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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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PORTION (μέρος).—The different shades of meaning which in the Gospels are assigned to the word μέρος have their counterpart in OT usage; it will therefore, be well to glance briefly at those words which express ‘portion,’ in its varying meanings, in the Hebrew.

נּוֹרָל is the ordinary and frequently used word for ‘lots,’ i.e. little stones, or the like, cast into a vessel, or the folds of a garment, for answering questions, deciding issues, etc.; it is used once in a different sense, that of ‘retribution,’ in Isaiah 17:14. הֵלֶק means, as a rule, ‘portion’ in the sense of a constituent part of a whole; הָלְקָה is used in the same way, but with special reference to land. מֶנָה and מְנָח are generally used of portions of sacrifice. These meanings are, however, not invariably adhered to, cf. e.g. Psalms 16:5 יְהֹוָה מְנְת חֶלֽקי וְכֹסִי אַתָּה תּוֹמִיה תּוֹמִיךְ נּוֹרָלְי ‘The Lord is the portion of my lot and my cup: thou maintainest my lot’

In the Gospels μέρος* [Note: The RV translates, according to the context, by ‘portion,’ ‘piece,’ ‘part,’ ‘side.’] is used: (1) just like חֵלֶק, for a constituent part of a whole, e.g. ‘Give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me’ (Luke 15:12); it is used in the same sense in Luke 24:42, John 19:23. In this use of the word, μέρος can refer to things material, as in the last two references, as well as to something abstract, e.g. Luke 11:36 ‘If therefore thy whole body be full of light, having no part (μέρος) dark …’ (2) It is used much in the same sense, but with a somewhat extended application, of districts of land; when this is the case, the plural form is invariably employed, viz. the ‘parts’ or districts (τὰ μέρη) belonging to Galilee (Matthew 2:22), of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21), of Caesarea (Matthew 16:13), of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10). In this sense the word would correspond to the Hebrew חָלְקָה. Once more, the word occurs in a technical sense of the right-hand side of a ship (τὰ δεξιὰ μέρη τοῦ πλοίου, John 21:6). (3) μέρος is used in the sense of fate, destiny, or lot; as such it occurs only twice in the Gospels: Matthew 24:51 ‘He shall appoint his portion with the hypocrites,’ and Luke 12:46 ‘He shall appoint his portion with the unfaithful.’* [Note: It is interesting in this connexion to recall the fact that μέρος is connected radically with Μοῖρα, the goddess of Fate.] The nearest approach to this in OT usage would be in Isaiah 17:14, where נּוֹרָל has a special and restricted meaning. There is a slight variation in the force of the word as used in John 13:8 ‘If I wash thee not, thou hast no part (μἑρος) with me’; for, while in the two former passages the reference is to a final doom, in this the meaning is rather, ‘If I wash thee not, thou canst have nothing to do with me.’

In one single instance ‘portion’ or ‘part’ occurs in the unique sense of one of the ways in which God is served; but here the word is μερίς, not μὲρος (Luke 10:42 ‘Mary hath chosen the good part’; the context seems to demand the sense of ‘the best part’).

W. O. E. Oesterley.

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

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