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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Curse

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CURSE.—Two widely different words are in Authorized Version translated ‘curse.’ It will be sufficient to trace their meaning, so far as the ideas represented by them are found in the Gospels.

1. הַרָם, ἀνάθεμα, ‘an accursed (Authorized Version) or devoted ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885) thing.’ (a) In its higher application this word signifies a thing devoted—wholly or in part, permanently or temporarily, voluntarily or by Divine decree—to a use (or an abstinence) exclusively sacred. This is not a curse at all in the modern sense of the word; it corresponds more nearly to the nature of a vow. With this extension of meaning we may see a genuine instance in the special consecration of John the Baptist (Luke 1:15; Luke 7:33), and a corrupt instance in the system of Corban (Mark 7:11 ff.). (b) In its darker application it denotes an extreme and punitive ban of extermination. This is of frequent occurrence in OT, but in the Gospels no clear case is found, unless, indeed, under this head we include all the death-penalties of the Jewish law (Jn [?] 8:5), especially the punishment attempted (John 8:59; John 10:31 ff.) and finally inflicted upon Christ Himself on the charge of blasphemy (Mark 14:63 f., John 19:7). It is well to notice, in connexion with this kind of anathema, the strong expression used by Christ in addressing the Canaanitish woman, as one descended from a ‘devoted’ race (Matthew 15:26). It may be added that profanity, in the special form of self-cursing, seems to have adopted language derived from this ban; see Matthew 26:74, Mark 14:71 (καταθεματίζειν and ἀναθεματίζειν). Romans 9:3 naturally suggests itself as a verbal illustration; in other respects it is a complete contrast.* [Note: In Matthew 15:4 || Mark 7:10 RV rightly substitutes ‘he that speaketh evil of’ for AV ‘he that curseth’: the Greek is ὁ κακελογῶν quoted from Exodus 21:17.] (c) The ban of extermination gave place, under certain conditions, to the remedial discipline of excommunication; that is to say, a temporary ‘cutting off from the congregation’; referred to, as a Jewish institution, in John 9:22; John 12:42; John 16:2, and, as a Christian (apparently), in Matthew 18:17. (See also Westcott on 1 John 5:16).

2. קְלָלָה, κατάρα, ‘curse.’—() This is the word regularly used to denote a curse in the general sense, as the natural antithesis of a blessing; it is not charged (as ‘anathema’ essentially is) with sacred associations; its quality, which is capable of all degrees, from Divine to devilish, is to be decided by the context () The disappearance of cursing in the NT marks very forcibly the contrast between the spirit of the New dispensation and that of the Old; for in the OT its presence is at times painfully prominent. See Luke 9:54 f., where even the unauthorized additions of some MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] are undoubtedly a true comment. Such instances as are found or are alleged in the Epistles are judicial in tone, not irresponsible and malevolent. The exceptional case which occurs of a curse uttered by Christ (upon the fig-tree [see art.], Matthew 21:19 ff., Mark 11:12 ff.) is probably to be taken as a sign given to impress His warning of impending judgments (Matthew 21:41; Matthew 21:43; Matthew 23:37 f., Matthew 24:21 ff., Matthew 24:32 ff. etc.). It is a reminder that we may not so exaggerate the goodness of God as to leave no place for His severity. Christ applies the words ‘ye cursed’ to those who shall be on His left hand at the Last Day (Matthew 25:41). (c) Christ became a ‘curse’ (Galatians 3:13, see Lightfoot, ad loc.). It belongs to the Epistles to unfold the bearing of this truth; but the fact is implied in the measures taken by the Jews, after the Crucifixion, to avert its consequences (John 19:31, cf. Deuteronomy 21:22 f.). In the Roman view the shame of crucifixion, in the Jewish view its accursed nature, formed the special sting of such a death. Hence in the matter of salvation, which ‘is from the Jews’ (John 4:22), the curse must necessarily be involved in the Death’s redemptive efficacy.

F. S. Ranken.


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

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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