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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Giving Up the Ghost

You've heard the phrase before. It's fairly common. You know what it means to "give up the ghost." We might use it to talk about a device that stops working, but most often it is a euphemism for dying ... because we don't like to talk about people dying. The earliest record of this phrase actually comes from the Bible, but this gets a little obscured because our Bibles are translations. So you will find references in the Old Testament to people who "gave up the ghost" and New Testament references to people that "gave up the ghost" and, as it turns out, these are mostly ... euphemisms. There is an exception.

The Old Testament uses the Hebrew word גּוע, gâva‛, to breathe out, to expire. Interesting, I suppose, because it carries the image of the last breath as well as the idea of the soul leaving the body. This, as it turns out, is the common New Testament idea as well. In the many places that you just might find the phrase, "gave up the ghost", or something like it, you will find the Greek word, ἐκψύχω, ekpsuchō. It means "to expire" (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:46; Acts 5:5, 10; Acts 12:23).

And then we come to the exception. Both the Mark 15 and Luke 23 references in the previous paragraph come from the Gospel accounts of Jesus on the Cross. When He died, all four Gospels say He gave up the ghost (depending on your translation). But two of them differ in their expression. Those two say He expired. The other two (Matt 27:50; John 19:30) use a different phrase. The Matthew version uses a phrase that begins with the Greek ἀφίημι, aphiēmi, literally "to send" or "to send forth", and ends with πνεῦμα, pneuma, the breath, the spirit, used to indicate the "vital principle", the soul, the life. The John version starts with παραδίδωμι, paradidōmi, to surrender.

"Wow, Stan, nice 'mountain out of a mole hill'." Yeah, I know, it looks like I'm being obscure. But wait! Note that there is a distinct difference between "expire" and "to send the spirit" or "to surrender the spirit". One happens to you and the other is something that you do. And there is where it gets interesting. You see, nowhere in Scripture is there a literal reference to anyone actually giving up the ghost. They die. It happens to them. They breathe their last. Over and done. But Jesus didn't merely expire. Oh, He did breathe His last, but it didn't happen to Him. He chose. That's something that none of us get to do.

The text indicates that when Jesus died on the Cross, He did it by choice. He gave up His spirit. He sent it forth. And that's the amazing thing about the Cross. He chose to die that way for us. It was the plan, and He carried it out willingly, even to the point of surrendering His life at the right moment.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).

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