Monday, April 14, 2014

Sheep and Goats in Greek

Mountain goats, Roan Mountain, TN
One of the things I am really excited about is learning New Testament Greek. At the end of November, I downloaded an audio Bible of the Textus Receptus read by a Greek guy, and I play it all night in my sleep. That is literally the only time I have to squeeze anything in--but it's actually working!

Then, once every few days, I will put on a chapter (while I am awake) and read along in a Greek New Testament. I also occasionally use the tools in my e-Sword software to look up a word or do further study.

I am up to Luke 15 in my reading along, which contains the parable of the lost sheep. I did a little research, and the layers of symbolism and parallelism simply blew me away.

Hmmm...I wonder what the word for 'sheep' is, I said to myself, and proceeded to look it up.

Properly the neuter of a presumed derivative of G4260; something that walks forward (a quadruped), that is, (specifically) a sheep (literally or figuratively): - sheep ([-fold]).

How curious is that! "Something that walks forward"; a "quadruped." 

In that case, I wondered, how do they know this word means "sheep" and not "cow" or "goat" or "dog" or "camel"? Doesn't everything on four legs walk forward?

It said it was a presumed derivative of G4260, so I looked it up. Maybe that would shed more light. 

From G4253 and the base of G939; to walk forward, that is, advance (literally or in years): - + be of a great age, go farther (on), be well stricken.

Wow, how does getting old have anything to do with being a sheep? I mean, if I was a person in ancient Greece, and I wanted to invent a word for "sheep," and I needed my word to be a little more specific than "that four-legged animal," how would I ever think that "that animal that walks forward" would get someone closer to the idea of "sheep"? 

Perhaps, I thought to myself, this "probaton" way of referring to sheep is a rare and symbolic word, and maybe there's another plain word that means sheep. So I looked up other instances of the word, and of the 43 instances of 'sheep' in the New Testament, 40 use this word, 2 are not in the Greek, and 1 is G4262, 'probatikos,' translated "sheep gate" or "sheep market." So this is the common word for sheep. 

One of the verses I ran into in this part of my study was Matthew 25:33. 

"And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left."

Sheep contrasted to goats. It's interesting that Jesus would choose an animal whose name meant "one who walks forward" as representative of those whom God chooses. The sheep please God and are placed on His right hand. Those who walk forward, those who advance, those who go farther on--these are the sheep. 

During the Ellerslie training, Eric Ludy shares the concept of The Endless Frontier. It was something his voice teacher said to him one time after Eric had been taking lessons and practicing for a year. He asked his voice coach, "How good am I?" The teacher replied, "Eric, singing is an endless frontier. Never pitch your tent." In other words, don't be looking for the moment you've arrived as a singer. Always be pressing on and on, forward, because there is always room to be better. Eric relates that to the Christian walk. Don't settle! Don't let yourself become complacent. Press on! Pull up the tent stakes! There is more of God to be had. Go for more! 

Isn't this the same idea that you get from the Greek word for sheep? Whether or not I think sheep demonstrate this forward progression, the fact is, God chose to pick an animal whose name meant "One who walks forward." The true Christians are going to be the ones who are growing. True faith will manifest itself in action. Genuine love for God will seek out more of God. And if a person who claims to be a believer does not demonstrate this forward movement, is there not space to question whether that person is a sheep at all? 

What about the goats? I wondered. What does their name mean? 

From G2056; a kidling, that is, (generally) goat (symbolically wicked person): - goat. goat just means goat. I was hoping for something a little more symbolic after the word for 'sheep' was so abstract. 

What about that word this is derived from? Maybe that would shed more light. 

Perhaps from the same as G2053 (through the idea of hairiness); a kid or (generally) goat: - goat, kid.

Ohhhh. Now we're getting somewhere. Let's go to G2053. 

Of obscure affinity; wool: - wool.

So the goats are the hairy ones. What does that make you think of? 


Esau was a hairy man. In fact, he was so hairy that it was goat skins that Rebekah put on Jacob's hands and neck when he went before Isaac to get the blessing, posing as Esau (Genesis 27:16). It worked (Genesis 27:21-22). 

What does Esau represent? 

The flesh. 

I could go into detail on what the Bible says about living in the flesh, but that is a whole world in itself. Suffice it to say that it's not a good thing. 

How interesting that when Jesus makes a contrast between sheep and goats, He uses two very similar animals, but he also precisely chooses two words that are strikingly parallel to what the rest of Scripture tells us about the person who pleases or displeases God. 

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