Word of the Week
March 4, 2023
Exaiphnēs: Out of the Blue
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest.”
You’re peacefully cruising down a country road when a deer appears out of nowhere and dashes in front of you! You jam on the brakes and narrowly avert a collision, but your heart is pounding for the next few miles. The highway ahead looked clear, but a near calamity materialized in a moment.
Sudden surprises can intrude on the most carefully planned life. Your career is going well – until the boss announces that the company is “right-sizing” and your job will be phased out. You are in excellent health until the doctor calls: “Your test results show cancer.”
Some surprises can be good. A crowd of shepherds were drowsily lounging around the campfire when their routine was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of an angel with the news that a Savior had just been born!
Most of us prefer to concentrate on the predictable, but it is foolish to forget the possibility of a sudden turn of events. Life may seem to feature long stretches of the routine and predictable, but lightning still strikes.
The New Testament features several passages that describe unexpected events, and there is a Greek word for these interventions “out of the blue.”
The Greek word is exaiphnēs, a simple word that occurs only 5 times. It is translated “suddenly, unexpectedly.” Let’s look at each place where it occurs.
- Angels appear suddenly.
On the night Christ was born, the shepherds were astounded when one angel appeared, but that was just the first stage. Moments later, the entire sky was filled with an army of angels!
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:13-14).
These men expected a routine, boring night with nothing more exciting than the howl of a wolf. They lived in a world that knew only the unending round of politics, warfare, and oppression. But God stepped in without warning, sending the Son who would change everything.
- Evil attacks suddenly.
A frantic father approached Jesus, asking for help for his son. “Behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming of the mouth, and as it mauls him, it scarcely leaves him” (Luke 9:39). Evidently this boy would be going through a normal day, only to be attacked with no warning by a demon. No one has ever accused Satan of playing fair, and it is just like him to strike when you least expect it.
You may have planned a perfectly routine day, but the forces of evil would love to interrupt it with a temptation or a catastrophe. That’s why it is vital to follow the father’s example, turning immediately to the One who can turn back the assaults of the enemy.
- God can transform people suddenly.
Saul had a long track record as the primary persecutor of the early church. What were the odds that he could ever become a Christian? Yet Jesus stopped him in his tracks one day. He was headed for Damascus, intent on arresting every Christ-follower he could find, but . . .
And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him (Acts 9:3).
He found himself face to face with the One he had so despised, and in that moment his entire life flip-flopped. He had been fighting with God, and now it was time to surrender to Him.
It was such an astonishing reversal that the Christian community refused to believe it at first, fearing that it was a trick to trap them. But years later, facing a bloodthirsty mob, Paul repeated the story:
And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noon-time, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me (Acts 22:6).
God had reversed his course in a moment.
- Christ will return suddenly.
Jesus told the parable of a man who went on a long journey, leaving his servants to care for his affairs. He gave instructions about their responsibilities, but nothing about the date of his return. They might have asked, “How can I be ready for him if I don’t know when he is coming back?” That’s the point, said Jesus. You always have to be alert,
Lest he come suddenly and find you asleep (Mark 13:36).
The New Testament clearly teaches that Christ will return, but it doesn’t give a date. We do know that His return will be sudden and unexpected – so the course of wisdom is to stay awake, always ready for Him to appear.
Sometimes the Lord allows life to roll along for a long time without sudden surprises. Peter described scoffers who said, “God hasn’t judged the world since the beginning, and He is not going to do it now. Nothing is going to break up the status quo.” And Peter replied, “He is giving time for you to repent, but the day will come when He will step in to settle accounts.” (see 2 Peter 3:9-10).
Whether He brings salvation or judgment, God can change things in a moment. Be ready!
Exaiphnēs also appears in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. Here it usually speaks to complacent sinners who don’t believe God will ever really break in to judge their sins. But the prophets point out that catastrophe can strike swiftly and unexpectedly (Isaiah 47:9; Jeremiah 6:26; 15:8; Micah 2:3). God can send sudden judgment, even when you don’t expect anything. However, He can also break into the routine of history for good when we think He has forgotten us. Malachi 3:1 says that the Lord will suddenly come to His temple, a prediction of Christ’s coming.
Q: How do you find out what how a Greek word is used in the Old Testament Septuagint?
A: Many of the standard word study resources will include information about a word’s use in the Old Testament Septuagint translation, which dates back to the period between the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament in your Bible is based on the original Hebrew text, but the Septuagint is a very early translation that can provide rich insights.
Word study books like the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament include a section in almost every article that tells about the Old Testament usage of a word. Bible study Web sites can also be helpful. In the Blue Letter Bible app, for instance, you can see all the verses where a word is used in the Septuagint by clicking on the verse, clicking on Interlinear/Concordance, selecting the word you want and clicking on it, then scrolling down to a concordance listing all the New Testament verses where it is used. Just before the list of verses begins, there is an easy-to-overlook link that says, “Click here to view results using the LXX Greek concordance.” Click it, and you’ll find all the OT verses where your word appears.
Romans 12 talks about the importance of “renewing our mind.” It seems to be one of the fundamental processes that lead to spiritual growth, and I would like to find out more about it. Join us next week to see what the Greek word means!
©Ezra Project 2023