Misgendering the Spirit

Language learners should master the concept of grammatical gender. This is especially true for native English speakers. I’ve found many Christians, even some in scholarly circles, who are confused on this issue. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit is sometimes ‘misgendered’.

The problem is birthed from confusion between (and conflation of) grammatical gender and biological sex, as in male and female. From this confusion, faulty ideas arise as to what constitutes personhood.

To state simply: grammatical gender does not necessarily indicate biological sex. Most times there is no correlation whatsoever.

Grammatical Gender en Español

Since Greek has three grammatical genders, it may be helpful to first illustrate from a language with only two. Below are some examples in Spanish, the world’s fourth-most spoken language (after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi).

the cat = el gato
the dog = el perro
the table = la mesa
the bank = el banco
the store = la tienda

Notice how “the” is spelled two different ways in Spanish. The words for “cat”, “dog”, and “bank” have el before them. These words (gato, perro, banco) are masculine in grammatical gender, so the corresponding word for “the” is also masculine (el). Comparatively, the Spanish words for “table” and “store” have la preceding them. These words (mesa, tienda) are feminine in grammatical gender and therefore have la to match.

This use of el in front of grammatically masculine nouns and la in front of grammatically feminine nouns must be maintained. You should never see ‘la gato’ or ‘el mesa’—these are grammatical mismatches, errors.

Now, we would hardly think any table or store is female. Nor would we think any bank is male. And, of course, we would hardly think all cats and all dogs are male.

In Spanish, there is a simple way for designating female cats and female dogs. An extra word is added to el perro and el gato to specify a male:

the female dog = la perra
the female cat = la gata
the male dog = el perro macho
the male cat = el gato macho

The astute student can readily see that the last letter of both perro and gato is changed from “o” to “a” to make it feminine in grammatical gender. This way, the grammatical gender also indicates the female sex of the dog and the cat. But since perro and gato mean “dog” or “cat” generically (without regard to biological sex), adding macho to the end indicates that the dog or the cat is male. In these examples grammatical gender correlates to biological sex.

Below are the final Spanish examples for our purposes:

the Father = el Padre
the Son = el Hijo
the mother = la madre
the spirit = el espíritu
the Holy Spirit = el Espíritu Santo

The only feminine grammatical gender above is found, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. However, when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood, of course.

The word for “spirit” is masculine in grammatical gender. But this doesn’t mean that a spirit has biological sex. To specify “the Holy Spirit”, the word Santo follows el Espíritu. And since the Holy Spirit is part of the Triune God, once again, we don’t construe biological sex.

The Three Genders in the Greek

As noted earlier, Greek has three grammatical genders, adding neuter:

the sun = ho hēlios (masculine)
the earth/land = hē gē (feminine)
the water = to hudōr (neuter)

Like Spanish, the Greek word for “the” must match the grammatical gender of its associated noun. In the examples above, “sun” (hēlios) is masculine, “earth/land” (gē) is feminine, and “water” (hudōr) is neuter. So, correspondingly, the words for “the” are masculine (ho), feminine (hē), and neuter (to), respectively. Of course, none of the words in these examples indicate biological sex.

the world/universe = ho kosmos (masculine)
the land/region = hē chōra (feminine)
the lake = hē limnē (feminine)
the open/deep sea = to pelagos (neuter)
the deep sea = ho bythos (masculine)

In viewing the above, the reader may perceive a seeming randomness to the assignment of grammatical gender. The last three all relate to water, yet each one has a different grammatical gender! In fact, the last two are synonymous.

Once again, none of these can be construed as implying biological sex. And none of these are persons in any sense, of course.

the word/speech = ho logos (masculine)
the word/saying = to rhēma (neuter)

Despite what some Word of Faith (Word/Faith) teachers claim, these two words are essentially synonymous when referring to speech.1 And when referring to speech generally, we do not assume biological sex or personhood, of course.

In the case of ho logos the difference comes in the preexistent Jesus Christ, “the Word” (John 1:1—14). Certainly, we recognize the personalization—the ‘Personhood’2—of “the Word” here. However—and this is an important distinction—the masculine grammatical gender of ho logos does not indicate personhood in and of itself. Nor does it indicate biological sex—God is not intrinsically a sexual Being. It is the flesh (human) aspect of Word-become-flesh (Jesus the Christ) that indicates biological sex. Jesus is a biological male in virtue of His human nature, not His Divine nature. In His pre-earthly existence as “the Word” He was not even a biological being.

the Father = ho Patēr
the Son = ho Huios
the mother = hē mētēr
the spirit = to pneuma
the Holy Spirit = to Pneuma (to) Hagios

Not surprisingly, the first three above parallel the Spanish in terms of grammatical gender. The only feminine occurs, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. And again, as in Spanish—or any translation of Scripture—when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood.

But when compared to the Spanish word for “S/spirit” grammatical gender differs. In Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter. Consequently, confusion results among many. To some apparently, the neuter grammatical gender necessarily construes a non-being, a thing. And from there it would follow that non-beings are non-persons. But this conflates distorted notions of grammatical gender with biological sex/gender in the English and imposes them upon the Greek.

Christendom, We Have a Problem

Confusion manifests in two ways, with one mistaken notion following the other. Because the word for “Spirit”, pneuma, is neuter in grammatical gender, some interpreters wrongly assume:

(a) this must mean that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘person’, since the Spirit is neither masculine (misconstrued as “male”?) in grammatical gender nor feminine (misconstrued as “female”?);

(b) however, because one section of Scripture (John 14:15—16:15) uses the grammatically masculine paraklētos (“counselor”, “advocate”, “comforter”) to refer to the Spirit, then this makes the Holy Spirit a person.

Now, to be clear, I absolutely affirm that Scripture declares the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. But this is not due to the masculine grammatical gender of paraklētos. More on this further below.

Generally, the Got Questions site explains Christian concepts adequately (if a bit simplistically at times). But their page for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit, Is the Holy Spirit a person?, contains the errors identified in this blog post. To unravel, I will analyze one sentence at a time. First the text, from the second paragraph at the preceding hyperlink:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing. First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.” The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit. The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement. Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14). Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

Error begets error. Beginning with the first sentence:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing.

This is true.

First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.”

Though this may be true in English translations, this is absolutely untrue in the Greek New Testament. This will be clarified as we go.

The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit.

In the original Greek language the word for “S/spirit”, pneuma, is neuter, as stated earlier. But this has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not the Holy Spirit is an impersonal thing any more than the masculine kosmos (“world”) indicates that the world is a personal being. It’s not the Greek language that establishes personhood; it’s the contexts describing the Holy Spirit that establish it.

The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement.

This is absolutely true. And it absolutely does in the Greek.

Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14).

Three masculine (demonstrative) pronouns are used in these cases (and one more each in 14:26 and 16:83) because they refer to the noun paraklētos, which is a masculine noun! Moreover, this is hardly “many cases”, as these are only found in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:16—16:15) when the pronoun refers to paraklētos. The Farewell Discourse is also interspersed with neuter pronouns in the Greek when referring to pneuma. For example, in John 14:17, the neuter relative pronoun hò is used once and the neuter ‘personal’ pronoun auto is used twice as substitutes for to pneuma at the very beginning of the verse—though all three are translated as the masculine “him” in English. This is to indicate personhood in English. To reiterate, these three neuter pronouns are translated as masculine pronouns in English solely to signify personhood for English readers. This is an issue in translation, not in Greek.

Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

I cannot know if the author is being dishonest or is obtusely conflating issues. As noted just above, the English translations generally use “he” when a pronoun is substituted for the Holy Spirit. But the Greek pronouns here agree in grammatical gender with their antecedents, their referents. And in the Greek New Testament any pronoun which refers to pneuma is also neuter to match in grammatical gender.

So how do we Biblically establish the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit? Murray J. Harris in his exegetical commentary on John’s Gospel provides some helpful introductory apologetics here (the author translates paraklētos “Helper”):

The fact that the pronouns referring to the Spirit…are neuter no more establishes the impersonality of the Spirit than the masculine pronouns ekeinos in 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13-14 and auton in 16:7 [ED: referring to paraklētos] prove the personality of the Spirit. In each case the gender of the pronouns is grammatically conditioned…The personality of the Spirit should be established without appeal to the masculine pronouns in the passages cited above. (One can argue, for example, that since Jesus as Helper [implied by allos, “another” in 14:16] is personal, one would assume that the Spirit as “another Helper” is also personal. And the other personal roles attributed to the Spirit, such as teaching and reminding [14:26], testifying [15:26], guiding [16:13], and informing [16:14-15], would certainly be strange if the Spirit were simply an impersonal force).4

In short, it’s not the Greek grammar that argues for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. It’s the contexts describing Him. A few other contexts in this regard:

  • The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
  • The Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), which is tantamount to lying to God (Acts 5:4).
  • The Holy Spirit is sent jointly by the Father (John 14:26) and the Son (John 15:26; 16:7) and is received by believers (1Cor 6:19, etc.), in whom the Spirit performs some of these personal functions.
  • The Spirit’s Deity finds affirmation in the sharing of the one Divine Name with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19). If the Father and Son are ‘Persons’, then it most likely follows that the Holy Spirit is, as well. Though equality of ‘Personhood’ cannot definitively be established by this one verse, it’s this verse in concert with other verses that help make the case. As another example of such, Jesus is called paraklētos (1John 2:1), while Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘another paraklētos’ (John 14:16).

No Good Apologies for Bad Apologetics

Using bad apologetics can harm the Christian cause. Anyone who is against Trinitarianism specifically or Christianity generally can use that bad pronoun argument against the Christian faith. Such bad arguments can make us seem like the ignorant and unintelligent (or intellectually dishonest) people that many non-believers accuse Christians of being.

Such faulty arguments used in attempts to bolster a theological position undermine proper Christian apologetics. Let’s endeavor to do better. I know we can!

______________________________________

1 But logos has a more expansive range of meanings. For those unaware, many Word/Faith teachers assert (among other things) the false dichotomy that rhēma denotes the ‘higher’ word from God for believers only while logos indicates the written Scriptures as a whole for everyone, including non-believers. Not only is this reductionistic, it fails to account for the fact that the verbal form (legō) of logos is used quite often preceding speech (so-and-so said [legō], “…”). A good example to refute this dichotomy presents itself in Matthew 12:36: But I say (legō) to you that every idle word (rhēma) that men speak (legō) they will give account/reckoning (logos) for in the day of judgment. Moreover, rhēma is found in only 65 verses in the New Testament as compared to over 300 for logos, while the verbal form legō occurs over 2000 times.

2 I always place single quotes around ‘Person’ when referring to individual hypostases of the Father, Son, or Spirit in order to indicate a distinction between modern ideas of personhood and those of Trinitarianism. The Father, Son, and Spirit should not be reduced to such secular notions.

3 These five occurrences of the masculine demonstrative pronoun (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13, 14), plus one masculine personal pronoun, are the only stand-alone pronouns in this entire section referring to paraklētos. There are some others implied in verbs (all finite verbs encode person and number, but not gender), though some are ambiguous as to their intended referent (see previous article Another Paraclete?, especially endnote 10). There are also neuter pronouns—specific and implied—referencing either the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of truth in the Farewell Discourse.

4 John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), p 261 (Greek transliterated). And see note 3 above and my previous article related to this subject.

Enlarging Your Enquiry

The larger the context, the better the understanding.

This morning while reading (and exegeting) Scripture for an upcoming blog post, I initially focused on one small section. This section contained the one word I wanted to connect to another book of the Bible via that word. Upon reading a bit further, I noticed a stronger contextual connection I’d not perceived before. And this was in a portion of Scripture I thought I knew pretty well.

The lesson? Always read the larger context. And keep reading the Scriptures so as to allow the Spirit to illumine new things.

Gonna Be a Great Weekend!

I just received two items I ordered. The first is a multi-author book on John 6. I’ve been looking for additional material pertaining to a portion of this chapter to ponder over for a projected blog post. The second item is a new (for me, but previously released except one cut) disc of jazz music from the late sixties.

The book features contributors from diverse (including multi-national) perspectives: Paul N. Anderson, Johannes Beutler (SJ—Germany), Peder Borgen (Norway), Dr. R. Alan Culpepper, Dr. Robert Kysar, Maarten J. J. Menken (Netherlands), Francis Moloney (SDB—Australia),  Gail R. O’ Day, John Painter (Australia), Ludger Schenke (Germany), and Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The music is led by the relatively unsung Charles Tolliver (trumpet, composer of all tunes here). Rounding out his quartet—augmented by Gary Bartz (alto sax) on four of the seven tracks—are Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (acoustic bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). All great musicians. At the time, Hancock and Carter were two-fifths of the Miles Davis quintet—rounded out by Wayne Shorter (tenor & soprano sax) and Tony Williams (drums)—the greatest band ever assembled in any music idiom. That’s not just opinion, that’s fact! Not debatable. Also note that both Bartz and Chambers would end up playing with Miles later.

I received one item from NW USA (Oregon), the other from NE USA (Connecticut). And I’m in between the two, though much further South (Texas). What a great country!

This Labor Day weekend let’s consider the wonderful diversity of this great country and not let the media, politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and sports icons divide us.

Freedom and diversity of thought and expression. Freedom to think independently. But let’s labor to give grace to others with their own independent thoughts and different opinions—except regarding the best band ever, of course.

Addendum

Upon reading the Preface to the book above, I think Culpepper’s remarks are quite appropriate:

One suspects that [the contributing authors’] civility and collegiality even in the midst of sharply conflicting points of view–which could be a model for scholars in many other disciplines–is probably borne of their perennial brooding over the depths of the Gospel of John.

Re-Assembly Required

What does “church” mean to you? Would it surprise you to learn that the underlying Greek term we translate “church” in most Bibles is much more accurately summoned assembly or congregation? The term in its original New Testament (NT) context referred strictly to persons called to a specific assembly (Christ-following)—not to a physical structure, much less to some hierarchical, institutional structure.

The word “church”—and the capitalized “Church”—is weighted down with too many misleading and negative connotations. Consequently, like an Olympic shot putter, it’s high time we hurl it into the field!

But how did “church” get applied if that’s not even what the word means?

What Do You Mean That’s Not What it Means?

The word translated “church” is the Greek ekklēsia. It is formed by the preposition ek, which means “from” or “out of”, plus klēsis, a noun. Klēsis means some sort of special call, calling, invitation.1 Thus, in a general sense, ekklēsia is defined as a group summoned from a larger group, an assembly called out of a larger people-group.

But does the word itself connote some special significance in the NT? More specifically, does the term refer exclusively to Christ-followers? To answer this, we’ll need to look at how this term and its cognates are used in the NT.

The NT records klēsis only eleven times. Each use refers to either the calling of Christ or a calling of God: Rom 11:29; 1Cor 1:26; 7:20; Eph 1:18; 4:1, 4; Phil 3:14; 2Th 1:11; 2Tim 1:9; Heb 3:1; 2 Pet 1:10. In this sense, it bears special significance.

Its adjectival form, klētos, is used ten times,2 in somewhat similar fashion: Matt 22:14 (in a parable); Rom 1:1, 6, 7; 8:28; 1Cor 1:1, 2, 24; Jude 1:1; Rev 17:14. Thus far, the evidence could go towards supporting Christians as exclusive ‘called-out’ ones.

Jesus summoned his first disciples (Matthew 4:21 [cf. Mark 1:20]) using the associated verb:

kai ekalesen autous
…and He-called them.
…and He [Jesus] called them.

The root of the verb used above is kaleō, which means to call, summon, invite, call by name. This is a very common verb, found 140 times (in its various forms) in the NT. Though it is used for the calling to Christian discipleship, this verb also applies to the naming of John the Baptizer (Luke 1:13), identifying the name of a city (Luke 7:11), etc. Thus the word is not purposed exclusively for summoning Christians.3

But maybe we should focus strictly on ekklēsia?

Calling the Ekklēsia

The LSJ, the most comprehensive lexicon for Ancient Greek literature, defines ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία) generally as an assembly duly summoned. The term is found in Homer and other ancient Greek writings well-predating the NT. It can refer to political, legislative bodies governing the populace for example (see Aristotle, Athenian Constitution 43.4). Though some have seized upon this latter meaning, attempting to apply it to Christianity, this is clearly not how the term is used in the NT. Scripture gives no indication that Christians are to rule over non-Christians. On the contrary, Christ-followers are to be servants. In any case, given the usage of the term pre-NT, the word clearly wasn’t coined specifically for Christians.

The term is used 93 times in the LXX (aka Septuagint)—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh, the Old Testament (OT). Though many times ekklēsia refers to Jews in religious contexts in the LXX, it is not used solely in this way. It also references: a group of Jews in a political sense (Deut 18:16), a specific assemblage of returned Jewish exiles in distinction from the larger group of Jews generally (Ezra 10:7-8), and even a pack of evildoers (Psalm 26:5 [LXX 25:5]).

The NT records the term 111 times. The very first usage is in Matthew 16:18, in Jesus’ words to Peter:

kai epi tautȩ̄ tȩ̄ petra̧ oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian
…and upon this the rock I-shall-build my the ekklēsia
…and upon this rock I shall build my ekklēsia

Putting aside any discussion of the enigmatic “upon this rock”—which is beyond the scope of this present article4—what does ekklēsia mean here? [The extra ‘n’ at the end of ekklēsia in the Scripture is to denote the accusative form, direct object.] Might Jesus mean my ‘called-out’ ones? Let’s investigate further.

The Apostle Paul uses this term in the beginning of some of his epistles. An example is found in 1Thessalonians 1:1: …to the ekklēsia of the Thessalonians. The ekklēsia at Thessalonica. In Acts 8:1, which speaks of the aftermath following the stoning of Stephen, there was great persecution against the ekklēsia at Jerusalem—against the group of Christ-followers in Jerusalem. Yet, before this persecution, Stephen, in the midst of his speech to the Sanhedrin, recalls Moses who was in the ekklēsia in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai (Acts 7:38). This latter usage clearly refers to Jews in an OT context, not NT Christ-followers. But that’s not the only instance of the term referring to a group identifiably not Christian.

In Acts 19, three successive applications of this term clearly do not refer to followers of Christ: an assemblage of pagans brought together by Artemis the silversmith in opposition to Paul and “the Way” (19:32), some sort of official legislative body (19:39), and Artemis’ group once again (19:40). These three instances, plus Acts 7:38, indicate that this word in and of itself is not some special term used exclusively for Christians in the NT. As with most words, context determines meaning.

The final definition of the term in the LSJ lexicon well-explains its application in the NT as it relates to Christ-followers—as well as its later expanded usage:

in NT, the Church, as a body of Christians, Ev.Matt. 16.18, 1 Ep.Cor.11.22 ; ἡ κατ’ οἶκόν τινος ἐ[κκλησία] Ep.Rom.16.5 ; as a building, Cod.Just.1.1.5 Intr., etc.5

In other words, the LSJ indicates that the term is applied in the NT (except the four exceptions above) to “the Church” collectively as a body of Christians, using Matt 16:18 and 1Cor 11:22 as examples. However, the term was later used as a building, as in Codex Justinianeus (Code of Justinian), from circa early 6th century AD. To this latter meaning we will return further below.

Sandwiched between the two definitions in the LSJ (the Church, as a body of Christians; and, as a building) is a reference to the usage in Romans 16:5. Providing proper context for this verse, to include the two immediately preceding verses:

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus 4 —who, for my life, risked their own necks, for whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the ekklēsiai of the Gentiles 5 —and the ekklēsia in their house6

The basic sentence above is Greet Prisca and Aquila…and the ekklēsia in their house. Here the ekklēsia must be a particular group of Christians who gather at the house of Prisca and Aquila. Thus, a small subgroup of Christians. In verse 4 Paul pluralizes ekklēsia, indicated by the final iota (i): ekklēsiai. By its context, these multiple ekklēsiai are other individual gatherings of Gentile Christians meeting in individual homes in Rome.7 Considering the example of 1Thessalonians 1:1, we can infer that if “all the ekklēsiai of the Gentiles” (16:4) were to be combined with the one ekklēsia at Prisca and Aquila’s house (16:5) this would comprise one larger ekklēsia. In other words, each small subgroup (meeting in a home) is an ekklēsia, and the combination of these individual ekklēsiai (meetings in homes) logically would make up one larger ekklēsia. Every individual gathering of Christ-followers comprises an ekklēsia—no matter how small or large—and adding all these ekklēsiai together would constitute one ekklēsia in Rome.

And we can extrapolate further.

This all-inclusive ekklēsia is the meaning of the first definition in the LSJ above: the Church, as a body of Christians. In the context of 1Cor 11:22 Paul calls the ekklēsia at Corinth “the ekklēsia of God”. Note that, though Paul is writing to the Corinthians, this usage of ekklēsia is not specifically limited to those in Corinth. Like the implication in the opening of this epistle (1Cor 1:2), here in 11:22 (“Or do you despise the ekklēsia of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”) the phrase intends the entirety of the ekklēsia of God, to include Christ-followers outside Corinth. Stated another way, though Paul was addressing the ekklēsia in Corinth, he intends all Christ-followers in existence collectively—not strictly the Corinthians—evidenced by the additional modifier of God.

Thus, extrapolating even further, the one all-inclusive ekklēsia at Rome was to be included in the one all-inclusive ekklēsia at Corinth, both comprising a part of the one larger ekklēsia of God. And this should be expanded even more. Yet no matter how far geographically we broaden the scope, there is only one all-inclusive ekklēsia. Obviously, the larger we broaden it, the greater the number of people making up the ekklēsia. But, to reiterate, it is still one collective ekklēsia. This can even be expanded temporally to include all NT-era ekklēsiai (at Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, etc.) in combination with all the ekklēsiai today (in North American, South America, Europe, Africa, Orient, etc.). All together these constitute the many-peopled one ekklēsia.

Now, in returning to Jesus’ words “my ekklēsia” in Matthew 16:18, we have a clearer idea of his intention. We would hardly think Jesus was referring to his ekklēsia as opposed to, say, Prisca and Aquila’s. Obviously—just like in 1Cor 11:22—Jesus was referring to all Christians collectively, rather than some group of Christians uniquely his own over against some other group or groups of Christians. An individual is either part of Jesus’ ekklēsia—the ekklēsia of God—or is not part of Jesus’ ekklēsia. And each and every ekklēsia individually is included in the one ekklēsia of Jesus—the entirety of Christ-followers collectively.

This collective, all-inclusive meaning stands behind the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 (Ni-Con). The Ni-Con updated the earlier Nicene Creed (325).8 More importantly, Ni-Con defined the ekklēsia. Following is the pertinent portion:

[Pisteuomen] eis mian, agian, katholikēn, and apolstolikēn ekklēsian
[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic ekklēsia.
We believe in one, holy, universal, and apostolic ekklēsia.

The word “apostolic” refers to the fact that the ekklēsia dates back to the first century Apostles. Even the first person plural “we” embeds the all-inclusive intent. The only caveat is that each individual in the group must follow the tenets of the Creed (Trinity; Incarnation; Virginal conception/birth; Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension; the Second Coming; one baptism).

The Ekklēsia Housed in Confusion

But somewhere along the way, post-NT era, ekklēsia shifted to “church”. This resulted in the understanding of the underlying NT word to mean “house” or “dwelling”, among other things. This conflation of ekklēsia as a body of Christians with its subsequent mutation as a building (for Christians)—or the fusing of the two—has created not a small amount of confusion. To illustrate the complexity of the issue, consider this meaning of ekklēsia as a building alongside the other multiple modern meanings of “church”.

In the 1983 unabridged Webster’s Dictionary definition for church is the following etymology:

Middle English chirche, cherche; Anglo-Saxon circe, cyrce; Late Greek kyriakon, a church, from Greek kyriakē (supply dōma, house), the Lord’s house, from kyriakos, belonging to the Lord or Master…9

In other words, “church” is not even derived from ekklēsia at all! It’s from kyriakos instead. Thus, this definition of “church” for ekklēsia is an anachronism by way of convoluted etymology. Stated another way, a word (“church”) from a much later time period, is transported to the NT era (via kyriakos) and applied to a completely different word (ekklēsia) cargoing its multiplicity of modern meanings, and these meanings are almost entirely foreign to the original contexts.

To put mathematically: ekklēsiachurch! And, kyriakēekklēsia.

Undoubtedly, this problem leads a reader to understand ekklēsia as any or all of the range of meanings found in “church” today (building, congregation, building with congregation, denomination, the entirety of Christians living and dead, clergy). In reading 1Cor 1:2 (to the church of God that is in Corinth), a modern reader might envision a large building on the corner of Main and 1st Streets with an accompanying marquee proclaiming “First Episcopal Church of Corinth”, where all Episcopalians living in Corinth would gather. But that’s far from historical accuracy.

If we go back to the NT usage of the relevant Greek words in the etymology above, we may be able to find the root of the problem. The Greek adjective kyriakos means something that pertains to the Lord (Jesus).10 It is used only twice in the NT. In the first instance (1Cor 11:20), the context specifically concerns the Lord’s Supper.11 In the second instance (Rev 1:10), the Lord’s Day,12 it refers to Sunday.13 The important thing to note is that the term kyriakos itself essentially means of the Lord, or the Lord’s.14 But the definition above uses the feminine form (kyriakē) rather than the masculine (kyriakos [also note: in the above etymology kyriakon is the neuter nominative form or masculine accusative form]). This use of the feminine form may relate to another possible connection just a bit below.

The parenthetical note in the etymology above (supply dōma, house) apparently indicates dōma is to be added to kyriakē in order to yield ~ the Lord’s house. But the word dōma means “housetop” or “roof” in the NT (Mt 24:17; Mk 13:15; Lk 5:19; Lk 17:31; Acts 10:9). Thus, it appears the two different meanings were fused together to form the one chirche, cherche, or “church”.

Another possible connection is the use of kyria—the feminine form of kyrios (Lord)—in 2 John 1:1 and 1:5. In the NT era, kyrios is used for a person having authority and would be rendered either “lord” or “master” (or, of course, “Lord” or “Master”). An equivalent for a female would be “lady”. In 2 John 1:1 the term is combined with eklektē—“chosen”, “elect”. In that context, it is to the elect lady and her children. It is possible (though impossible to confirm or disprove) to construe this as a figurative circumlocution for the bride of Christ.15 This may (or may not) go towards providing a basis for the etymology above in its use of kyriakē.

Even still, none of this answers why or how ekklēsia became “church” exactly. Like Darwinism, there’s something missing in the evolution.

There is one other possible connection. The Greek word for “a building”, “a structure” is domē.16 Though it does not occur in the NT, it is found in its verbal form in the compound word oikodomeō immediately preceding “my ekklēsia” in Matthew 16:18. This verb is a combination of the noun oikos (“house”, “dwelling”, “household”, “family”)  and the verb domeō (“to build”, “to construct”). But in the context of Jesus’ words, this surely refers to a metaphorical building/constructing, not the building of a physical structure. Jesus was declaring he would ‘build’ a people-group by summoning from the larger group of all people.

And Jesus is still building it!

Further evidence of the confusion finds itself in all the modern dictionary meanings of ecclesia, ecclesial and ecclesiastical. It’s past time we reclaim the proper NT meaning!

Reconvening

Given the enquiry here, how should we translate ekklēsia? Negatively, as noted in the beginning, I propose we heave “church” to the linguistic landfill. Positively, I suggest we substitute congregation in all places “church” is currently found in Scripture. The three Acts 19 occurrences could be assembly, in keeping with most versions’ current use of the term there.

Using congregation instead of “church” might go a long way toward alleviating both confusion and denominational divisions. True Christ-followers comprise one ekklēsia. Separate, individual congregations, but one universal (catholic) ekklēsia!

Just like we meet (verb) at our meeting (noun), we congregate at our congregation. And we are not a congregation unless we congregate. Assembly required!

We congregate when we attend services or when we attend Bible studies—whether at a ‘church’ building, in someone’s home, or any other place. It could possibly be understood that we assemble when speaking on the phone with a Christian brother or sister. Or maybe even when conversing via email.

Postscript

I began writing this article well before the current health issue and the resulting socio-political environment surrounding it. Thus, I am not intending to make any sort of socio-political statement with this. However, in light of the current situation, I think it might be best that every individual ekklēsia proceed as led, considering local regulations and recommendations in balance with Hebrews 10:25, Romans 13:1—8 and 1Peter 2:13—17.

Godspeed.

__________________________

1 See “κλῆσις” in F. W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009), p 202.

2 The Textus Receptus—the Greek text underlying the KJV and NKJV—includes the term at Matthew 20:16, appending the verbiage found in Matthew 22:14: πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσι κλητοί, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί, polloi gar eisi klētoi, oligoi de eklektoi, for many are called but few are chosen.

3 Though the main reason for the title of this section is to refute “church” as a meaning for ekklēsia, a subsidiary reason is to debunk the notion that ekklēsia is some exclusive term made up of its prefix and the verb kaleō, as if the term were coined strictly for Christians. Such an understanding seems implied by R. C. Sproul, someone whose teachings I generally enjoy: Ekklesia: The Called-Out Ones. We must do better than this. Tangentially, in view of the contents at the link, I might have asked Sproul about Judas Iscariot: Was he not part of the Twelve? Does this not imply he was one of the called (klētos)? How do we square Sproul’s doctrine of ‘election’ with Matthew 22:14 (and Matthew 20:16 TR—see note 2 above)?

4 Though inferences can certainly be drawn from its conclusions.

5 The Greek of Romans 16:5 (the 2nd sub-definition) is actually τὴν κατ᾿ οἶκον αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίαν, tēn kat’ oikon autōn ekklēsian. In paraphrase, the LSJ changed it to the nominative instead of the accusative and the personal pronoun (αὐτῶν) to the indefinite (τινος).

6 My own translation, as all here.

7 Likely founded by Paul’s missionary efforts (cf. Romans 16:10-11).

8 To include a defining of the Holy Spirit, which had barely been mentioned in the 325 version.

9 Jean L. McKechnie, Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged,  2nd ed. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p 324. I am unfamiliar with Late Greek, but in the NT, kyriakon is the accusative form of kyriakos (as found in 1Cor 11:20; see below), but it’s also a neuter nominative form (not used in NT). Kyriakē is the feminine nominative form (again, not used in NT).

10 “κυριακός”, in W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000), p 576.

11 In the accusative/direct object case: kyriakon deipnon.

12 In the dative/indirect object case: tȩ̄ kyriakȩ̄ hēmera̧.

13 David Aune, Revelation 1—5, Word Biblical Commentary, Gen. Eds. D. A. Hubbard, G. W. Barker (Dallas, TX: Word Books), pp 83—84.

14 “κυριακός” in Danker, p 210.

15 See “κυρία” in Danker, p 210; cf. Judith M. Lieu, I, II, & III John (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pp 240—42, 248—52.

16 Maybe the Webster’s “dōma” in the etymology above is in error?

Passing the Examination

In a bygone era, far removed from today, I served a brief stint in the US military. No regrets, but with the time to reenlist approaching, I had already made up my mind to separate from service rather than continue. It simply wasn’t the life and career for me.

With a few months remaining in my service commitment, I was also approaching the time to take a test for promotion to the next grade. This exam was scheduled before my upcoming separation. Passing the exam would provide a salary increase along with the promotion. A wage increase would be great; however, should I pass, the grade would not be awarded until after my intended separation from service. Thus, to my mind, it made little sense to take the test. So, I asked to be excused.

Yet I was told I must take the examination. “What if you pass?” I was asked. That would make no difference to me, for I was firm in my decision. I was definitely going to separate, no matter the outcome.

So, on the morning it was scheduled, I took the test. In record time. I simply took the Scantron and penciled in a next to the first question, b for the second, and so forth, till I got to the fifth question in which I penciled e. I repeated this pattern until I was finished. Then I handed it to the surprised facilitator and walked out of the room.

I had to sit for the test. But I didn’t have to test well. I didn’t have to pass the exam, but I couldn’t pass on sitting for the exam.

I have no idea how I scored. Given my methodology, it would have been pure luck had I actually qualified for the promotion.

Qualifying for a Higher Grade

Much later, after accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, I discovered that, as Christians, there’s an exam we must take. Similar to my earlier test, it is not optional. Yet the stakes are much higher. This is one we must pass. Continually:

2Corinthians 13:5—6:

5 Examine yourselves if you be in the faith. Approve yourselves! Or do you not discover for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in youunless you be unapproved? 6 Yet I trust that you will realize that we are not unapproved.1

For background, the Apostle Paul is frustrated with the ekklēsia (“church”) in Corinth. The words above should be seen as the culmination of what Paul stated in 2Corinthians 10:7. Paul implies that the congregation(s) had been seduced by other “super-apostles” (11:5) who had been preaching “another Jesus”, as received by “a different spirit”, and that they accepted this “different gospel” (11:4). Paul goes on to describe these seducers as “false apostles…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (11:13), suggesting they are servants of Satan himself (11:14—15). Apparently, these “super-apostles” spoke disparagingly about Paul (12:11), contributing to the Corinthians’ doubt about Paul’s Apostleship (13:3—4). And even doubting Paul’s own faith.2

In response, Paul instructed them to examine themselves to determine if they were really in the faith. In the first two sentences of verse 5 “yourselves” is italicized to match the emphasis implied in the Greek text. Paul truly is concerned that some had apostatized, that they had fallen away from the faith. So, his words are a call to repentance for those needing it. But he provides encouragement: surely they will find out they are true Christ-followers—or they will be convicted of their fallen state and repent. Yet at the same time they will realize that Paul really is in the faith and truly is an Apostle.

Paul’s concluding sentence (v 6) magnificently puts all his thoughts together. In it, he uses three different pronouns to great effect. The “I” speaks of his authority, yet the verb associated with it shows his empathy, his desire (“I trust”). The “you”, of course, is the Corinthians, who, after their individual self-investigations (v 5), should either: (a) be further encouraged in their faith, or (b) be persuaded to repent. His final “we” indicates both: (a) his desire for their further encouragement or their repentance (accordingly), and (b) his implied assertion of his own status in the faith, along with the newly-repentants’ realization of Paul’s true faith—“we” (the Corinthians and Paul) are “not unqualified”.

All this provides an object-lesson for subsequent readers, for us. Are we really in the faith? Continual self-assessment is not optional (Matthew 24:13).

Elsewhere Paul provides means for self-testing, using the example of Timothy:

2Timothy 2:15:

Strive to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed laborer correctly applying the word of truth.

The verb for “approved” here is the same as the one used in 2Corinthians 13:5. The only way you can know for certain you are in the faith is to have a good knowledge of the truths of the faith (John 8:31—32)! And this requires obedience, which is made evident by your fruit. A great self-check for fruit-bearing is found in Paul’s words to the Galatian ekklēsia. The passage compares living by the Spirit to living according to the flesh:

Galatians 5:16—25:

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit, so you shall not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires contrary to the Spirit, the Spirit contrary to the flesh. For these oppose one another, so that you may not do as you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 24 And those belonging to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, to the Spirit we should also conform.

We cannot just pass on this. Each must habitually ask himself or herself, “Am I really in the faith?”

Do I meet the qualifications? Am I approved?

____________________

1 In my translation here, I aimed for functional equivalency to the extent possible (nouns for nouns, similar verb types for similar verb types, etc.), leaving out as many English helping words as possible (e.g. “to see if you be in the faith”). With this goal in mind, I sought to retain Paul’s words as I think he intended to his original audience, thereby showing his exceptional rhetorical skills. All negatives are translated as per the Greek text, including words negated by an a– prefix. In this way, the reader can see his dichotomies, his juxtapositions, as well as his plays on words (“approve” > “unapproved” > “not unapproved”). Otherwise, in my opinion, his tone is smoothed over. This includes the italicizing of “unless” since εἰ μήτι is stronger than εἰ μή.  In similar fashion, “yourselves” is twice italicized, since it has emphatic placement in the Greek (first in the sentences). The overall intent is to make the parallels and contrasts a bit easier for the English reader to perceive.

2 Most of this entire paragraph sounds eerily similar to the leaders and individuals within the so-called New Apostolic Reformation.

God’s View of the Scriptures

Is your view of the Scriptures you read consistent with what is presented in the Scriptures? In your desire to elevate Scripture to its rightful place, might you exalt it to a level exceeding God’s purposes?

In this one-minute snippet of a larger conversation, Mike Licona provides a morsel with which to consume our thoughts:

John Arranges Things Differently

The Gospel According to John differs from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). Markedly so, in some areas. John’s Gospel contains things the Synoptics lack, yet omits content they have. But even the overlapping content is somewhat different in John.

It’s similar to Claudio Abbado as compared to Rudolf Barshai conducting Bartók.

Or like John Coltrane’s rendition(s) of “My Favorite Things” compared to Julie Andrews’ vocal version in The Sound of Music. Like Miles Davis’ cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”.

Or like R.E.M.’s cover of Wire’s “Strange” (or the fact that early R.E.M. borrowed a bit from the sound of The Byrds).

Or like Public Enemy’s (and others’) sampling of Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution”—specifically, the great Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s drum intro—in their “Don’t Believe the Hype”.[1]

Quoting P. Gardner, F. F. Bruce suggests John’s Gospel is a transposition into a higher key.[2] Continuing the musical analogies, John doesn’t so much harmonize with the Synoptics as provide counterpoint. Similarly, John resembles Ravel in taking his own six movement piano solo suite Le Tambeau de Couperin and later transforming into four movements for orchestra. Some elements are the same, colors and shades are added, some notation is omitted.

Putting the earlier words of Bruce in context:

If in this Gospel the words and deeds of Jesus appear to have undergone ‘transposition into a higher key’ [as compared to] the Synoptic Gospels, this is the effect of the Spirit’s enabling the Evangelist to adapt the story of Jesus to a different public…[3]

Following this, Bruce provides a Shakespearean analogy.

The day following Julius Caesar’s assassination is recorded in Plutarch’s Life of Brutus. Plutarch provides the account of Mark Antony reading Caesar’s will to the public. When the audience heard that, among other things, the dictator had willed 75 drachmas to each citizen, they grew sympathetic. Sensing this, Antony adjusted his speech and tone, taking Caesar’s bloodied gown in his hand and graphically pointing to the knife and sword cuts into it. At this, the crowd grew angry at his assassins. Chaos ensued. Some insisted that those who had slain Caesar should be killed.

Shakespeare paraphrases and amplifies this account. However, he also reorders it. The writer situates Antony holding up the tattered gown and showing Caesar’s bloodied corpse before reading the will. Moreover, he ‘quotes’ Antony using words not even recorded in Plutarch’s account.[4]

Bruce calls this

a translation of the freest kind, a transposition into another key; but Shakespeare’s genius enables him to put just the right words into Antony’s mouth…‘to give the general purport of what was actually said.’*

What Shakespeare does by dramatic insight (and, it may be added, what many a preacher does by homiletical skill), all this and much more the Spirit of God accomplished in our Evangelist. It does not take divine inspiration to provide a verbatim transcript; but to reproduce the words which were spirit and life to their first believing readers in such a way that they continue to communicate their saving message and prove themselves to be spirit and life to men and women today…—that is the work of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit’s operation that, in William Temple’s words, ‘the mind of Jesus himself was what the Fourth Gospel disclosed’;** and it is through the illumination granted by the same Spirit that one may still recognize in this Gospel the authentic voice of Jesus.[5]

John is different. I like that. I can’t wait to meet John on the other side.

__________________________

[1] Unrelatedly, tangentially: Is Public Enemy (PE) original in coining the idea of “fake news”? Witness these lyrics from “Don’t Believe the Hype”, relating to how the music press distorted PE (in their view):
Chuck D.: False media, we don’t need it, do we?
Flavor Flav: It’s fake that’s what it be to ya, dig me?

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 15. Bruce here quotes Gardner’s The Ephesian Gospel (London, 1915), p 284.

[3] Bruce, p 15.

[4] Bruce, pp 15-16.

[5] Bruce, pp 16-17. *Here Bruce cites Thucydides’ History 1.22.1. **Here Bruce quotes Temple’s Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London, 1939), p xxxii.

Keener Faith

This is a fantastic account of faith in action! I don’t wish to dilute its strength, so I’ll let Craig Keener tell it in his own words in less than two minutes:

Oh, if I could have that kind of faith and that kind of outcome!

Part of the reason I’m posting this—and I’m a bit uncomfortable stating the following—is that four different individuals have assumed that I (Craig, the writer here at CrossWise) am Craig Keener. In a way, I suppose I should take that as a compliment, for he is a scholar whom I greatly respect. (One particular insight of Keener’s was integral to help support my case in this article on Pilate’s inscription above Jesus’s cross.) But in another way I have a feeling that I’ve somehow misrepresented myself, giving readers here the wrong impression. I’m not sure how, for that was never my intention. Quite simply, I wish to retain a certain amount of anonymity. That’s all. With all this in mind, I’ve made a very small change to my CONTACT tab, adding the phrase “a self-studying layman”. To be completely clear, I have no formal seminary education or theological training. And I state nowhere on this site anything to support anything of the sort. I’m just a (kinda) regular guy on a journey seeking Christian truth—wherever that leads.

I do find this mistaken identity a bit curious though. For, besides Keener, there are other Christian scholars sharing the same first name, such as Craig A. Evans (check out his layman-friendly Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels), Craig R. Koester (see, e.g., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community), and Craig L. Blomberg (see, e.g., A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis).

In any case, I’ll direct you to Keener’s blog. I appreciate not just his work, but his brand of off-beat humor, as exemplified by this cartoon for a new illustrative Bible glossary.

Independent Thoughts

Just now as I was perusing Greek professor Dr. David Alan Black’s unblog, I was struck by the following from his Friday, July 31 entry:

As I was riding along a thought had been forming in my subconscious mind and now I let it surface and examined it. One of the things I really want to emphasize in my classes this year is independent thinking. Tell me, do you have a mind of your own so that you reach your own mature, Christian convictions? Or are you like the persons described in Ephesians 4 who are tossed unsteadily about by the strange doctrines of others and whose opinion is always that of the last person they spoke to or the last book they read? You don’t know what you believe or why you believe what you do believe. I strongly believe that all of us need to develop a holy discontentment with the ecclesiastical status quo (bold added).

Amen! This idea was one of the thoughts undergirding yesterday’s Consider the Source post.

For Black’s thoughts on what a New Testament ‘church’ (ekklēsia) should look like, see his Energion Publications booklet Seven Marks of a New Testament Church: A Guide for Christians of All Ages.

Continuing Black’s words:

Most of us are too conservative, too complacent, too content to parrot what others are saying. We are content with our church practices and polities even when there is no scriptural support for them. The end result is a dull, mindless, conformity. But Paul teaches that the church should be constantly growing into maturity in Christ. I don’t know the way through to the other side on this one, folks, but I do know that I don’t want to be ruled by ravenous groupthink anymore. Full life is lived when we have a personal encounter with the living God through his word, and when the mind and heart work together to discover and practice the truth. Coming back to a tired old cliché, less is more. Less commentaries, more Bible. Less podcasts, more listening to the Holy Spirit. In my life, I’m a more kind of guy, and I struggle with making this transition. But if I don’t make it, how can I turn around and ask my students to do the same? It would be a dreadful thing to be deluded in this matter — to think that we are pleasing God with our minds when we are not. The only way to avoid this error is to find out what God wants by turning to his word, the Bible. This is what I will doing in my four classes this fall, and my five in the spring. Holy discontentment will be an emphasis in my teaching this year because I am concerned that much of our thinking about the church is confused and often unbiblical. Don’t take my word for it. Make up your own mind to study the Scriptures to see what God says about this important subject! (bold added for my emphasis)

It’s as if he took the thoughts right out of my head and filtered them through his own experiences!

I’ve long been frustrated with the way ‘church’ has become a “dull, mindless, conformity”. Where’s the true vibrancy of Christian fellowship? It’s too often a Sunday-only thing, with the rest of the week consumed by secular concerns. Bible study? That’s many times relegated to whatever time is left after all other ‘obligations’. And, of course, that typically means no time at all.

I differ a little bit, though, as I do enjoy reading commentaries for points of view I’d not considered. Or points of view that are not commonly promoted. In a post I’ve been working on for a while (taking MUCH longer than I’d anticipated!), after wrestling with the Greek text, I turned to a few commentaries for clarification on matters. Most, of course, parrot the same line; but, there were a few with some different lines of enquiry. Now, that gets me thinking! It doesn’t mean they are right, and there are times when I’ll reject a particular line of thought. But there are other times when the insights of the writer provide astute illumination to the text. In response, my heart and spirit overflow with joy: “Yes!” How wondrous is his word!

Yet, I constantly struggle with this thought: Am I reading/studying/thinking for my own intellectual curiosity, or is there a higher purpose? Am I pleasing God or myself—or both? I hope it’s both.

Not One Parousia, But Two

When the time arrives, be sure you’re following the right parousia.

Some readers may immediately think, “Sure. But what’s a parousia?” Glad you asked. This term is used in the technical (and not-so technical) literature for Jesus’ Second Coming, aka the Advent, and is most often capitalized (Parousia).1

This particular word is used in this way, because it is found in a number of New Testament (NT) texts in reference to Jesus’ return. Seventeen to be exact. These include Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount of Olives, aka the Olivet Discourse:

…when shall these things be and what is the sign of your parousia, and of the end of the age? (Matt 24:3)

For as lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the parousia of the Son of Man (Matt 24:27)

However, there are other occurrences of this term in reference to other persons. One refers to the arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17). Two others refer to the arrival of Titus (2 Cor 7:6—7). Comparatively, there are three occurrences of the term referring to Paul’s physical presence (2 Cor 10:10; Phlp 1:26; 2:12). As can be observed, the term has shades of meaning. And some translations interpret the shades a bit differently in the contexts cited here.

Except for one usage, the occurrences of parousia for Christ refer to His forthcoming arrival or presence in person again. But even this exception points to what underlies the understanding of the Advent. In 2 Peter 1:16 the term refers to the Transfiguration:

For it was not by following cunningly contrived fables we made known to you the powerful parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ; rather, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

The term had been used in antiquity for the fanfare surrounding the arrival of a king, ruler, or dignitary (see definition A2 here). The ISBE records how parousia was found in various inscriptions, noting specifically its application to the Greek god of medicine:

In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC…‘Parousia’ is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius [Aσκληπιός Asklēpiós]. Consequently, the adoption of Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.2

In Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian ekklēsia (“church”), he uses the term with this sort of regal backdrop. These epistles contain six of the seventeen total uses referencing Jesus: 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8. This is obvious in 1 Thess 3:13 (…at the parousia of the Lord Jesus with His holy ones3), but especially in the magnificent usage in 2 Thess 2:8:

And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of His parousia

However, this is contrasted with the one remaining use of parousia, which is found in the very next verse—the parousia you do not want to follow. For, 2 Thess 2:9 describes the pseudo-parousia. This is best seen in context with 2:8 & 10:

8 And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of His parousia9 which is the parousia according to the working of Satan, with every kind of power and pseudo signs and wonders, 10 and in every manner of unrighteous deception, for those perishing…

For readability, English translations smooth out Paul’s words a bit. For the moment, if we remove the portion in the em dashes (—), the text would be more like: And then the lawless one will be revealed, which is the parousia according to the working of Satan, with every kind of power and pseudo signs and wonders, and in every manner of unrighteous deception, for those perishing….  

Importantly, observe from the text of 2 Thess 2:8—10 that this pseudo-parousia precedes the true parousiathe parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This also means Satan is well-aware of Jesus’ forthcoming parousia, and he plans to perform a parody of it, to the extent it will fool many. The enemy has been busy in this diabolical plan. Evidence for this is found, for example, in the occult works of Alice A. Bailey. Bailey was the conduit by which the following words regarding this false Christ  and pseudo-parousia were channeled in 1919 :

Eventually, there will appear the Church Universal, and its definite outlines will appear towards the close of this [20th] century…This Church will be nurtured into activity by the Christ and His disciples when the outpouring of the Christ principle, the true second Coming, has been accomplished. No date for the advent do I set, but the time will not be long.4

Assuming we are all here at that time, be sure to await the real, true parousia, not the one described just above. Your spiritual life depends on it.

_________________________

1 As an aside, interestingly, even my version of MS Word defaults to capitalizing this word. It is also found in online dictionaries this way. This is because the current technical meaning of the term as Christ’s Advent is assumed.

2 Burton Scott Easton, “Parousia”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st Ed. (1915), prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.4, para 43388

3 The words translated “holy ones” (hoi agioi, here in the genitive tōn agiōn) are the same words used elsewhere in the NT many times for Christ-followers, i.e., human ‘saints’. But it is unclear whether this is the correct interpretation here. Paul specifically states that Christ will be accompanied by angels in 2 Thess 1:7. Moreover, in 1 Thess 4:16 a shout of an archangel and a “trumpet of God” herald His return (alternatively, the shout of God’s archangel ‘trumpets’ Christ’s return). Also, in apocalyptic literature of the OT, “holy ones” refers to angels (Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps 89:7-8; Dan 4:34; 8:13{?}; Zech 14:5{?}). On the other hand, the context of Dan 7:18 seems to refer to glorified human saints, while Dan 8:13 and Zech 14:5 are a bit ambiguous. Thus, it is possible that 1 Thess 4:16 and 2 Thess 1:7 are not meant to exclude human saints (though, importantly, 1 Thess 4:15 indicates dead saints precede those still alive). Therefore, it is possible that both angels and glorified humans are in view here.

4 Alice A. Bailey, The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis Publishing Company, NY, 6th printing (Albany, NY: Fort Orange Press, 1981), p 510; bold added for emphasis. While the book was not first published until 1957, most sections within the book have corresponding dates of initial writing, or, more accurately, transmission.  The portion quoted here looks to be from 1919 (see page 502 and intervening text), which would then be some of the earliest writings of Bailey in partnership with Djwhal Khul, aka The Tibetan or Master D. K.

%d bloggers like this: