Vol. 10 October&December, 1948 No.'s 5&6

Common or Unclean?

A VERY MUCH misunderstood saying is that found in Matt. 15:11, which in the Authorized Version stands, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." Probably all English versions utilize some such term as defile or pollute. This, however, is by no means the true sense of the originals. The proper idea is that evil thoughts or wishes or imaginations render the man COMMON, or profane, not that they make him unclean or polluted.

Nor did the Lord say, in verse 20, that to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

It is a sound linguistic rule that if the Greek word aiOn signifies an age or eon, limited or obscure as to duration, its adjective aiOnias cannot refer to unlimited time. In no respectable language are terms thus used. In the languages divinely used, we claim the right to believe all the terms have been purified, and are exact and unequivocal.

That form of Greek speech anciently used universally, and still current, in the Mediterranean world, is known as the KoinE, or COMMON tongue (pronounced keenee).

In the N.T., the adjective koinos (COMMON) and its verb koinoO (MAKE COMMON) each occur about a dozen times Let us see how these are commonly rendered.

The adjective is, in almost all versions, rendered by "common" in all the Acts occurrences (2:44; 4:32; 10:14; 10:28; 11:8) and at Tit. 1:4; Jude 3. The reason is, that there was no alternative. But at Mark 7:2; Rom. 14:14 (thrice); Heb. 10:29; and Rev. 21:27, most versions use "unclean," "unholy" or "defiles." To the credit of the Emphatic Diaglott it must be said that it is thoroughly consistent and concordant, in putting, in every occurrence, "common," while Rotherham uses both "common" and "profane."

In the case of the verb, most versions render by defile, pollute, or unclean, with an extraordinary exception at Acts 10:15 and 11:9, where they read "call common," "make common," or "declare common."

It is noteworthy that the Gothic version of Ulfila (4th century) knows nothing of any sense such as "defile" or "unclean," but in four verses still extant, reads gamains, which means common, and which is cognate with our term "mean."

But I hear an objector bring forth a common objection, that the versions make quite good sense as they are. Undoubtedly they do. Yet are not falsehoods generally expressed in very sensible language? What connection can there possibly be between having all things in common (Acts 2:44), a common faith (Titus 1:4), our common salvation (Jude 3), and defilement? How can these holy things defile? No Hebrew or Greek term used by God has two or more distinct meanings, although it may require various English words to express it reasonably well. No word bears the same meaning as its nearest neighbor. Greek has other words for unclean (akathartos), defile (miainO), pollute (molunO), filthy or contaminated (ruparos). If by koinos God meant common in some passages, and unclean in others, who is to decide? Are we to be strictly concordant with regard to aiOnios and other important terms, and yet utterly discordant with regard to koinos and its verb? Should we not seek to emulate the high standard of Benjamin Wilson (1871) and Joseph Bryant Rotherham (1872)?

It will be observed that the idea of commonness is not found in any of Paul's writings, beyond mention at Titus 1:4 of "a common faith." This will support our contention that the verb (make common) refers in a peculiar manner to Jews only. We Gentiles cannot enter into that ceremonial purity or separation which the Jew possessed before God. A Hindu, could, however, understand what is intended. In India, the untouchables might be as clean physically and morally as any others, but they are the "common" ones. The religious Hindu sets himself apart from those who are merely common or mean. A friend of mine, while in India, got a drink of water from a Hindu. That was sufficient to profane the cup, which the Hindu would not again use.

In order to set forth the proper exegesis clearly, I shall make a few extracts from the Rev. W. H. Isaacs' fine commentary and paraphrase of Hebrews (Oxford Press 1933). All commentaries contain many useful points, and we must not sneer at the sanctified efforts of saints who, we have to admit, belong to the same Body as ourselves, even though they may have been deficient in knowledge of dispensational matters, and may have been ignorant of the truth contained in Col. 1:20. There have been many scholarly saints in the Body of Christ since the days of Paul, whom God will yet acknowledge and honour for their labours. Is it then befitting that we should ignore their labours?

According to Heb. 9:13, the blood of he-goats and of bulls, and ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those having been made common (i.e. profaned; tous kekoinOmenous) could hallow unto the cleanliness of the flesh. Here Isaac at least seizes upon the true sense, by paraphrasing thus, "sprinkling those that have lost the special holiness of the chosen nation, so cleanses them that they are a holy people once more. . ." He quotes from Westcott, "The idea is that of the ceremonial purity which enabled the Jew to enjoy the full privileges of his covenant worship and relationship with the external church of God." Isaacs says, "In this comment the important words are 'relationship' and 'external' which refer not to moral condition but to national position. Koinos (common) is not the equivalent of akathartos (unclean). It implies a violation not of purity but of peculiarity and separation."

Heb. 10:29, reads thus in the A. V., "Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be though worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing. and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" The R. V. margin corrects this to "a common thing," which is the reading of Young and Cunnington, while Rotherham reads "profane," and Moffatt has "profaned." Isaacs paraphrases thus, "who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has refused to ascribe any special virtue to the blood of the covenant. . . ." His note thereon is extremely helpful, "Koinos only. implies the lack of distinctive holiness, that which is, not necessarily bad, but, no better than anything else, ordinary as opposed to extraordinary, general as opposed to special, lacking therefore any special, distinctive virtue."

Does it not stand to reason that it would be a bigger crime, a grosser insult, for Jews to reckon the hallowing blood of the covenant COMMON than to reckon it unclean, unholy or contaminating? The blood of all human beings becomes unclean and contaminating after death. We are not told that the Lord's blood, after it was I poured out, was miraculously saved from decay. His resurrection body apparently contained no blood and was not acquainted with decay. The Jew knew quite well that the blood of all men must, at death, become unclean. But for a Jew to think that his blood must become common was too great a stigma for him to suffer.

The evil thoughts and deeds that come out of a human being make him or her common, profane, demean~d before God and quench Holy Spirit. The man out of whose heart spring wicked actions is already defiled inwardly. How then, can the outward expression of the evil thoughts further defile him?

Now it is beyond dispute that certain foods and drinks going into a human being can contaminate his system. Who has not suffered at some time from poisoning, or partaking of decayed food? The important Hebrew root, tame or TMA (unclean, defile) is most probably connected with our Latin term, contaminate, and if we paid attention to the sanitary rules of the Hebrews, we should not suffer so much from infectious diseases.

In Matt. 15 the Lord concluded His statement with the words, in verse 20, "Yet to be taking-a-meal (phagein; not esthein. The two verbs are quite distinct) with unwashed hands is not making the man common." Some further light is obtained from the account in Mark 7, verses 1-8. Pharisees and scribes saw some of the disciples eating (esthiousin) bread with common, that is, unwashed, hands. The idea is something like unsanctified hands. The Jews did not eat without first washing the fists, in accord with the tradition of the elders. Coming from the market, they would not eat without first sprinkling them ceremonially. Their object was not to cleanse the hands from dirt, but to keep a human tradition, so that they should be ceremonially sanctified in front of their fellow men.

(Continued from last issue.)
It is noteworthy that the Reformation versions read at Mark 7:2 (the first occurrence of the adjective koinos) common (Wycliffe, 1380; Tyndale, 1534; Coverdale, 1535; Geneva, 1557; and Rheims, 1582). Even the Latin Vulgate of about 380 read "common" (communious, with common). But the renowned A. V., which ought to have gathered together all the excellencies of the earlier versions, especially those of Wycliff's and the Rheims, brought in the error "defiled." It ought also to be observed that the German Concordant Version, at every occurrence of the adjective or verb, uses gemein, or macht gemein, i. e., COMMON, or makes COMMON, a term which has no connection whatever with dirt or defiilement.

Now the Lord could not justly have called the Pharisees hypocrites had they merely objected to the disciples eating with dirty 9r defiiled hands. It is not sanitary, it is not manners, for anyone to eat thus. What He was objecting to was that their human traditions had displaced the more weighty commandments of Scripture.

Reverting to Mark 7:15-19, just as nothing from the outside, going into the human being, can make him common, because it does not enter into his heart, it is possible for food from the outside to defile him and cause harm. But how are we to understand verse 19? How can all foods be cleansed by the process described? Here we must follow the versions that have carefully attended to the Greek text. The subject of the statement is the "everything" (pan; neuter singular). But how can this everything, entering into the human being, be "cleansing all the foods?" The only answer possible is that the word for "cleansing" (katharizOn) is not neuter, but masculine. Therefore some versions, such as the R. V., Farrar, Cunnington, Panin, and the Lutterworth, insert if1l italics, "This He said" before "making all meats clean." Moffatt inserts "thus he pronounced all food clean."

Such sudden changes in gender in Greek may not be ignored. They teach volumes. Think of the creeds that have been written upon Matt. 25:32, to show that the Nations shall be judged as Nations. In this verse two points must be carefully observed. First, we find a neuter plural (ta ethnE, the Nations) taking not a verb in the singular, as commonly found, but a verb in the plural. This happens in only one out of every three occurrences. The meaning is that the Nations are gathered together individually, not merely collectively. When, in Matt. 15:27, the Canaanitish woman made rejoinder to the Lord, "0 Yes, Lord, (it is though) for even the puppies IS-EATING (esthiei) from the scraps; those falling from their masters' table," she views the puppies collectively, en masse, as one whole. Whereas, we see that she also put the matter in a slightly different way, "O yes, Lord, (it is though) the puppies also, underneath the table, ARE-EATING (esthiousin) from the little children's scraps." (MK. 4:28). Here she sees the puppies eating individually, and they are under the table. Sometimes we also talk thus colloquially. "The books is heavy." This is not reckoned good grammar, but the emphasis is cast upon the weight, not on the individual books.

The second point to be observed in Matt. 25:32 is that the word "them" is no longer neuter (like ethnE, Nations) but masculine (autous, not neuter auta), so that the separation made by the Lord is that of individuals, not of Nations as such. Cunnington's excellent translations show this point, as also does the 20th Century N. T., while Wycliffe certainly pointed in the same direction. And Miss Grace H. Todd deserves all praise for pointing this out in her article upon "Goi and Ethnos" in the August 1947 issue of "Roundtable."

Alford, in his excellent commentary, has a fine note upon Heb. 10:29, where he renders by "accounted common the blood of the covenant." "The apostate 'accounted common' this blood—deemed it mere ordinary blood of a common man, and if so, consented to its shedding, for then Christ deserved to die as a blasphemer. And this, of that holy Blood, by which we have access to God. So that we have quite enough for the solemn sense, by rendering the word literally, common, without going to the further meaning, unclean. Compare Acts 10:28, where the two are distinguished."

There are many passages, alas, in the New Testatment, still grievously misunderstood. One of these is the 14th chapter of Romans. The general subject matter of this entire chapter is foods and eating. This is mentioned in nine different verses, where we must distinguish between ordinary "eating" (esthiO) and "making a meal" (phagO), which is most aptly used in verses 2, 21, and 23. One could "make a meal" of all things, whereas the weak one would only "eat" green vegetables, and would not make a meal of them (verse 2).

Certain verses in particular have been grossly misunderstood, such as the final verse, 23. Can anyone honestly profess that absolutely everything that is not from faith is sin? Many things in the day's life and work are certainly not out of faith at all, and yet are not sinful. This verse is an integral part of the chapter, and is logically connected with the subject of the chapter. The man who ate while in two minds was not acting out of faith, and was therefore coming short. No good or careful writer would conclude a chapter by embarking upon a much wider topic, quite beyond the scope of the passage. Paul nevcr does this. Nor have we the right to think illogically when we come to the conclusion of chapter 11. Why ought "the all things" to reach beyond the scope of that chapter? The subject here is God's eonian dealings with Israel and the Nations. His grace-gifts or grace-deeds and His calling are unregrettable (v. 29), because these are among His planned purposes. But to make God the Author of countless millions of needless trivialities is to dethrone Him from His Deity.

Verse 4 is misunderstood in some versions and commentaries. Literally, it says, "Thou, who art thou, the one judging an outsider domestic?" Allotrios means "outsider," not quite "alien." It does not mean merely "another," for which there is a far commoner word. Thus is it quite erroneous to think that the other person, is the Lord. All the fourteen occurrences in your Bible should be marked as "outsider." The Latin Vulgate uses alienis in every place but Heb. 11:34, where it has exterorum, but both terms signify "outsider." This throws light upon Rom. 15:20; 2. Cor. 10:15, 16; 1. Tim. 5:22; Heb. 9:25. Scientific terminological accuracy here clears up the blunders of versions and expositors.

Verse 10 of ch. 14 is often quoted apart from its context. "Now thou, why art thou judging thy brother? Or thou also, why art thou scorning thy brother?" This does not refer to judging in general, but only to judgment of things eaten. The saints have no right to judge a brother's scruples regarding food.

This brings us to verse 14. Here three times we encounter our word koinon, common. What shall we do with it? It is a clue to the whole chapter. Most versions render it by "unclean," and Wordsworth boldly says "koinos is unclean." Rotherham renders by "profane" in all his editions. The Diaglott is correct with "common," and thus the 1930 edition of the Concordant Version reads. But the latest C. V. alters this to "contaminating." The A. V. margin has "common." If, however, we are to read "unclean" or "contaminating," then we must understand our faith and our salvation as also contaminating, and we do not wish that.

This term colours the whole chapter. What Paul is saying is, that no food is common by or through itself, unless to him counting it common. Clean and unclean foods are not in view. No one should eat unclean foods, as they are parasitic and dangerous. The man who said grace had made the unclean foods clean was a wishful thinker. The hairs of certain unclean animals still cause anthrax. The eating of shellfish produces epidemics. Modern medicine has not yet tackled its most pressing need—a scientific and consistent translation of such passages as Lev. 11-15 and Deut. 14. The cause of such baffling diseases as grass sickness among horses would almost certainly then be dicovered.

The occurrence of the word "common" at Rom. 14:14 indicates that there were some Jews in the Roman ecclesia. These were the only people who would reckon certain foods as producing a state of commonness. Apparently they thought that to partake of certain foods would lower one's status before God, would make common him who had been set apart for God. It was the Jew, who, with his eonian background of theocracy, sonship, covenants, divine legislation and service, looked upon himself as being anything but common, and wished to maintain traditions regarding observance and foods, which would preserve in him the feeling that he was the uncommon one. Even the Christian Jew to-day, how hard he finds it to lay aside the feeling that he is of the chosen People, that he is specially favoured, Jehovah's peculiar possession. Yet if he wishes to know the Great Secret, he will discover that the riches of its glory are made known among the Gentiles—,"Christ among you (the Gentiles), the Expectation of the glory" (Col. 1:27).

Just here someone wishes to ask, "Is not that which is common the unclean thing, according to Acts 10:14?" Are not the two terms synonyms? Why should they be? May one not be contrasted with the other? We have seen that what was unclean contained a positive danger or menace. Whereas what was merely common bore rather a negative character. A voice had come to be face to face with Peter, "Rising, Peter, sacrifice and be making a meal." But Peter is shocked and retorts that he "never made a meal of anything common and unclean." It will be noted that according to ch. 11:8 Peter says that a common or unclean thing. never entered into his mouth. Now Peter is not told that the unclean animals had been made clean. What he is told is that "What God cleanses, do not thou be counting common." According to ch. 10:28, Peter says, "And God shews me to be terming no human being common or unclean." It is evident that the Hebrew apostles reckoned the Gentiles as both common and unclean, compared with themselves.

The descriptive word koinos, common, is found four times in the Greek Old Testament, in Proverbs (1:14; 15:23; 21:9; 25:24), and is used of a common purse, a common house or household (Hebrew: a house of society; A. V. a wide house). Nowhere, in the O.T. or the N.T., is it used of what is unclean.

In Modern Greek, to this day the word bears the same meaning of "common, ordinary, general." Ho koinos laos is "the common people." Ho koinos nous is "common sense." HE koinE gnOmE is "public opinion." To koinon sumpheron is "the common interest." Hoi koinoi topoi is "the common places." To koinon is "the public, community." Koinoboulion is "parliament; House of Commons." KoinOnismos is "socialism."

Not on bread alone can man get him life (zEsetai; Middle Voice), but on every declaration going out through God's mouth he will get a life for himself, a new life, a fresh interest in life.

And nothing can be more fascinating than the study of the special terms our God uses.

Alexander Thomson,

Last updated 8.9.2007