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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The word occurs three times in the NT, viz. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5 ‘the earnest of the Spirit,’ and Ephesians 1:14 ‘the earnest of our inheritance.’ The word means ‘pledge,’ ‘surety,’ ‘assurance,’ and is taken from an old Hebrew term used in connexion with the transference of property. The Hebrew equivalent עֵרָבוֹן is found in Genesis 38:17-18; Genesis 38:20 referring to the pledge of a staff and a signet-ring given by Judah to Tamar as an assurance that she would receive her hire. Probably the word came into Greek through Phœnician traders, and we find it in Latin in three forms: arrhabo, arrabo (e.g. Plautus, Truc. III. ii. 20), and arrha (e.g. Aulus Gellius, XVII. ii. 21). It is found in the form arra or arrhes in the languages most directly derived from the Latin. The Scotch word ‘arles’-the coin given by a master to a servant on engagement as a pledge that the fee will be duly paid-is derived from the same source, and corresponds to the obsolete English word ‘earlespenny.’ The word signifies, not merely a pledge, but also a part of the possession. In the conveyance of property in ancient times it was usual for the seller to give the buyer a handful of earth or part of the thatch of the house as a token that the bargain would be binding, and that the whole property, of which the buyer thus received a part, would be delivered over in due course.

In Scripture the idea underlying this conception is frequently referred to. Thus in Genesis 24:22; Genesis 24:53 the earrings and the bracelets given by Eliezer to Rebecca are tokens of the wealth of his master and evidence of a comfortable home in Canaan. In the NT passages the Holy Spirit which is given to believers is regarded by the Apostle as both the pledge and the first-fruits of the inheritance that awaits them. In 2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5 ‘the earnest of the Spirit’ is the earnest which is the Spirit. The present possessions of Christian believers imparted by the Spirit are both pledge and foretaste of the future bliss that awaits them. They ate the ‘earnest’ of the ‘inheritance’ (Ephesians 1:14).

W. F. Boyd.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Earnest'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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