Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24, NRSV). This is the verse that Pope Benedict XVI has chosen as his theme for Lent 2012. It is not, however, the translation that he has chosen; the English translation at the Vatican website is  “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb 10:24).

The verb, translated as "let us consider" or "let us be concerned," is katanoeo, which according to the Louw and Nida Greek-English Lexicon might be translated as "to consider carefully, to be concerned about" (Vol.I, 355). Either translation offered above seems to fit the context. It is the noun which follows which is most intriguing. What are we considering? What are we concerned for? We want to "stir a response" or "provoke one another" to love and good deeds.

The word being translated is the noun paroxysmos, derived from the verb, paroxyno. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol. V says that the verb is a composite based upon oxyno, "to sharpen," and that the verb most commonly means "to spur on," "to stimulate," and, in the passive, "to be provoked" (857). The noun is best understood as "provocation" or "irritation" in most cases, but the author of this entry, Heinrich Seesemann, says that it is "an unusual occurrence...at Hb. 10:24" and that the noun in this verse can only mean "incitement" or "stimulation" (857). This agrees with the Greek-English Lexicon, BDAG, which translates the noun to mean "rousing to activity, stirring up, provoking" (780). It suggests, finally, that the noun in Hebrews 10:24 be translated as "for encouragement in love" (780).

Is that strong enough though? Does encourage get to the same meaning as "stir up" or "provoke" or "stimulate" or "incite"? I do not think so, and so while I do not mind "stir a response in love and good works," I really like "provoke one another to love and good deeds." Which brings me to a question: how do we "provoke one another to love and good deeds"?

Is this accomplished by simply acting in love? By doing good deeds ourselves? "Provoke" seems stronger than "encourage by example," but maybe it is not. This Ash Wednesday and this Lent, I want to consider my role in the community by starting with these questions: how do you provoke someone to love and good deeds? And am I provoking anyone to love and good deeds? Is it possible that I am provoking people to do the opposite of love and good deeds through my actions? What do I need to change?

John W. Martens

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