Back in the day, when I owned a small Christian bookstore in Mississippi, three of the best-selling reference books I stocked were Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Word Study Series), Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Word Study Series), and The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. One day I took the New Testament Dictionary and the Strong’s Concordance home with me, and they quickly became staples in daily time in God’s word. If you’ve never used them, let me explain.
When reading scripture, it can be extremely helpful to know the original Greek and Hebrew meaning of the text. As you know, when any passage is translated from one language to another, there is some meaning that can be lost. Over time, language evolves so that words that once had a particular meaning come to have a different connotation. The Complete Word Study Dictionaries contain the original meanings of words so that the reader can understand what was intended to be said. The Strong’s Concordance is necessary to find words in the Dictionary, as it contains the index that tells you where to look for the words. (You can find Strong’s numbers online as well. I’m sure you’re not surprised to know that I still prefer to look it up in a book. I love the feel of the pages.) They are both so very valuable in deepening one’s understanding of God’s word.
Let me give you an example: I’ve always wondered if there was more meaning to the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5 than what I’ve always understood. I mean, I know what the words “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” mean. But is there more meaning there besides my surface-level understanding? Let’s turn to the New Testament dictionary and together see if we can broaden our understanding.
My first step is to look up each of the words in my Strong’s Concordance and get the index number. Then use that number to look up the correct meaning in the Word Study Dictionary. Here’s a summary of what I found regarding the fruits of the Spirit:
Love – agape – “To love, to have affectionate regard, goodwill and benevolence.” (So if I love and am benevolent to others, I desire to do good to them. So love means more than having warm, happy feelings toward another person. It means I carry through with good works toward them.)
Joy – chara – “Rejoicing or gladness.” “The joy which the Holy Spirit imparts.” Synonyms are good cheer and gladness of heart. Antonyms are distress, pain, and sorrow. (Wow! Does that mean that being stressed out is the opposite of joy? I think it does. This was a big eye-opener for me and let me know that I needed to do something about this area of my life.)
Peace - eirene – This is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament word “shalom” meaning “wholeness, soundness, health, well-being, prosperity.” It also has a connotation of “the absence of confusion.” Interestingly enough, it holds the meaning that the Christian will have peace in this present life, not merely in the life to come.
Patience – makrothumeo – “Self-restraint before proceeding to action.” “The quality of a person who is able to avenge himself yet refrains from doing so.” It has the particular connotation of being patient with people, as opposed to being patient in a frustrating circumstance. It is closely associated with showing mercy to others. Its synonym is “tolerant.” (That whole people vs. circumstances thing was news to me. I can clearly see a difference now, but never thought about it before. And the whole “able to avenge, but doesn’t” thing? Sounds like self-control to me, so I’ll be interested to see what self-control really means.)
Kindness – chrestos – “Being benign and useful.” It often occurs with “Philanthropy.” It is the opposite of “apotomia” which means “severity” or “cutting something short and quickly.” It is “the grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would be harsh or austere.” It connotes the harmlessness of a dove but the wisdom of a serpent. (Yes, Lord! I want to be like that! Do that in me!)
Goodness – agathos – “Active goodness” It connotes actively doing good deeds. There is definitely the understanding that the deed must be accomplished and not merely intended, talked about, or thought of. (How many good deeds have I thought about doing but never followed through? That’s not what goodness is all about. True biblical goodness follows through.)
Faith – pisteos – “Firm persuasion, to win over, conviction in the truth.” Its synonyms are “assurance, reliance, and confidence.” Its antonyms are “confusion, disobedience, unbelief, lack of piety, and hypocrisy.” (In other words, if the Holy Spirit is completing His work in our lives and we are allowing Him to control us, we will have a growing faith that God iswho He says he is and will do what He says He will do. And any confusion or unbelief about that is the opposite of biblical faith.)
Gentleness (meekness) – praotetos – This is a long one and gives new meaning to what I thought I understood the meaning of this word to be. Hang with me here and read through. “Primarily it does not denote outward expression of feeling, but an inward grace of the soul, calmness toward God in particular. It is the acceptance of God’s dealings with us considering them as good in that they enhance the closeness of our relationship with Him. However, praotes encompasses expressing wrath toward the sin of man as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus (who indeed was called meek but expressed His anger toward those who were chiding Him because He had done good on the Sabbath day.) This meekness does not blame God for the persecutions and evil doings of men. It is not the result of weakness, and in the third Beatitude it expresses not the passivity of the second Beatitude, but the activity of the blessedness that exists in one’s heart from being actively angry at evil. According to Aristotle, praotetos is the virtue that stands between two extremes – uncontrolled and unjustified anger and not becoming angry at all no matter what takes place around you.” (I’ve always referred to this as “holy anger” – anger at the things which go against God’s ways in order to stop them from happening.)
Self-Control – egkrateias – “Continence, Temperance.” Its synonyms are “contentedness” and “sufficiency.” Its antonyms are “excess,” “self-indulgence,” and “senselessness.” (When compared to the above definition of patience, this seems to mean not allowing your emotions to run away with you. While patience was being tolerant of people, self-control is being moderate and not giving in to indulgence or excess.)
Y’all, I learn something new every time I study the original Greek and Hebrew meanings of scripture. I hope you will find this study useful in enhancing your own knowledge of what God’s Spirit wants to do in our lives. I sure do want to be a good reflection of Him to this world, and I’m sure you do, too. May the light shined on His word today have real impact in all our lives and may it change us more and more into His image.
PS: In the interest of full disclosure, those are Amazon affiliate links. I will make 4% of any purchases made using those links. In other words, if you buy both books, I can buy a Coke.