Word of the Week
February 6, 2021
Idios – It’s Your Very Own
Who can resist a puppy? You see a little ball of fur in a TV commercial and instantly think, “Aww! Isn’t he cute?”
But it’s a whole different world when you decide to put down the cash and purchase a pup for your family. Yes, you get the joy of watching your kids play with little Mitzi. But you also have the privilege of feeding her, watering her, taking her out, and cleaning up her messes. When it’s your very own dog, the experience is much different from merely enjoying puppies in general.
We all draw a mental boundary between our own affairs and the broader world around us. We have an interest in community issues and international affairs, but we focus most closely on a mental territory that we stake out as our personal world.
The Greeks had a word for it, as they often did. The Greek word idios appears over 110 times in the New Testament, usually rendered in English as “one’s own, private, personal.”
In classical Athens, Greeks divided life into the public sphere (dēmios) and the private sphere (idios). Dēmios described a person’s role as part of the demos or “people” – the citizens who administered the affairs of their city-state. It was a democracy, ruled by the people. Athenian citizens were expected to participate in public affairs. Of course, everyone also had to manage their idios interests, their own household and business affairs.
You can see the contrast in two imprisonments in the book of Acts. When the Jewish authorities arrested the apostles in Acts 5:18, they put them in a dēmosia, a public jail. Paul, on the other hand, spent two years under house arrest in Rome in idios quarters for which he personally paid rent
New Testament writers use idios in many contexts with varied shades of meaning. In many cases, it illuminates a passage when you think of the word as a stronger version of “his” or “her.” It underlines the fact that something is my personal possession or experience.
- Acts 4:32 – In the Jerusalem church, none of the believers treated their possessions as their own (idios), exclusively their property. Instead, they considered their resources as something to be shared in common.
- Luke 6:41 – Jesus warns the critic to deal with the plank in his own (idios) eye before he complains about the speck in his brother’s eye. Take responsibility for your own problem first!
- Titus 2:5, 7 – The apostle instructs women to be submissive to their own husbands and teaches slaves to obey their own masters, rather than putting them under obligation to men (or masters) in general.
- 1 Timothy 5:8 – The head of a household is responsible to provide for his own, especially those in his actual household.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:11 – Paul scolded some lazy members of the church, ordering them to “lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” Neglecting your own responsibilities dishonors your Master.
Obviously, it is important to know what I am responsible for in my personal world. In fact, it can be a profitable exercise to write a two-column list of my responsibilities in (1) my personal life and (2) my public life at work, church, or community. Such a check-up will help us realize when we are teetering out of balance.
We have limits. In his new book, my brother Mike reports on research that suggests that most of us have the capability to be in relationship with about 150 people, and even that involves different levels of intimacy.1 That’s why we can easily allow the pressures of work and ministry to push our family and inner circle of relationships to the back burner.
God, on the other hand, has no limits. He can focus undistracted attention on millions at once. Jesus described Himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11) who would call his own sheep by name (John 10:3-4). Sheep are even more trouble than puppies, yet the Lord willingly takes all the responsibility in caring for His very own flock. He takes care of His own, including you. And He gets joy from have you as His very own. “The LORD takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4).
1 Dr. Mike Bechtle, The People Pleaser’s Guide to Loving Others without Losing Yourself. Revell, 2020, pages 110-111. Definitely worth reading!
Such a versatile word could lead you to a lengthy safari through the New Testament. Today’s meditation is merely a small slice of the possibilities.
One verse worth further study: John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Idios appears twice here – with a difference. The first use has a neuter ending, but the second has a masculine ending. To vastly oversimplify the grammar on adjectives like this, you might read the verse this way: “He came to His own [things], but His own [people] did not receive Him. He created the world, but His people rejected Him. What a tragedy!
Q: We know that Samuel was a prophet and a judge, but was he also considered a priest or high priest?
A: This isn’t Greek, but it’s an interesting question. Samuel grew up serving under Eli the high priest, wearing a linen garment like a priest (1 Samuel 2:18). He later offered sacrifices (1 Samuel 7:9; 10:8). However, I don’t see any verse that describes him directly as a priest. He was descended from the tribe of Ephraim, not the tribe of Levi (1 Samuel 1:1), so he wasn’t qualified to be a regular priest as prescribed in the Law.
I suspect that God used him to fulfill some of the functions of a priest, even though he did not officially hold the position. The priesthood under Levi and his descendants was in disarray, even losing the ark to the Philistines at one point. God had pronounced a curse on Eli’s family (1 Samuel 3:13), which was ultimately carried out when Solomon dismissed the high priest Abiathar from service (1 Kings 2:27).
When you’re carrying a heavy load, you need endurance! Our next word study will delve into the Greek word for endurance. It might be just what you for this strenuous time!
©Ezra Project 2021