Vol. 17 New Series October, 1955 No. 5


In the February, 1955, issue of THE WORD OF TRUTH, the Editor, Mr. Otis Q. Sellers, indeed sprang a big surprise upon readers interested in biblical terminology. He presents what he calls a "real challenge."

Undoubtedly, he is thoroughly correct to declare that the common Hebrew word mishpat, generally rendered "judgment," does not mean this. He says it is connected with arrangement, order, system. I can confirm from my own experience over twenty years ago that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to concentrate the real meaning of this Hebrew word into a single English term. Mr. Sellers is quite correct to insist that the meaning of this very important word should be cleared up. It is always a grand thing to learn new facts. We ought to be ever learning, ever assimilating more and more of divine truth. Beyond a doubt there is still a great deal for us to learn from the Scriptures.

Yet it gives one a shock to learn that certain words, to which for hundreds of years a particular meaning has been given, really in fact mean something considerably different. For example, Mr. Sellers would say that the Greek word hitherto rendered "repent" (metanoeO), really means submit, while repentance is submission. The Greek word aiOn, we are informed, does not mean an age, nor does it primarily refer to a period of time. The Greek word sOma, usually translated body, means, we are told, substance. The Greek word sOzO, usually said to mean save, is now said to mean to bless, but Mr. Sellers qualifies this by adding that this word is applied only to such blessings as have in them the aspect of deliverance and preservation. So that we arrive at the thought of "bless-deliver" or "bless-preserve." The word for head (kephalE) is said to be a mathematical term which really means sum. There is certainly some justification for this.

Mr. Sellers claims that he has carefully and long tested the conclusions at which he has arrived. Until he makes public his findings I am not going to say he is right or wrong. We must be able to learn new facts from any quarter. The sect which can only learn from its own leaders is hopelessly decadent. God has spread His gifts throughout all bodies of believers. No sect, no leader, has any monopoly of these gifts, although many, in practice, have far more worship for their leader than they have for God.

I also might put forth a challenge, along the same lines as Mr. Sellers. Let some biblical scholar stand forth and prove by a demonstration that the Greek word charis means grace and also thanks, and also that eucharistia means thanksgiving. God's grace towards us is surely not in the nature of thanks? Those who claim here to be strictly concordant become quite discordant, but fail to observe they have become so.

Charis means in reality agreeableness, an attitude of good-will or kindly goodwill towards another; while the Eucharist ought to be an expression of our agreeableness towards God. I might put matters this way. Suppose I send a copy of The Differentiator to some one who belongs obviously to another "camp." He might express his thanks. But is he likely to express his agreeableness?

For these reasons I ask that meantime, until we can express either agreement or disagreement with Mr. Sellers, let us at least exhibit the spirit of agreeableness, not prejudice.

At the same time, I might mention some possible difficulties he will require to face. Repentance, or change of mind, is generally connected with, or implies, sins. Submission, however, is a very different thought. "I have not come to call righteous ones, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke 5:32). True, a change of mind or of attitude would imply submission, but would submission without such a change of mind be sufficient?

Then again, five times in the Revelation we read of repentance out of (Greek ek) fornication, deeds, works, murders, thefts, etc. (2:21; 2:22; 9:20; 9:21; 16:11). The preposition in the Greek in each of these cases (out of) is illuminating, because it seems to imply not only the change of mind, but a decided change of mind for the better; a change of mind, and a complete change of behaviour, out of their evil ways. Rev. 16:10-11 tells us literally that the kingdom of the Wild Beast became darkened, and mankind gnawed their tongues out of misery, and blasphemed the God of heaven out of their miseries and out of their ulcers; and they do not repent out of their actions.

But suppose instead of reading here the word repent, we read submit, "and they do not submit out of their actions." Submit to what or whom? How is one to produce idiomatic sense?

Somewhat different is Acts 8:22, where Peter says to Simon, "Repent then, from this thine evil." Here the Greek preposition is apo, from. We can change our minds from one attitude to another. But how could Simon submit from his evil project?

In 2. Cor. 12:21 another preposition is found, epi, on or over. Paul had found many of the Corinthians not repenting upon or over their immoral actions. What would be the sense of saying they had not submitted upon these actions?

Again, there would be something lacking, something out of place, did we read in Luke 17:3-4 submission instead of repentance. Coming to the Greek word for body, sOma, it might be rather ambiguous did we render this substance. In modern Greek this word means only body. In the time of Homer it meant a dead body or carcase.

Substance is really a Latin term, and is partly defined as "the essential part: body: matter: property: foundation, ground, confidence." Literally, it means that which stands under.

In the Concordant Version Concordance, sOma, BODY, is defined as "the organic substance which composes a human being or animal," etc. Undoubtedly a body must consist of substance, but substance is not always a body. The body has individuality, and is organized.

When the Holy Spirit descended on to Jesus in bodily appearance as if a dove (Luke 3:22), what is obviously meant to be expressed is not so much the substance or matter which composed the bird, but the outward form or appearance of the body of a dove. The word body speaks of form, shape, activities, entity, personality, and individuality; all of which might be absent in mere substance.

Even if the word substance were the proper term to use for the Greek word sOma, even if it were the true thought, we should require to re-translate it into a more appropriate English term before it could be understood. Suppose we were to read at James 3:2-3 of the "perfect man, able to bridle the whole substance also," or of the horses whose whole substance we can steer by means of bits in their mouths, who would tumble at once to the proper idea? Or who would follow Romans 7:24, if thus rendered, "Wretched man —I! Who will be rescuing ME out of this substance of death?" Paul has just been writing of his mind, and his members. Does one's substance include the mind of the flesh?

What will happen when the word for "body" is in the plural? For example, Rev. 18:13 finishes with "and (cargo) of horses, and of coaches, and of substances (?), and (buying) human souls." (Note: in verses 12 and 13 all words in the accusative case are governed by the word" buying" in verse 11, while all words in the genitive case are governed by the word "cargo" in verse 12. At that time human souls will be bought, but bodies will be transported). The various articles named are the substances which the merchants will trade in. But "cargo (or cargoes) of substances" here would sound very much out of place, and ambiguous, especially when coupled with human souls.

Cremer's Lexicon gives as the meaning of sOma "the entire material organism." He emphasizes the significance of man's body as a necessary and constituent part of human nature. As the "vessel" of life it is the medium through which the life is manifested, and with its organism, the members, it serves as the instrument through which the soul (psuchE) works. The Church is the" organism vivified by Christ as its spirit." Regarding Col. 2:17, he says it is unnecessary to give a special sense to the word sOma; ("which (collectively) are a shadow of the future things, yet the body is the Christ's.").

True indeed, some versions do here use the word substance. The recent R.S.V. reads "but the substance belongs to Christ," while the New World rendering is very similar, " but the reality belongs to the Christ." Moffatt reads as does the R.S.V. Way, Hayman, 20th Century, Dewes, all read substance. Dr. Wand reads" The solid reality has arrived in Christ."

Mr. Sellers informs us that the Greek word ouranos, the Hebrew word shamayim (both meaning heaven), and the English word heaven, all have reference to that which is lifted up, heaved, or exalted, and that the word heaven in the singular can and does mean God. He avers that the word heaven is a contraction of "the heaved One."

With these thoughts I regret I must totally disagree. Our word heaven has nothing to do with the verb heave, as is commonly stated. In the Old Angle tongue the word was heofon, but the old word for heave was hebban (like the German heben). The word heaven is related to the Old Norse himinn, and German himmel. To heave is connected with the word heavy. Kluge & Lutz suggest the word heaven or himmel is related to a primitive Teutonic word haiman, meaning clearness or brightness, which would be a very natural explanation. Others suggest heaven meant originally a covering or ceiling. In the Old English tongue the ceiling of a house was called hus-heofon, "house-heaven."

The Greek term, ouranos, has no connection with the word heave, nor does it mean that which is seen when we "look up." In Greek the word has for ages also been used as meaning the palate, the roof of the mouth. The root is said to mean a "covering," and some say a watery covering.

The Hebrew term, shamayim does not yet appear to have been explained. Strictly it ought to signify desolations, if we relate it to similar words in Hebrew.

Whatever the word heaven may signify, Mr. Sellers is quite positive that "The Earth, not Heaven, is the future home of God's redeemed" (The Word of Truth, July, 1955, page 49). At least this is refreshingly outspoken. Yet he also states that his ears are not closed to any arguments against his teaching on this matter.

A lady once said to me, "If there are no dogs in heaven, I'm not going there." So far, I have not heard that she has been invited to go thither.

Apparently Mr. Sellers is not going thither either, even though myriads of other believers mean to arrive there. Very truly he points out that many statements in the Bible, which seem to refer to the time "When we all get to heaven," do not refer to heaven at all. Undoubtedly, too much has been taken for granted. Even Eph. 1:3 says nothing wbatever about a journey to heaven, or a home in heaven.

During a good part of the past twenty years I have had to spend much time upsetting theories and teachings based upon wrong renderings of Greek or Hebrew. It always seems very harsh to upset someone's fine dream, especially when the other party cannot follow the rules of grammar in these languages. That is why I have always urged that the teacher or the exegete must learn sufficient Greek or Hebrew to keep him from broadcasting error. In Divine revelation, a great deal hinges upon the niceties of grammar and the accurate meaning of the words employed.

I am glad that Mr. Sellers did not pass over Phil. 3:20 in silence. He says this verse "has been rushed in as a reinforcement in a futile attempt to hold the line against the teaching that earth is the future home of the redeemed." He quotes the old rendering, "for our conversation is in heaven," as being supposed to prove that Paul expected to be in the super-heavens. Books such as T. L. O. Davies' "Bible English" (1875) will tell us that three hundred and fifty years ago, the word conversation taken from the Latin Vulgate meant "the whole manner of life" (Psalm 50:23; 1. Peter 3:2; 2. Peter 2:7, King James version).

We know, unfortunately, what politics are. We know what policemen are. The Greek word polis means a city, and the government of cities and of countries requires police and politics.

Now in Phil. 3:20, and here alone, Paul uses a term politeuma, while a verbal form of the word is found at Acts 23:1 and Phil. 1:27.

Mr. Sellers says Paul, in Phil. 3:20, is telling believers how they should walk—"Our manner of life already exists (is inherent) among the heavens," which is in harmony with Christ's words, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."

That something already exists I am sure is true, but it is no manner of life that is the subject here. The Greek word for that idea would probably have been politeusis. Something is already existing, and has been all along existing" in heavens," that is, in a certain locality in heaven, not "in the heavens," as though it meant all the heavens.

But it is not our manner of life or our behaviour that has been existing in heaven. It is rather our political HOMELAND, our community, our commonwealth, our citizenship, our civic state, or, as Webster & Wilkinson have it, our life of common interest, duty and privilege. They say "Politeuma is opposed to 'who are disposed to the terrestrial things' (v. 19); the citizenship we prize; that which we value as existing from the very first (huparchei), in contrast with the rights and privileges which the Philippians enjoyed as citizens of Rome."

Wordsworth says: "For our civic state and life subsists in heaven. Heaven, and not Earth, is the place in which we have our citizenship. We are strangers and pilgrims here. Our home is heaven. Others seek for glory in their shame, and mind only the things upon earth. But we seek the glory that is above. The Apostle means something more than that 'our city or country is heaven;' for men may dwell in a city or country, and yet have no share in its privileges. We have our politeuma or civil status, already pre-existent (huparchon) in heaven. We were citizens of heaven before we became citizens of earth. Christ our Head and King, has ascended thither, and is there, and we, His members and subjects, are there also."

Apparently Mr. Sellers thinks that it is out of the heavens that we are expecting a Saviour, to come to the earth. That is quite true, but it is not quite what Paul says in Phil. 3:20. Let me quote from the Revised Standard Version: "But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior." FROM IT; from what? It is out of our commonwealth or homeland that we are ardently awaiting Him. The Greek makes it very clear when it reads ex hou, and not ex hOn, that is to say, "out of which" (singular), not "out of which" (plural). The word for heavens is plural, while the word politeuma is in the singular.

Now it is absurd to say that the Lord is to appear out of our "manner of life." He is awaited ardently out of our politeuma. Therefore our politeuma is a country. Yes; it is our real HOMELAND.

Probably all the versions except the R.S.V. are wrong here. They read as though the Lord was to come out of heaven, or they are ambiguous, and hide the fact that it is out of the politeuma that He is to come. Of course, our politeuma is in heaven. But it is out of our own part of the heavens that He wiJl come for us. Even Rotherham (1872) is not clear; "For our commonwealth in (the) heavens takes its beginning, out of which a Saviour also are we ardently awaiting."

If the Church of God is to spend its future existence on earth, we must see much stronger proofs than Mr. Sellers has yet produced.

A.T. Last updated 24.9.2005