Give Up the Ghost
There is a perhaps excusable practice of
substituting “Holy Spirit” for “Holy Ghost” when reading
the King Jam Bible. In its turn this has brought about a similar switch from
“gave up the ghost” to “gave up the spirit”, which is
not so defensible. Ekpneo is, quite simply, “breath
out”, ie “to breathe one’s last (breath)”.
“Expire” is the exact (Latin) equivalent. Ekpsucho is,
literally, “to out-soul” or “out-life”. To turn this
into “give up the spirit” is both inexact and misleading. This
practice should stop. Either let us have the good old English, which no
congregation misunderstands, or else “expire” (this is perhaps
best), or the plain unvarnished “die”.
Gnashing of Teeth
This expressive phrase comes 9 times in the NT
and in 8 of them is coup-led with “weeping”. So this is usually
taken as an intensive for irremediable uncontrollable sorrow. But no! The one
place where “gnashing of teeth” occurs by itself (Acts 7:54) it
describes the violent inexpressible anger for and hatred of Stephen shown by his
Sanhedrin judges. Then this must be the meaning in the eight gospel descriptions
of the anguish of those rejected in the Day of Judgment. “Weeping”
certainly means intense sorrow. And in that Day “gnashing of teeth”
means anger — with whom? and why? The only pos-sible explanation is: anger
with oneself, for having been such a fool as to have within one’s grasp or
attainment the “blessed hope” of eternal redemption in Christ. To
come so near to this and wilfully to reject it is the most arrant folly a human
being is capable of. So here is the nearest that the teaching of Jesus comes to
the mediaeval notion of everlasting torment in hell — only, mercifully, it
will not be everlasting, for then “the sinner being an hundred years
old shall be accursed.” No fate worse than that? (See Psa
The original of Acts 7:54 is almost certainly the
eloquent Psalm 37:12 (but see also Job 16:9).
Stenos means “narrow”.
It describes a pass shut in between cliffs, or a slim isthmus of land, or an
ocean strait (the straits of Gibraltar) joining larger pieces of water. This
idea of being shut in has passed into the English words “straitened”
and “constraint”. Hence “the strait gate” (Mat
Similarly, in Greek, stenos has
begotten stenazo, groan, and stenagmos, groaning.
Always the idea is that of being shut in, under pressure or
The idea comes out excellently in the
angel’s words to Moses: “I have heard the groaning of the children
of Israel” (Exo 6:5; Acts 7:34).
Paul appropriates this word to describe his own
aspirations to be rid of the spiritual cramping which the “earthly house
of this tabernacle” necessarily imposes on the new man in Christ:
“For in this (tabernacle) we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon
(more completely) with our house which is from heaven (the new creature)”
“Groan” becomes a key word in a
passage of similar import in Romans 8, where Paul has written about the New
Creation waiting expectantly and looking earnestly for “the manifestation
of the sons of God”. “The whole (new) creation groaneth and
travaileth until now. And not only they (the brethren in general), but ourselves
also (the leaders and elders of the ecclesias), which have the firstfruits of
the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves.” He goes on to
emphasize this: “For we (the leaders) know not what we should pray for (on
behalf of others) as is needful (or, necessary): but the Spirit also helpeth our
infirmities (these deficiencies of wisdom and spiritual power), making
intercession (for our brethren: ‘for us’ is not in the Greek text
here) with groanings which it is not possible to utter (apart from the
Spirit’s help)” (8:19,23,26).
Read this way, the passage comes down to earth.
It is an allusion to the ecclesial leaders having the deficiencies of their
mortality, in the guidance of the ecclesias, being made good by Holy Spirit
power. Today, although the same inspiration does not operate, the duty to pray
for the brethren as individuals is still there, but in general it goes
This word “groan” has exactly the
same context in Heb 13:17: “...them that have the rule over you...for they
watch for your souls...that they may do it with joy, and not with
Jam’ exhortation is in contrast with this:
“Grudge (groan) not one against another, brethren, lest ye be
condemned” (5:9). Not this, but “groaning” in prayer on behalf
of one another.
The one occasion when this word is used about
Jesus is in his healing of the man who was deaf and almost dumb (Mar 7:34). In
this miracle, and on hardly any other occasion, Jesus looked up to heaven and
“sighed”, groaned. This doubtless was the offering of a special
prayer. But why in this miracle and not in so many others? Because the Lord saw
this deaf and dumb man as a figure of his chosen disciples who were spiritually
like that, and making little progress. So the prayer was not just for the man,
but also for a miracle of hearing and speech to be wrought on his disciples.
From this point of view the miracle makes sense. It was an acted
In the next chapter a more intensive form of this
word is used regarding Jesus (8:12). Pharisees pressed him for a sign from
heaven. They knew they had a good attacking gambit here: “You say John was
the promised Elijah prophet of Malachi 4 and yourself the Messiah? But when the
first Elijah handed over to his greater successor there was a sign from heaven
— the cherubim of glory. Then to prove your claims, give us the same sign!
We’ve had enough of these trifling miracles of healing. Let the chariots
of Israel appear, with the horsemen thereof.”
And indeed at a word Jesus could have given the
sign they demanded. But instead he offered a heart-felt prayer for patience with
these soul-less faithless men (lit.: he up-groaned in his spirit), and then
abruptly he left them.
There is another word twice translated
“groan”, in the account of the raising of Lazarus. “Jesus
groaned in his spirit, and was troubled” (John 11:33); “therefore
again groaning in himself Jesus cometh to the grave” (v 38). Clearly the
translators have read these two passages as expressions of the intense grief of
Jesus because of the death of Lazarus and the bereavement suffered by Martha and
But embrimaomai suggests
indignation and even anger. It is a word to describe the snorting of a horse
(very onomatopoetic!) or the roaring of a lion. This is certainly the idea when
disciples “murmured” at Mary for her anointing of Jesus (Mar 14:5).
No grief here, but only indignation. And in the only LXX occurrences (Lam 2:6;
Dan 11:30) this is certainly the meaning. So also in quite a few places in the
versions of Aquila and Symmachus: eg Jer 10:10; 15:17; Psa
Then why should Jesus be filled with indignation
at the graveside of his friend. The context suggests anger at the hypocrisy of
the Jewish leaders who “wept” along with the two sisters, and in the
next moment indulged in sarcasm and criticism: “Behold how he loved
him!...Could not this man...have caused that even this man (one so sick) should
not have died?” (John 11:36,37). Jesus did well to be
So also in connection with two other miracles.
With both the leper (Mar 1:43) and the two blind men (Mat 9:30) Jesus
“straitly charged” (embrimaomai) that no one should be
told. There is an intriguing picture here of the compassion of the Lord fighting
a battle with his mistrust of human nature. Against his better judgment he
healed them, and paid for it, for in both instances he was flagrantly disobeyed.
The question as to why Jesus was so anxious in these instances to avoid
publicity is another problem, not to be entered on here.