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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Vessel

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Though the drift of the passage ‘That each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honour’ (1 Thessalonians 4:4) is clear, the exact meaning to be attached to ‘vessel’ (σκεῦος) has long been a matter of dispute. Some take it to refer to the body; others interpret it as meaning ‘wife.’ The first interpretation is adopted by many early writers, and is found as far back as Tertullian (de Resurrectione Carnis, 16): ‘Caro … vas vocatur apud Apostolum, quam jubet in honore tractari.’ This meaning is adopted by Chrysostom, Theodoret, Calvin, Beza, and many others.

No objection can be raised to this sense of σκεῦος. The term ‘vessel of the soul’ is applied to the body by classical writers, e.g. Lucretius, iii. 441: ‘corpus, quod vas quasi constitit ejus (sc. animae)’; and the passage 2 Corinthians 4:7 gives the same idea: Ἔχομεν δὲ τὸν θησαυρὸν τοῦτον ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσιν. But this interpretation forces an unnatural meaning on κτᾶσθαι, which can mean only ‘to acquire,’ not ‘to possess’ or ‘to keep.’ Chrysostom, who saw this difficulty, tried to get over it by explaining κτᾶσθαι as equivalent to ‘gain the mastery over’: ἡμεῖς αὐτὸ κτώμεθα, ὅταν μένῃ καθαρόν καὶ ἔστιν ἐν ἁγιασμῷ· ὅταν δὲ ἀκάθαρτον, ἁμαρτία. But this meaning does not fit in with ἐν ἁγιασμῷ, etc.

The interpretation of σκεῦος as ‘wife’ is held by Augustine: ‘ut sciret unusquisque eorum suum possidere vas, hoc est, uxorem’ (circa, about Jul. IV. x. 56). With this agree Schott, de Wette, and many German commentators, and, among English, Alford, Jowett, and Ellicott. Lightfoot seems unable to decide.

Hence neither word presents any difficulty, as κτᾶσθαι is used of marrying a wife: καί γε Ῥοὺθ τὴν Μωαβεῖτιν τὴν γυναῖκα Μααλὼν κέκτημαι ἐμαυτῷ εἰς γυναῖκα (Ruth 4:10 Septuagint ); ὁ κτώμενος γυναῖκα ἐνάρχεται κτήσεως (Sir 36:29).

The sense of the passage, then, will be that men should avoid fornication, and that, if a man cannot exercise continence, he should marry. The same thought occurs in 1 Corinthians 7:2 : διὰ δὲ τὰς πορνείας ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω. The objection which has been raised, that the injunction would thus be made to apply to men only, is not serious, for, as is often the case, the corresponding obligation on the part of the woman is implied. Lightfoot considers it a more serious objection that by using such an expression as σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι the Apostle would seem to be lowering himself to the sensual view of the marriage relation, and adopting the depreciatory estimate of the woman’s position which prevailed among both Jews and heathen at the time, whereas it is his constant effort to exalt both the one and the other. But is it the fact that the term σκεῦος was necessarily depreciatory?

On the whole, the second interpretation seems to harmonize the better with the context and to avoid the difficulty of a strained interpretation of κτᾶσθαι, but it must not be overlooked that many names of weight are in favour of the first.

Morley Stevenson.


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

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, August 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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