Synonyms for "Blameless" (Monday with Mounce 36)
I received this question the other day:
"On several occasions (Eph. 1:4; 5:27; Col. 1:22) Paul writes about the goal of ministry being "blameless" (αμωμος
). Is there any significant difference between αμωμος and ανεγκλητος (1 Cor. 1:8), απροσκοπος (Phil. 1:10), αμεμπτος (Phil. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23), and αμομετος (2 Pet. 3:14)? Can "blameless" in any of the above contexts mean "sinless"?”
Synonyms can be difficult. The basic assumption is that there are rarely true synonyms. While the semantic range of each might overlap somewhat, each has its own nuance. οικια and οικος appear to be one of the few exceptions.
αμωμος is sacrificial language, occurring eight times in the NT, referring to our final state before God as well as to Jesus’ perfection. Phil 2:15 is the only reference to our current lives: “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” However, in this case it is a purpose statement of what we should be, not what we necessarily are.
ανεγκλετος occurs five times. It has a different nuance, and BDAG shows no usage in sacrificial language. It is synonymous with ανεπιλημπτος and describes people whose lives are “above reproach.” Its most notable usage is in the Pastorals as the head term for leadership qualifications (1 Tim 3:2, 10; Titus 1:6). In my commentary I argue that “above reproach” cannot refer to perfection such as can be conveyed by αμωμος; otherwise, no one could be in leadership. The key is to see that “above reproach” is the primary concern, and all the specifics that follow show how a person can be above reproach. Nowhere in the list is perfection.
απροσκοπος is more the idea of not giving offense. Paul talks about having a <i>clear</i> conscience (Acts 24:16), of not giving offense (1 Cor 10:32), and also of a believer being “pure and blameless” on the day of Christ (Phil 1:10), the last reference showing the conceptual overlap with αμωμος.
You can see where the discussion is going. The words have slightly different semantic ranges, but you have to see the context to know precisely what they mean. They often illustrate the difference between the already-and-not-yet, the indicative and imperative, of being what we are. (In George Ladd’s theology classes in seminary, he loved to talk about this!)
In Christ we are perfect, blameless, as he is perfect. Positional sanctification. Sinless. And yet in our experience we often fall short, will never fully arrive a perfection, and yet are to always strive for more. It is the tension we all live in. The Pastorals give us the specifics of what we strive for, whether we are in leadership or not, and it was Paul’s deepest wish that we grow up in Christ to be a spotless bride for Christ. If we look like the world, we can never be salt and light to the world. But leadership is reserved for those who have already traveled down this road to some degree.
I have learned that striving for something that is unattainable is not a depressing ideal. I know I will always fail, and yet I want to grow up as much as I can and so please my heavenly father. But I long for the day when all sin will be stripped from every cell of my body and I will be experientially perfect, without the possibility of sin. But my ultimate joy rests not in that but in the sinlessness of the lamb of God who has taken away my sin; and as I stand in judgment, I stand in his righteousness. Come Lord Jesus!
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.
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