You shall not take (nâśâʼ, תשׁא; Septuagint: λήμψῃ, a form of λαμβάνω) the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes (nâśâʼ, ישׁא; Septuagint: λαμβάνοντα, another form of λαμβάνω) his name in vain.[1]

Three occurrences of forms of nâśâʼ from Genesis 1:1 – Exodus 20:5[2] were translated with forms of λαμβάνω in the Septuagint:

Genesis 21:18 (NET)

Genesis 27:3 (NET)

Genesis 31:17 (NET)

Get up!  Help (nâśâʼ, שׁאי; Septuagint: λαβὲ, another form of λαμβάνω) the boy up and hold him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation. Therefore, take (nâśâʼ, שׁא; Septuagint: λαβὲ, another form of λαμβάνω) your weapons – your quiver and your bow – and go out into the open fields and hunt down some wild game for me. So Jacob immediately put (nâśâʼ, וישׁא; Septuagint: ἔλαβεν, another form of λαμβάνω) his children and his wives on the camels.

Only one of those (Genesis 27:3) was translated take in the KJV and NET before Exodus 20:7.  There is no particular problem with this translation if I’m studying nâśâʼ.  But if I read Exodus 20:7 in English only while trying to be declared righteous by the law[3] or attempting to have my own righteousness derived from the law,[4] the temptation is great to hear it as words I might say when I stub my toe in the dark.  If I don’t say those words then I may consider myself blameless according to the law.

You shall not bear the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who bears his name in vain.

This translation might have persuaded me even in English that any and every deviation from righteousness is bearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain.  Unbelievers seem to grasp this better than those who are trying to be declared righteous by the law or attempting to have [their] own righteousness derived from the law.  But unbelievers call it hypocrisy rather than bearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain.  According to Merriam-Webster.com:

The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player”…actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing…

The Greek word took on an extended meaning to refer to any person who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone or something they were not.  This sense was taken into medieval French and then into English, where it showed up with its earlier spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to someone who pretends to be morally good or pious in order to deceive others.  (Hypocrite gained its initial h– by the 16th century.)

It took a surprisingly long time for hypocrite to gain its more general meaning that we use today: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”  Our first citations for this use are from the early 1700s, nearly 500 years after hypocrite first stepped onto English’s stage.  

On bibleone.net hypocrisy was distinguished from bearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain by ascribing more evil intent to hypocrisy:

The meaning of the words, “hypocrite” and “hypocrisy,” as used in the Bible by our Lord Jesus Christ (primarily directed toward the “religious” leaders of the day) implies more than a “simple pretense” or “acting out as a stage-player.”  It embodies a purposeful intent, which stems from a deep-seated core of evil.  More than this, it suggests a determined effort to enforce a standard of conduct upon others, which conduct the enforcer knowingly and deliberately refuses to apply to himself–hence, action born of full knowledge and evil intent.  It is not merely the failure to live up to a holy standard–a condition applicable to every believer on any given day.  It is the condition of a person who is controlled by the sin nature to the end-desire of having power over other human beings by imposing on them a set of rules, which he himself intentionally disregards.  It is a condition applicable to either an unbeliever or a believer, i.e., a believer who is outside God’s will and under the influence of the sin nature.

I was particularly taken by the words imposing on them a set of rules.  That is acting at its core.  Some rules are imposed by the writer through the script.  Some are imposed by the director who interprets the script and blocks the scenes.  Most are self-imposed by the actor.  Though actors call them choices,[5] they are rules of behavior, what a particular character will or will not say or do in any given scene, derived from observation, research, experimentation and a deeply imaginative identification with the character to be performed.  Actors can win some arguments with both the writer and the director (since both are more focused on the work as a whole) because good actors ultimately know the individual characters they play better, at least more interestingly.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love actors and fully appreciate what they do, especially film actors.  I’ve had more opportunity to see them work up close, no one famous though a few were recognizable.  I sit with a silly grin on my face watching Amy Adams sing and dance her way through New York City in Enchanted, and am just as rapt watching her decipher an alien language in Arrival.  A brief exchange in Arrival between linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian (Jeremy Renner) encapsulates how I feel about studying the Bible.

Ian: You know, I was doing some reading about this idea that if you immerse yourself into a foreign language, that you can actually rewire your brain. 

Louise: Yeah, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis…It’s the theory that the language you speak determines how you think and…

Ian: Yeah.  It affects how you see everything.

You were taught with reference to your former way of life, Paul wrote believers in Ephesus, to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.[6]  It’s not a matter of being renewed (ἀνανεοῦσθαι, a form of ἀνανεόω) by learning Greek or Hebrew, but by immersing oneself in how the Holy Spirit thinks and communicates in Greek or Hebrew.  No matter how hard Amy Adams worked to become Giselle or Louise, no matter how many choices she made, she never became a cartoon princess or a xenolinguist in reality.

Stephen J. Cole, in the “The Deadly Sin of Hypocrisy (Acts 4:36-5:11),” wrote:

While Jesus was tender with many notorious sinners, He used scathing language to denounce those guilty of religious hypocrisy.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira warns us of the danger of the sin of hypocrisy.

None of the Greek words for hypocrite or hypocrisyὑποκριτής, ὑπόκρισις, ὑποκρίνομαι—occur in, or anywhere near, the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  I assume Pastor Cole took an 18th-century definition of hypocrisy—not living up to professed beliefs—or a 13th-century understanding of ypocrite—deliberate deception—and applied it to the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie (ψεύσασθαι, a form of ψεύδομαι) to the Holy Spirit…”[7]  If we think of hypocrisy as something so evil no believer would dare do it, we miss Jesus’ point about doing righteousness as actors play a role, because we do it all of the time.  It’s how we think.  It’s how we speak to one another:

A Christian wouldn’t do that!   A Christian shouldn’t do that!  Christians should do thus and such.  A real Christian would do this or that!

These are the arguments of actors: observing, researching, experimenting, engaging in deeply imaginative thought about what a Christian might be like and trying to perform that as a series of choices—that is, by obeying rules about how a Christian should or should not behave.  It is significantly different from being born from above, possessed (Romans 8:12-17) by his Holy Spirit, filled with God’s own love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.[8]

The simplest reason why ὑποκριτής was translated hypocrite in the 16th century is that the Latin derived actor was understood as an agent or doer and may have confused the reader regarding the contrast Paul had created—building on Jesus’ allusion to the Greek theater—between ὑποκριτής and ποιητής, the doers (ποιηταὶ, a form of ποιητής) of the law.

I’ve wasted too much time assuming Jesus was an angry preacher spouting pejoratives rather than patiently communicating the words of eternal life.  So I’ll take forms of ὑποκριτής at face value and remove the exclamation points from the text.  (They are obvious editorial comments added by translators.)  And then hopefully see Jesus again, see the smile on his face and the twinkle of his eyes as He reveals the name of his Father, God is love.

Be on your guard against the teaching (Matthew 16:5-12) of the Pharisees, Jesus told his disciples, which is acting class (ὑπόκρισις).[9]  Actors observe and judge others.  It is part and parcel of their craft as they prepare a role (Matthew 7:1-5 NET):

Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.  Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own?  You actor (ὑποκριτά, a form of ὑποκριτής), first remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Self promotion is part of the job of being a working actor (Matthew 6:1-4 NET):

Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people.  Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven.  Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the actors (ὑποκριταὶ, another form of ὑποκριτής) do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them.  I tell you the truth, they have their reward.  But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret.  And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Actors crave an audience and thrive in the limelight (Matthew 6:5, 6, 16-18 NET):

Whenever you pray, do not be like the actors (ὑποκριταί, another form of ὑποκριτής), because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.  And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

When you fast, do not look sullen like the actors (ὑποκριταὶ, another form of ὑποκριτής), for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting.  I tell you the truth, they have their reward.  When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Actors never actually become the character they perform by acting (Matthew 15:1-9; Luke 13:14-16 NET):

Then Pharisees and experts in the law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and said, “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders?  For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.”  He answered them, “And why do you disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’  But you say, ‘If someone tells his father or mother, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God,” he does not need to honor his father.’  You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition.  Actors (ὑποκριταί, another form of ὑποκριτής), Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done!  So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.”  Then the Lord answered him, “You actors (ὑποκριταί, another form of ὑποκριτής), does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water?  Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?”

Since those attempting to serve God by acting are not led by his Holy Spirit, they do not share the mind of Christ but pursue their own agendas (Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 12:54-56 NET):

Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words.  They sent to him their disciples along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  You do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality.  Tell us then, what do you think?  Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, “Actors (ὑποκριταί, another form of ὑποκριτής), why are you testing me?  Show me the coin used for the tax.”  So they brought him a denarius.  Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?”  They replied, “Caesar’s.”  He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away.

Jesus also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A rainstorm is coming,’ and it does.  And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and there is.  You actors (ὑποκριταί, another form of ὑποκριτής), you know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how can you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Jesus described the experts in the law and you Pharisees as actors who keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven.  For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in.[10]  You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.[11]  You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  You should have done these things without neglecting the others.[12]   You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too.[13]  You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy (ὑποκρίσεως, a form of ὑπόκρισις) and lawlessness (ἀνομίας, a form of ἀνομία).[14]  You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.[15]

Jesus warned of the consequence of an actor masquerading as a minister of the Gospel (Matthew 24:45-51 NET):

Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes.  I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the actors (ὑποκριτῶν, another form of ὑποκριτής), where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done (ἔπραξεν, a form of πράσσω) while in the body, whether good or evil.[16]  We do not want to appear before the judgment seat of Christ as actors with nothing to show but works (ἔργων, a form of ἔργον) of righteousness that we have done (ἐποιήσαμεν, a form of ποιέω).[17]  We want to have some pattern of behavior that demonstrates we have not ignored his teaching or rejected his salvation, that we have heeded his admonition—above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness[18]—and that each of us is one who practices (ποιῶν, another form of ποιέω) the truth, one who comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that [our] deeds (ἔργα, another form of ἔργον) have been done (εἰργασμένα, a form of ἐργάζομαι) in God.[19]

I want to consider another film.  Before I Fall didn’t do very well at the box office.  It’s Groundhog Day as straight-up tragedy.  But I thought it was a deeply moving, poignant film with one fatal flaw.  There are spoilers here for those who are bothered by such things.

Sam (Zoey Deutch), a self-absorbed teenage girl (Samantha), wakes up on the day of her death.  She repeats that day until she gets it right.  “For the first time, when I wake up,” her voiceover says on the last iteration of the last day of her life, “I’m not scared or confused or angry.  Because, for the first time, I truly understand what needs to happen.  I truly understand how to live this day.”  Sam’s transformation from self-absorbed teenage girl to loving daughter, sister and friend is truly breathtaking to behold.

The fatal flaw?  It’s not believable.  And I don’t think Ms. Deutch’s acting is to blame.  Christ-likeness apart from Christ isn’t credible.  Sam’s beautiful transformation is credited to her own knowledge, gained through the experience of repeating the same day over and over (not unlike an actor rehearsing), and her own “big heart.”  And none of us gets to do the same day over and over to acquire such knowledge.  Believers are called to live a new day of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control everyday forever.

Hypocrisy, by the way, isn’t the unforgivable sin.  Living an honest life of sin is never preferable to acting like the righteous.  If the fruit of the Spirit seems AWOL and the only way to obey God’s law is in one’s own strength—and that is possible—by all means do that.  Just don’t mistake that for the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.[20]  Open the Bible and search diligently for his righteousness once the immediate crisis has passed—win, lose or draw.

My own search began (for the purpose of this discussion) with the Ten Promises.  Though hearing the Ten Commandments as promises wasn’t exactly the silver bullet I hoped at the time, it did begin to change my attitude toward God and my relationship to Him.  So as a conclusion to this essay I invite the reader to hear his promise (Jeremiah 31:31-34) to all who believe, all who are led by his Spirit: You shall not bear the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who bears his name in vain.

[1] Exodus 20:7 (NET)

[2] Table 1, Forgiven or Passed Over? Part 3

[3] Galatians 5:4 (NET)

[4] Philippians 3:9 (NET)

[5] An excerpt from a video transcript of John Walcutt teaching young actors (all female apparently) follows:

…as you start to, you know, get more into grown up acting, you’re going to be expected to be able to make choices and what that means is, what we started talking about last week where you could look at material and go, “Hmm, what if I did this? What if I looked at it from this point of view? What if I decided that she is guilty? What if I decided, she’s lying?” When you make choices, your work gets interesting…
The lines are only ten percent of a scene, right? We talked about that. The other 90%  is what’s underneath, that’s where you have to make choices so here’s how I want you to think about it. Once you read through a scene and you start to get an idea of what it’s about, understand it. The first thing I want you to ask yourself is, “Who am I? Who am I in this scene? and if you just say… if you make a choice like, “Okay, I’m a girl.” Well that might be an interesting choice for me but for most of you, it’s not going to be an interesting choice. It has to be more specific. I’m a girl who has issues with her dad. I’m a girl who wants to drop out of school because I can’t stand my teachers. I’m, I’m competitive. I’m angry. I’m, I’ve low self esteem. I’m happy-go-lucky, cheerful optimist.
You make the most interesting choices you can. We call them Hot Choices so that, so that the scene starts to pop. So never say, “I’m just a girl.” Never say, “I’m just her friend.” Always make it as interesting and developed and complex as you can. So first thing you ask yourself, “Who am I?” Second thing you ask yourself, “What do I want?” What do I want in this scene, what is my objective?” And always make it about getting something from the other person, as simple as possible and it can change from line to line. Objectives change so I want to make you smile. I want to make you cry, I want to scare you, I want to wake you up, I want you to say, ”I love you.” I want you to laugh. Those are all choices and they determine how you’re going to say your lines…

As actors mature choices may become more personal or more commercial.

[6] Ephesians 4:22-24 (NET)

[7] Acts 5:3a (NET)

[8] Galatians 5:22, 23 (NET)

[9] Luke 12:1b (NET)

[10] Matthew 23:13 (NET)

[11] Matthew 23:15 (NET)

[12] Matthew 23:23 (NET)

[13] Matthew 23:25, 26 (NET)

[14] Matthew 23:27, 28 (NET)

[15] Matthew 23:29 (NET)

[16] 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NET)

[17] Titus 3:5a (NET)

[18] Matthew 6:33a (NET)

[19] John 3:21 (NET)

[20] Romans 3:22a (NET)

Fear – Deuteronomy, Part 6

Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, stole some of the riches [of Jericho which had been devoted to yehôvâh].  The Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) was furious (chârâh, ויחר; Septuagint: ἐθυμώθη, a form of θυμόω; ʼaph, אף; Septuagint: ὀργῇ, a form of ὀργή) with the Israelites.[1]  I’m still considering the third occurrence of yirʼâh (ויראתך) in the Bible, the word I’d hoped would distinguish the fear of the Lord from ordinary fear.  I’ve skipped ahead a bit to explore what life was like for Israel under law as the sharp tip of the sword of divine judgment.

I notice right away that Achan stole some of the riches (chêrem, החרם) but yehôvâh was furious with the Israelites (literally, “the sons of Israel”).  Achan’s was the “perfect” crime.  No one but yehôvâh knew what he had done.  For Joshua it was business as usual.  He sent men from Jericho to Ai[2] as spies.  They reported that Ai would be easy to take: Don’t tire out the whole army, for Ai is small, the spies said.  So about three thousand men went up, but they fled from the men of Ai.  The men of Ai killed about thirty-six of them[3]  The impact was immediate and devastating (Joshua 7:5b-9 NET):

The people’s courage melted away (mâsas, וימס) like water.

Joshua tore his clothes; he and the leaders of Israel lay face down on the ground before the ark of the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) until evening and threw dirt on their heads.  Joshua prayed, “O, Master (ʼădônây, אדני), Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה)!  Why did you bring these people across the Jordan to hand us over to the Amorites so they could destroy us?  If only we had been satisfied to live on the other side of the Jordan!  O Lord (ʼădônây, אדני), what can I say now that Israel has retreated before its enemies?  When the Canaanites and all who live in the land hear about this, they will turn against us and destroy the very memory of us from the earth.  What will you do to protect your great reputation?”

In the previous essay I wondered “if I should simply accept that yirʼâh, similar to the fruit of the Spirit, comes from God.”  At this particular moment Joshua didn’t believe—This very day I will begin to fill all the people of the earth with dread and to terrify (yirʼâh, ויראתך) them when they hear about you[4]—was a supernatural fear given by yehôvâh.  Clearly, he thought that fear originated from the uninterrupted triumph of Israel’s army: They annihilated with the sword everything that breathed…[5]  The Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) responded to Joshua (Joshua 7: 10-12 NET):

Get up!  Why are you lying there face down?  Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenantal commandment!  They have taken some of the riches (chêrem, החרם); they have stolen them and deceitfully put them among their own possessions.  The Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; they retreat because they have become subject to annihilation (chêrem, לחרם).  I will no longer be with you, unless you destroy what has contaminated (chêrem, החרם) you.

Here it didn’t matter whether Joshua’s command to the army was yehôvâh’s command or whether Joshua had understood Moses correctly, for yehôvâh took full responsibility for Joshua’s command[6]: Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenantal commandment!  The one caught with the riches (chêrem, בחרם) must be burned up along with all who belong to him, because he violated the Lord’s covenant and did such a disgraceful thing in Israel.[7]  I’ve written about what happened to Achan, his sons, daughters, ox, donkey, sheep, tent, and all that belonged to him[8] elsewhere.  Here I want to consider the alternative.

Achan’s confession reads: I saw among the goods we seized a nice robe from Babylon, two hundred silver pieces, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels.  I wanted them, so I took them.[9]  Achan was one of the soldiers who annihilated (châram, ויחרימו) with the sword everything that breathed in the city, including men and women, young and old, as well as cattle, sheep, and donkeys.[10]  He had hacked and slashed his way through every living thing in the city to purge out wickedness from the promised land, and then became that wickedness himself.  If we fault yehôvâh for dealing with Achan and all that was his in the way that he had dealt with others we would fault Him just the same for showing Achan mercy (James 2:8-13).

But that was then; this is now (Matthew 18:32-35 NET):

“Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave!  I forgave you all that debt because you begged me!  Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’  And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”

This is one of the places from which the fathers of the Catholic Church have derived the doctrine of purgatory.  “I have even heard elderly friends tell me how their Catholic schoolteachers would threaten unruly schoolboys with lurid descriptions of the fires of purgatory!” [11] Robert Stackpole wrote parenthetically.  I didn’t grow up Catholic so I never actually feared this particular passage.  We know that everyone fathered by God does not sin,[12] scared me as an adult returning from atheism.

It has a Logic 101 quality that spoke to me early on.[13]  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart—seemed more like a clever turn of a phrase.  By the time it clicked with me it caused no fear, but granted me permission to forgive.  It helped me to locate and distinguish the Holy Spirit from that cacophony of voices, if you will (that variety of impulses, if you will not) inside me.  It gave me strength to stand against my religion and its many reasons for withholding forgiveness: “you will appear weak, they will gain an advantage, they will never learn, they don’t deserve forgiveness, only God can forgive sins,” etc.

If I examine my fear of the knowledge that everyone fathered by God does not sin, the first thing I notice is that it didn’t cause me to flee at that particular moment in my life.  I searched the Bible instead, “looking for loopholes” perhaps but seeking understanding.  The first understanding I received appealed to the philosophical bent of my mind and though it seems like a loophole to many, it helped me to locate and distinguish the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 7:13-20 NET):

Did that which is good, then [e.g., the law], become death to me?  Absolutely not!  But sin, so that it would be shown to be sin, produced death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.  For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin.  For I don’t understand what I am doing.  For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate.  But if I do what I don’t want, I agree (σύμφημι, a form of σύμφημι) that the law is good.  But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me.  For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.

Being led by the Spirit came much more slowly for me.  Mr Stackpole highlighted the problem: “the merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross are promised to those who repent in faith.  The real question is, What about those whose repentance was weak and half-hearted…”[14]  Purgatory wasn’t the answer in my religious circle, but the quality and quantity of heavenly rewards.  The “weak and half-hearted” would be “hippies” in the social hierarchy of heaven.  Colin Smith wrote: “I trust that you will want to join me in storing up treasures in heaven, knowing that our righteousness is a gift from God in Christ Jesus, and that we serve a generous God who promises great rewards (100x!) to those who trust him and serve him faithfully.”

I didn’t know that my righteousness is a gift from God and probably thought that would be cheating.  How could my position in the social hierarchy of heaven be a gift from God?  And the common Bible verses quoted seemed at first reading to confirm my understanding of justification by faith and sanctification by my works: If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss.  He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.[15]  Jesus taught, “But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.”[16]  And Paul instructed Timothy, Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.  Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others.  In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life.[17]

Thank God I am such an accomplished sinner.  Praise God that his Holy Spirit would not “help” me earn my social position in heaven by “my” good works as He kept me hungering and thirsting for his righteousness.  I no longer feel any obligation to referee between purgatory and heavenly rewards.  Both explanations were designed to encourage me to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness[18] here and now.  Neither was as effective on me as a hunger and thirst for righteousness,[19] which I assume has come from God.

The alternative—that a hunger and thirst for Jesus’ righteousness originates with me—doesn’t scan.  I’m not that kind of guy.  A desire to be right?  That’s me.  A desire to appear righteous to you?  Okay, that’s probably me, too.  But the hunger and thirst for righteousness which I now have did not originate with me.  So what do I know about yirʼâh?

Well, I’ll start with what I don’t know: I don’t know whether yirʼâh was a supernatural fear from God or the natural result of confronting an army that took no prisoners and captured no slaves.  I know that yirʼâh was effective to accomplish God’s purpose to eradicate the wicked people who inhabited the promised land: It mustered[20] their armies to march to their deaths.  I don’t think Israel had anything like the confidence in yehôvâh which would be required to slaughter a peaceful, welcoming people.  I’m thinking that yirʼâh may have become the one Hebrew word to describe the combination of yârêʼ and ʼâman: they feared (yârêʼ, וייראו) the Lord, and they believed (ʼâman, ויאמינו) in the Lord.[21]  And I have a compelling contrast between Rahab, an Amorite prostitute and innkeeper, who feared yehôvâh and Achan, an Israelite soldier and thief, who did not.

I don’t have the hard-edged definitive kind of knowledge I like but I have enough encouragement to continue studying.  Besides, the hard-edged definitive kind of knowledge I like is really only useful for judging you—which brings me to the most bitter irony: When I take the name of yehôvâh/Jesus in vain by judging you for sins I share I lower the bar (Ezekiel 16:52-63), so to speak, and make it easier, if not expedient, for Him to show you mercy (Romans 11:29-31).  When the Holy Spirit has his way with me and I live his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control[22] I condemn you who are not led by the Spirit of God.[23]  The only way I can live with this most bitter irony, and continue to hunger and thirst for his righteousness, is to pray daily:

“My persistent prayer for justice”[24] for all who call or have called or will call on our Father in heaven[25] “is for the mercy on which everything depends,[26] for it does not depend on human desire or exertion but on You who shows mercy, for You have consigned all to disobedience (ἀπείθειαν, a form of ἀπείθεια) so that You may show mercy to all.”[27]

If He can save an accomplished sinner such as I am, I see no reason or excuse why He can’t or shouldn’t save a sinner like you.

[1] Joshua 7:1b (NET)

[2] Joshua 7:2a (NET)

[3] Joshua 7:3b-5a (NET)

[4] Deuteronomy 2:25a (NET)

[5] Joshua 6:21a (NET)

[6] Joshua 6:16-19 (NET)

[7] Joshua 7:15 (NET)

[8] Joshua 7:24 (NET)

[9] Joshua 7:21a (NET)

[10] Joshua 6:21a (NET)

[11] What’s All This Talk of ‘Purgatorial Purification’? Part 2

[12] 1 John 5:18a (NET)

[13] It’s been a long time since I took Logic 101 so I checked again online that modus tollens is valid and found a reasonable exception.

[14] What’s All This Talk of ‘Purgatorial Purification’? Part 2

[15] 1 Corinthians 3:15 (NET)

[16] Luke 12:20, 21 (NET)

[17] 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NET)

[18] Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

[19] Matthew 5:6 (NET)

[20] King Sihon was hardened for this purpose.

[21] Exodus 14:31 (NET)

[22] Galatians 5:22, 23 (NET)

[23] Romans 8:14 (NET)

[24] Luke 18:1-8 (NET)

[25] Matthew 6:9-14 (NET)

[26] Romans 9:14-16 (NET)

[27] Romans 11:28-36 (NET)

Romans, Part 53

So, how can I view—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord[1]—as a definition of love (ἀγάπη) rather than as rules?  Again, I’ve constructed the following table to help.

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22, 23 (NET)

love (ἀγάπη)

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.  Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint, because the love (ἀγάπη) of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.[2] Love (ἀγάπη) does no wrong (κακὸν, a form of κακός) to a neighbor. Therefore love (ἀγάπη) is the fulfillment of the law.[3] Knowledge puffs up, but love (ἀγάπη) builds up.[4]
Love (ἀγάπη) is…

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NET)

…not self-serving (οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς; literally, “not seek itself”)…

1 Corinthians 13:5 (NET)

If someone owns a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go look for (ζητεῖ, a form of ζητέω) the one that went astray?[5]  But above all pursue (ζητεῖτε, another form of ζητέω) his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.[6]
This Love Without Hypocrisy…

Romans 12:9-21 (NET)

Do not lag in zeal (σπουδῇ, a form of σπουδή), be enthusiastic (ζέοντες, a form of ζέω) in spirit…

Romans 12:11a (NET)

…serve (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) the Lord.

Romans 12:11b (NET)

But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness (σπουδῇ) and in the love from us that is in you – make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too.[7] Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus.  He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm (ζέων, another form of ζέω) he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.[8] Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, not like those who do their work only when someone is watching – as people-pleasers – but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart.  Obey with enthusiasm (εὐνοίας, a form of εὔνοια), as though serving (δουλεύοντες) the Lord and not people, because you know that each person, whether slave or free, if he does something good (ἀγαθόν, a form of ἀγαθός), this will be rewarded by the Lord.[9]

In the previous essay it seemed to make intuitive sense to place cling to what is good[10]under that aspect of the fruit of the Spirit translated goodness.  Here it may seem like begging the question[11] to simply place—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord—under love.  In one sense love (ἀγάπη) is the master key that can stand for all aspects of the fruit of the Spirit.  I think John used ἀγάπη that way often, but I want to follow Paul’s thinking here.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith (πίστεως, a form of πίστις), he wrote.  By our own faith?  I think not, for πίστις[12] is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  Since we have been declared righteous by faith we have peace (εἰρήνην, a form of εἰρήνη) with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.[13]  Again, peace (εἰρήνη) is an aspect of the fruit of his Spirit.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ we have also obtained access by faith (πίστει, another form of πίστις) into this grace (χάριν, a form of χάρις) in which we stand.  And by grace, though Paul may mean more, I think he cannot mean less than the credited righteousness of God, this very fruit of God’s Holy Spirit.  And we rejoice in the hope of our glory!  But that’s not what Paul wrote.  And we rejoice (καυχώμεθα, a form of καυχάομαι) in the hope of God’s glory.[14]

Though the NET translators chose rejoice for καυχώμεθα here and in the next verse, boast is a more obvious meaning.  I say again, let no one think that I am a fool.  But if you do, then at least accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast (καυχήσωμαι, another form of καυχάομαι) a little.  What I am saying with this boastful (καυχήσεως, a form of καύχησις) confidence I do not say the way the Lord would.  Instead it is, as it were, foolishness.  Since many are boasting (καυχῶνται, another form of καυχάομαι) according to human standards, I too will boast (καυχήσομαι, another form of καυχάομαι).[15]  By the way, according to human standards is κατὰ σάρκα in Greek, according to the flesh (NKJV).

It gives me the sense that Paul meant we boast in the hope of God’s glory.  We boast in the hope that God will be glorified by the lives we live in the flesh (not according to the flesh), crucified with Christ (it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me),[16] living by the Spirit,[17] not by the works of the flesh.[18]  Translated that way we might be less likely to gloss over it and boast in the hope of our own glory.  Not only this, Paul continued, but we also rejoice (καυχώμεθα, a form of καυχάομαι; or, boast) in sufferings.[19]  So where does Paul get off writing this wacko stuff?

If I must boast (καυχᾶσθαι, another form of καυχάομαι), I will boast (καυχήσομαι, another form of καυχάομαι) about the things that show my weakness (ἀσθενείας, a form of ἀσθένεια).[20]  There was method to Paul’s madness.  For the Lord said to him, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (ἀσθενείᾳ).” So then, Paul concluded, I will boast (καυχήσομαι) most gladly about my weaknesses (ἀσθενείαις), so that the power of Christ may reside in me.[21]  And in Romans we find a similar method to his madness: we also rejoice (or, boast) in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.[22]  And here I get a beautiful glimmer of an understanding why the NET translators chose rejoice over boast.

We don’t rejoice or boast in our own suffering because of a rational understanding: knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.  We can only rejoice or boast in our own suffering because we are filled with the joy (χαρὰ) of God, another aspect of the fruit of his Spirit.  And rejoice hearkens back to that fact better than boast ever could.  I am confident they chose rejoice for this reason because of a note on the next verse.

And hope does not disappoint, Paul concluded, because the love (ἀγάπη) of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.[23]  The note in the NET reads: “The phrase ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ (…‘the love of God’) could be interpreted as either an objective genitive (‘our love for God’), subjective genitive (‘God’s love for us’), or both (M. Zerwick’s ‘general’ genitive [Biblical Greek,§§36-39]; D. B. Wallace’s ‘plenary’ genitive [ExSyn 119-21]). The immediate context, which discusses what God has done for believers, favors a subjective genitive, but the fact that this love is poured out within the hearts of believers implies that it may be the source for believers’ love for God; consequently an objective genitive cannot be ruled out. It is possible that both these ideas are meant in the text and that this is a plenary genitive: ‘The love that comes from God and that produces our love for God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us’ (ExSyn 121).”

Here is one place I can say with confidence the NET translators really got what Paul was saying.  This love (ἀγάπη), which has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us, does no wrong (κακὸν) to a neighbor.  Therefore love (ἀγάπη) is the fulfillment (πλήρωμα) of the law.[24]  Pouring this love out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us is what Jesus meant when He said: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill (πληρῶσαι, a form of πληρόω, the verb from which the noun πλήρωμα is derived) them.[25]

I want to spend some time with κακὸν (a form of κακός) since this ἀγάπη does (or, works) no wrong (or, harm) to a neighbor.  The first time κακὸν occurs in the New Testament was from the mouth of the Roman governor.  Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?”  They all said, “Crucify him!”  He asked, “Why? What wrong (κακὸν) has he done?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!”[26]  Though Pilate found no κακὸν in Him under Roman law the chief priests and elders of Israel had accused Him of many things: “Don’t you hear how many charges they are bringing against you?”[27] Pilate asked.  When Jesus was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he did not respond.[28]

Now, with 20-20 hindsight I can see Jesus consciously fulfilling Scripture: He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth.  Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth.[29]  At the time in the moment, however, He appeared obstinate, belligerent and disdainful of authority.  Consider his teaching (Matthew 23:1-12 NET).

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.  Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them.  They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long.  They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’  But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.  And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Even here there is a very rough edge that is disdainful of human authority.  More to the point, perhaps, Jesus did nothing that would inhibit his progress toward the cross.  My commandment (ἐντολὴ, a form of ἐντολή) is this, He also said, to love (ἀγαπᾶτε, a form of ἀγαπάω) one another just as I have loved (ἠγάπησα, another form of ἀγαπάω) you.  No one has greater love (ἀγάπην, a form of ἀγάπη) than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command (ἐντέλλομαι) you.[30]  Hanging on the cross, after thirty plus years of human experience, eating it, drinking it, pissing and shitting it, Jesus prayed what I consider the real prayer of salvation: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.[31]

My point here, I suppose, is that the love that does (or, works) no wrong (or, harm) to a neighbor may not always appear to all the people all the time to be doing or working no wrong or harm to a neighbor.  By his own admission Jesus’ death on a cross was not his will but his Father’s.[32]  Like most human beings Jesus wanted to live; whoever is among the living has hope; a live dog is better than a dead lion.[33]  Perhaps I’ve overstated the case.  Jesus was not suicidal as He hung on the cross.

I want to follow this just a bit farther (Luke 16:25 NET).

Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things (ἀγαθά, another form of ἀγαθός) and Lazarus likewise bad things (κακά, another form of κακός), but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish.’

When I considered this in the light of the gospel I gleaned from my religion,[34] Abraham’s words seemed like karmic nonsense.  But in the light of the knowledge of God I’m compelled to reconsider.  God is love (ἀγάπη).[35]  Love (ἀγάπη) does no wrong (κακὸν, a form of κακός) to a neighbor.[36]  (And this is οὐκ the absolute negation, modifying ἐργάζεται [a form of ἐργάζομαι] apparently not κακὸν.)  So while I might be intellectually stimulated to wonder what role God’s love played in Lazarus’ life, the Holy Spirit reminds me that Knowledge puffs up, but love (ἀγάπη) builds up.[37]  All in all it is simpler then to assume that God’s love was revealed after Lazarus’ death.  This is in accord with Jesus’ knowledge of God: he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him.[38]  And it is prudent to accept that I do not dictate when God reveals his love to anyone (or, in anyone for that matter).

I’ll continue looking into—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord—as a definition of love rather than as rules in the next essay.

Romans, Part 54

Back to To Make Holy, Part 1


[1] Romans 12:11 (NET)

[2] Romans 5:1-5 (NET)

[3] Romans 13:10 (NET)

[4] 1 Corinthians 8:1b (NET)

[5] Matthew 18:12b (NET)

[6] Matthew 6:33 (NET)

[7] 2 Corinthians 8:7 (NET)

[8] Acts 18:24, 25 (NET)

[9] Ephesians 6:5-8 (NET)

[10] Romans 12:9b (NET)

[11] http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/begging-the-question.html

[12] Galatians 5:22 (NET) translated faithfulness

[13] Romans 5:1 (NET)

[14] Romans 5:2 (NET)

[15] 2 Corinthians 11:16-18 (NET)

[16] Galatians 2:20 (NET)

[17] Galatians 5:16 (NET)

[18] Galatians 5:19 (NET)

[19] Romans 5:3a (NET)

[20] 2 Corinthians 11:30 (NET)

[21] 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NET)

[22] Romans 5:3, 4 (NET)

[23] Romans 5:5 (NET)

[24] Romans 13:10 (NET)

[25] Matthew 5:17 (NET)

[26] Matthew 27:22, 23 (NET)

[27] Matthew 27:13 (NET)

[28] Matthew 27:12 (NET)

[29] Isaiah 53:7 (NET)

[30] John 15:12-14 (NET)

[31] Luke 23:34a (NET)

[32] Luke 22:42 (NET)

[33] Ecclesiastes 9:4 (NET)

[34] “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ before you die or burn in hell for all eternity.”

[35] 1 John 4:8, 16 (NET)

[36] Romans 13:10a (NET)

[37] 1 Corinthians 8:1b (NET)

[38] Luke 20:38 (NET)