In our continuing coverage of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 we come upon a particularly interesting Greek word. Linguistics truly can be fun!
Blow Up The Outside World
When I started this series I mentioned that my goal is to attack the habits of death. Today we attack a major one, but I think it’s full weight can’t be understood until put in the context of tomorrow’s post. I hope you’ll come back for it. A few months ago I wrote a couple posts about language and about names in particular. In the event you didn’t read it and don’t feel like reading several thousand words today, let me recap…
Names are a truly fascinating thing. Think about it: you don’t need your name, because even if you’re one of those people who talk about yourself in the third person you can reference yourself all kinds of ways because you know you. Even others talking to you don’t really need a name; they can point or use other methods of indicating the communication is for you. Names are exclusively a social construct made to facilitate other people talking about you. But because a name is just a word it’s, like all words are, just a container for an idea. The idea conveyed in that word — your name — is you, the idea of you.
Our social goals are all built around making that idea, that picture, that version of you, into exactly what you want it to be. Notice I didn’t say an accurate representation. That’s exactly the topic today: management of a name.
God is not boastful
The King James renders this part of the verse “vaunteth not”, but because the use of “vaunt” has gone out of fashion it can be tough to grab onto. The Aramaic version says “is not upset”, which fascinates me because the ideas of upset and boastul seem completely unrelated. The root Greek word is περπερεύομαι, perpereuomai, and it has an interesting etymology. The suffix, –euomai, you may recognize from chresteuomai — kind — that I’ve used the last couple days. It is a compound suffix that denotes a tense of a verb and really just means “having the quality of”. The word root itself, perper, is a little mysterious. The best we can figure it is an emphatic repetition of peran, which means “beyond or on the other side”. But peran comes from a version of peiro which means “to pierce”. So peran, then, refers to being beyond something you forcefully pierced; to having broken through. Perper, then, means to go way beyond, to break through with immense force or maybe to have gone way beyond. You can see, then, how the Aramaic says “upset”: it’s saying you’ve pushed well past the breaking point, past a barrier you had to really force your way through, and which you shouldn’t have.
But what does the word perpereuomai actually mean? This usage in 1 Corinthians is its only use in the Bible, so we must look outside to get any real context. In all contemporary use at the time it refers to a person who is bragging or telling big fish stories. Specifically it referred to the medieval term vainglorious: empty stories. So it often meant “to be a blow-hard”. Now let me tie all these threads together.
Boasting — bragging — is always rooted in insecurity. Always. Sometimes that insecurity is manifest in inferiority, sometimes in arrogance, but always it is because a person is not secure with how they are perceived by others. This is what causes them to tell a grander story, get provoked to greater reaction at critique, or act irrationally: they are trying to refine a better name for themselves. Aramaic says “upset” because it’s using the older definition that means “out of balace”. What this word really means is that you are a person who has unbalanced your name, pushed far beyond the borders of acceptable… that you’ve placed a false idea in that container that is your name.
A Rose by Any Other Name
God has no need of such devices; He is who He is irrespective of what you or I say or think about it. When He said “I AM” it was a statement of absolutes: the He is who He is supposed to be, that it is perfection and completion because He knows it. He cannot exceed the boundaries of His names because His names already encompass everything that is, was, or could be. He is not trying to facilitate a better name for Himself among us. Maybe you don’t believe that, but Jesus told the leper not to tell anyone who healed him, the Lord refused to give Moses more to to the Hebrews with than “I AM”, and Jesus asked the disciples what people said about Him not to try and improve on that idea but to see if anyone had recognized Him as Messiah. Cover to cover what we say about Him is referenced only insomuch as we are to let Him speak for Himself. He doesn’t need us to market Him.
And let me say: Love is not boastful for the same reason! Love recognizes that you can never forcibly change your name. Not through lying, not through manipulation, and not even through instant truth. There is no quick absolution from your name. Changing your name requires constantly pouring out consistency of truth; the definition changes only naturally as others are convinced to change it. This is why con artists change names so frequently: it’s the only way to project another persona, but that can never last as a lie. You don’t need to brag because we don’t Love you for your stories; we Love you for being you. God Loves you for being you.
There is an aspect, as I said, that requires a different context to fully grasp this one, and that comes tomorrow. Stick with me; I promise this is all building to something of great use to you.