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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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EQUALITY.—Equality in capability, responsibility, and future destiny is by no means taught by Christ in the Gospels. Christians are not reduced to one uniform level of worth and dignity, either here or hereafter. In the parables of the Talents and the Pounds the servants are not in a condition of equality during their period of probation or afterwards (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27). The inequality of Dives and Lazarus here is an admitted fact, and their inequality beyond the grave is a sure consequence (Luke 16:25). Christ repeatedly admits without deprecation the inequality observable among men. ‘There are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last’ (Luke 13:30, cf. Matthew 19:30). There is, indeed, no suggestion whatever that a certain level of equality, tried even by internal criteria, is to be aimed at. Growth in grace follows the law of life, an increasing increment following upon each further increment (Luke 19:26). ‘He that is but little in the kingdom of heaven’ is greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28). Pre-eminence is not at all directly discouraged or deprecated, only it must be the deepest and truest excellence, apart from the odiousness of comparison with others. The sons of Zebedee are too anxious for the position of pre-eminence hereafter, and too heedless of the call to self-sacrifice now (Mark 10:37, Matthew 20:21). All disciples are in danger of desiring to be honoured by titles here, instead of awaiting God’s bestowal of dignity in the new life beyond (Matthew 23:8-12). But, to be greatest in the Kingdom of heaven it is necessary to be as a little child here (Matthew 18:4, Luke 9:48). Such lowly and meek Christians are called ‘little children,’ and the Lord identifies Himself with them (Mark 9:37). The disciple must not lord it over his fellow-disciples wantonly and arrogantly (Matthew 24:48 ff.). Not only superiority, but even equality, is forbidden as the goal of effort. Mutual service is to be the aim of the Christian community—the first is to be bond-servant of all (Mark 10:44). This precept of service, instead of insistence upon equality (Luke 22:26-27), was beautifully and touchingly practised by the Master-Servant on the night of His betrayal (John 13:5). Every man is to descend below the level of equality and leave it to God to call him higher if it be good in His sight (Luke 14:10). Especially in respect of penitence for sin is it good to sink ail considerations of comparative merit (Luke 18:14). Except in the ideal sense, equality is neither an established fact nor a correct principle in the Christian Society. We are sons of one Father, and so brothers; but brothers are not equal, for some are older or wiser or richer or better. We are servants of one Master, and so fellows; but in this service there are various offices and diverse stations. Unity rather than equality is the leading characteristic of the internal economy of the Kingdom of heaven (John 10:16; John 11:52; John 17:11 etc.).

Literature.—Bruce, Parabolic Teaching of Christ, pp. 178–225; Mozley, Univ. Sermons, p. 72 ff.; Newman, Selected Sermons, p. 260 ff.

W. B. Frankland.

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

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