A Gift for You
This is the third in a series of word studies designed to give you a taste of what you will get if you receive this blog post regularly. I hope you will join this circle of serious Bible students, but whether or not you choose to do so, I want to offer you a free PDF that you can use to jump start your Greek word study.
It’s a PDF document: “How to find the Greek Word in 1 Minute.” It will take about 3 minutes to read, and when you’re done, you will be able to use your iPhone to locate the Greek behind any word in the New Testament. Just ask and I will email it to you!
Paristēmi – paristhmi – God’s Gift List
Are you wrapped up in selecting Christmas presents right now? Shall I buy a tie for Uncle Hiram, or the latest LEGO set for my nephew? Should I buy her a scarf, or settle for the ever-popular gift card?
You probably can’t compete with actor Richard Burton, who gave his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor a 1968 Christmas present of a ruby and diamond ring valued at $4.2 million.
Fortunately, the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas doesn’t want gemstones or sports cars. God gives us His gift list in Romans 12:1 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
Christmas is the ideal time to turn our attention to the Greek word for “present.”
In English, the word present has two different meanings:
1. To be present – When a teacher takes attendance at the beginning of class, she records who is present and who is absent.
2. To present something – to give a gift. At a child’s birthday party, you present a gift to them.
The Greek word paristēmi used in Romans 12:1 has two very similar meanings:
1. To be present
2. To present someone or something
The word occurs 41 times in the New Testament. It means “to be present” 23 times, especially in the Gospels and Acts. It means “to present something to someone” 18 times, especially in the Epistles.
The first meaning could describe a random bystander like the people hanging around the high priest’s courtyard during the trial of Jesus (Mark 14:70). Or it could refer to someone who has an important reason to be present, like the angels in Acts 1 10 who had a message for the disciples who had just watched Jesus ascend into the clouds.
Today we are interested in the second meaning: to give a present to someone. This usage generally involves three elements: (1) A giver, (2) a Gift, and (3) a recipient.
In the New Testament, paristēmi most often means the gift of a person, not just an object.
- Mary and Joseph bought the baby Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord (Lk 2:22).
- Jesus claimed that His Father would send Him twelve legions of angels if He asked for it (Mt 26:53).
- A contingent of Roman troops presented Paul to the governor (Ac 23:33).
- Peter presented the risen Dorcas to her friends (Ac 9:41).
- The risen Jesus presented Himself to the disciples (Ac 1:3).
As we come to Christmas, it’s important to realize that the best present we can give the Lord is ourselves.
Observe the themes that flow through the New Testament use of “present.”
1. God wants us to present ourselves to Him.
“present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead” (Romans 6:13)
We can give ourselves to sin as slaves (Romans 6:16) or present ourselves to God as faithful workers (2 Timothy 2:15). When we do, we make ourselves to do whatever He says, whenever He specifies.
2. God wants us to present our bodies to Him.
“do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present . . . your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13, 16).
When my kids give me a power tool, I plan to use it. We can offer every part of our bodies – hands, feet, lips – to God and expect Him to use them.
3. Paul wanted to present mature believers to Christ.
“that we may present every man as complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28)
“that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Like a conscientious father, the apostle wanted to offer God children who had reached maturity. And like a father giving away the bride, he wanted to hand off a woman radiant with purity.
Dallas Willard has wisely written, “The main thing God gets out of your life is not the achievements you accomplish. It’s the person you become.”
4. God wants to give a present to Himself – us!
“yet now He has reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:22).
“that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory” (Ephesians 5:27).
Jesus Christ wants to present us to the Father as a purified people, and He also wants to give the church as a present to Himself. Once in a while, I will buy myself a gift. When I do, I can choose exactly what I want. And what Christ wants is His Church. After all, He paid more than a mere $4.2 million for us!
What gift will you give Jesus on His birthday?
Study Hint: To distinguish the two meanings of this verb, you have to notice whether it is followed by a direct object or not. Most of the time, this is not a crucial issue, but it never hurts to pay attention to direct objects, even when they don’t change the definition of the word. If you are studying the word seek, for instance, look at the verses where it appears and ask, “What is it that someone is seeking here?” It’s a fruitful meditation.
Q: I know that Greek has several words for “love,” and one of them is eros. Does that word appear in the New Testament or the Greek Old Testament?
A: No, eros does not appear at all in the New Testament, and I can’t find it in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It is the word that secular Greek used often to describe sexual attraction or physical desire. It is the source for our English word erotic, and the New Testament simply doesn’t use it.
The New Testament consistently uses two other words for love: (1) phileō, which describes the relationship between friends, characterized by mutual admiration and respect; and (2) agape, a term little used in secular Greek but employed in the Bible to describe love as a commitment to the good of another, a love based on commitment rather than emotional attachment.
We will come back to the Greek words for love in future blog posts.
Next week look for a discussion of the word for “firstborn.” Cults and skeptics sometimes go to this word hoping to prove that Jesus was a created being, not the Son of God. We will also have a link to an article on John 1:1, explaining why the Jehovah’s Witness explanation is wrong.
©Ezra Project 2020
Thank you, Professor, for your post.
The mention of ‘erōs’ clarifies something and leads to another question about ‘love.’
The Blue Letter Bible Textus Receptus rendition of 1 John 4:8 is θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.
From what I can glean from peeking at the Greek behind the Prof’s back, ἐστίν is a verb ‘to be’ in the form of he/she/it is. If this is correct, could the text be rearranged to θεὸς = ἀγάπη?
ἀγάπη is a feminine noun and, as far as can be ascertained by me, all other Greek words translated ‘love’ are verbs. θεὸς is a masculine noun.
Could this be interpreted as ἀγάπη is Who θεὸς is, not what we do? Also, could having masculine = feminine show the perfect tension between the strength and nurturing characteristics of our Lord?
Your comments would be appreciated. ‘Love’ is such a sloppy word in the English language. “I love God.” “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Good questions! This gets into grammar, not just word studies, so it might sound a bit technical. But let’s see what we can do here.
First, it’s true that "estin" is a form of "to be," and it’s often translated "he/she/it is." It’s OK to think of it acting like an equals sign, but you have to be careful. You don’t want to make it sound like God is nothing more than the attribute of love, and you can’t reverse the word order (Love is God). That deifies a character quality and plays into the hands of people who think God is not a person, just an abstract idea. This verse is more parallel to a sentence like, "George is fat." You’re saying that one characteristic of George is that he’s a chubby rascal – not that he’s entirely composed of blubber!
Second, the words for "love" actually come as both verbs and nouns. You can have "agape" (noun) or "agapao" (verb), and you can have "philia" (noun) and "phileo" (verb). So 1 John 4:8 is not putting a noun together with a verb; they’re both nouns.
Finally, I wouldn’t try to find any significance in the switch between masculine and feminine nouns. If we were talking about adjectives or pronouns, it might be different. But every Greek noun has a "gender" label attached, and that never changes. And it often has no connection whatever to our idea of masculine, feminine or neuter. It’s a seemingly arbitrary label that offers a useful way for Greek writers to show you which words in a sentence go together.