Word of the Week
July 29, 2023
Nōthros: Slow Learners
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is difficult to explain, since you have become poor listeners.
Hebrews 5:11 NASB2020
You don’t expect much from a newborn baby.
All they do is lie there looking cute, squalling when they’re hungry, and dirtying diapers. But that’s OK. You’re delighted that they have all ten toes and all their body parts seem to work properly.
Before long, however, you start looking for landmarks of growth. The first time they sleep through the night. Their first words. Their first steps. The glorious day when you can quit changing diapers!
We get anxious when some of these developmental stages happen more slowly than we expect, especially when friends brag about their little Einstein who is talking in complete sentences while your toddler just makes unrecognizable noises. As time passes, you begin to wonder if something is wrong.
Something similar happens when you watch the spiritual growth of a follower of Jesus. Maturity takes time. As my pastor says, “You can’t become holy in a hurry.” There are times, however, when slow growth signals a problem.
How can you tell the difference? The Bible offers helpful insights and, as usual, we can see them even more clearly when we look at the Greek words used in the original New Testament text.
First, slow is not always bad.
James 1:19 instructs us to be “slow to speak and slow to anger.” The Greek word used here is bradus, which warns us against hasty speech and unchecked anger. It can describe someone who is TOO slow, but it reminds us to take time to think before we spout off impulsively.
On the other hand, slow can be a serious problem.
The book of Hebrews offers a classic case study that illuminates this principle. Hebrews was written to people who had come out of Judaism to become Christians. Their new life had been rough, marked by pressures that had caused some to wonder if they had made a mistake. Perhaps it would be easier to return to the old life in the synagogue!
Hebrews is a tightly reasoned appeal to these Jewish converts, arguing that Jesus Christ is superior to Judaism in every way. It would be folly to go back to the old ways.
The book turns the spotlight on one Old Testament character after another: Moses, Joshua, Levi. The writer prepares to build an argument on a little-known figure named Melchizedek, but there is a barrier that hinders him from giving a full explanation. He expresses the problem in Hebrews 5:11:
Concerning him [Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is difficult to explain, since you have become poor listeners.
“Poor listeners” in the NASB edition is translated “dull or slow of hearing” in other versions. The Greek word “slow” is nōthros, usually rendered as “slow, sluggish, lazy.” It appears only twice in the New Testament, both in Hebrews.
The very next verse shows us that this is not just the immaturity that goes with being a new, untaught Christian. Verse 12 complains that “by this time you ought to be teachers.” They have had plenty of time to make progress in their understanding of God’s Word, but they have gotten stuck in spiritual infancy. It wasn’t because of their low IQ or their lack of opportunity; it was their attitude!
We don’t scold a baby for failing to hop out of bed and run to the breakfast table. But when a teenager can’t manage to roll out from under the sheets, you know it’s a matter of choice. Similarly, the recipients of Hebrews were spiritually ignorant because they hadn’t been paying attention. Truth went in one ear and out the other without making much impact. Their problem was so serious that the writer used the next section of the book to issue a stern warning.
There’s a ray of hope, however. There is a cure for sluggish hearing. Babies can’t speed up the development process, but we can turn from a sinful attitude in a moment. That’s why Hebrews goes on to say, “We are convinced of better things regarding you” (Hebrews 6:9). They can choose to adopt an attitude of diligence, investing their full energy in hearing God’s voice (Hebrews 6:11).
If they do, they “will not be sluggish” – nōthros! They can become eager listeners to the truth, and when they do, they will join the ranks of those who inherit the promises of God. They can join the ranks of those heroes described in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11.
Are you spiritually stuck? Make the daily decision to show up at God’s throne with a heart that is eager to hear His voice.
This week’s word occurs only once in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint.
Do you see a man skilled in his work?
He will stand before kings;
He will not stand before obscure [nōthros] men (Proverbs 22:29).
Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word “skilled” in the first line is machiyr, which means “quick, prompt, skilled, ready.” A master craftsman develops the skills to size up a project quickly, moving straight through the steps to completion without dawdling or dithering. Such a person will serve the most demanding customers, not the crowd who waste time wondering what should be done.
Q – Ephesians talks about “the heavenly places.” What is that about?
A – That’s an intriguing phrase that appears several times in the book of Ephesians. Ephesians 1:4, for instance, says that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” The phrase comes from a single Greek adjective, ouranios, which means “heavenly.” In this verse, it has a plural spelling, and the translators add the word “places” to approximate the idea. You can read it as “heavenly [somethings].”
It is easy to assume that this word is a description of the realities in God’s presence in heaven. However, the same term is used to describe the evil forces of Satan operating “in the heavenly places.” I think it would be most helpful to think of it as the unseen realm where spiritual forces are active, both God’s holy angels and Satan’s evil emissaries.
When Paul wrote his letter to Titus, he called him “my true son.” What does it mean to be a “true” son? Next week we will explore this word to learn about an important character quality.
©Ezra Project 2023