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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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PERPLEXITY.—The word ‘perplexity’ (ἀπορία) occurs but once in the NT (Luke 21:25), in that reminiscence of Daniel which foretells the day of terrors that shall usher in the presence of the Son of Man. But the idea has remarkable associations with Christ in the Gospels. Not only is perplexity discernible in His own experience, but He was then (as now) a frequent cause of it in others. His powers, and the amazing insight of His wisdom, were a continual occasion of astonishment to the mere onlookers (Matthew 13:54-56, cf. Luke 4:22). To explain His exorcisms, the Pharisees were driven to the confusing theory of demoniac possession (Matthew 9:34 || Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22, Luke 11:15). His disciples would listen to His unconventional judgments with blank perplexity. Had He not, for example, taught them the blessedness of charity, and the law of love for one’s neighbour? What, then, could they make of His defence of ‘this waste’ of a box of precious ointment (Matthew 26:8 || John 12:4)? It was hard for a disciple to understand why He should resist an opportunity of helping the poor: men are slow to learn the value of a rightful surrender of our most beautiful and treasured possessions for the purpose of reverence only. Not a little of the disciples’ perplexity arose from their own materialistic preconceptions. When Jesus used the language of parable or metaphor, they made no attempt to reach the deeper and more spiritual meaning—as when He spoke of the Sower (Mark 4:13 || Luke 8:9), or of the ‘leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:5-12 || Luke 12:1). Once the awful terror which is sometimes the accompaniment of perplexity seized them—when Jesus spoke with such dread certainty of the presence of one among them who was ready to give Him up, and they ‘looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake’ (John 13:22). Yet, while Christ perplexed others, especially those who knew Him least, they seemed powerless to perplex Him. Perfect obedience to the will of God in all things left no room for that flickering of faith which blurs the answer or the gospel of so many teachers. When questioners deliberately attempted to puzzle Him, He unravelled their tangles with instinctive ease (Matthew 9:5 || Mark 2:9, Luke 5:23; Matthew 12:4 || Mark 2:26, Luke 6:4). Sometimes in a phrase He re-tied the knot into a problem which they were unable to resolve, as when they asked by what authority He did these things (Matthew 21:27 || Mark 11:28, Luke 20:2), or in the question of the tribute money being paid to Caesar (Matthew 22:21 || Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25), or the casuistry of the woman with the seven husbands (Matthew 22:30 || Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35). The pain of perplexity seems to have come to Jesus only towards the end of His life on earth, and then it was more from within than from without. In those closing days the burden of His mission, and all that it would entail in the far future of the world, seemed to weigh heavily upon Him. Near at hand He felt the weakness of His disciples’ loyalty, and was especially ‘troubled in the spirit’ about Judas (John 13:21). As He looked forward into the days to come, there fell upon Him the knowledge of divisions, feuds, persecutions that would arise in His name ‘to incarnadine the world.’ He was face to face with the baptism of all leadership: it would be His to kindle the flaming passions of men, Prince of Peace as He is (Luke 12:51). Is it any wonder that on the threshold of such a task He should be distressed, perplexed (συνέχομαι, (Revised Version margin) ‘pained’)? He is moved to hesitate: at least the temptation arises when He feels spiritual perplexity (John 12:27). And in Gethsemane the overstrained humanity utters the cry of longing for escape—‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’ (Matthew 26:39). In that last sentence He reveals to us the key of deliverance from all cankering perplexity, all that uncertainty which confuses and enervates the will. He shows the world the supremacy of a will resigned to God. It is the truism of the choice—‘No man can serve two masters: … Ye cannot serve God and mammon’ (Matthew 6:24 || Luke 16:13). Try to serve both, and you have strife and confusion within and around: life becomes a war of irreconcilable ideals. But bend all thoughts, desires, will, towards God; learn the worth of Christ’s word, ‘Be not anxious’ as to food, life, raiment, and the rest, ‘for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things’ (Matthew 6:25-33 || Luke 12:22-36). There are no more troubled hearts and perplexed wills for those who rest in God and live in Christ (John 14:1), for to them the prayer, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matthew 6:10), finds its invariable answer in a sublime and heavenly peace. See also artt. Amazement, Doubt.

Edgar Daplyn.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Perplexity'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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