Sunday Morning Greek Blog

October 12, 2011

Called to Suffer? A Quick Word Study of πάσχω in Greek

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Romans — Scott Stocking @ 8:47 pm

A friend of mine asked me about the Greek words for “suffering” in Romans 8:16–17 and 1 Peter 2:21. I’ll give a brief excursus here on what I found.

Romans 8:16–17 says this in the NIV:

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The word for “share in [his] sufferings” in vs. 17 is συμπάσχω (sympaschō, \soom PAHSS khoh\), which is only used twice in the entire NT, here and in 1 Corinthians 12:26 with reference to the whole body suffering when one part suffers. This is a compound word from the preposition σύν (syn, \SOON\ “with”) and πάσχω (paschō, \PAHSS khoh\ “suffer”). The σύν- prefix is a favorite tool of Paul’s to indicate “together with,” often in the context of fellowship with other Christ-followers or sharing something with Christ. Ephesians has over 20 σύν-prefixed words that reveal that meaning. Although the gospels and some of the general (=non-Pauline) epistles frequently use the word πάσχω for the suffering and death of Christ, Paul himself only uses the word to reference the suffering of Christ-followers. Romans 8:17 is an exception with his use of the compound.

My friend was concerned that the passage was taken out of context. There is no question that Paul is saying we must share in the sufferings of Christ to share in his glory, but since he never uses either of the words (the root or the compound) elsewhere to refer to those sufferings, what does he mean by the phrase? I think little else can be meant by Christ’s sufferings than his passion and crucifixion. In the context of Romans, however, I believe there is a connection, at least in part, between this passage and the discussion of baptism/immersion in Romans 6. Romans 6 contains several σύν-prefixed words (4 in 11 verses, by my count, plus one occurrence of the preposition itself), and 6:4 has the verbal connection of the word “glory” (a σύν-prefixed form in 8:17). Other verses like Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ”) and Romans 6:6 (“our old self was crucified with him”) confirm in my mind that Paul’s reference in 8:17 refers to our identification with the death of Christ. Paul also speaks of the battle between the law and sinful humanity in Romans 7 and 8 (see esp. 8:3–4), so I think another part of the suffering reference is to that battle we face in the flesh, just as Christ did, even though he never sinned.

I want to quote the larger context of 1 Peter 2:21. Peter uses the word πάσχω 11 times in his first epistle, with 4 of those coming in 1 Peter 2:18–23 (NIV):

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

There is no “call to suffer” here, but only a call to endure, especially if it comes upon us unjustly. The word πάσχω here refers both to our own “suffering” as well as Christ’s suffering, and primarily to the former in the rest of 1 Peter. It’s not something we should seek out, as if suffering is an end unto itself. Paul is just recognizing that suffering happens, and it’s to our credit if we bear up under it and don’t sin.

I hope this helps my friend, and I hope my quick study helps you as well.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

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