Word of the Week
October 29, 2022
Hugiainō: Doctrinal Hygiene and Spiritual Health
Speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.
How do you know you’re getting old?
When you bend over to pick up something on the ground, you look around to see what else you can do while you’re down there!
Or you notice that conversations with friends revolve around arthritis, heart arrhythmia, and arthroscopic knee replacements.
Even young people snap to attention when confronted with a sprained ankle or broken wrist. Physical health is a top priority, and rightly so.
However, there are other kinds of health that are even more important. And the apostle hit on one of these when he told his associate Titus to major on teachings that were natural counterparts to “sound (or healthy) doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
The word used here is hugiainō, the root of our English word hygiene. Of course, we talk about hygiene in terms of keeping things clean. Brushing our teeth is good dental hygiene. Washing our hands is good hygiene. But the New Testament word went much deeper than that.
This verb means “to be healthy, to be in good health.” It occurs in 12 New Testament passages and refers to three different kinds of health.
- Physical health
Naturally, you would think first of physical health. People are hugiainō when all their body parts work properly so that they can carry out their daily activities. In short, they feel good.
Luke, a medical doctor, uses hugiainō to describe physical health.
- Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician” (Luke 5:31).
- When Jesus healed a servant who was near death, the messengers “returned to the house and found the servant well” (Luke 7:10).
- The prodigal son showed up on his father’s doorstep “safe and sound” (Luke 15:27).
In addition, a matching adjective, hugiēs, appears in 12 other verses, almost always describing freedom from physical disorders like paralysis, lameness, a withered hand, or chronic bleeding.
Physical hugiainō describes a condition when your body functions properly, with no severe disorders that prevent you from normal activities.
But hugiainō is also used figuratively to describe something beyond just the physical body.
- Doctrinal health
Paul uses the word several times in the Pastoral Epistles to talk about healthy doctrinal teaching.
- He ends a list of sins like immorality, homosexuality, kidnapping, lying, and perjury with a catch-all category: “whatever else is contrary to sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:10).
- He warns against anyone who teaches doctrine that does not “agree with [the] sound words” of Jesus (1 Timothy 6:3).
- He orders Timothy to “retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13).
- He predicts a time when people will refuse to put up with “sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3).
- He requires elders to hold fast to orthodox teaching so that they can “exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).
What makes doctrine healthy?
First, it has no missing parts. Just as a physical body with no right thumb is unhealthy, a theology without the deity of Christ is defective.
Second, it has no foreign elements added. Like a cancerous growth, extraneous teachings like the need for circumcision or the revelations of Mohammed or Joseph Smith are ultimately destructive.
Healthy doctrine is accurate, with no defects or false add-ons.
Finally, it enables you to live a rich, mature Christian life. That’s the third kind of health described in the New Testament.
- Spiritual health
Titus 2:1 links hugiainō to more than just theological accuracy. Paul tells Titus to teach the things that naturally go with accurate doctrine. What are those things?
The next verse gives the explanation: Older men are supposed to be sound – in faith, in love, and in perseverance (Titus 2:2). Spiritual hugiainō shows itself in the form of godly character qualities, even in older fellows who might be suffering from some physical frailties.
All through the book of Titus, Paul emphasizes the connection between right belief and right behavior. Healthy doctrine is the basis for a spiritually healthy lifestyle. In fact, you might say that any disease of the spiritual life can be traced to an unhealthy understanding of God and His revealed truth.
Physical health is not guaranteed. It depends on microbes, accidents, and the providence of God. But God calls us to commit ourselves to the truth of the gospel taught in His Word, so that we can live a spiritually healthy life.
This week’s word study was pulled from our 2018 archives because my wife and I are in Japan. Next week we will be back in the United States within range of my reference tools, so we will resume the usual pattern of producing a brand new word study. It’s easy to be discouraged. But in 2 Corinthians 4, the apostle Paul gave two different reasons why he didn’t lose heart. We’re going to go deeper into the word for losing heart, so that we won’t have to do it.
©Ezra Project 2022