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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Lewd Lewdness

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(Acts 17:5; Acts 18:14)

The English word occurs twice in the NT, once as an adjective (Gr. πονηρός, Acts 17:5) and once as a substantive (ῥᾳδιούργημα, Acts 18:14). In neither of these cases has it anything to do with sexual passion-the sense in which the word is now used; it just means ‘vulgar,’ ‘worthless.’

1. Acts 17:5.-The word πονηρός (Authorized Version ‘lewd,’ Revised Version ‘vile’) is used to characterize the ἀγόραιοι or loafers in the market-place whom the unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica incited to an act of popular insurrection against St. Paul. They were so far successful as to prevail on the politarchs to exact bail from Jason for peaceful behaviour, with the consequence that St. Paul and Silas had to escape to Beraea by night.

‘Owing to the dishonour in which manual pursuits were held in ancient days, every large city had a superfluous population of worthless idlers-clients who lived on the doles of the wealthy, flatterers who fawned at the feet of the influential, the lazzaroni of streets, mere loafers and loiterers, the hangerson of forum, the claqueurs of law-courts, the scum that gathered about the shallowest outmost waves of civilization’ (F. W. Farrar, St. Paul, 1883, p. 370).

This class is well described by the adjective πονηρός. Aristotle distinguishes the wicked man (πονηρός) from the ἀκρατής, the weak man who sins though he does not mean to do so and who is unrighteous without premeditation (Eth. Nic. vii. 10). The wicked man sins with the full consent of his will. He is positively malignant and injurious to others. Nearly akin in meaning are φαῦλος and κακός, but as Trench says (NT Synonyms8, p. 304), in πονηρός ‘the positive activity of evil comes far more decidedly out than in κακός.’ Perhaps Knox’s phrase-‘the raseal multitude’-is as accurate a translation as we can get.

While the χρηστός is one who diligently follows his occupation and maintains himself by lawful work, the πονηρός or κακός indicates the man who is wicked in behaviour or in character. The words, however, in Greek are often used with the same latitude as we allow ourselves in English, when we use similar terms. The ordinary speech of the NT is not logically exact.

W. M. Ramsay discusses the question whether the reference to Satan in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 -‘and Satan hindered us (from coming)’-is to be taken as referring to the hostility of the, multitude. He concludes, however, that the reference is to the attitude of the politarchs, who, by exacting security for good behaviour from Jason, prevented the return of St. Paul to the city (St. Paul the Traveller, 1895, p. 230f.).

Wetstein supplies parallels which throw light on the class denoted by ἀγόραιοι (in loco).

2. Acts 18:14.-Here the word ‘lewdness’ translates the Greek ῥᾳδιούργημα. The Revised Version has ‘villainy.’ The word is associated with ἀδίκημα. The usual distinction between them is said to be that ἀδίκημα refers to illegality-something done contrary to the laws-whereas ῥᾳδιούργημα indicates moral delinquency. The distinction is probably to be maintained here, as Gallio is speaking judicially with reference to a definite charge. St. Paul is guilty neither of the one nor of the other, but according to Gallio the question is a mere dispute about words-a Jewish squabble.

ῥᾳδιούργημα occurs only here in the NT, nor is it found in the classics or in the Septuagint , but it occurs in Plutarch, Pyrrh. 6, and the allied term ῥᾳδιουργία occurs in Acts 13:10 of Elymas. The latter word occurs in papyri in the sense of ‘theft’ (see J. H. Moulton and George Milligan in Expositor, 8th ser. i. [1911] 477). It is not likely, however, that the term in Acts 18:14 is used in this restricted sense.

Literature.-J. R. Lumby, The Acts of the Apostles (Cambridge Bible, 1886), p. 217; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article ‘Lewdness’; R. J. Knowling, in Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘The Acts of the Apostles,’ 1900, in locc. (where literature is given); T. E. Page, The Acts of the Apostles, 1900, p. 201; Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer , Lexicon, s.v. ῥαδιούργημα; E. Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek, 1889, pp. 77-82; T. K. Abbott, Essays, 1891, p. 97; R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the NT8, 1876, p. 36ff.

Donald Mackenzie.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lewd Lewdness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/lewd-lewdness.html. 1906-1918.

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