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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The term (οἰκοδομή) means literally ‘building up.’ The figurative sense of building up spiritually has two applications in apostolic usage. (1) It signifies the spiritual advancement, in a general way, of the Church. (2) It is the special process or didactic means whereby the faith, knowledge, and experience of individuals were established and enlarged.

In Authorized Version οἰκοδομή and the cognate verb οἰκοδομέω, in the figurative sense, are translated ‘edification’ or ‘edify’19 times. The two meanings indicated above are more apparent in Revised Version , where ‘building up’ is often employed to express the more general idea, especially where, as in Ephesians 4:12, ‘the picturesqueness of the metaphor must be preserved’ (Armitage Robinson, Ephesians, 1903, p. 182), while ‘edification’ or ‘edify’ occurs 14 times. Half of these are found in 1 Corinthians 14, where they bear the special meaning.

1. General.-The figurative use of the term οἰκοδομή for that which builds up generally the Church and the spiritual life of individuals within the Christian community is almost exclusively Pauline. The germ of the idea is probably to be found in the saying of Christ (Matthew 16:18) concerning the building of His Church (Lightfoot, Notes on Epistles of St. Paul, 1895, p. 191). But St. Paul frequently applies the metaphor of building to the structure and growth of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 3:9 f., Ephesians 2:20 f., Colossians 2:7; cf. 1 Peter 2:5). Edification is the promotion of this building up process by speech (Ephesians 4:29) or conduct (Romans 15:2). Three elements in the Church contribute to it-peace, both external (Acts 9:31) and internal (Romans 14:19); love (Ephesians 4:15 f.), in contrast especially with boasted knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1) or self-seeking (1 Corinthians 10:23 f.); and service (διακονία) wherein each may share in the ministering of all (Ephesians 4:11 f., 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

2. Special.-In its specialized use, οἰκοδομή is a technical term for the exercise of ‘spiritual gifts’ (χαρίσματα) within the Christian congregation by its members, for the mutual ‘edification’ of individuals. St. Paul’s description of the variety and exercise of these endowments in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12, 14) is probably true of most places in which the Church was established. There were evidently meetings held almost exclusively for ‘edification,’ to which unbelievers were admitted (1 Corinthians 14:23 f.). It was not a formal service for Divine worship, but rather a fellowship meeting with the practical aim of affording members with a ‘gift’ an opportunity of using their supernaturally bestowed powers for the spiritual welfare of all present (1 Corinthians 12:6; cf. 1 Peter 4:10 f.). At such times the most notable contributions would be: (a) teaching (διδαχή), which included the ‘word of wisdom’ and the ‘word of knowledge’ (1 Corinthians 12:8); (b) prophecy (προφητεία) which dealt with future events (Acts 11:28) or revealed an insight into the needs of those present (1 Corinthians 14:3; 1 Corinthians 14:24 f.); (c) glossolalia or tongues (γένη γλωσσῶν), which were probably incomprehensible utterances expressive of prayer or praise (1 Corinthians 14:13).

Closely connected with prophecy was ‘discerning of spirits,’ and with glossolalia ‘the interpretation of tongues’ (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:27 ff.). In addition there would be prayer, the reciting or singing of hymns, the reading of Scripture, and the ‘word of exhortation’ (1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Acts 13:15).

In order that genuine edification might result from such a variety of gifts, exercised often under stress of great excitement, two rules were laid down for the Corinthian Church: (1) the comparative value of χαρίσματα must be recognized-e.g. prophecy is superior to ‘tongues’ for purposes of edification (1 Corinthians 14:1-25); (2) there must be an observance of due order in the meetings (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).

Literature.-Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , articles ‘Church,’ ‘Edification’; H. Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek, s.vv. οἰκοδομέω, οἰκοδομή; O. Pfleiderer, paulinism, Eng. translation 2, 1891, i. 229-238; C. von Weizsacker, Apostolic Age, Eng. translation 2, ii. [1899] 246-279; A. C. McGiffert, History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, 1897, pp. 520-535; E. von Dobschütz, Christian Life in the primitive Church, Eng. translation , 1904, pp. 16-20; T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries3, 1907, pp. 41-50, 69-109.

M. Scott Fletcher.

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

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