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Self- Examination

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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In two passages of the NT (1 Corinthians 11:28 and 2 Corinthians 13:5) the duty of self-examination is expressly inculcated. In the former the verb used is δοκιμάζω; in the latter πειράζω is combined with δοκιμάζω. Both these words are more appropriate to the act of introspection than the more general terms signifying investigation, like ἀνετάζω or ἀνακρίνω: for the object of self-knowledge in the Christian is to discover his relationship with the Good. ‘Self-examination is often a direct result of a new awakening to a sense of the moral imperative such as we have already described as conversion; but it may be carried on by men periodically, without any such reawakening’ (J. S. Mackenzie, Manual of Ethics4, London, 1900, p. 378).

For the purpose of self-examination δοκιμάζω carries with it the suggestion that the scrutiny will end in acceptance or approval, while πειράζω more commonly indicates a test which will issue in the disclosure of what is defective and evil. But this distinction is not always obvious, nor can it always be pressed, for in 2 Corinthians 13:5 St. Paul uses both words together: ‘Try yourselves (πειράζετε) if you are in the faith; prove yourselves (δοκιμάζετε)’; and he proceeds, ‘or do you not see when you look at yourselves (ἐπιγινώσκετε, ‘know ye not as to your own selves,’ Revised Version ) that Jesus Christ is in you? unless it should be that you fail in the test’ (αδόκιμοι). The passage is so rendered by A. Menzies (Second Epistle to the Corinthians, London, 1912, p. 103), who explains that ‘the examination enjoined must lead to one of two results: either the convert must conclude that what is required of him is too much; then he does not stand the test, he is not fit for the kingdom; Jesus Christ is not so much a part of his life that he must give up everything in order to be with Him; or he will conclude, on putting the necessary questions to himself, that Jesus Christ is in him and must dominate his whole life and action.’ Thus, the Apostle throws his converts back upon the test of their own heart-experience so as to produce a complete severance from pagan vices, and further so that he himself, who has to condemn these vices, will be approved as having done his duty and will be found to be undeserving of the censure that has been poured on him.

In 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 the exhortation is concerned with the Lord’s Supper: by self-scrutiny the believer may be saved from eating and drinking judgment (κρίμα) to himself. The Communion had been allowed to degenerate into an ordinary feast instead of being a means of sanctifying grace. The Apostle urges upon the Christians the duty of self-examination on the ground that a right estimate of themselves is necessary for a right estimate of the Lord’s ‘body,’ i.e. the spiritual significance of His glorified humanity.

Generally speaking, St. Paul appears to commend self-examination not so much with a view to the disclosure of personal weakness as in order to provide a stimulus to the spiritual life, an intelligent realization of what the faith claims from the Christian, ethical obedience and a clear apprehension of duty. The fact of unworthiness in motive and life is already detected even if not generally admitted by the believer: self-examination will bring it home to the conscience and show the necessity for aiming at the higher spiritual ideal in thought and action.

The duty of self-examination is not so familiar a feature in the early literature of Christian experience as it was afterwards to become under monasticism and in the writings of mystics in all ages. Among the mediaeval mystics the purification of self as the result of the painful descent into the ‘cell of self-knowledge’ is a well-marked stage in the ascent to the uncreated good (E. Underhill, Mysticism2, London, 1911, p. 240 ff.). The apostolic Christian is urged to follow his Lord’s example (1 Timothy 2:6, 1 Peter 2:21), and to look away to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) rather than to engage in the exercises of self-scrutiny. One seeks in vain among the mystic Johannine writings for any such incentives to self-examination as were afterwards to be adduced by St. Catherine of Siena: ‘If thou wilt arrive at a perfect knowledge of Me, the Eternal Truth, thou shouldst never go outside the knowledge of thyself’ (cf. E. Underhill, op. cit., p. 241); or by Thomas à Kempis, humilis tui cognitio certior via est ad Deum, quam profunda scientiae inquisitio (de Imit. Christi, i. 3, 4). Self-examination is a conspicuous element in all forms of pietism: it passed into evangelical Christianity; and chiefly in the mystical autobiographies of Quakerism, like the diaries of T. Ellwood and J. Woolman, and in the hymnology of early Methodism we discover it to be a recognized exercise of the soul.

The NT gives no encouragement to a morbid or excessive self-scrutiny, as an end in itself. Introspection is implied in 1 John 3:20, but only to issue in the encouraging declaration that ‘God is greater than our heart’: and in Galatians 6:1 (σκοπῶν σεαυτόν) we are reminded that the inspection of our own hearts tends to stimulate charitableness towards the erring. On the other hand, Apostolic Christianity lends no weight to the modern tendency to rule introspection altogether out of the religious life.

Literature.-In addition to the works cited above, see R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the NT9, London, 1880, p. 278 ff.

R. Martin pope.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Self- Examination'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/self--examination.html. 1906-1918.
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