Word of the Week
May 7, 2022
Kremannumi: It All Depends
On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
If Whack-a-Mole had been invented in the first century, the crowd in the Temple might have been reminded of the game as they watched Jesus swat down one trick question after another. First the Pharisees and Herodians with their query about taxes, then the Sadducees with their riddle about the resurrection.
Now one last lawyer raises a final question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
The answer bounces back quickly: ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” Then Jesus expands His answer with a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Why are these the preeminent commands in the Law? Because the whole Law and Prophets depend on them.
Exactly what did He mean when He declared that the Law and Prophets depend on those two commandments? I get the general idea, but I have never been quite sure I grasped the full meaning of that statement. To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to look up the Greek word that He used for “depend.”
The Lord chose a word that is a bit of a tongue-twister: kremannumi (kreh-MAH-noo-mee). It is the Greek word that means “to hang” or “to suspend” something. Classical Greek used it for hanging a vessel or a weapon on a hook, and the Old Testament used it to describe Absalom “hanging” by his hair from a tree (2 Samuel 18:9-10).
This meaning appears consistently in the other New Testament passages where the word occurs:
- Jesus warned that it was better to have a millstone hanged around your neck and be tossed into the sea, rather than face God’s wrath for leading one of His children astray (Matthew 18:6).
- After Paul washed up on the shore of Malta, he was warming himself by a fire when a venomous snake attacked him. The serpent was hanging from his hand until he shook it off into the fire (Acts 28:4).
- The criminals who were crucified with Jesus were hanged on their crosses (Luke 23:39).
- The same word was used to describe Jesus hanging on His cross (Acts 5:30; 10:39).
- Paul cited a provision of the Old Testament law from Deuteronomy 21:23 which said that anyone hung on a tree was considered cursed by God. He applied it to Jesus, who “became a curse for us,” when He hung on the cross, enduring the penalty for our sin (Galatians 3:13).
Only in Matthew 22 do we find the word used figuratively. In some sense, the Law and Prophets hang on the two great commandments mentioned by Jesus. One lexicon points us toward the picture of a door hanging by two hinges; those two points of connection enable us to swing the whole door open.
“The Law and the Prophets” was an expression that describes the entire Old Testament, a long and complicated document. It wasn’t as complex as the U.S. Tax Code, but it contained hundreds of specific provisions. How wonderful to hear Jesus boil it down to the core principles of loving God and loving one’s neighbor.
It reminds me of the people who always have a hook by the door to the garage where they can hang their massive keyrings. Instead of looking all over the house for the right keys, they know they can go to that one spot and find all they need. Similarly, a person who wants the key to pleasing God doesn’t have to master the entire Bible. They can go to these two commands and know that they’re headed the right direction.
This doesn’t nullify all of the Bible’s directives, of course. Joseph Fletcher wrote a popular book a few decades ago titled Situation Ethics, pushing the idea that love was the only ethical standard you needed. People used his interpretation to justify virtually anything they wanted to do, even if it ignored God’s clear commands about marriage. He forgot that the rest of Scripture helps define what true love is.
On the other hand, Romans 13 gave the best explanation: when you love your neighbor, you will inevitably keep all the other commands (Romans 13:8-10). And when we love God, we will want to obey His will. Doing what He demands is the logical outcome of love.
This word is relatively simple. It describes the physical act of hanging someone or something on a support. Like any word that describes a physical act, it can be used as a figurative way of describing something that is not physical. Whenever you see figurative language, there is an implied comparison between a physical reality and a logical or spiritual reality. Simply look for the similarities between the two. In this passage, you know that the Old Testament doesn’t hang on a hook or a tree; the individual laws and messages all bring out specific aspects of the two main commands.
Q: One reader asked about the Greek word for “foreknowledge,” asking whether it is connected to the idea of foreordination. This is connected to the discussions about the balance between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
A: The Greek word for “foreknow” is proginōskō, and the matching noun “foreknowledge” is prognosis. There’s only so much you can prove from the usage of these Greek words. Most of the New Testament uses describe God’s foreknowledge, but the word is also used to describe human beings who simply know something ahead of time (see Acts 26:5; 2 Peter 3:17). The word itself simply means prior knowledge, but it doesn’t say how that knowledge is gained. You’ll have to decide the theological issues in a broader study of the topic in Scripture.
Do you ever get bothered? Next week we are going to take a look at the Greek word for it – and, hopefully, gain insights on how to deal with it.
©Ezra Project 2022