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Atlanta, 14 September 2016

I'm back from Central America -- a great trip including time with our Nicaragua family, visiting an active volcanic site, preaching and teaching. A true highlight was Friday, when campus students at the University of Costa Rica brought so many guests to Dios y Ciencia that visitors formed 88% of the audience! And of course I keep plugging away at my Spanish (the next opportunity comes in December, in Bolivia) -- I'm progressing, though I surely have far to go.

Biblical Words Series:

                    N.T. Greek  O.T. Hebrew – O.T. Aramaic


This week's offering is the Greek oikoumené, a ancient word often translated world, although it often refers to something quite a bit smaller. Oikoumené is the root of the English "ecumenical" (referring to the movement to unite believers worldwide). Connotations include the civilized world (as distinct from the land of the barbarians), the universe, and the known world. A good example is found in Acts 11:28, where the NIV supplies the word Roman; it does not appear in the original:

One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire [Roman] world. This happened during the reign of Claudius [41-54 AD].

The prophet spoke of hunger to come in his world, not a planetary famine. Similarly, in Luke 2:1 the census of the oikoumené was strictly inside the Roman Empire (which is why translators add "Roman" for clarity). Other instances are Matt 24:14; Luke 4:5; 21:26; Acts 17:6, 31; 19:27; 24:4; Rom 10:18; Heb 1:6; 2:5; Rev 3:10; 12:9; and 16:14.

Christians pay special attention to how words are used. We do word studies and read the Bible in multiple versions. We notice passages containing global statements, and often comment on them. Of all people, we need to be extra careful how we interpret global statements.

To challenge our thinking, let's conclude our study with a few probing questions:
  • The famine in the time of Claudius wasn't the only one. In Gen 41:57, by God's providence Joseph didn't only save the Hebrews and Egyptians from starvation. "All the world" (Heb. 'āretz, Gk. LXX ) bought grain from Joseph. Is a literal understanding of this passage possible?
  • I've never met anyone claiming the apostle Paul caused trouble literally all over the world. Yet that's what we read in Acts 24:5 and 17:6. How might we distinguish when a writer or speaker is overstating for effect (employing hyperbole)? 
  • In Matthew 24:14 we read that this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. The context indicates the end of Judaism and its glorious Temple. On what grounds would you apply the text to the Second Coming -- or would that be forcing the passage to say what it does not?
  • Do Colossians 1:6 (world, for the Greek kosmos) and 1:23 (ktisis, meaning creation or creature) really teach that the world was completely evangelized in the first century? Did China, Chad, and Chile hear the gospel? (Do you agree with the interpretation taken in Q&A 0432?)
  • In Heb 1:6; 2:5 (also Wis 1:7 LXX), oikoumené seems to mean world in the sense of the universe -- which is unimaginably larger than our civilized world. So as you continue to come across oikoumené in scripture, how confident are you that you can distinguish which sense of world is intended?
Next week:  We conclude our 12-study series with a dozen more cool words.
Photos below: View from water tower of my brother's farm, Malpaisillo; sister-in-law Sandy; San José students; boiling mud in highly volcanic Nicaragua; with Danilo and José Luis, Costa Rica.

Coming up

Next week I'll be writing to you from Nigeria, first stop in an 8-nation tour. We certainly appreciate all your support -- which makes the ministry of free international teaching possible. Please keep it coming, and pray for the work, too.

Douglas Jacoby

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