The Progressive Churches of Christ: On the Meaning of kataginōskō

progressiveRegarding my post on April 1, reader RJ commented,

In 1 John chapter 3:20-21, the Greek word kataginosko is used in a non-damning way. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is the term to use for an Apostate.

It’s an entirely fair comment, and I must admit that the ESV rendering is not accepted by all translations.

ESV But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

KJV Galatians 2:11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

NASB Galatians 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

NET Galatians 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong.

NIV Galatians 2:11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

On the other hand, most modern translators take the stronger sense of the word. Why?

Well, the NET Bible translators offer this explanation:

Grk “because he stood condemned.”

In other words, they declined to provide a literal translation — which is quite unlike the NET Bible translators normally, but then it’s hardly normal for an apostle to be declared “condemned.”

The same word appears in these other verses —

(1Jo 3:19-24 ESV) By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;  20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.  21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;  22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

RJ argues that these are non-damning uses of the word, but that really misses John’s point. The entire epistle is about whether the reader is lost or saved —

(1Jo 5:11-13 ESV) 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.  13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

Numerous others passages in 1 John deal with very plainly with the question of individual salvation. The point of 3:20-21 is that the subjective state of our heart is not always a reliable indicator of our salvation (contrary to much evangelical preaching). Rather, we should feel confident in our salvation because we can see our obedience (not perfect obedience but a life lived based on a commitment to obey) and the fruit of the Spirit in us. And so the subject very much is damnation and salvation.

In the Septuagint, which always colors the NT’s use of Greek, we find —

(Deu 25:1-2 ESV)  “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty,  2 then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense.”

More recently, in the apocryphal Ben Sirach or Ecclesiasticus (ca. 200-175 BC), we have —

(Sir 14:2 KJA)  Blessed is he whose conscience hath not condemned him, and who is not fallen from his hope in the Lord.

(Sir 19:5 KJA) Whoso taketh pleasure in wickedness shall be condemned: but he that resisteth pleasures crowneth his life.

The evidence tends to pile up. I mean, the linguistic case from usage is overwhelming.

The Greek lexicons come to the same conclusion. BDAG, the most respected of them all, translates “condemn, convict.” Thayer’s refuses to go so far, however, but admits the meaning “condemn in other places both scriptural and secular.

to find fault with, blame: … he had incurred the censure of the Gentile Christians; Luther rightly, es war Klage über ihn kommen (i. e. a charge had been laid against him; but others he stood condemned, see Meyer or Ellicott, in the place cited; cf. Alexander Buttmann (1873) sec. 134, 4, 8), Gal. 2:11; to accuse, condemn: … , 1 John 3:20f, with which cf. Sir. 14:2 … . (In these and other significance in Greek writings from (Aeschylus and) Herodotus down;  

Thayer’s is an 1889 work. The more recent lexicons largely disagree. Friberg translates “condemn, declare to be wrong, judge to be guilty.” Louw-Nida translates “to judge something to be bad – ‘to condemn.'”

The commentators understandably struggle a bit. As pointed out in the earlier post, Richard Hays, a world-class scholar of Paul, finds the case for “condemned” very strong.

Peter stood condemned (kategnōsmenos; less strongly in NIV, ‘was in the wrong’). He was acting not only against his conscience and against the clear revelation that he had received in Acts 10, but also against his past tradition and custom in Antioch.

R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 9; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 115.

The clear sense of hypokrisis shows that Peter was taken to task for failing to have the courage of his real convictions; and it is for this reason that Paul says that Peter “stood condemned” (v. 11, RV, RSV, NASB).

Κατεγνωσμένος does not mean “to be blamed” (AV), “clearly in the wrong” (NEB, NIV), or “condemned’ before God” (U. Wilckens, TDNT VIII: 568, n. 51). Rather it indicates that Peter was condemned by his conduct which was at variance with his own inner convictions (e.g., R. Bultmann, TDNT I: 715: O. Cullmann, TDNT VI: 110; W. Schneider, NIDNTT II: 365). For a different view see Barrett, Signs, 71.

Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 109.

This PERIPHRASTIC PLUPERFECT PASSIVE VERB speaks of something that had already happened, that had become a settled position and had been performed by the outside agent. This construction does not imply that Peter continued in this attitude. Also notice that the leader of the Apostolic group made a mistake. The Apostles were inspired to write trustworthy and eternal Scripture but this never implied that they did not have sin or did not make poor choices in other areas!

Robert James Utley, Paul’s First Letters: Galatians and I & II Thessalonians, Study Guide Commentary Series, (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1997), Volume 11:21.

Now, ultimately context rules, and the issue at hand is surely not how the church at Antioch felt about Peter. After all, the other Jews were following his bad example, not condemning him. It may be that the Gentile Christians were unhappy with him, but it seems unlikely that they “condemned” him for not eating with them. In fact, it’s more likely that they accepted their ill treatment at the hands of an apostle, and their submission to the discrimination is part of what so upset Paul.

No, Paul’s point is that Peter had violated a core element of the gospel — faith saves and no works may be added to faith as a condition of salvation. Moreover, one purpose of the gospel is to unite God’s children across ethnic and racial boundaries, and Peter was busily allowing those boundaries to be rebuilt — all for the sake of church politics: to avoid criticism from his legalistic Jewish brothers. Hence, Peter preferred the praise of men to his theological right to actually teaching the church how to live the gospel — which is exactly what Jesus had charged him to do.

Now we can argue the points forever, but when we get done, the clear, unambiguous, indisputable fact is that Peter was wrong and in sin for his hypocrisy — for refusing to actively and visibly engage in Christian fellowship with the uncircumcised Gentiles because some Christians had scruples about circumcision and would have been upset with Peter had he eaten with the Gentiles.

Paul says it’s not enough to subjectively and silently consider them your brothers. To please God and obey the gospel, you have to eat with them — that is, you have to treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ in a visible way that teaches the gospel to the legalists. Peace at the price of legalism is not peace; it’s division. And dividing the Lord’s body is a great sin.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to The Progressive Churches of Christ: On the Meaning of kataginōskō

  1. Price says:

    I tend to give Peter some slack here only because it was such a huge transition for Jews to associate with Gentiles, much less eat with them… On more than one occasion it seems I remember that Peter and Paul got called into the Principal’s office in Jerusalem to explain what they were doing over in Gentile country… There was such division and animosity toward the Gentiles. Heck, there was hatred toward the Samaritans who had “soiled” themselves… It was a time of great transition.. From Law to Grace…From sectarianism to inclusion of all people. We have 2,000 years of study to help us.. Peter was living in the moment… My guess, is that if Peter could talk, he’d admonish those of us that refuse to worship together and celebrate Jesus together because of the differing name on the door.

  2. Dan Harris says:

    A novice comment…. Is it true that Peter stood to be blamed; was at fault; was hypocritical; etc. BUT as a saved disciple had no sin credited to him because he (and all Christians) are no longer under law but grace. He did not sin because we are not under law, except the law of Christ in which there is no condemnation. .So the Greek word under examination carries the burden of expressing fault but not expressing a fault which was counted to him as a sin—— a very difficult parsing but not untypical of the problem in expressing spiritual ideas with human wording..However this did not make his behavior proper or edifying therefore he stood in need of correction, which Paul provided. Any thoughts?

  3. Dwight says:

    Jay, I think your conclusion spills over into the whole of the Christian life. It is not enough to “subjectively and silently” be a saint either. We can argue for for certain scriptural points and yet not know the main point of the scriptures. We can argue that sinners need conversion and never talk to sinners to convert them. And the list goes on.
    “It is not enough to care, we must care enough to…” act, be a part of, teach, be with others, help, commune, love, etc.

  4. Kevin says:

    I would say, yes and no. IMO, Peter sinned because he transgressed the law of Christ; however, I don’t think he was condemned in the sense that he was now going to hell should he have had a heart attack and died at that moment. Grace covers our mistakes as long as we are penitent and walking in the light. If Paul had not corrected Peter and if Peter had willingly persisted in his sinful conduct (i.e. willingly sinned and kept on sinning), then he would have been eternally condemned.

  5. R.J. says:

    In Philippians 4:3 even though Euodia and Syntyche had a falling out, Paul says their names are written in the book of life(along with their fellow-workers). Division is sinful but not all sin leads to death.

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