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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Strife

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It was not unnatural that strongly marked varieties of character and opinion should appear in the living Apostolic Church, for the proverb ‘many men, many minds’ had its application there as elsewhere.

1. Party-spirit (ἔρις, ἐριθεία), which was stimulated by the free institutions of the Hellenic city-States, soon invaded the equally democratic Christian communities. The result was a species of religious warfare which no doubt afforded a certain evidence of the vitality of the primitive faith; but the last thing which St. Paul, Apollos, and Cephas desired was that they should be constituted leaders of rival sects and acclaimed by eager partisans. In his First Letter to the Corinthian church St. Paul gravely rebukes a divisive, quarrelsome spirit, and endeavours to divert the strong currents of religious life into better channels (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

2. But St. Paul himself was compelled, like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:10), to be a man of strife. Against Jews and Judaizers he had to fight the battle of spiritual freedom. His gospel inevitably created antagonisms wherever he preached it. ‘Fightings (μάχαι) without’ as well as ‘fears within’ were his appointed lot (2 Corinthians 7:5). In things indifferent he was the most yielding of men (1 Corinthians 9:19-22), but on matters of principle he would not give place to any one for an hour (Galatians 2:5). He withstood even St. Peter to the face (Galatians 2:11). And, when he had largely succeeded in exorcizing the legal spirit from the Church, he was obliged, in his old age, to sharpen his weapons once more, and begin an entirely new battle with an incipient Gnosticism (see Colossians).

3. Whilst St. Paul was a keen controversialist, he never wrote a letter that did not contain the word ‘peace.’ He pleaded with his fellow-workers (e.g. Euodia and Syntyche, Philippians 4:2; cf. Romans 12:16; Romans 15:5, 2 Corinthians 13:11) to be of one mind; and he urged the Christians of Rome to be at peace, if possible, with all men (Romans 12:18). His dispute with Barnabas is described as a παροξυσμός, a sharp contention (Acts 15:39). Human frailty mingled in both these apostles with what was very noble and honourable. Their quarrel was one of which only good men were capable. It was essentially a conflict of ideals, a strife between justice on the one hand and generosity on the other. ὁ Παῦλος ἐξήτει τὸ δίκαιον, ὁ Βαρνάβας τὸ φιλάνθρωπον (Chrysostom, Hom. in Acta Apost. xxxiv.).

4. The infection of the sub-Apostolic Church by the subtleties of the full-blown Gnostic system led to a widespread, barren warfare of words (λογομαχία, 1 Timothy 6:4), far removed from the realities of the Christian conflict with sin. This condition of things is reflected in the Pastoral Letters, which charge all believers ‘that they strive not about words, to no profit’ (2 Timothy 2:14). Empty discussions merely engendered strifes (μάχας, 2 Timothy 2:23), and the bond-servant of Christ must not strive (οὐ δεῖ μάχεσθαι, 2 Timothy 2:24).

5. There is, however, an altogether different kind of strife, which at once commends itself to the Christian heart and conscience. St. Paul indicates its nature by two words of the arena-ἀγωνίζομαι and ἀθλέω, with their compounds. To strive for the incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25); to labour and strive as a servant of God, cheered by a sense of His own mighty working in us (Colossians 1:29); to invite others to strive with us in their prayers (Romans 15:30); and, again, to strive for Christ’s sake in the spirit of a soldier or an athlete, and to do it lawfully (2 Timothy 2:5); to strive, in spiritual fellowship with others, for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27)-all this seems to the Apostle to be of the very essence of the Christian life. In that life, as the writer to the Hebrews indicates (Hebrews 12:4), men may at last have to resist unto blood, striving against (antagonizing) sin.

James Strahan.


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

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, May 29th, 2020
the Seventh Week after Easter
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