Thursday, January 5, 2012

Word Study: προλαμβανω

Our goal for today's word study is to determine the meaning of προλαμβανω within its biblical context. Please keep in mind there are two important truths that govern our study: first, our word study must be based on the original language and not the English word, and second, the context is the ultimate determiner of the precise meaning of any word that we are attempting to study.

"Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." (Galatians 6:1, ESV) 

The King James, New King James, and the Revised Standard Version translate our word as "overtaken." The NASB, English Standard Version, and the New International Version translate it as "caught." The New Living Translation translate the word as "overcome."

 Careful scholars will translate the original text with the English word (s) that most clearly convey its meaning. It seems that the best translation of this word is "overtaken, or overcome." 

We can initially conclude that some believers are overtaken by some sin or fault. This doesn't tell us very much, however, it is a good start.

Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (1969) defines "overtaken" as "to catch up with, to catch up with and pass by, to come upon suddenly; to seize."

 The Englishmen's Greek Concordance of the New Testament (p. 657) shows that Paul uses this word one other time in the Greek New Testament:
  • I Corinthians 11:21 -- "For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk."
New Thayer's Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (p. 541) tells us that "overtaken" is used to translate the Greek Word προληφθη. It is defined by Thayer's as to take before, to anticipate, to forestall, to take one by forestalling (by surprise.)

Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says that is a compound Greek word, "pro" and lambano." It means "to anticipate, to take, of forestalling the less favored, or "of being overtaken." In this passage it means " of being caught by sin through being off guard.

Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p.14) says of Paul's usage in Galatians 6:1, "The point of προληφθη is that Paul has in view a fault into which the brother is betrayed "unawares," so that it is not intentionally wrong. In this case brotherly help is demanded rather than unloving judgment.

Prolambano (prol-am-ban’-o) can mean "to anticipate", "to take before" (hand) and "to be overtaken." It is used three times in the New Testament. It is used twice by the Apostle Paul.

So, let's pull this all together and define our word.

First of all, our definition carries within it the "genes" for debate and controversy. The word that Paul used does not refer to a deliberate, willful, or planned sin by an individual. As a matter of fact, Paul would not suppose such a man who deliberately planned to sin as even being a Christian. In Paul's theology, a believer has been freed from the penalty and power of sin and therefore has died to sin.

Secondly, Paul is not treating sin in the church as something that is a "hypothetical possibility." He recognizes that sin in the church is a reality. Therefore, moral failure should not be a surprise to other members in the body when it occurs.

Third, our word strictly by definition and context refers to an individual who has grown lax in keeping up his guard and is suddenly and by surprise overtaken by a temptation. This is a sin which people fall by weakness and being unalert. Barnes describes it as "a slip that might occur to a man on a very slippery or icy road." In other words, if he doesn't pay attention, suddenly, he will be overtaken by a fall from the ice.

Within the context then, those believers who are living out the fruit of the Holy Spirit are to take the responsibility to restore any believers who have dropped their guard and slipped into a fault or sin.

(I don't know why my typing switched to small in some places. I have used normal all the way through this post. It switched on its own. I am sorry.)


welcome to my world of poetry said...

As they say you learn something every day. well done on a super blog Gregg.


Scott said...

Love these word studies, Gregg. Thanks so much. Looking at it appears that this word also is used in Mark 14:8 "she is come aforehand to anoint"

I was puzzled at first by the difference between "overtaken" in Gal 6:1 and "go ahead" or "take before" in 1Cor 11:21. In thinking upon this I believe the difference is explained by the difference in the voice of the two occurences. "Active" in 1Cor 11:21 and "Passive" in Gal 6:1.

And "Overtaken" can be understood quite differently than "caught." Caught could be construed apart from the transgression catching the man to instead and incorrectly understanding some third party catching the man in the transgression. I think you made the better choice in coming down on the side of "overtaken."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this good little study Gregg. It's sobering to think that we too can easily "slip on the ice" - no wonder the verse ends with "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."

Wishing you and Irene a wonderful year!

Living on Less Money said...

I was studying this verse last week. I believe it was John MacArthur's commentary that said the word reflects a fisherman throwing his net overboard when his feet become entangled.

I appreciated your study.