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And Look!, some of the experts in the law said within themselves, “This man speaks defaming words.” Bible

“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20 (“Look!).

“speaks defaming words.” The religious leaders thought that by forgiving sins, Jesus was harming the reputation of God, who was alone thought to be able to forgive sins [For more on forgiving sins, see commentary on Mark 2:7].

Matthew 9:3 is the first use of the thirty-four uses of Greek verb blasphēmeō (#987 βλασφημέω; pronounced blas-fay-meh’-ō). The noun form of the word is blasphēmia (#988 βλασφημία; pronounced blas-fay-me’-ah), which occurs eighteen times. Both blasphēmeō and blasphēmia are transliterated (not translated) from the Greek into English as “blasphemy.” There is a problem with that, however, because “blasphemy” in English has a different meaning than blasphēmeō and blasphēmia do in Greek. In English, “blasphemy” is only used in reference to God. It is insulting God or a god, insulting something considered sacred (like defacing a cross or statue of Jesus), or claiming to be God or a god in some way. The BDAG Greek-English Lexicon correctly says that the English word blasphemy “has to some extent in English gone its own emotive way semantically and has in effect become a religious technical term, which is not the case with βλασφημέω.”

In Greek, blasphēmeō and blasphēmia did not have to refer to God or a god, but were common words that were used of someone speaking against another. The primary meaning of blasphēmeō and blasphēmia as they were used in the Greek culture was showing disrespect to a person or deity, and/or harming his, her, or its reputation. In the honor/shame society of the biblical world, that was even more heinous an act than we would think of it today, because honor and reputation were at the very core of societal status and were the basis of all social interaction. Perhaps a good comparable analogy is how horrible “losing face” is in the Asian society, which is an honor/shame society.

For the definition of blasphēmia, the Greek-English Lexicon by Louw and Nida says: “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation (occurring in relation to persons as well as to divine beings) — ‘to revile, to defame, to blaspheme, reviling.’” The BDAG Greek-English Lexicon has: “speech that denigrates or defames,” hence “reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines blasphēmia as, “speech injurious to another’s good name” and lists railing, reviling, and slander, as some of the definitions. Thayer also points out that not only is “blasphemy” a loan word into English, but it is in Latin also, and is “blasphēmia” in the Latin Vulgate.

Blasphēmeō and blasphēmia are used in the Bible of blasphemous speech towards God (e.g., Rom. 2:24; Rev. 13:6), but also it is often used of people; for instance, in Titus 3:2, we are commanded not to speak in this way towards anyone. Other examples of blasphemy against humans can be found in Acts 18:6; Romans 3:8; 1 Peter 4:4; and Revelation 2:9. Besides God and humans, the Bible also refers to “blasphemous” speech towards angelic beings (2 Pet. 2:10-12; Jude 8-10; Rev. 13:6). Lastly, it is also possible to blaspheme against impersonal things, such as the Word of God (Titus 2:5), or the Way of Truth (2 Pet. 2:2).

Given that the essence of blasphēmeō and blasphēmia is speaking words that injure or harm the reputation of another, we felt that “defame” was generally the best definition of those words, although sometimes “insult” seemed to be a better fit, or “injurious speech,” which is not outside the general meaning and semantic range of the Greek word. Many English versions use the word “blasphemy” when the context is about God but then change it to “insult” or “slander” when the context is people, but we felt that did nothing to clarify the fact that the Greeks and Romans used blasphēmeō and blasphēmia of God, people, and things.


Commentary for: Matthew 9:3