Methistemi: Making the Move

Word of the Week

July 15, 2023

Methistēmi: Making the Move


For He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

Colossians 1:13


I lived in the Arizona desert for nearly 40 years.  I only saw snow fall three times in those four decades.  Our back yard featured lizards and an occasional horned toad, with saguaro and prickly pear cacti sprouting from a gravel bed.

Then we moved to Indiana.  We entered a world where our yard was filled with red squirrels, bunny rabbits and chipmunks.  Geese flow overhead, and a nearby pond was the stopping place for ducks and herons.  Oaks and birches provided shade, and you didn’t need irrigation to grow flowers.

It took some adjustment.  I recall taking a walk one October evening wearing the heaviest jacket I owned and shivering as the cold wind swept across a field to hit me.  Wow, I thought, I’m not in Phoenix any more!

This was more than just a relocation; it was entrance to a new stage of life for us.

However, it was merely a modest transition compared to the life-changing move that God orchestrated for us when He saved us.

In Colossians 1:12-13, Paul uses three Greek words to describe the amazing steps that God took for us when He provided our salvation:

  1. God qualified us to enjoy a share in the inheritance that He provides.
  2. He delivered us from the Satanic domain of darkness.

And finally . . .

  1. He transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

We come today to the third Greek word that describes the Great Move to Christ’s kingdom.

Behind the English term transferred is the Greek word methistēmi.  It is constructed from two common Greek terms:  meta, which implies a change; and histēmi, “to stand, cause to stand.”  The word means to move, transfer, remove, change position.  The basic thought is that you leave one position and move to a different one.

Methistēmi appears only five times in the New Testament, and a quick look at each passage will give a clearer picture of the word’s meaning.

  1. Luke 16:4 – Moving someone out of a job.

Jesus told the story of an unscrupulous steward who had been mismanaging his master’s estate, enjoying a comfortable life.  However, the owner discovered what was going on, and the rascal realized he would soon be out of a job.  He quickly formed a plan, announcing, “I know what I will do when I am removed from my position.”   For him, methistēmi was a change drastic enough to require an entirely new way to survive.

  1. Acts 13:22 – Removing someone from the throne.

Paul was preaching in the Antioch synagogue, reviewing God’s hand in the history of Israel.  First, he reminded them that God had appointed Saul as the first king of the nation.  Then, he went on, God removed him and raised up David to be the new king.  The Lord put Saul into office and the Lord moved him out – by death, in this case.  Once again, the word describes a drastic change.

  1. Acts 19:26 – Swaying public opinion from an old consensus to a new idea.

The gospel was spreading in Ephesus so successfully that it was hurting the sales of idols.  The craftsmen who made and sold statuettes of Roman deities were losing business, and a silversmith named Demetrius stirred up a protest that eventually filled the amphitheater with a howling mob.  What was his complaint?  “This Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.”  In this case, public opinion had made a drastic shift.  People who once believed in the gods of the pagan temples had moved to the opposite position.

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:2 – Moving a mountain to a new location.

Paul was making the point that even the greatest spiritual gifts are ineffective apart from love.  Faith, for instance, is immensely important.  But even faith great enough “to remove mountains” is worthless without love.  He was using figurative language, as Jesus did, to describe the greatest imaginable achievement of faith – not merely making a mountain quiver, but moving to a different location!

Obviously, methistēmi covers many kinds of moves, depending on the context.  But in every case, it describes more than a minor adjustment.  It describes a massive move to something completely different.  And that is the case in the final New Testament passage: Colossians 1:13.

Where were we before God stepped into our lives?  In the domain of darkness, dwelling in Satan’s territory, unable to gain our freedom, with nothing to offer that would earn God’s favor.  It was a spiritual wasteland.

But God took the initiative to add us to the list of heirs to His legacy.  He launched a rescue expedition to snatch us out of Satan’s territory.  And He capped off the whole project by arranging the most dramatic move imaginable into a new home in His kingdom, where we can walk daily with the King.


Study Hint:

Our word this week is one easily overlooked.  It doesn’t even appear in some of the study sources that discuss theologically significant Greek words.  What do you do when you encounter such a garden-variety word?

You can always look for more commentaries for additional insights.  I found one source that said methistēmi was used in classical Greek to describe a body of men who were deported to form a colony in a new territory.  That’s a good picture of the Church – a colony representing God’s kingdom in a foreign land.

You can also check Old Testament uses.  Joshua 14:8 describes the way the 10 fearful spies moved the hearts of Israel from confidence to terror with their stories of giants in the land.  And Isaiah 54:10 uses it twice, pointing out that “The mountains may be removed, but my covenant of peace with never be shaken.



Q – Why do people say that the New Testament is written in Koine Greek?  Is there more than one kind of Greek?

A – Languages change over time, and Greek was no exception.  Just as many people today have trouble understanding Shakespeare or the King James Bible, people living in the first century spoke a Greek that had changed over the preceding centuries.  Secular writers like Plato and Aristotle used a highly-developed version of Greek that we call Classical Greek, developed in the city of Athens.  But when Alexander the Great conquered a huge swath of the Middle East, a host of new peoples had to converse in Greek with their new government.  They couldn’t master the nuances of classical Greek, but a simplified form of the language developed.  The word koine means “common, shared,” and we use the term Koine Greek to describe this popular version of the language that was shared all across the Roman Empire.


Coming Up

Do you check the label on a food item to see if it’s organic?  The Bible talks about a different kind of checking that is an important part of your spiritual life.  Next week, we will look at one of the Greek words for testing something.

©Ezra Project 2023

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