A note on παροξυσμός in Hebrews 10:24

I am preaching through Hebrews and as I worked through 10:19-25, I came across a little used noun that has been driving me a bit crazy. In 10:24, the writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers stating, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” The expression “to stimulate” is the noun παροξυσμός and is used only twice in the NT, here and in Acts 15:39 where it is used of a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas over whether to take along John Mark. There are only two uses of the term in the LXX and both of these are negative as well. It is used in the summary of covenant demands at Moab by Moses in warning Israel of the ramifications of disobedience. In Deuteronomy 29:27 (28 English) Moses warns that such disobedience would culminate with God’s “wrath” toward his people. It is also used in Jeremiah 39:37 (32:37 English) where God promises to regather his people one day from the places he drove them in his “indignation.” This negative sense is also the only way the noun is used in classical Greek (Seesmann, TDNT, 5:857). Given that the context of Hebrews 10:24 is positive in that the goal of this “stimulation” is “love” and “good deeds,” it is understandable why some versions avoid negative renderings of παροξυσμός. In other words, the context is determining that the term has the more “neutral meaning” in Hebrews (Ellingworth, Hebrews, NIGTC, 527). The various renderings include “stimulate” (NASB95), “stir up” (ESV, NKJV, RSV), and “spur…on” (NIV) while some other versions are seemingly a little more in line with the negative connotation and translate the term “provoke” (NRSV, ASV, KJV).

But why choose a term that is negative in connotation? Surely a term like “encourage” would have worked. Several lexicons actually use “encouragement” as a gloss using Hebrews 10:24 as the only example. This may be because the verb form is used in such a manner in classical Greek (e.g. Isocrates). But I am still struck by the choice. You almost get the sense that we are to be irritants to one another, but of a good sort! Perhaps at the end of the day, the choice of noun is for the purpose of describing the way a believer, by their own lives of love and good deeds, provokes or spurs each other to a similar lifestyle. Perhaps the NIV has captured the idea best with the rendering “spur on.” A spur it a bit of an irritant if you are a horse.

Categories: Christian living, Commentary, Hebrews, παροξυσμός

4 replies

  1. Hey Dan,
    I have recently gone through Hebrews in Sunday school as well as walked through the book in NT9 (studies in non-Pauline literature) with Dr. Arp. I appreciated his understanding of this verse and word. With his notes and some of my own study I have come up with this notion; that is, “provoke,” or “aggressively stirring up” the flock to encourage one to good works.
    Practically, we as the body must have a caring response toward others. Active support and concern for the welfare of one another are matters of critical urgency in the life of the church.

    I just thought I would throw my ‘two-cents’ in. 🙂

  2. Since the Greek word for comfort and encouragement is used in the very next verse and it’s with a view towards love, good needs, and hope(as you see the day approaching), I believe “stir up” is best used here. Rather then provoke as that gives the idea of be pushy and over-bearing.:)

    But then again it appears here that some were willingly turning their backs on the Christian faith(and utterly abandoning their assembling together) and returning to Judaism for Salvation.

    But instead of being pushy, he wants them to lovingly urge them to stay true to the Lord and comfort, encourage, and edify the rest in their walk with God(vertically) and charity(horizontally).

    Maybe persecution also played a role.

    • Yeah, it is a tough call. Given that most scholars see the letter as a sermon, the idea of the “preacher” wanting to strongly exhort his readers with such vivid language is understandable. Also, that the uses found in the LXX and NT are negative in tone, I think the choice of the NIV to translate it “spur on” is an excellent one.

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