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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Blasphemy

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(βλασφημία, vb. βλασφημεῖν, adj. and noun βλάσφημος; perhaps derived from βλάπτειν, ‘to injure,’ and φήμη, ‘speech’)

In ordinary usage and in Eng. law this word denotes profane, irreverent speaking against God or sacred things; but the Greek word has a wider sense, including all modes of reviling or calumniating either God or man. In 2 Timothy 3:2 the Revised Version has ‘railers’ instead of ‘blasphemers’; in Acts 13:45 m and Acts 18:6 m it gives ‘rail’ as an alternative, and in Revelation 2:9 m ‘revile.’ ‘As we be slanderously reported’ (βλασφημούμεθα, Romans 3:8); ‘why am I evil spoken of?’ (τί βλασφημοῦμαι; 1 Corinthians 10:30); ‘to speak evil of no man’ (μηδένα βλασφημεῖν, Titus 3:2); ‘those.… rail at dignities’ (δόξας βλασφημοῦσιν, Judges 1:8; cf. 2 Peter 2:10) are other examples of the use of the word with a human reference. The two meanings of βλασφημία are combined in Acts 6:11, where Stephen is accused of Speaking blasphemous words (ῥήματα βλάσφημα) against Moses and God (εἰς Μωσῆν καὶ τὸν θεόν).

According to the Levitical law the punishment for blaspheming the name of Jahweh was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:10-16); but as Roman subjects the Jews had not power to put any man to death. Though they attempted to observe the regular forms in their trial of Stephen for blasphemy, his death was not a judicial execution, but the illegal act of a solemn Sanhedrin changed by fanatical hatred into a murderous mob.

After Jesus had come to be acknowledged as the Messiah, the denial of His status and the insulting of His name were regarded by His followers as conscious or unconscious blasphemy. St. Paul recalls with shame and sorrow the time when, in this sense of the term, he not only was guilty of habitual blasphemy (τὸ πρότερον ὄντα βλάσφημον, 1 Timothy 1:13), but strove to make others blaspheme (ἠνάγκαζον βλασφημεῖν, Acts 26:11; Acts 26:11). The fortitude of those who resisted his efforts made a profound impression on his mind, and probably did more than anything else to pave the way for conversion. Like Pliny afterwards in Bithynia (Epp. x. 97), he doubtless found it was all but impossible to make men and women speak evil of their so-called Messiah-‘maledicere Christum’-or submit to any other test that would have indicated disloyalty to Him: ‘quorum nihil cogi posse dicuntur, qui sunt re verâ Christiani’ (ib.). When, on the other hand, St. Paul began to preach Jesus as His own Messiah, the blasphemies of his countrymen against that Name became his daily fare. The Jews of Pisidian Antioch ‘contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul and blasphemed’ (Acts 13:45); those of Corinth ‘opposed themselves and blasphemed’ (Acts 18:6); and the historian might have multiplied instances without end.

Blasphemy was not exclusively a Jewish and Christian conception. To the Greeks also it was a high offence βλασφημεῖν εἰς θεούς (Plato, Rep. 281 E), The majesty of the gods and the sacredness of the temples were jealously guarded. St. Paul, who reasoned against idolatry, never used opprobrious language about the religion of Greece or Rome. It was better to fight for the good than to rail at the bad. The town-clerk of Ephesus reminds his fellow-citizens, roused to fury at the bare suspicion of dishonour to Artemis, that St. Paul and his companions were no blasphemers of their goddess (οὔτε βλασφημοῦντες τὴν θεὰν ὑμῶν, Acts 19:37). Towards the cult of Caesar, which was still kept within some bounds, the Apostle always maintained the same correct attitude. But in the Apocalypse, written in the reign of Domitian, there is a startling change. That emperor, ‘probably the wickedest man who ever lived’ (Renan), was the first to demand that Divine honours should be paid to himself in his lifetime. Not content, like his predecessors, with the title Divus, he caused himself to be styled in public documents ‘Our Lord and God.’ In Asia Minor the deification of Caesar, the erection of temples in his honour, and the establishment of communes for the promotion of his worship became imperative, while the offering of incense to his statue was made the ordinary test of loyalty to the Empire. To the prophet of Ephesus all this seemed rank blasphemy, and he delivered his soul by denouncing it. He personified the Empire as the Beast whose seven heads had names of blasphemy (Revelation 13:1), to whom was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies (Revelation 13:5), who opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle (Revelation 13:6); as the scarlet-coloured Beast who was covered all over with names of blasphemies (Revelation 17:3). That a creature called an emperor should assume the attributes of the Creator, and compel the homage of an infatuated world, was nothing less than a Satanic triumph; and whether men knew it or not, they ‘were worshipping the dragon’ (Revelation 13:4). Cf. article Emperor-Worship.

Literature.-In addition to articles on ‘Blasphemy’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Encyclopaedia Biblica , Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , and Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , with the literature there cited, see the relevant Commentaries, esp. Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5 (International Critical Commentary , 1902); H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John2, 1907; J. Armitage Robinson. Ephesians, 1903. See also Catholic Encyclopedia , s.v., and Roman Catholic literature cited there.

James Strahan.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Blasphemy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/b/blasphemy.html. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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