Word of the Week
October 28, 2023
Apokatalassō: Turning an Enemy into a Friend
And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself . . .
(Colossians 1:20 NASB).
Feuds have festered all through history. Hatfields shoot McCoys, Capulets slaughter Montagues, and the Hutu/Tutsi genocide stains the history of Rwanda.
Warfare seems to be a permanent fixture of civilization. One scholar has calculated that there have only been 268 years in the last 3500 that didn’t feature at least one war.1
There seems no way to resolve the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, and America remains divided by racial and social conflicts.
We need reconciliation, but we cannot figure out how to achieve it.
Oh, it’s easy to reconcile our bank account, and the American Congress occasionally reconciles the House and Senate versions of a bill, but it’s much harder to reconcile two enemies with each other.
Fortunately, God is an expert in reconciliation. He has acted to resolve the most important conflict of all, and He explains the process in His Word. Today we will make a small contribution to progress by examining one of the Greek words for “reconcile.”
The word is apokatallassō, which means to reconcile two different things, to restore a relationship from hostility to friendship. Secular Greek had other words for healing a relationship, but this is an emphatic term which appears for the first time in Paul’s New Testament epistles.
For pagans, reconciliation meant placating an irritated deity like Zeus or Hera. A person would offer a sacrifice or make a vow to keep the gods from harming him. You would take the initiative to keep the gods happy.
In the Bible, however, God is the one who takes the initiative to mend the broken relationship between humanity and Himself. The word apokatallassō occurs only three times, each one throwing light on another aspect of God’s version of reconciliation.
- Colossians 1:20 – God reconciles everything to Himself.
The universe is out of kilter. Even though we marvel at the wonders of nature, we can’t help seeing the stain of death, pollution, and decay around us. As Paul says, “The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22).
There is also a world we cannot see, where good and evil angels do battle. Paul describes Jesus as the Creator of both the seen and unseen realms only a few verses earlier (Colossians 1:16).
But God is not leaving it that way. He has made the decisive move to restore all things to His original plan. And He is doing it through Jesus!
For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in [Jesus], and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself , , , through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:19-20).
- Colossians 1:22 – God reconciles us to Himself.
People are opposed to God. Despite His goodness, they rebel against Him, denying His rightful role as Monarch of the universe and His standards of righteousness. Right after he tells the Colossians how God is mending the dislocation of all things, he makes it personal. “As for you,” he goes on, “God also steps in to make you His friends.” He performs a miracle of healing, bringing His enemies to Him and allowing them to live in His home forever.
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you . . . in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach (Colossians 1:21-22).
- Ephesians 2:16 – God reconciles us with each other.
Jews had despised Gentiles for centuries. Gentiles returned the favor. Israelites never forgot the laws forbidding the uncircumcised from approaching the Temple too closely. One sign in the courtyard warned that any Gentile stepping beyond that point would have only himself to blame for his instant death.
Jews had the inside track to God; Gentiles were on the outside. But God did something new through Jesus. He broke down the wall dividing the two groups and brought them together. When Jew and Gentile came near to God, they also came near to each other!
So that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God . . . (Ephesians 2:15-16).
How did God do such an amazing thing?
It all happened because Jesus died on the cross for us.
- “having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20)
- “in his fleshly body through death” (Colossians 1:22)
- “through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16)
Conflict never ends until someone chooses to break the cycle of constant payback, refusing to continue getting even for past wrongs. God Himself chose to take the initiative by sending His Son to take the retribution on Himself, so that God could let us walk free.
There is no better way – no other way – to begin the process of reconciliation.
1Chris Hedges, New York Times article. He defines a “war” as a conflict that produced at least 1000 casualties.
Two other Greek words for reconciliation are worth studying to round out this topic:
- Katalassō – Romans 5:10; 1 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18—20.
- Katallagē – Romans 5:11; 11:15; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
Check these passages and notice the person-to-person parallels. Also pay attention to who does the work of reconciliation in each case.
We have so many questions, and answers are so hard to find. It seems that God simply hasn’t told us everything we would like to know. The Bible makes it clear that He does keep us in the dark on some issues, but He shows His hand in startling ways. Next week we will look at the Greek word that describes the way God brings His plans into the light.
©Ezra Project 2023