Word of the Week
August 20, 2022
Kreittōn: Good, Better and Best
Because God had provided something better for us . . .
In the days before Amazon, we had the Sears Roebuck catalog – a 1500-page compendium of every product imaginable from socks to socket wrenches. You could even buy a mail order house! Just submit the order and 30,000 pieces of lumber and hardware would be hauled by train and truck to your lot, where you could assemble it into a two-story house.
Sears ads often offered three options: good, better and best. You could decide how much you wanted to spend on a washer or sewing machine – and what quality you would get.
We constantly make similar choices today, and whether we are buying a car, choosing a college or planning a weekend outing, we have to decide which option is better. Some choices are easy: we discard a rotten apple and eat the good one. But the hard choices are the ones between two good things. Which one is better?
The New Testament spotlights the tension between good and better, and as usual, the Greeks have a word for it. Let’s scrutinize this concept to get God’s help in making the best choices.
The Greek word for “better” is kreittōn, which appears about 18 times in the New Testament, most often in the book of Hebrews.
We usually say that something is better because we will get more satisfactory results from it. One choice is more “to our advantage.”
The New Testament offers several test cases:
- Which is better: to suffer because you deserve it or to suffer when you’ve done nothing wrong? 1 Peter 3:17 says that the innocent sufferer is better off in God’s eyes.
- Which is better: to be married or to stay single? The apostle Paul acknowledges that both choices are legitimate, but he argues in 1 Corinthians 7:9, 38 that there are definite advantages to the single life.
- Which is better: to live or to die? The answer seems obvious, but Paul writes from Roman prison to say that he would be better off if he died. After all, he would be with Christ!
Something might be better because it is more useful. 1 Corinthians 12:31 mentions the “better” spiritual gifts – the ones that are most effective in bringing glory to God.
To get the deepest insights into “better,” we need to enter the book of Hebrews. This treatise was written to people who had left Judaism to become followers of Jesus. They had been on the receiving end of intense social pressure, and some of them were tempted to throw away their Christian commitment and return to the comfortable Jewish fold. The core of Hebrews is the argument that Christ is better than anything in Judaism, so it would be folly to relapse into the old faith.
Highlights from Hebrews:
First, Christ is a better person – superior in rank and character to any other.
- Christ is better than angels (Hebrews 1:4). They are just servants, but He is the Son.
- Christ is better than the Jewish priesthood (Hebrews 7:7). They qualified for their job by birth into the family line of Aaron. Jesus, on the other hand, was like the Old Testament king-priest Melchizedek, who shows up in the story of Abraham. He qualified as a priest on the basis of his person, not his ancestry.
Second, Christ did a better work – His priestly work accomplished salvation more completely.
- He provided a better hope (Hebrews 7:19).
- He laid the foundation for a better covenant between God and man (Hebrews 7:22;8:6).
- His one sacrifice dealt with sin better than all the animal sacrifices in the Temple (Hebrews 9:23; 12:24).
Third, Christ’s followers can look forward to a future far better than any alternative.
- People who have been persecuted for Christ know that they have a better future in heaven (Hebrews 10:34).
- People like Abraham were willing to leave their earthly homes to seek a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16).
- Even those who endured torture knew that they would receive a resurrection body better than this one (Hebrews 11:35).
- God has provided something better for us so that we could share the blessings of the long line of people who trusted Him in the face of suffering (Hebrews 11:40).
Picking the best life insurance is important, but we will only be able to make wise decisions when we remember that:
God is better than goodies.
Eternity is better than the temporary.
God’s promises are better than the American dream.
In English, we distinguish between “better” and “best.” Grammarians call “better” the comparative form of a word, and we use it to decide between two things. “Best” is called the superlative degree, and we use it to decide between three or more options. Greek works differently. They use the comparative spelling of a word whether they are comparing 2, 3, or 40 options. One is “better” than the others.
Superlatives in Greek don’t mean “the best of three or more choices.” They just mean something is “very, very good” or big or important. No comparison is implied. All the verses we used in this article are considered comparatives. They mean that one thing is better than all the rest.
Q – In Judges 4:8, the general Barak refuses to attack the enemy unless Deborah the judge accompanies him. I have been told that the Greek Septuagint adds a phrase where he explains his reasoning. Is this right?
A – Yes, there is an extra line in the Septuagint. In the Hebrew Bible, Barak says, “If you do not go with me, I will not go.” The Septuagint adds, “because I do not know the day in which the Lord will prosper the messenger with me.” The meaning is obscure, but it seems clear that Barak knew he couldn’t defeat the enemy on his own. He was counting on God’s blessing. You might be wondering, “What is the Septuagint?” It is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, done during the period between the Testaments. It was a great blessing to the many scattered Jews who no longer understood Hebrew, and it is valuable to Bible students because the New Testament sometimes uses the Septuagint wording when it quotes an Old Testament verse.
You have heard that Peter’s name means “rock,” and we often discuss the famous verse where Christ promises to build His church on the rock. Next week, we will get acquainted with three different Greek words for rock. Rock on!
©Ezra Project 2022