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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Reprobate

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‘Reprobate’ is the rendering of the Greek word ἀδόκιμος, which is need in the NT only by St. Paul and only of persons, except in Hebrews 6:8, where it is used of the land. It is the negative form of δόκιμος (from δέχομαι), ‘acceptable,’ ‘tested,’ ‘worthy,’ and means ‘unacceptable,’ ‘unworthy,’ ‘rejected after trial.’ ‘Reprobate silver shall men call them,’ says Jeremiah of God’s degenerate people, ‘because the Lord hath rejected them’ (HEB 6:30 Septuagint ). In Romans 1:28 St. Paul uses the word when speaking of the natural condition of the heathen world, alienated from God, abandoned to their lusts and passions and to a reprobate mind (εἰς ἀδόκιμον νοῦν), as if, having failed to avail themselves of the light of nature, they were now left without it altogether and without hope of amendment at all. A ‘reprobate mind’ in the judgment of St. Paul is proof of the deep depravity of the heathen and at the same time its awful punishment. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 St. Paul uses the word in a passage where he is comparing the Christian life in its strenuousness to the contests in the Grecian games. In them the racer or the boxer must contend strictly according to the rules, for if he is found fouling a rival or transgressing the rules of the contest, he is liable to be cast out of the lists and scourged, and at any rate will be declared disqualified for a prize. It was in this spirit that Ignatius, on the way to martyrdom at Rome, entreated the prayers of his fellow-Christians so as to be found worthy of the lot he had set before him, that in the end he might not be found ‘rejected’ ἀδόκιμος) (Ignatius, ad Trall. xii. 3). See Castaway. Elsewhere St. Paul urges the necessity of earnest self-examination and the dote following of Christ if his readers would escape this reproach (2 Corinthians 13:5-7); and utters words of solemn warning against men who after having made a Christian profession become depraved in mind and heart, or content themselves with an outward profession, whilst, as regards the faith and every good work, they are discredited, ‘reprobate’ (2 Timothy 3:8, Titus 1:16).

The passage in Hebrews 6:8 where ἀδόκιμος is used not of persons but of the land is, taken in connexion with its preceding context, very suggestive. The land which drinks in the rain and brings forth the looked-for crop receives blessing of God, but that which receives the same benign influence and produces only thorns and thistles is ‘rejected’ (ἀδόκιμος), gets no share of that blessing, but is tit only, like Sodom and Gomorrah, for the fire. It is in these solemn words that the writer sums up his urgent message to the Hebrew Christians to press on unto perfection and to be on their guard against spiritual sloth, which may issue in falling away. He speaks as if a fall from grace were possible even on the part of those who have experienced spiritual enlightenment and renewal, as if there were a point even in the spiritual life where backsliding becomes apostasy, and the man who crucifies the Son of God afresh and puts Him to an open shame is beyond repentance rejected, reprobate. St. Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in these passages are not presenting a reasoned system of predestination and election, but rather dealing with what may happen under the stress and strain of temptation and trial in the ordinary tenor of the Christian life, and emphasizing the need of diligence and watchfulness, if they and their readers would make their calling and election sure.

Of ‘reprobation’ as the issue of a Divine decree there is no direct statement in the NT, St. Paul, indeed, seeming deliberately to avoid any such statement. When asserting the Divine sovereignty under the figure of the potter who makes of the same lump one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour, he asks, ‘What if Cod, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory?’ (Romans 9:21-23). The distinction drawn by the Apostle when speaking of ‘the vessels of wrath’ and ‘the vessels of mercy’ in the above passage is significant. Of the former he uses the passive and impersonal form, ‘fitted to destruction’; of the latter he speaks in the active voice, ‘the preparation’ being directly attributed to God. Our Lord similarly distinguishes between the sentence which no will pass in the Judgment on those on His right hand and that on those on His left. To the former, the address is, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father’; to the latter, ‘Depart, ye cursed,’ the blessing being all of God, the curse entirely of themselves. In the same connexion ‘the everlasting fire’ is ‘prepared for the devil and his angels,’ but the Kingdom to which the righteous are summoned is prepared for them ‘before the foundation of the world.’

It is interesting as a matter of NT interpretation to notice that three of the most notable of the Reformed Confessions-the Heidelberg Catechism, the Revised Thirty-nine Articles, and the Scots Confession of 1560-pass the subject of reprobation over in silence.

Thomas Nicol.


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

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