Word Study – “Sick”

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 9-5

1Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you ill? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. 

James 5:13-16a

The Greek word for sick – ασθενει – in this context is transliterated: Astheneo

Strong’s number: 770

It is used 33 times in the NT:

  • Sick (19 times): Matthew 10:8, 25:36, 39; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; John 4:46, 5:3, 7, 11:1-3, 6; Acts 9:37, 19:12, 20:35; Phil. 2:26-27; 2 Timothy 4:20; James 5:14
  • Weak (14 times): Romans 4:19, 8:3, 14:1-2; 1 Cor. 8:11-12; 2 Cor. 11:21, 29, 12:10, 13:3-4,9;

From the contexts in other passages it would appear that this word could as easily be translated “weak” as “sick”.  In English these two words are quite related but our understanding of the microbes that cause sickness make us more inclined to separate the meanings than would have been the case for people in James’ time.  If we use “weak” instead of “sick” in James 5:14 we have:

“Is anyone among you weak? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”

When we take the overall context of James 5:13 -16 we can see there is a connection between being weak, or sick, and sin.  The effect of the elders anointing is not just to make the person well physically but also spiritually – his sins will be forgiven.  In verse 16 the key to healing is that you confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.

In verse 15 the word translated “sick” is actually a very different word (κάμνοντα) which is only used one other time, in Hebrews 12:3, and there it is translated “weary”.  So if you feel weary confess your sins to each other and pray for each other and you will be healed.

Nowadays we are inclined to view disease and sickness differently from James.  For us there is only a tenuous connection, if any, between our personal actions and sin.  Sickness is caused often by viruses or bacteria which seem separated from our moral actions.  As a Christian in the 21st Century the connection between sin and sickness is less personal, more related to the general fallen condition of the world than anything that we personally may have done.  But if you think in terms of sickness being weakness and put yourself in the context of a 1st Century Christian who knows nothing about viruses and bacteria then you might see the connection between personal sin and weakness or sickness more easily.  This also explains Paul’s warning about taking communion in an unworthy fashion (see Thoughts on Communion: Healing and The consequences of communion).

Things can come around though.  The bible’s wisdom does not seem so archaic in this regard if you are into holistic medicine.  Lifestyle and a tendency to sickness go together.  If your lifestyle is one of abusing the body through excessive alcohol or smoking or immorality then it is easy to see how those sins can affect your health also.  Other sins such as worry and anger also have physical effects causing illness or weakness or both.

In this passage though the emphasis is not on the sin causing the illness.  The Lord is gracious and he heals first and, then, forgives your sins also.  He doesn’t place the emphasis on the sin but rather on the healing of the sickness or weakness.

Which is just like Him, isn’t it?

Word Study – Trials

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 9-4

2              Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

3              knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

4              And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(James 1:2-4 (NAS), compare Romans 5:3-5)

The Greek word for trials in this context is πειρασμοις transliterated: Peirasmos

Strong’s number: 3986

It is used 21 times in the New Testament:

  • Temptation (12 times): Matthew 6:13, 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 4:13, 8:13, 11:4, 22:40, 22:46; 1 Cor. 10:13 (twice); 1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Peter 2:9.
  • Trials (4 times): Luke 22:28; Acts 20:19; James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6.
  • Trial (3 times): Gal. 4:14; Hebrews 3:8; James 1:12.
  • Testing (twice): 1 Peter 4:12; Rev. 3:10.

From the contexts in other passages it would appear that this word is definitely more closely translated “temptation” than “trials”.  If we use temptation instead of trials in James 1:2 we have:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various temptations”

We know that we are to pray that we do not enter temptation (Matt. 26:41) and we are to ask our heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation (the Lord’s prayer – Matt. 6:13).  However if temptation still comes then we should consider it a joy to encounter it, knowing that our Father has not allowed us to be tempted above what we are able for (1 Cor. 10:13).  We also know that it will produce endurance and a perfect result if we continue to be faithful to God through the temptation (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5).

The nature of temptation is, of course, to be very enticing, seductive, tempting even.  What tempts me would not tempt someone else and what tempts someone else would not tempt me.  But whatever it is that tempts you, there is great reward in staying faithful through the period of temptation, of not giving into it.  Sometimes I feel ashamed at what tempts me, especially in the light of God’s mercies to me, the many blessings I enjoy because I do not yield and the disastrous consequences for those closest to me if I did.  Probably everyone is tempted by something that could, if yielded to, be very destructive – probably one of the seven deadly sins as they are called: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

There are other temptations that are more subtle and rather than destroy our lives all at once, they wear them down slowly when yielded to.  These include any temptation to not put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first (Matt. 6:33).  For example we can be tempted to think that spending dedicated time with God in private one to one relationship is less important than doing something else, e.g. spending time with family, work or just watching TV. Or we can be tempted to put other family activities before family worship, bible study and prayer.  This kind of temptation can be hard to consistently resist.

However the principle in all these cases is the same:

  • Resist temptation,
  • endure in resisting it (some temptations go on all your life)
  • look forward to the results of resisting temptation:
    • proven character,
    • the love of God poured out in your heart (Romans 5:5).

As the Lord said to Abraham: “I am your exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1).  Being close to Jesus is the greatest reward for staying faithful under (what can feel like) overwhelming, very attractive temptation.

Is a constant and closer relationship with Jesus the “perfect result” of enduring under trials that James is referring to?

Word Study OT – Meditate

Word Study – The word translated “Meditate” in Josh 1:8

Grasping God’s Word Assignment 9-3

  1. Strong’s number: 1897.
  2. The Hebrew Word transliterated “Hagah” is used 24 times in the OT.
  3. The New American Standard (NAS) translates it as:
    • declare (1 time): Psalm 35:28
    • devise (2 times):  Psalm 38:12,  Proverbs 24:2
    • devising (1 time): Psalm 2:1
    • growls (1 time): Isaiah 31:4
    • make a sound (1 time): Psalm 115:7
    • meditate (5 times): Joshua 1:8, Psalm 63:6, Psalm 77:12, Psalm 143:5, Isaiah 33:18
    • meditates (1 time): Psalm 1:2
    • moan (3 times): Isaiah 16:7,  Isaiah 38:14, Jeremiah 48:31
    • moan sadly (1 time): Isaiah 59:11
    • mutter (2 times): Job 27:4, Isaiah 8:19
    • mutters (1 time): Isaiah 59:3
    • ponders (1 time): Proverbs 15:28
    • utter (2 times): Psalm 71:24, Proverbs 8:7
    • uttering (1 time): Isaiah 59:13
    • utters (1 time): Psalm 37:30
  4. Context – one instance in Joshua but the 23 others are confined to the wisdom books – mainly Psalms – and the prophets – mainly Isaiah.  Used about people in connection with God and good plans, people in connection with evil and evil plans, a lion over its prey.  Doves can do it and idols cannot.
  5. Semantic range of the Hebrew word transliterated hagah: I think this word is used to describe any deep connection between a thinking being (including animals) and the object upon which the word is used.  It sometimes includes considerable emotion (moan).  It is used in both a positive and negative sense – people can “hagah” and use it to work evil (3 times) or good or to be taken up with evil or good.  It also carries expression with it in 14 instances out of the 24 – declare, growls, make a sound, moan (sadly), mutter(s), utter(s)(ing).  The word “Meditate” doesn’t capture the expressive nuances of the Hebrew word “Hagah”.
  6. In Joshua 1:8 I prefer the words “deeply connect” to “meditate”:

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall deeply connect with it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Note also the connection with speaking it out in the earlier part of the verse.  This suggests another way of saying “hagah” in this context, i.e. “allow it to well up and out”:

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall allow it to well up and out of you day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Maybe we can put both of the meanings together (with some danger of overcooking the word):

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall deeply connect with it and allow it to well up and out of you day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Not just meditation but expression arising from it as well.