Dioko: In Hot Pursuit

Word of the Week

April 27, 2024

Diōkō: In Hot Pursuit


Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

Matthew 5:11 NASB


Chase scenes are a staple of TV crime shows.  The FBI agents pound on a door, only to find that the suspect has slipped out the back window.  For the next few moments, we watch the criminal sprint down the street with law enforcement in hot pursuit – often muttering “Why do they always have to run?”

There are other kinds of pursuit, of course.  The Declaration of Independence proclaims our right to the “pursuit of happiness,” and we talk about the virtue of pursuing our dreams.

And the good guys are not always the ones doing the chasing.  Our world is full of malignant forces who chase people down and oppress them.

As you might expect, the Bible has something to say about pursuit.  In fact, there is a common Greek word that encapsulates the whole range of meanings for it.

The word is diōkō [dee-OH-koh], appearing about 45 times in the New Testament.  The usual translation is “to pursue, to persecute.”  The underlying idea is simple:  rapid, energetic motion to follow someone or something.  The person who diōkō’s someone is running at top speed to catch up with them.

Of course, the person doing the chasing usually isn’t doing it to hand over a birthday present.  No, they usually intend to grab them and make their life uncomfortable.  The Old Testament used diōkō to describe soldiers pursuing the enemy (Exodus 15:9).  And the pre-Christian Saul of Tarsus not only arrested believers in the Jerusalem synagogues, he also chased them all the way to foreign cities (Acts 26:11).

That’s how the word gained the sense of “persecute.”  Jesus warned that persecution would be a reality for His followers.  His enemies were always coming after Him, and they would do the same for His disciples (John 15:20).  When Christ confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, He asked, “Why are you persecuting Me?”  An attack on Christians is an attack on Christ, and it is not a surprise.  Paul was an expert on persecution, since he had been the prime instigator of the first assault on the church (1 Corinthians 15:9), so it was no idle threat when he wrote, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

There is another side to the word diōkō, however.  Even secular Greeks used it for the zealous pursuit of an important goal or ideal, trying to grasp the good, beautiful or virtuous.

I hope you don’t plan to chase down a foe and beat them up, but the New Testament does tell us what we should pursue.  Just look at this sampling of the things God asks us to pursue:

  • Hospitality (Rmans 12:13)
  • Things which make for peace and for building up one another (Romans 14:19)
  • Love rather than mere spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1)
  • The upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12, 14)
  • That which is for the good of one another and all people – even enemies! (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11)
  • Righteousness, faith, love, peace (2 Timothy 2:22)
  • Peace and sanctification (Hebrews 12:14)
  • Peace (1 Peter 3:11)

Do you notice the prominent place of “peace” in this list?  The word diōkō usually conjures up a scene of conflict – grabbing someone and slamming them to the ground, then leading them off to prison.  But God asks us to put the same intensity of effort into achieving the opposite ideal of peace.

Last night I watched my granddaughter’s swim meet.  The lanes of the pool were filled with kids doing their utmost to pursue their goal, to catch up with the next swimmer and achieve a new personal best time.  It’s a simple but eloquent picture of Paul’s life ambition:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on [diōkō] so that I may lay hold the that for which also I was laid hold of my Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12).


Study Hint:

This article has focused on the figurative, good meaning of the word diōkō, but you could easily produce a full-blown study on the other meaning of “persecute.”  The word carries this idea most of the time – 30 of the 45 uses, especially in the Gospels and the book of Acts, as well as Paul’s references to his past career as a persecutor.

Possible passages for meditation:

God’s messengers are persecuted – prophets (Matthew 5:12; Acts 7:52) and disciples (Matthew 5:11-13, 44; 10:23).

Paul was a persecutor (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13, 23; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13) and then became one of the persecuted (Galatians 5:11; 2 Timothy 3:11).

There is a danger of corrupting the message in order to avoid persecution (Galatians 6:12).


Coming Up

Nothing strengthens you like a clear grasp of who Jesus is.  In uncertain times, we can be encouraged by a fresh look at our Savior.  Next week we will pause to meditate on one of the less familiar titles of our Lord.

©Ezra Project 2024



3 Responses

    1. Good observation. However, I do these articles for people who don’t know Greek. Since they don’t know the Greek alphabet, I transliterate the Greek words by putting them into the English alphabet. In addition, there are limitations in the software that I use to create the Web site, particularly in titles. I’ll get it as close to the Greek as I can, but I hope all you Greek experts will be patient with my simplified approach.

  1. Again… Awesome word study 👏🏾 Pursuing the word of God should be our/the believers hearts desire. Jesus pursued us, even to His death on the cross. We in turn should do no less in pursuing our calling.

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