Chalepos – Describing the Times

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The “Word of the Week” blog came to many of you regularly all through 2019, but the pandemic combined with several personal and professional changes to put it on pause for the last few months.  Now I am resuscitating it, in a modified format.  I will be posting a meditation on a Greek word each weekend, plus other items that might benefit serious Bible students like you.

The earlier blog was accompanied by a technical worksheet giving all the raw information on the word of the week.  I do not plan to produce those on a regular basis any more, but I’d be happy to hear your feedback – if those were important to you, we might bring them back as well.

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Chalepos – Describing the Times

How would you describe 2020 in a single word?

Commentators have almost worn out the word “unprecedented” as a description for the wild combination of crises swirling around the world.  Disease, riots, economic decline, and political divisions fill the headlines.  These would be challenging enough in themselves, but they are joined with a seismic shift away from the ethics and morality of the Bible.  Instead of facing perils with faith and hope, people are pushing aside any restraint that would hinder them from pursuing their own agenda.

Yes, our times are unprecedented.

But they are not unanticipated.

In the first century, the apostle Paul chose a single word to describe “the last days.”  It was the word chalepos, often translated “difficult” or “dangerous.”  He predicted, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1).

In one sense, we have been living in “the last days” ever since Jesus came (see Hebrews 1:1-2).  But it is also clear that history is moving toward the return of Christ.  Matthew 24:4-8 describes an increase in chaos in the days preceding His return, and it is safe to say that we are moving closer and closer to “the last days of the last days.”

Let’s take a closer look at the word Paul chose to describe the last days.

Chalepos occurs only one other time in the New Testament.  Matthew 8:28 describes Christ’s arrival at the country of the Gadarenes on the east side of the Sea of Galilee.  When He stepped ashore, two demon-possessed men met him as they were coming out of some tombs.  The verse says that “they were so exceedingly chalepos that no one could pass by that road.”

These demoniacs were not merely difficult – they were so fierce and violent that they terrorized the area.  They were dangerous, and they prevented people from traveling freely along that route.

The word chalepos also appears in earlier Greek writings and in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

  • It could describe hurtful words that were hard to bear.
  • It could describe men or animals that were hard to handle and therefore dangerous.
  • It could describe circumstances that were hard to deal with.
  • It could describe an intellectual difficulty that was too hard for a student to solve.
  • It often included the idea of something morally evil or wicked.

I believe Paul would aptly use chalepos to describe 2020.  It has been more rigorous than merely a “difficult” crossword puzzle, though it has certainly been hard to figure out.

The world of 2020 is hard to deal with.  It is filled with ferocity and wickedness to such an extent that it is dangerous.  And it is almost certainly fueled by demonic influence.  1 Timothy 4:1 declares, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”

Warren Wiersbe explains, “There is no doubt that these characteristics started to appear in Paul’s day, and now they have increased in intensity.  It is not simply that we have more people in the world, or better news coverage.  It appears that evil is deeper and of greater intensity, and that it is being accepted and promoted by society in a bolder way.  It is not that we have small pockets of rebellion here and there.  All of society seems to be in ferment and rebellion” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary).

2 Timothy 3 further defines chalepos by listing 19 characteristics of the times.  It is worth your time to read through this list and compare it to the events unfolding around us.

How are we supposed to respond to an out-of-control time like this?  Paul gives a simple prescription:

1.       Do not follow the flow of evil (3:5)

2.       Cling to the truth of Scripture (3:14)

3.       Preach the Word (4:2)

2020 has taken us on a wild ride, but it should come as no surprise.  God told us about it ahead of time, and He has provided everything we need to follow Him faithfully in the midst of it!

Study Hint:  When a word occurs only twice in the New Testament, look for lexicons or commentaries that will tell you how it was used in earlier eras of Greek history.  For chalepos, the most helpful source I used was The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Colin Brown, volume I, page 419-420.

Q&A

Q:  I notice that you do not normally use accent marks on the Greek words in your materials, but the actual Greek New Testament puts accent marks on almost every word.  Why don’t you include them?

A: It’s true that accent marks show up in the Greek New Testament all the time, and most Greek textbooks have a whole chapter explaining all the rules of accent marks.  But I am a firm believer in the 80/20 rule of learning: you get 80% of the results you want from 20% of the material studied.  It’s not too hard to pick up the basics of Greek – the 80% – but the task mushrooms alarmingly when you try to master 100% of the language.  Accents are helpful, but seldom necessary to look up a Greek word or translate a verse.  They might make it easier to determine the correct pronunciation of a word, but you only need that when you start speaking ancient Greek, instead of just reading it.

Occasionally, you’ll find a place where the accent mark is crucial, and I always explain those when we encounter them.  But I’m happy to let you off the hook most of the time.

Next Week

While you’re still in the Thanksgiving mood, we will look at the Greek word for giving thanks next week.

8 Responses

  1. Well done! Thanks for this insight into this timely Greek word. I believe this is the word rendered ‘perilous’ in the KJV.

  2. In Hebrews 12, it says Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame. Scorning, like he considered the shame as not being worthy of mention or notice compared to what the cross was accomplishing? Not sure if the greek translation would answer my question, but maybe.

  3. I am so excited that you have started this. I love digging deeper into the original language to understand what the author intended to say. I can’t wait for the next post!

  4. Debra, I’ll check out the word for "scorn" in Hebrews 12 and include a note about my findings in the next week or two. Thanks for asking

  5. Thanks so much for doing this; I love words. How do I pronounce the word? cha–lay–pos or is it like Hebrew and the ch is a guttural "h". Sorry, I’m a language person and like to say words correctly. This is great; we. were just still out at the lake without internet until next summer, so I’m late in reading this. No problema!

  6. Sherry, it’s nice to hear from you. It’s like Hebrew, and has a guttural sound like the "ich" in German. Personally, I use the pronunciation that’s traditional in academic courses (sometimes called Erasmian pronunciation). Other teachers prefer to use the modern Greek pronunciation, so you might hear different opinions. Here’s an approximation of my version: chah-lay-pahs’.

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