googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Matthew 5:27-28: The Significance of the Greek Participle

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Matthew 5:27-28: The Significance of the Greek Participle

Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· οὐ μοιχεύσεις. ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι [αὐτὴν] ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.
You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman in order to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Matthew 5:27-28

In English, participles are special verbs that function either as adverbs or adjectives. They are easily identified by the ending, “ing.” If there were a room full of men and I wanted to identify a certain man, I might say, “Do you see the man
standing by the door?” The word, “standing” in this sentence is a participle. It's acting as an adjective describing which man I'm talking about – the man standing by the door. I'm not necessarily interested in what he is doing; I'm using the participle to identify who he is.

In Greek, participles act much the same way as they do in English. In Matthew 5:28, the word βλέπων (blepōn) is a participle acting as an adjective (technically, it's an adjective functioning substantively as a noun). ὁ βλέπων is most literally translated as “the one who is looking” but just as in English, the participle isn't necessarily concerned with what he is doing but is merely identifying who he is.

The use of a participle makes an important distinction. Later in Matthew (Matthew 7:16), Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” You can see that a person isn't defined by his actions; rather, he is revealed by his actions. In the Matthew 5:27-28 passage, it's not “looking” at women that makes a man an adulterer. The passage is clear that he is already an adulterer. When he looks at a woman to lust for her, he is only doing what adulterers do.

By way of analogy, consider dogs: dogs aren't dogs because they bark; they bark because they're dogs. Likewise, adulterers look at women in order to lust for them. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Who we are on the inside is revealed by what we do. In other words, adulterers lust, murderers hate, thieves envy, etc. We’re not sinners because of the sins we commit. We’re sinners and so we commit sins.

Some people think of themselves as basically “good” because they haven't committed any “major” sins. That's because they don't consider their lusts, envy, or hate to be a major sin. What they don't understand is that these are symptoms of who they really are. It doesn't matter how good these people think they are – the Bible makes it clear they are adulterous, thieving murderers who need a Savior.

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