Paul's Thoughts on Dirty Jokes

Author Andrew B. Perrin

In Eph 5:4, Paul warns readers, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking.” Two of these words are what scholars call a hapax legomenon—a word that appears only one time in a body of literature. In this post, we’re going to focus on one of these words as a means of illustrating how to study a word that only occurs once.

Step 1: Make the Switch to Greek and Establish a Preliminary Definition

Using The ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament look directly below the English translation “crude joking” in Eph 5:4. Here we find the topic of our investigation, the Greek word eutrapelia (εὐτραπελία).

We can also establish a preliminary definition using the reverse interlinear. Take note of the number 2160 next to eutrapelia and look it up in the numerically keyed Greek Dictionary-Index appended to The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. This resource also reveals how many times a given word occurs in the New Testament, since it lists the occurrences.

Another strategy is to right-click eutrapelia in your Bible software and look-up the word in Strong’s dictionary which suggests that eutrapelia means “coarse joking” or “vulgar jesting.” You may be wondering how that translation or definition was determined since our word appears only once. We’ll touch on that in a moment. For now, what we find in Strong’s is an acceptable starting point.

Step 2: Briefly Track the Word through Greek Literature

Since our word only appears once, it may not be included in all types of lexicons. For example, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged in One Volume), there is no article for eutrapeliaA Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) contains an entry for our word, so that will be our source for tracking its usage in other Greek literature. (In Logos, we can double-click on eutrapelia in our reverse interlinear and the entry in our preferred lexicon opens.)

BDAG notes that several ancient authors used eutrapelia positively, for “wittiness.” Josephus (a first-century AD Jewish historian) used eutrapelia to describe the ice-breaking impudent humor of an emissary from the Jerusalem temple who won over the Roman King Ptolemy (Jewish Antiquities 12.173). BDAG also notes that, for Aristotle, the word described a kind of humor between “buffoonery” and “boorishness.” This is contrary to the “crude joking” of the ESV and our beginning definition from Strong’s, so it is apparent that the meaning of the word underwent a shift from the earlier period to the time of the New Testament. This doesn’t really help us determine the word’s meaning in Eph 5:4, but instead alerts us to another problem with word studies: word meanings change over time. We need to be wary, therefore, of assigning certainty to any meaning from a time period removed from the New Testament.

Step 3: Survey the Usage of the Word in the Old Testament & Context

This step may seem odd since we are dealing with a single occurrence of a word. Despite having only Eph 5:4, we can still examine the immediate context of the occurrence. The prohibition against foolish or silly talk (mōrologia, μωρολογία) immediately before eutrapelia in Eph 5:4 is consistent with pre-New Testament meanings for eutrapelia. Since it also is a hapax legomenon, it isn’t much help on its own for justifying the “crude joking” idea we find in English translations. In Eph 5:3–5, Paul appears concerned with proper sexual conduct, condemning sexual immorality (porneia, πορνεία) and impurity (akatharsia, ἀλαθαρσία) twice (Eph 5:3, 5). It is this immediate context that has led translators and interpreters to gravitate toward the notion of crude (sexual) talk for the meaning of eutrapelia in Eph 5:4. This choice is not entirely foreign outside the New Testament. Returning to BDAG, we note that the lexicon includes one citation from Isocrates (fourth century BC) that the editors deem has the meaning of “coarse jesting, risqué wit.” BDAG considers this a similar meaning in context to Eph 5:4.

Conclusion

As with other words that occur only once, we don’t have much to go on to determine meaning with certainty. We therefore have to exercise caution in our conclusions. Lexicons are limited in space, and so eutrapelia may occur many other times in Greek material with a broader range of meanings than indicated in BDAG. Likewise the immediate context of Eph 5:3–5 includes more elements than sexual immorality and impurity.

Paul also mentions covetousness, ingratitude, and idolatry in these verses. This compels us to admit that Paul’s understanding of eutrapelia may have been conditioned by those other terms. We can conclude that the immediate context and at least one reference outside the New Testament supports the association of eutrapelia with sexuality and impurity. We cannot conclude that this is the only reasonable possibility.

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. OriginallyD published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

“Soul” Searching in Deuteronomy 6:5

Author Andrew B. Perrin

Soul Searching in Deuteronomy

In Deut 6:5, Moses admonishes the Israelites to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV).

But how well does the English translation “soul” in this verse convey the meaning of the underlying Hebrew word? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers eight definitions for the word. Since we can be certain Moses did not have a copy of this dictionary in hand, we must delve into the Hebrew text in hope of gaining fresh insight into this ancient verse. We can do this in four easy steps.

STEP 1: Make the Switch to Hebrew and Establish a Preliminary Definition

Locating the Hebrew word behind the English word “soul” is made easy with The ESV English-Hebrew Reverse Interlinear Old Testament. In this resource, each word of the English translation is aligned with its corresponding Hebrew word. When we look directly below “soul” in Deut 6:5 we see that nephesh is the Hebrew word behind the translation.

Now that we have this Hebrew word in mind, we establish a preliminary definition, what scholars call a “gloss.” If using print resources like Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, we look up the English word “soul” and locate the reference to Deut 6:5. We then note the Strong’s number, 5315, to the right of the passage and look it up in the numerically-keyed Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary appended to Strong’s. With Logos Bible Software we just double-click the word in the reverse interlinear and our preferred lexicon opens, which for me is A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Holladay.¹

A survey of the entry for nephesh in Holladay shows us that the word has up to 10 potential meanings including: “breath,” “living being,” “man,” “life,” “soul” and even “corpse.” Since words function in context, we need to investigate what our word means in various contexts, not just lump all the definitions together.

STEP 2: Briefly Explore the Word in Other Ancient Semitic Languages

It is often valuable to investigate the cultural contexts from which a word emerged. The most efficient way to detect the potential influence of other languages on our Hebrew word is to consult a resource such as the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT).² For Logos Bible software users this resource is a click away. For those using the print edition, a convenient index coded with Strong’s Numbers allows readers to easily access the dictionary.

By looking up the Strong’s number 5315 we are directed to the TWOT numerical entry 1395a on nephesh. This article informs us that similar words in Ugaritic and Akkadian were associated with breathing and by implication the throat. Further nuances are seen in equivalent Arabic words that can also mean soul, mind, life or appetite.

With this broader context of associated meanings in mind we can now move on to isolate the unique contours of nephesh in the Old Testament.

STEP 3: Survey the Usage of the Word in the Old Testament

There are two perspectives that must be considered when understanding the usage of a word: (1) frequency (how many times a word is used); and (2) distribution (where the word is used). Investigating usage along these two axes allows us to establish a spectrum of meaning for our word in the Old Testament context.

To determine the frequency and distribution of a word we can use Logos’ concordance function or Strong’s. If using Strong’s we must look up the English word “soul” and tabulate only the number of occurrences with the Strong’s number 5315. In total there are 757 occurrences of the noun nephesh in the Old Testament. We can consult a selection of these passages to ascertain the spectrum of potential meanings.

At this stage we already see that nephesh in the Old Testament is a diverse term touching the many facets of life and living.

By narrowing the scope of our study and focusing on the distinct features of the occurrences of nephesh in Deuteronomy, we see that the term has special significance in light of Israel’s conduct and relationship with God. While Deuteronomy often uses nephesh to simply denote existence (Deut 12:23) or desire (Deut 14:26), the word is afforded a unique nuance that extends the spectrum of meanings provided above. Of the 35 occurrences in Deuteronomy, nephesh appears in close proximity with the word “heart” 11 times. This consistent pairing is seen most often in the phrase “with all your heart and all your soul” referring to the diligence and commitment the Israelites were to exhibit towards God’s laws (compare Deut 10:12).

With the broader palette of Old Testament usage, as well as the unique coloring of nephesh (שׁפנ) in Deuteronomy in mind, we can now return to the beginning of our investigation and examine Deut 6:5 once again.

Nephesh is often used to denote:

The very essence of existence (Gen 2:7) which departs at death (Gen 35:18; 1 Kgs 19:10).

The seat of human emotion and/or desire (Psa 35:25; Song 1:7; Ezek 24:25).

The organs, or physical actions, associated with breathing (Ps 105:18; Job 41:21; Isa 5:14).

STEP 4: Revisit the Passage to Find the Meaning of the Word in Context.

Our study has shown us that the English translation “soul,” especially when paired with “heart,” is ambiguous and lacks the precision required for an accurate interpretation of Deut 6:5. In this context nephesh is primarily a synonym for life and is distinct from other words such as “heart” (lev) that is closely associated with the mind rather than emotion. Instead of understanding “soul” as the immaterial spiritual component of a person, this concise understanding better conveys the passage’s call for an all-encompassing and lived-out devotion to God.

Notes:

¹A lexicon is an in-depth dictionary about a specific corpus of writings. Because of this, lexicons contain more lengthy and detailed entries than dictionaries.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

What does the Bible teach about … Righteousness and Truth?

Author Craig C. Broyles

Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.  Isaiah 45:8 NRSV

What does the bible teach acout righteousness and truth?

Some words from the Bible are used so frequently in Christian vocabulary that we assume we know their meaning. But often they have been so colored by our traditions that their meaning has shifted from biblical times. Fortunately, to recover these ancient meanings we do not have to rely on archaeology and inscriptions (though these resources are often helpful). Most scholars use the same resource every Christian has access to: the Bible.

A word’s meaning or definition is best determined by how it is used. The usage is found through considering the following contexts:

1. The sentence (grammar and syntax)

2. The genre (a literary type) and literary context

3. The situation (historical and sociological contexts)

Let’s now examine two words—righteousness and truth—to see how these features can shed light on a word’s usage and meaning.

 Righteousness

God’s Righteousness in Isaiah 40–55

For many Christians “righteousness” (sedeq or sedeqah) can simply mean conformity to God’s moral law. This conformity should then be exemplified in moral behavior. There are indeed biblical references that support this perspective (Deut 6:25). But there are other facets to this diamond of biblical “righteousness,” especially when we focus in particular on God’s righteousness in Isaiah 40–55.

1. The Sentence.

“Parallelism” is characteristic of Hebrew poetry, and it can provide an immediate clue to the field of meaning (often called the “semantic field”) of a particular word in a particular context. In this verse we see that as “righteousness” rains down from the skies, it produces “salvation.” While there are different kinds of parallelism, in this case “salvation” and “righteousness” appear as near synonyms.

2-3. The genre and literary context, and the historical situation.

This hymnic fragment follows a pivotal oracle (44:24–45:7) in Isa 40–55. These chapters are addressed to the Jews exiled from their homeland to Babylonia in the mid-sixth century BC. They had little hope, except for “the word of our God” that “stands forever” (Isa 40:80). In this pivotal, prophetic word, God announces that he will use Cyrus, king of Persia, as his agent to restore the Jews to their homeland and to rebuild Jerusalem. He even calls this Persian king “my shepherd” and “anointed” (or “messiah”)! Now we can make sense of why “salvation” and “righteousness” are one and the same thing for these Jewish exiles. God, by “saving” his people from deportation, “puts things right” for these oppressed people. This amounts to nothing less than “rescuing righteousness.”

“My righteousness” and “my salvation,” that is, God’s salvation and righteousness, are parallel terms in Isa 46:13 as well. In this speech the Lord challenges His people to believe that “the man of my counsel from a far country” (46:11), namely Cyrus the Persian, will bring God’s “righteousness” and “salvation” to Zion/Jerusalem. Similarly, three times “my righteousness” and “my salvation” appear as parallel terms (51:5, 6, 8) that bring the Lord’s comforting and restoring of Zion/Jerusalem (51:3). Finally, in Isa 45:21 the Lord characterizes Himself as “a righteous God and savior”—in contrast to the idols of the nations. In this speech against the nations, they are given an altar call, so to speak (“turn to me and be saved”), wherein they may confess, “only in the Lord … are righteous deeds and strength” (i.e., rescuing acts; 45:22–24). Indeed, “in the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified” (or “made right,” yisdequ). This verse uses the verbal form of the Hebrew word for “righteousness.” The righteousness of God in Isaiah 40–55 does not denote the absolute, moral standard by which He judges and condemns people. What is decisive here is that God’s “righteousness” is virtually synonymous with His “salvation”—even though his people disobey His “law” (Isa 42:24) and His “commandments” (48:18). In fact, it is in spite of Israel’s being “far from righteousness” that God declares “I bring my righteousness near, it is not far” (46:12–13; compare, 48:1). Thus, the “righteousness” of God in Isa 40–55 anticipates the rescuing righteousness of God that is fundamental to Paul’s epistle to the Romans (see esp. 1:16–17).

Truth: Truth in the Psalms

As with the term, “righteousness,” many in Western society conceive of “truth” (’emet) as an abstract, absolute standard or norm of reality. But the Old Testament tends to treat “truth” in the context of relationship.

In the Psalms ’emet, (תמא) is frequently paired with khesed, which is translated as “steadfast love” (NRSV, ESV), “lovingkindness” (NASB), and “love” (NIV). All fifteen of these pairings describe attributes of God. This pairing of terms, along with the psalmic prayers and praises that use it, associates ’emet, (תמא) with relational loyalty. Hence, the NRSV and ESV translators use “faithfulness” in these contexts. The echoes in Ps 86:15 point to the famous confession in Exod 34:6: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (’emet).”

At this moment during the Golden Calf incident, the Lord revealed His merciful “faithfulness”—in spite of His people’s rebellion.

In some cases where “truth” is used in reference to humans in the psalms, it is better understood and translated as “authenticity.” When the hymn, Ps 145, celebrates that the “Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (145:18 NRSV), it refers to those who call on the Lord with sincerity and authenticity and not necessarily to those who are in full conformity to an absolute standard of “truth.” Ps 51 is a classic confession of personal sin.

The claim, “you desire truth in the inward being” (Ps 51:6 NRSV), points to the sincere, authentic confession exemplified in the psalm itself. The temple entry liturgy of Ps 15 echoes this same notion: “those who … speak the truth from their heart” (15:2). These uses of ’emet do not point to “truth” in the sense of moral perfection but to “true” speech that authentically reflects one’s heart.

Word studies can be fruitful endeavors. By listening closely to how the Hebrew writers used their words we can get closer to how they thought. In the cases of “righteousness” and “truth” they primarily considered them not as external, moral standards or norms, but within the context of a committed relationship. In Isaiah 40–55 and the Psalms, God’s “righteousness” and “truth” exhibit themselves as salvation and fidelity. Human righteousness in the Psalms exhibits itself as authenticity.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy ofBible Study Magazinepublished byLogos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.