.  The root fallacy “presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components” (Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 28).  The mere presence of the spelled-out root in the two words above does not guarantee that the two are related in meaning.  Carson also appeals to the English pairs pineapple/apple and butterfly/butter to show that component parts can have nothing to do with the meaning of the whole.

An etymological relationship with the English word “demon” might well perk up my neophyte ears and give me a hook, but I’d hasten to point out that the meaning of “demon” isn’t germane here.  It’s also an example of the “semantic anachronism” fallacy (Carson, 33).  One could amble or jog down a trail that led to a conclusion that Paul was speaking here of demons in the current-day-movie sense, but this would be an invalid exegetical move.

The use of both daimoniōn and deisidaimonesterous in the same Acts 17 micro-context, though, could be significant.  Stay with me for a minute to see whether I might or might not be onto something.

The word behind “divinities” could mean demons or deities or gods or demons or spiritual beings.¹

The word behind “religious” could have either a positive or negative connotation:  devout, religious, or superstitious. 

In this case, there seems to be little reason to think the latter term would be negative.  After all, why would Paul start with something inherently negative when seeking to reveal more of God to the Athenians?²  The more positive sense of “religious” rather than “superstitious” is supported both by our class’s teacher and by the BDAG lexicon, which was likely one of his sources.

What strikes me most is that Luke used deisidaimonia for “religious”/”devout” when he could just as easily have chosen threskos,³ perhaps some adjectival form of sebazomai, or another word.  The word in 17:22 is unique in the NT, occurring only once.  (The word also occurs 2x in Philo and 1x in the OT pseudepigrapha.)  Might Luke be showing some connection between [1] what Paul was accused of by the Athenians (being a proclaimer of some unknown divine beings) and [2] that which Paul in turn recognized that the Athenians were already doing?  Although the “root fallacy” warns us that no connection may be assumed, Luke’s having chosen these two words in relating the event may connect them.  Put more simply (pardon the transliterations),

  • Paul was accused of proclaiming foreign “daimons.”
  • Paul recognized that the Athenians were “daimon-observant” already.

I’ve made too much of this, but it piqued my interest.  Pollard agrees that the “root fallacy” notion suggests caution and also pointed out the lack of proximity between the two words.  (If they were found within the same verse or at least closer to one another, a verbal connection would be more likely.)

Pollard has further noted his interest in the fact that . . .

“Paul (Luke) used two words that commonly occur in the NT with different meanings from the normal.  One is daimonion (usually translated ‘demon’ but here as ‘divinity’) and the other, therapeuo (v. 25), usually is translated ‘heal’ in the NT but here must be translated by the meaning ‘serve.'”

He has certainly pinpointed a notable textual feature there, and I’ve begun to note Luke’s uses of therapeuo and iaomai, another word with overlapping meanings, also consulting lexicons.  One similar use of therapeuo occurs in the LXX, in Isaiah 54:17.

Taking it a bit further
It was pointed out that Epimenedes, in Cretica (ca. 600BCE) used the expression agnoston theon (not-known god) in arguing that Zeus was immortal.  As Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers on their soil and in their terms, he might have had this Greek literature in mind.  Archaeological evidence of altars to the “unknown deity” exists, to say the least.

Missiologically speaking, I wonder whether in our time we might act wisely toward Muslims by assuming a somewhat uncomfortable thing:  that the deity they address as Allah is God-not-yet-fully-known by them.

Why rhetorically assume Allah is not the creator God?  Assuming Allah is a label for the same creator might just serve as a bridge.  We might assume that knowledge of the identity of God is nascent and lacking, not categorically ill-conceived, in those who trace their faith-line back to Ishmael.  Not that I think Islamic and Christian theologies have much in common besides belief in one God, but one has to start with building a bridge somewhere.

It seems to me that Paul established a similar bridge by starting with the “not-known god” of the Athenians as he sought to reveal to them more about YHVH.

¹ So, the word daimoniōn is not inherently negative.  Himerius, a later writer, once prepended the adjective πονερ̀ος (evil, bad) to the word daimoniōn.  If daimoniōn were inherently negative, it would be as redundant as “feline cat” or perhaps “sugar diabetes” to say “evil daimoniōn.”  On the other hand, this Himerius text is from the 4th century CE, so the word could easily have shifted in meaning by then.

² The KJV rendering of deisidaimonesterous is “superstitious.”  That translation, now difficult to substantiate, could have resulted from not comprehending that daimoniōn (divinities) could specify either evil spirits or beneficent spiritual beings.  If you assumed the Athenians were limited in their spirituality to thoughts of evil demons (17:18), you might also have assumed they were incapable of anything other than superstition (17:22) related to said demons.

³ Although threskeia is used only rarely in the NT, Kittel notes that threskeia, threskos, and ethelothreskeia are common in extra-biblical Greek writings.  The neutral applicability of these terms in Greek culture of the time is another reason Luke might have chosen chosen a word from this cognate group, since the Athens incident was in a patently Greek context.

Translations of 1Cor 16:1-6

During recent months, I’ve been involved in 1Corinthians as a translation project, along with a group of others whose Greek skills are far better than mine.  As part of this program, a short description of which may be found at (scroll down to #3 under “More Information”), study partners work on both a “literal” and a “paraphrase” or “idiomatic” translation and receive feedback both in a live presentation and via e-mail.  As I’m able, I become somewhat familiar with other translators’ texts, and I learn along the way, but this is the third time I’ve tried my hand; 16:1-6 was my text this time.  [My first text was 4:1-5 (one blogpost here); my second was 11:23-26 (which I may post soon).]

Below I’m offering my translations of 16:1-6.  If you have questions or comments, I’m all ears.  “Why did you translate _____ instead of _____ or ______?”  “Why did you go in X direction with Y phrase?”  I may or may not have a good answer to your question, but I’ll appreciate the question, just the same.

One difficulty I had with this text—and there were many—was the very use of the word “collection” when Paul is clearly not recommending a weekly collection of funds into a common treasury.  An eventual bringing-together of the stored funds is in view in v2, but I’ve opted for “scare quotes” in the idiomatic translation of v1.

Should you want to compare my renderings with more reputable but less salient 🙂  English translations, here’s one place to go (opens a 2nd window).


1 Now, about the for-the-saints collection . . . as I instructed the Galatian churches, so also you should all do:   2 On the first [day] of the week, each of you should put aside [money], storing it, according to how well things are going,[1] so that no collections[2] need occur when I get there. 3 Then, whenever I arrive, I will send the approved ones [3] with letters so they may convey the gift to Jerusalem; 4 and, if my going is advisable,[4] as well, it’s with me they’ll go.

5 And I will come to you when I’ve passed through Macedonia[5]—and I will pass through Macedonia—6 and I will perhaps remain with you or even spend the winter there, so that you might send me on my way to wherever I should go.


1 Now, getting to the matter of the “collection” for the ones who’ve been made holy . . . all of you, please do follow the same directions that I gave the Galatian churches:

2 On the first day of the week, each one, put some money aside—saving it up (according to your financial prosperity)—so a focused collection effort as such shouldn’t be necessary when I get there.

3 Then, when I do show up, I will send these you’ve approved, commissioning the combined gift onward to Jerusalem with my endorsements. 4 If at that point my also traveling seems to be a good idea, well, then we’ll all go together.

5 And I will visit you in conjunction with my journey through Macedonia—yes, I’ll definitely be going through there—6 and I might stay a long while with you, up to and including wintering there, so that you can send me on my way wherever I go next.

[1] εὐοδῶται | euodōtai—traditionally, “how you are being prospered” or some such. BDAG offers, “. . . in our lit. only the pass. is used, and not literally ‘be led along a good road.’” The word (used only 3x in the NT: here, Rom. 1:10, and 3John 2) appears to suggest how things are going financially, i.e., how one is prospering. The NRSV goes a bit further with “whatever extra you earn,” and some have suggested allusion to any recent business deals. These translations leave the particular reference open here, rather speaking to a general sense of “how things have been going.”

[2] λογειαι | logeiaiL-N suggests a verbal meaning for this plural noun (a word used only in 1Cor 16 in the NT): “the act of collecting contributions, especially those involving voluntary response.” Other lexicographers have pointed out the distinction between this “collection” on the one hand and the Jewish tithe for Levites on the other. Found primarily in inscriptions and papyri, λογειαι has connotations of being voluntary (i.e., no “taxation” sense) and for “religious purposes.” This plural would seem to have a different shade of meaning than the singular λογεία in 16:1. I read the 16:1 instance as a nonstandard or special-sense use of “collection”—perhaps with the “scare quotes” I have included in the paraphrase—since Paul goes on in v2 to prescribe individual action. At some point, v3, the individual reserves are come together in some sort of collected whole.

[3] Greek texts differ in where a comma is inserted to segment the passage. The resultant question is whether the words διʼ ἐπιστολῶν | di’ epistolōn go with the verb πέμψω | pempsō or with the verb δοκιμάσητε | dokimasēte. That is to say, the comma-less Greek text does not clarify whether the Corinthians are writing approval letters or Paul is writing letters to send with them to Jerusalem. To an extent, my translations leave this question open.

[4] Or, fitting, worthwhile, or valuable.

[5] Lit., Μακεδονίαν | Makedonian. English convention has been to render the kappa with a c.

James 3

History.  Maxims and aphorisms.  Wordplay.  Textual discrepancies.  Alliteration.  Textual criticism.  And, of course, context. . . . All these factors (and more) are significant in James 3.

Last Sunday, our small group worked through the first section of James 3.  This letter, supposed to have been written by Iakob (Jacob) (James), the half-brother of Jesus, displays connections with Matthew’s gospel in particular and seems to have strong internal unity and intentional construction.  A few have said this could be the earliest extant Christian document.

3:1-13 constitutes one of the more clearly self-contained sections in the letter, making analysis of the micro-context not only key to interpretation, but also easier to manage.  One hint of the fact that this is a discrete section is the book-end-ish instances of the word-pair adelphoi mou (brothers my) in 3:1 and 3:12.

A few miscellaneous comments . . .

That teaching/teachers are at issue is clear in 3:1; the questions of who’s doing the judging of them (3:1b) is curious. At least these three possibilities appear to me:

  1. that God ultimately judges (i.e., final judgment) those who teach by a higher standard
  2. that God expects more of (judges more stringently) teachers on an ongoing basis during this life
  3. that human peers judge public teachers by a higher standard

Many in our group leaned toward #3; this feeling might have resulted, in part, from reading onto the text the 20th– and 21st-century “public teacher” scenario of paid clergy, senior ministers, and televangelists (not that all of those terms are of the same stripe).  Folks were at first interested in how teachers and preachers are often held to a higher standard than run-of-the-mill Christians because they live in a glass house.  That is a syndrome, to be sure, but I’m not convinced it was what James had in view.

No firm answer appears for this question, but I lean toward a combination of 1 and 2, based on the context provided toward the end of chapter 2.  No matter, though:  the import of the warning to those who teach holds, regardless: speech (the tongue) is a huge pitfall, and those who speak words of instruction ought to keep an especially vigilant watch.  The warning is extended to others, as well.

A built-in question appears in v2 related to the “perfect man”; James’s intent (and he did have one, regardless of whether we dig it out and wash it off enough to see the potsherd’s edges) may be illuminated by recognition that “perfect” might be translated “complete” or “mature,” as well. With one of those readings, the thought could become less an ironic assertion—obviously, no one can be perfect with the tongue—but more a call to mature thought and action.

Word order appears to be significant in v6: the word gehenna appears in a prominent, final position in Greek.  (Many English translations obscure this fact.)

“Doubles” appear frequently in James, starting with the “double-minded” man of chapter 1.  Here, the tongue is pictured as capable of two diametrically opposing results (blessing/curse, sweet/bitter, etc.).

A neat, little textual variant occurs in James 3.  The first characters in the Greek 3:3 could be one of these three:

  1. ιδε (ide, “see”)
  2. ει δε (ei de, two words, roughly “if then” or “and it”)
  3. ιδou (idou, “behold”)

Like so many such variants among the best Greek texts we have available, this one is a curiosity that allows conjecture over which is the most likely.  It is also like most variants in that one’s chosen answer to the question doesn’t change the big picture.

In mentioning alliterations, I’ll give three of the six or seven English transliterations of the Greek words highlighted by Luke Timothy Johnson in his Anchor Bible series commentary:

  • mikros melos . . . megale (3:5)
  • phlogizousa . . . phlogizomené (3:6)
  • damazetai . . . dedamastai (3:7); damasai dynatai (3:8)

An English reader might notice possible assonance or rhyme in the last of the three above, but that is not necessarily a valid a perception; the “ai” ending is merely a function of verb declension and not a “rhyme” per se, although the aural effect might well have played some role when first hearers heard the letter.

There is much more here—some, discussed in our small group, and some, of more specialized and/or esoteric interest. It is a good review for me to write out a few mentionables for sharing here.  And ya know what’s great?  I get to be part of another Bible investigation tonight!

Applying Acts 15: James as judge?

You don’t even have to be a good test-taker to get this question!

See?  That wasn’t difficult.  You got it right, didn’t you?

This much is plain to me:  whatever we can apply from Acts 15, it can’t be identical to that which the 1st-century believers applied.

Moreover, the letter/message written at the time and circulated to gentile churches is like many other NT letters in at least this respect:  the letter was written because of, and into, a specific set of circumstances.  Because of the situational nature of a letter, a hermeneutical misfire often occurs when one tries to make out of it a prescriptive example for all time.  The happenings related in Acts 15 are not to be construed as constituting a grand example for all time.

I noticed tonight that in many English versions, Acts 15:19 has James almost banging a gavel and pontificating, stating his verdict, i.e., “I have determined that . . .”  But the tense of the verb is not the perfect.  Here, James’s grammar doesn’t denote a process that emphasizes the end result.  It is a simple present tense, and synonyms for “judge” might be “discern,” “determine,” or “consider.”

I do, however, find that the word “judge,” (κρινώ | krinō) is a term

  • with legal connotations
  • that can involve a process of cognition, of “taking into account”
  • that can mean considering, making a selection, and deciding

I also note that, in Acts 16:4, the perfect tense of this same verb is used:

Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. (16:4, NASB)

Initially I’d staked a claim on Acts 15:19’s not implying a legal stance taken by James.  The situation, which includes the fact that the Jerusalem/Jewish establishment was intent on including and encouraging gentiles, would seem to conflict with seeing the Jewish James as a pre-pope pope who speaks ex cathedra.  Yet I must admit that some quasi-legal aspect may be present in this text.  That possibility may be supported by the presence in the chapter 15 event of rhetorical devices such as exordium, narratio, and probatio,¹ which might be roughly translated “opening argument,” “narration,” and “proving of the point,” respectively.  

After class, a man to whom I was introduced was talking about a recent, African safari hunt.  One in his group had some connections to South African Dutch ancestry—I’m not sure how strong a connection.  Apparently, the S. African man asked an honest question of another believer, earnestly seeking an opinion on whether or not black-skinned people would be in heaven.  I kid you not.

Now there’s a closer parallel than anything else I’d considered in a long time:

  1. Jews in 1st-century Israel were being caused to consider whether non-Jews were to be included along with them in the church.
  2. Some South African descendants of apartheid-ists apparently also have real difficulty with whether or not today’s blacks are to be included along with them.

The so-called “Jerusalem conference” was not about trivial issues like church carpet color or mundane differences of opinion held by “separate but equal” churches.  The matter then at hand amounted to a cataclysmic shift from Jew-centered faith to all-are-welcome faith.

B. Casey, 10/7/15

P.S.  For more on the matter(s) of Acts 15, see this prior post.

¹ Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 456-7.

What was that all about? (IIIb)

This blog has in the last few days looked intently into words relating to worship and service.  Maybe we understand much better than we did last week.  What was that all about?  So what?  What do all the meanings mean?

Some more biblical instances. . . .

Here is a slightly different use of proskuneō:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him.   (Matthew 20:20)

Here, the English translation is not “worship,” but the word is still proskuneō.  Zeb’s wife is not serving Jesus religiously (latreuō) or even necessarily honoring Him “worshipfully,” as I pointed out with the two different senses of proskuneō, toward the bottom of this previous post, but she is at least kneeling to request something of the greater one.

Now, words from Paul’s mouth as he is defending himself:

. . . a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night.  It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews!  (Acts 26:7)

The word “worship” here is latreuō, not proskuneō.  Paul is not speaking here of praying or singing words of adoration or reverent awe.  His emphasis is something different; I might speculate that author Luke has Paul intentionally attempting to connect himself with Jewish priestly ritual, in order to spotlight the irony of the persecution Paul was enduring at the hands of his Jewish countrymen.

And next, words Paul penned through Tertius:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. . . .  (Romans 9:4)

“Worship” here is latreuō.  Again, there would appear to be a strong Jewish connection. Not that Jews didn’t engage in proskuneō; they surely did.  But it would be a hermeneutical mistake to suggest, based on this text, that proskuneō-type worship “belongs” in any sense to the Israelites.

In Acts, Lydia of Philippi next provides an interesting example:

A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth.  (Acts 16:14)

The word “worshiper” here is from sebō/sebomai, and this word is not closely connected with either proskuneō or latreuō.  Therefore, it cannot be assumed, based on this verse, that Lydia prayed words of thankful adoration, sang hymns to Jesus as Christ (which might have been denoted by proskuneō), or engaged in any sort of priestly ritual or religious “service” (latreuō).

This kind of differentiation has been what all this has been about.  In other words, it’s all been part of an effort to show 1) what each word is (likely) all about, 2) what individual verses/texts might logically be about, 3) what worship is about, and 4) how horizontal “service” differs.  In all, specific contexts must be allowed their primary, meaning-determining function.

It ought to go without saying that, when the words “worship” and “service” are concatenated into the term “worship service,” there is no biblical reason for doing so.  This unjustifiable amalgam has been one of the culpable historical developments as we look critically at the scenario in Christendom.  Lack of understanding and off-base practice have resulted from various teachings and verbalizations, but the notion of a “worship service” is a crucial one.

This blog will now take a few days’ break from a comparatively intense verbal focus on worship, and then a few more posts will return to the topic of worship from other vantage points.  If there are any particular areas of interest within the general area of worship that you’d like to see addressed (or if you’d like to write a guest blog!), please comment here, or send me an e-mail at BLCasey 14 ~ at ~ gmail ~ dot~com.

Some of the data below might seem unduly esoteric, but it’s interesting, just the same:

Category 1proskuneō in Greek (compared with English renderings)
The word proskuneō (in different forms) appears 53 times in the current Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament.  Of these,

  • 47 are translated “worship” in most English Bibles.
  • Most of the rest are translated “knelt” or “fell on his knees” or “bowed down” (e.g., in the New Revised Standard Version).

Category 2 worship in English (correlated backwards to Greek antecedents)
34 times in 33 verses in the New Revised Standard Version when the word “worship” appears, proskuneō is not the antecedent.  Of these,

  • 22 times, the root is latreuō or leitourgeia (or a related word).
  • 10 times, the root is sebazomai (or a related word).
  • 1 time, the root is eusebeō (Acts 17:23).
  • 1 time, the root is threskeia (Col. 2:18, a word not identified by Jobes in her semantic domain).

When we try to interpret verses in “Category 2,” we should not assume that what is typically thought of¹ as “worship” is connoted in the biblical text.  Examination of specific contexts may reveal vertical components, and vertical worship may well have been simultaneously in the hearts of the human subjects (or the rocks, Luke 19:40!), but expressions other than proskuneō (or gonupeteō or kampto to gunē) should not be assumed to mean the same things.


¹ That is to say, what is typically thought of in this age, in English-speaking churches, at least.  Other vertical expressions include these and more:  “bowing the knee,” “kissing toward,” “honoring,” or “praising,” “glorifying,” “adoring,” and “exalting.”

What was that all about? (IIIa)

I have friends and acquaintances who sometimes don’t get me.  Even though they generally appreciate me as an OK guy, they may wonder, Why does he spend time on that?

This blog has in the last few days looked intently into words relating to worship and service.  Maybe we understand 146% better than we did last week.  So what?  What was that all about?  What do all the meanings mean?

Why on earth would I bother quoting and trying to provide some commentary on portions of Karen Jobes’s article on the semantic domain for worship (and service) words?  Even if someone were to read every word thoroughly and come out understanding the whole ball of wax in the same way I do, what difference could it all possibly make? 

Jobes, op. cit., p. 211

Today’s post, which helps me to hone in purposefully, is especially for anyone who has had, or might have, any of those questions.

Please look carefully at the image to the left.  This visual can make things clearer.  (Click on it to get a larger version, if need be.)

One take-away here is that the words in each set of overlapping circles are closely related to one another.  A verse, then, that uses leitourgeō and one that uses latreuō (from the top circles) are likely referring to fairly similar things.  On the contrary, a verse that uses proskuneō (middle circles) and one that uses sebomai (bottom) are likely referring to different things.

Zooming in and looking more intently at the image now, even without a linguist’s knowledge of “improper synonymy” or “hyponymy,” we can see that the inner relationships are different.  The words in the center circles share relationship, as do the words in the bottom circles, but the nature of each relationship is different.

The import of this is that a biblical writer might well use sebomai, for instance, as a synonym for eusebeō (both in the lower group), but eusebeō, in turn, would not likely be used as a synonym for latreuō (top group).

Now, for some biblical instances. . . .

Consider this stark text, part of the “temptation” scene:

. . . “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” (Matt 4:9-10)

Matthew has Satan using proskuneō, and Jesus’ response uses both proskuneō and latreuō.  It’s easy to see two different referents here, although I would hasten to point out that interpretation is never quite this easy.  Whatever Jesus meant by following proskuneō with latreuō, it probably either redoubled the emphasis somehow or added to it.  The two are not synonyms, so I favor the second, contrastive option.

Next, a response of the disciples:

And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  (Matt 4:33)

Matthew uses proskuneō, and it would have been surprising, in this instance, to find latreuō or leitourgeō.  In other words, it’s difficult to imagine the disciples’ response in this situation being one of priestly duty, or carrying out rituals associated with religion.

The next post, which continues this line, leads with a slightly different use of proskuneō, proceeds to some other biblical instances, and then finalizes the word-oriented portion of this investigation.

Lexical specifics and meaning theory (IID)

Modern linguistic theory teaches that the meaning . . . is not located in the word itself but is determined by the relationship the word has to other words . . . and by the contrast it forms with other words which share its semantic domain.  (Jobes 202)

Meaning is determined primarily by context.  The search for meaning may at times and with limitations be aided by lexicon/dictionary studies and by historical etymological factors, but each discrete text—taken as a whole, and sometimes including comparisons with other texts—will reveal meaning by virtue of comparisons and similarities.

To apply a music metaphor:  an 8th note has some meaning to a music reader who knows the language of musical notation.  However, it is only in the understanding of the musical context—the whole composition—that the musician may approach a full understanding of said 8th note.  Its style; its implied direction; its relation to quarter notes, half notes, and other 8ths . . . all these things and more are found in the note’s relationship to the whole musical context in which it is found.

The primacy of context is an important principle that I am hoping will guide all considerations of worship and service words.  I don’t want context to be lost in these posts that have been submerged in lexicography.

With that said, I’m going to offer more of a residual smattering of observations (those of Karen Jobes and my own) related to words she placed in the semantic domain for worship. Any preliminary conclusions drawn based on dictionary concerns must be made subservient to contexts in which the words are found.

The more frequently a given word is used in comparison to other words in its semantic domain, the more general and inclusive its meaning tends to be.  Proskuneō is the most frequently used of the verbs for worship. . . . Latreuō is the second most frequently used. . . . In contrast, eusebeō is the second most frequently used of the verbs in the extra-biblical works. . . .  (203)

Latreuō and leitourgeō share a very specific sense that distinguishes them from the other Greek verbs for worship that have a wider semantic range. (203)

The two related words latreuō and leitourgeō are more narrow in focus and application, denoting priestly “vocation.”  I would go a step further in asserting that these two words may not even belong in a discussion alongside proskuneo, kamptō to gonu, gonupeteō, sebomai, and sebazomai.  Actually, I don’t think Jobes would disagree:  she later depicted the relationships among three groupings of these words in circles that overlap each other but that do not touch the other circles.

. . . [T]he English word worship is both far too general and too conditioned by Western culture to adequately capture Paul’s vivid analogy of the Christian to the Old Testament priest.  (204, referring to Romans 12:1)

Jobes is right, right, right about this.  Once again, in case there’s any possibility that any reader has missed it:  the noun form of latreuō in Romans 12:1 should not be translated “worship.”  I am asserting this, not Jobes, and I suspect she would only partly agree.

The phrase kamptō to gonu (bend the knee”) may be a Semitic idiom and is included in the “worship, reverence” word grouping in Louw-Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, a very highly regarded work.

Jobes suggests that the lesser frequency of eusebeō in the NT, in comparison to secular literature, may indicate intentional choice against this word by NT writers.  To associate two separate passages in her article, and perhaps to extrapolate a bit, two things occur to me:

  1. Eusebeō’s association with pagan ritual could easily have given pause to a 1st-century writer.
  2. In any event, ritual was not what NT authors seem to have wanted to spotlight in terms of the “vertical” in the New Covenant relationship, and eusebeō seems generally to have denoted ritual.

The word eusebeō “refers to pious acts done for the benefit of or in obedience to an object of devotion,” Jobes comments.  Not incidentally, I have found that those who see worship largely from a vantage point of obedience to Deity’s demand are rarely the most exemplary worshippers.

The words eusebeō, sebomai, and sebazomai [1]share the root -seb.  While this factor is worthy of note, it should not be very significant in determining meaning.  Other etymological factors might be the “prefix” “eu” (which connotes “good”) and the differentiation of “voice” (sebazomai is in the middle voice, which edges toward the passive voice).  Context, however, is king:  it is best to depend primarily, and most heavily, on the context when we want to know what a word means.

Speaking of context, a reading of even isolated subcontexts using proskuneō will reveal that it has relatively predictable implications, although different applications.  Jobes notes,

[The word proskuneō is] always evaluated positively when used with respect to God or Jesus and always condemned when directed toward angels, Satan, demons, or pagan deity (e.g., Luke 4:7-8; Acts 7:43; Rev. 9:20). (207)

In the following post I will retransmit a Jobes image that displays graphically the relationship of all these words.  Then I will share some specific verses, inviting further examination of context, as each reader has time and interest.

[1] The word sebazomai, used only once in the NT (Romans 1:25), is related to a Greek honorific title for the Roman emperor.  This title, Sebastos, might be compared to the adjective “Reverend” today—a word that in my view should not be applied to a human, whether Caesar or not.

Worship-word domain(s) and proskuneō (IIC full)

The digest version of this post appeared a few hours ago.  My hope is that some who scanned that will have had their appetites whetted for more detail!

Toward a delineated, nuanced understanding and practice, this installment further discusses the semantic domain(s) for words translated “worship,” emphasizing meanings of proskuneō and related words.

After years of thought and observation, it’s admittedly gratifying to have my general conclusion about Romans 12:1-2 propped up by the scholarly work of Karen Jobes¹ in this area.  It does make perfect sense to read latreuō in Romans as a reference to the Levitical priesthood.  A morphed, New-Covenant understanding of the priestly “religious vocation” (as Jobes termed it)—in contradistinction to any notions of more vertically framed worship (e.g., humble adoration, praise, words of direct honoring)—seems to be what Paul is advocating.  To reiterate a couple items from the last post:  

  1. It is an interpretive mistake to make the word latreian in Romans 12 refer directly to things under the typical, modern Christian heading “worship.”
  2. It may not be assumed that all the biblical instances of the word “worship” refer to the same thing; however, various horizontal and vertical things may all be reasonably included in the same discussion, if one takes care.

Below are the words Jobes has identified as constituting the semantic domain for worship.  Here, she includes latreuō and leitourgeō in the broad category,² although she will subsequently explain that the range of meaning of these two words does not really overlap with the others.  I am adding gloss definitions, but please don’t hang your hat on these English-translation hooks.  I might point out now that several of these words may be used with secular meanings.

Five verbs
latreuō – perform priestly duty
proskuneō – give worship/homage, “kiss toward”
sebazomai – participate in religious revelry
sebomai – show honor (a pejorative term in the NT)
eusebeō – show piety

Three other expressions with close connections
leitourgeō – perform civil or prietsly duty
kampto to gonu – bend the knee
gonupeteō – petition on bended knee

Just prior to listing the above words, Jobes offered a sample of English NT verses with the word “worship,” noting that Rom 12:1, Matt 2:11, Mark 7:6-7, and Rom 1:25 each involves a different Greek word from the list above.  These verses do not all speak of the same thing!  Forgive my bold effusiveness; it might be better at this stage to point out more cautiously that

  1. The original words in each of those passages are different.
  2. The semantic relationships among the words are nuanced.
  3. Taken in the contexts of those passages, these words very likely do not speak of the same thing.

It is in learning which specific word was used in each specific context that we may begin to delineate and understand this whole concept-area more thoroughly and appropriately.  Giving attention to the document- or book-level context often reveals even more about the use of a word.

Now, I do note a slight discrepancy in Jobes’s article:  early on, she lists all eight of the above words as making up the whole:  “The range of meaning of these eight expressions comprises the semantic domain for worship.” (202)  Yet in a detailed discussion of proskuneō a few pages later, she notes, “However, gonupeteō is not a member of the semantic domain for worship.” (205)  This conflict is resolved in acquiring a more thorough concept of the two semantic senses of proskuneō (and then in extending thought into the range of meaning of gonupeteō):

Proskuneō’s “A” sense:  worship, homage shown by bowing (physically and/or in spirit), “kissing toward” in reverent adoration of God

Proskuneō’s “B” sense:  entreaty, petition made subserviently, on bended knee, i.e., request made of anyone in power, including a governmental/civil authority

Jobes believes that the magi’s proskuneō of Matt 2:11 falls into the 2nd category, i.e., that it is not hermeneutically justifiable to call this “worship” per se.  Her distinction—namely, whether there is a theologically motivated component—seems necessary because we are focusing on dictionary definitions.  While those men might have worshipped in the believing, Christian sense, what they did as “delegates of an eastern monarch” (Jobes 206) surely didn’t involve a developed understanding of the incarnation or of Jesus’ identity as Messiah.  As exegetes, we might well find a contextual reason to lean toward sense A or sense B, but all we can say, based on vocabulary, is that what they did was proskuneō:  that’s the word that was used.  And proskuneō isn’t restricted to spiritually motivated actions.

Context can give us clues as to the sense of the word, as in John 4, where a more theologically based sense A for proskuneō seems appropriate.  In the case of Matt 2:11 (and, e.g., Matt 20:20, from the mouth of James and John’s mother), either sense A or sense is possible, but the latter seems more likely.³

To return to the gonupeteō issue:  this word (used in Matt 17:14, 27:29; Mark 1:40, 10:17) is in the semantic domain with sense B of proskuneō.  In that sense, then, gonupeteō is not properly included in the semantic domain for theologically oriented “worship”; on the other hand, it is properly considered alongside proskuneō.

Most writers on worship seem to love the word proskuneō while ignoring kampto to gonu (bend the knee) and gonupeteō (petition on bended knee)This is a curiosity; at first blush, it seems to be an evidence of somewhat shallow study, and I’ve been both victim and the culprit in the past.  I’m impelled now to examine the NT (and other) passages that use these expressions—expressions that share in proskuneō’s general range of meaning.  A starter list of these passages is below.4

Through studies like this, we may gain a clearer understanding of the vertical and horizontal.  The expressions kampto to gonu, gonupeteō and proskuneo are all vertically oriented; some usages are spiritually/theologically specialized.

¹ PhD, Biblical Hermeneutics, Westminster Theological Seminary

² Why might one group latreuō and leitourgeō with proskuneo and related, vertical word-concepts?  Two possible explanations come to mind:

  • because almost everybody does it that way (to their hermeneutical detriment!)
  • because church life in most institutional churches—and particularly in high-church environments in which Jobes has made her home—naturally leads even the best scholars to lump every ostensibly churchy activity into the same category

³ Jobes appears to have made a mistake in referring to John 12:20 in this light; this instance of proskuneo does not relate directly to “petitioning Jesus for assistance or healing.” (205)

4 Matthew 17:14, Matthew 27:29, Mark 1:40, Mark 10:17, Mark 15:19, Luke 5:8, Luke 22:41, Acts 7:60, Acts 9:40, Acts 20:36, Acts 21:5, Romans 11:4, Romans 14:11, Ephesians 3:14, Philippians 2:10, Hebrews 12:12


Worship-word domain(s) and proskuneō (IIC digest)

If you’re not interested in many academic details, or if you only have 1 minute instead of 5-10, here is a condensed version of what will appear in full form in a few hours.

  • When the word "worship" appears in a Bible verse, one should ask what is behind that English word.  The answer to this question depends on the specific verse.  In order to understand, both the Greek vocabulary and the literary context must be considered.
  • According to Karen Jobes,¹ a list of eight Greek expressions constitutes the "semantic domain" for worship (and service).
  • Romans 12:1-2 refers to OT priestly service, and this text does not correlate directly to what believers generally put in the (vertical) worship category.
  • Even proskuneō (the most common Greek word translated "worship") does not always mean "worship" in a spiritual sense.  Comparing Matt 2:11 and John 4 reveals the likelihood that this vertical-worship word has two different senses.

More detail will be available at noon Eastern time!

¹ PhD, Biblical Hermeneutics, Westminster Theological Seminary