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Friday, January 6, 2012

Strait is the Gate




13 Εἰσέλθετε διὰ τῆς στενῆς πύλης, ὅτι πλατεῖα ἡ πύλη καὶ εὐρύχωρος ἡ ὁδὸς, ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ἀπώλειαν καὶ πολλοί εἰσιν οἱ εἰσερχόμενοι δι᾽ αὐτῆς· 14ὅτί στενὴ ἡ πύλη καὶ τεθλιμμένη ἡ ὁδὸς, ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ζωήν, καὶ ὀλίγοι εἰσὶν οἱ εὑρίσκοντες αὐτήν.
Matthew 7:13-14


We are all familiar with the gate and the way that lead to life in Matthew 7:13-14—or, at least, we think we are. For most of us over 30, the words of the KJV are the standard:
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate...14because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
I wonder if I was the only one to grow up hearing the word strait but thinking it was straight, of thinking of the gate as upright and regular, without any warping. Reading it, I just supposed the spelling was archaic. For years I imagined the narrow way was a long, one-person-at-a-time path heading straight for the horizon, like a single rail of track heading for the rising sun. These ideas naturally lead me to believe that Jesus was telling us that the way to Heaven was restricted to straight-laced, upright people, who kept their eyes forward, focused on the goal—Eternal Life—all the while eschewing the temptations on either side.




Of course, even if you were one of the more astute among us, who realized that strait meant confining, as in straitjacket, it is still likely that you were mislead into thinking the straitening was to come from your own conscience and the restricting of your own behavior, that you forced yourself to lead a life of self-abnegation in order to stay on that thin road running right through the middle of the wide way of the heathens. Unfortunately, however well that idea might appear to mesh with the Doctrine of Self-denial, it isn’t what these verses are saying.

Let’s take a look at the words translated strait and narrow in the Greek NT; these are στενός [stenos] and θλίβω [thlibo] respectively. In Matthew 7:13-14 stenos is an adjective; thlibo is a perfect passive participle: στενος is from the root στεν—, as in στεναζω, “to groan,” στεναγμος, "groaning"; as well as στενοχωρεω, “to be straitened, compressed”; and στενοχωρια, “narrowness, anguish, distress”. θλιβω means “to press (as grapes), press hard upon, or compress”. The noun form θλιψις is the word translated as “tribulation” throughout the KJV.


The singular impression both of these words give is of a great difficulty pressing you in on both sides, as though you were being funnelled through a gradually narrowing channel. They are not words denoting the physical dimensions of the gate and way, per se, but rather the experience to be found there. In much the same way, in the poetic expression “they met at a dark hour”, the word dark is not used so much to describe the lack of light, but rather to convey the unsavory nature of the meeting. In the strait gate and along the narrow way you are like a grape being squeezed out in a winepress—a common Biblical metaphor for the operation of God’s wrath (see Lamentations 1:15; Joel 3:13; Haggai 2:16; Isaiah 63:3; Jeremiah & Rev 14:19-20, 19:15 et al) and, more significantly, because God's Word is written for Believers, His method of getting the best of the fruit (Numbers 18:27, 30; Deuteronomy 15:14; Isa 5:2; Matthew 21:33).

By the way, another small note on the translation in the KJV: The Greek preposition translated in at in the phrase “Enter ye in at the strait gate” is διὰ [dia] which actually means “through” or “by means of”.

So, now we can see that these verses, in telling Believers to “enter through the painful gate”, not the easy one, then describing why—“because painful is the gate and tribulation the way which leads unto the Life Eternal”—they are, in actuality, encouraging us to stay the course, rather than exhorting us to change. Jesus is telling us to recognize that we are on the right road when we are beset on both sides, that we are not cursed but blessed when being persecuted, and to know that, contrary to appearances, those who are persecuting us are the ones destined for ἀπώλεια [apoleia], destruction.

Persecution is necessary; there must be no doubt of this in the Christian’s mind. From our daily cross (Luke 9:23), to the hatred from our families (Luke 12:51-53), time and again the Lord tells us of the price we will pay in this world to be His disciples (Matthew 10:38). And, without fail, the means by which God beats (Deuteronomy 8:5; Hebrews 12:6) and persecutes us is at the hands of the ungodly. He lets our enemies persecute us and subject us to fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12) in order to refine us. He beats the Hell out of us; and fills the space left with Heaven (1 Peter 4:1).

Further to this, look carefully at the following screen-capture of the Thayer’s Lexicon entry for στενός found at Blue Letter Bible. Notice what it says about the Septuagint (abbreviated Sept.):


So, the equivalent word for στενός in Hebrew is צר [tsar]. Interestingly enough, this is the basis of the Hebrew name for Egypt, מצרים [mitsrayim]. Here’s Jeff A. Benner, of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center, unpacking the word מצרים in his e-magazine’s Name of the Month section:
The Hebrew word for Egypt is מצרים (mitsrayim / meets-rah-yeem). The first occurrence of this name is in Genesis 10:6 - And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim (mitsrayim), and Phut, and Canaan. (KJV). Mizraim is the grandson of Noah and evidently settled in the land that came to be known as Mitsrayim to the Hebrews and Egypt to us today.

The root to this name is צר (tsar Strong's #6862) meaning "pressed in" and can be translated several different ways; "enemy" as one who presses in; "trouble" as a pressing in; "strait" as a canyon with the walls pressing. A common method of forming nouns is to add the letter "mem" to the front of a root. In this case the "mem" is placed before the root forming the noun מצר (metsar Strong's #4712). The prefixed "mem" can be understood as "what is...", hence metsar means "what is pressed in" and is usually translated as trouble or straits. The suffix of the name mitsrayim is the masculine plural suffix ים. The normal pronunciation for this suffix is "eeym", usually a multiple plural, but can also be "yeem" and is the double plural as in the name mitsrayim.

The name mitsrayim can be interpreted many different ways; two straits (possibly referring to the two sides of the Nile river), double straits, two enemies, double pressing, or even double trouble. While we cannot determine for certain what this name originally meant, we can see some interesting parallels between Egypt and their relationship with the nation of Israel.
Incidentally, the English name “Egypt” comes from the Greek Αἴγυπτος [Aiguptos] which, according to the touregypt.net site, was the Greek transliteration of the Ancient Egyptian Hwt-ka-Ptah (Ht-ka-Ptah, or Hout-ak Ptah), meaning “House of the Ka of Ptah”; Ptah being one of the pagan Egyptians’ earliest gods.

With that, here’s another interesting screen grab from Thayer’s Lexicon entry for Αἴγυπτος found at Blue Letter Bible (Αἴγ. is the abbreviated Αἴγυπτος “Egypt”):


As with the entire Book of Revelation, there is a marvelous circularity to this idea of the inhabitants of physical Jerusalem being as hostile to the inhabitants of spiritual Jerusalem as the Ancient Egyptians were to the Israelites. As Moses literally lead the genetic Chosen of God out of the physical bondage of Egypt, so too does Christ lead the spiritual Chosen of God out of the bondage of spiritual Egypt. Likewise, both deliveries are through strait gates and along refining roads of tribulation!


2 comments:

  1. Hi Jim. Good Stuff. Really enjoyed, even though some of it was WAY over my head.

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  2. Glad you liked it, Gramps! And I don't believe for a second any of it was over your head.

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