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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(βέβηλος, ‘trodden under foot’; profanus, ‘outside the shrine’)

The word denotes not simply what is common (see, Clean), but a temper which despises sacred things (1 Timothy 1:9); cf. ‘profane language.’ Esau was ‘profane’ (Hebrews 12:16) because he despised his spiritual birthright. St. Paul is accused of ‘profaning’ the Temple (Acts 24:6) by bringing Gentiles into it. It is the temper of those who know the good and yet despise it. In the early days of Christianity we do not find this sin remarked on, because Christianity was then novel and unrecognized, and hostility to it was passionate rather than profane. But later, as in 1 and 2 Tim., when it became a tried institution with recognized doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6), and had a clientele amongst men, then there was room for this sin. The term ‘profane’ is applied especially to those who under cover of Christianity foist their own errors and deceits upon the Church. Judaism from behind and Gnosticism coming on in frond are the worst offenders. They simulated Christianity and brought their mischief into its very centre. Thus ‘profane fables’ (1 Timothy 4:7) recalls the foolish stories of Rabbinical preaching (Titus 1:10; Titus 1:14). ‘Profane babblings and oppositions of knowledge falsely so-called’ (1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 2:16), if they are not Gnostic, are leading to Gnosticism, its hair-splittings, cloud of words, pride of knowledge, unnatural asceticism, and moral looseness. Gnosticism, with all that led up to it, was peculiarly profane, because it brought into the meekness of Christianity the dialectical pride of the West and the ‘caste’ feeling of the East; it pretended to have special knowledge; it made purity into a formal distinction between matter and spirit (see Clean); it indulged in capricious philosophical views of Christian truth, and became a masquerade of sacred things.

Literature.-A. Edersheim, LT_4, 1887, i. 448; F. J. A. Hort, Judaistic Christianity, 1894, p. 138; W. Mceller, History of the Christian Church, Eng. tr._, i. [1892] 129-153; J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, new ed., 1879, pp. 73-113; for analysis of present-day Gnosticism, P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and Modern Mind, 1907, pp. 118-123.

Sherwin Smith.

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

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