Word of the Week
April 10, 2022
Doxa: Splendor on Display
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
When Jesus rode a donkey down the road from the Mount of Olives to enter Jerusalem, he was thronged by a noisy crowd that would do credit to a stadium full of football fans today. The din was amazing and the atmosphere was electric. People thought, This is the day he makes his move and launches a revolt against Rome! The new king has arrived!
However, that’s not what the apostle John meant when he later wrote, “We beheld his glory.”
The splendor embodied in Jesus Christ was far greater than the crowds ever imagined. To appreciate it, we can undertake a closer examination of the Greek word for “glory.”
In Greek, the word for glory is doxa, the root of our word doxology. You cannot go far in the New Testament without encountering it – it appears 165 times!
Doxa has a fascinating history. For Greek philosophers, it could mean “an opinion I am prepared to defend.” For others, it might “the valuation placed on me by other, my reputation.” People valued a good reputation, of course, and the word sometimes implied honor or respect.
Jesus spoke of those who loved the praise [doxa] of men more than the praise [doxa] of God (John 12:43).
You could talk about the glory of humans like Solomon (Matthew 6:29) or the glory of angels (Hebrews 9:5; 2 Peter 2:10).
In the Scriptures, however, the word doxa expanded to take on a much loftier meaning. It preeminently referred to the overwhelming excellence of God’s character on display.
God is excellent beyond all imagination in His essence.
The English preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “God is robed in majesty. Not with symbols of majesty, but with majesty itself. His is not the mere appearance, but the reality of sovereignty. In nature, providence, and salvation the Lord is infinite in majesty.” (Treasury of David on Psalm 33:9-10)
We use the term “glory” when his excellence becomes visible.
The light in our bedroom closet is very bright. If we forget to turn it off at night, you can see a narrow slit of light along the edge of the door. It’s just a faint glimmer, but even that small amount of light leaking out tells you that there is a room behind the door filled with light.
Similarly, we use the word doxa when God manifests a little of His essence – like light leaking around the edge of the door.
In the Old Testament, God revealed His glory in the shekinah, the unimaginable light that filled the Holy of Holies. The Greek New Testament uses doxa to describe that light. Ezekiel describes the glory of God that appeared to him as a vision.
God’s glory was most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. Most of the time, it was veiled. He did miraculous works and spoke authoritative words, but he looked like a typical man. However, he lifted the veil a bit at the Transfiguration where he “appeared in glory” (Luke 9:31-32). That’s why John could say “We beheld His glory” (John 1:14), because He was a glimpse of God.
And we will see Christ’s glory when He returns: “Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing [lit., appearing of the glory] of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
God reveals His glory so that we can recognize His excellence.
Worship is the natural reaction to a glimpse of His glory. That’s why the New Testament features doxologies like Revelation 5:12-13:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing . . . . Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
See also Romans 11:36; Galatians 1:5; 2 Peter 3:18.
God shares His glory with His people.
When Moses spent time in the presence of God on Mount Sinai, his face radiated the afterglow (2 Corinthians 3:7). And we have the promise that we will experience His glory when we get to heaven.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21).
We can enhance His glory by our behavior.
Paul exhorts us, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Can we make God any more excellent than He already is? Of course not! But we can enable others to see His glory more clearly.
In effect, we aim to open the closet door a bit wider so that the glory behind it can be seen more clearly.
This word offers one of the clearest examples of the fact that words change meaning over time. If you only looked at the usage of doxa in the days of Plato and Aristotle, you would get a completely wrong idea of its meaning. The Bible writers took the word in an entirely different direction.
The Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint), on the other hand, lays the foundation for the New Testament use of the word, especially when it uses it to translate kabodh, the Hebrew word for glory.
A related word worth studying: the verb doxazō means “to glorify.” It doesn’t mean that we improve God’s character, but it does mean that we make God look good in the eyes of an onlooking world.
Q: You have said that the order of Greek words in a sentence is of no importance. I’ve heard it said, however, that the location of the word has meaning. Could you clarify?
A: Let me refine what I intended to say about word order. It’s definitely true that word order is not as crucial in Greek as it is in English. In particular, they can be pretty casual about the way they arrange the main subject, verb, and direct object in a sentence. English has rigid rules, which Greeks cheerfully ignore.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that word order is completely meaningless. There are several times when word order is very useful:
- Word order can show which words are being emphasized. For instance, the writer may move a word to the beginning of the sentence to emphasize it.
- Word order can help show how ideas are connected. Especially in long sentences, the words that appear next to each other are probably connected logically.
- There are some specific combinations of words where the word order determines the meaning. The word autos, for instance, means “same” when it comes between “the” and a noun, but it means “himself” when it comes after the noun.
The deeper you go into Greek, the more you’ll develop a knack for handling word order wisely.
Easter is coming, and there’s no better time to look at the Greek word for resurrection! Join me next week for this timely study.
©Ezra Project 2022