Word of the Week
October 23, 2021
Kosmos: What in the World?
Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. . .
1 John 2:15 (NASB)
For God so loved the world . . .
There was a time when many conservative Christians believed that cosmetics were connected to worldliness.
Henrietta Mears, founder of Gospel Light Publishing and a mid-20th century leader in the field of Christian education, once commented, “Why, if some church people knew I ever wore lipstick or nail polish, they wouldn’t let me inside of their churches to talk about Jesus Christ.” (Arlin Migliazzo, The Henrietta Mears Story).
Though you can still find groups who minimize cosmetics, other issues loom larger on the radar screen for most churches. You might be surprised, however, to find that there actually is a connection between cosmetics and the Greek word for “world” in the New Testament.
In Greek, the most common word for “world” is kosmos (occurs 186 times). But that’s not the earliest meaning for the word. In classical Greek and in the Greek Old Testament, it meant something arranged in an orderly, attractive manner.
You can see this most easily in the matching verb, kosmeō, which means, “to adorn, decorate, make attractive.”
- The temple was adorned with beautiful stones (Luke 21:5) and the foundations of the New Jerusalem are also adorned with all kinds of precious stones (Revelation 21:29).
- The scribes and Pharisees used to decorate the tombs of their godly ancestors (Matthew 23:29).
- Both Paul and Peter encourage women not to merely adorn themselves through jewelry, hairstyles and clothing, but with the inner beauty of a gentle, quiet spirit (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:4-5).
- Paul applies a similar image in Titus 2:10, urging believers to live in a manner that adorns the teaching of the gospel (Titus 2:10). Like a gold necklace that enhances the beauty of your face, a godly lifestyle should enable an onlooker to appreciate the beauty of our Savior, not draw attention to ourselves.
Back to the noun kosmos. Though 1 Peter 3:3 uses it with the older meaning “adornment,” it almost always appears in the rest of the New Testament as “world.”
Kosmos is a bit of a paradox. John 3:16 says that God loved the kosmos so much that He gave His only begotten Son for it. 1 John 2:15, on the other hand, commands us not to love the kosmos. One moment it is something good, the next something bad.
What’s going on here? Let’s look at the different uses of the word.
- Kosmos can mean the created universe. Paul tells the crowd at Mars Hill about “the God who made the world and all things in it” (Acts 17:24).
- Kosmos can mean the people of the world, who are the objects of God’s love and justice, people who may experience eternal life or divine judgment (John 3:16-17).
- Kosmos is often a description of a world system opposed to God. Ephesians 2:2-3 lists the world (along with the devil and the flesh) as one of the enemies of our soul. Satan is called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31).
We can best understand this evil version of the world by remembering the original idea of orderly arrangement. The kosmos is the total package of culture, worldview and society – a comprehensive set of interconnected attitudes, beliefs, practices and values that give people a framework for their way of life.
We sometimes think of “the world” in terms of its most blatant aberrations – addictions, debauchery, violence, and despair. Why would anyone be attracted to that?
However, “the world” is actually Satan’s alternative to the kingdom of God. It is an orderly system of life designed to be as attractive as possible so that people think they can find satisfaction without God. The details vary from one place to another, but each culture pursues its own attempts to find meaning in life in the absence of the true God.
Sometimes the world shows itself in active opposition to the gospel. At other times it merely offers to meet all our needs with no reference to the Creator.
Worldliness is more than merely a matter of cosmetics. Instead, the world system is Satan’s attempt to put a good face on rebellion against God.
There are three other Greek words sometimes translated for “world.”
Gē is the physical earth. That’s where we get the word “geology.” Think places.
Oikoumenē is “the inhabited earth” or the human race as a whole. Think people.
Aiōn is “an age,” a period of time. The King James of Matthew 28:20 – says, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Think time.
Q – How do you pronounce New Testament Greek? Is it the same as modern Greek?
A – Most teachers of New Testament Greek use a pronunciation that is not quite the same as modern Greek. If you visit Athens, you can use a knowledge of biblical Greek to read the exit and entrance signs, but you will have difficulty understanding the people speaking around you.
Some Greek teachers prefer to use the modern pronunciation, but I am most comfortable with the traditional academic pronunciation. That’s what I teach.
Does it matter? When you consider the difference between English as it is spoken in Brooklyn, Boston and Alabama, it’s clear that there is room for variation!
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©Ezra Project 2021