By Robbert Veen


The following is a brief study of "strife" wrote to answer a question about the meaning of the term found in Romans 1:29, where Paul wrote, "being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil dispositions."

The word translated strife (debate) is in Greek: eridos, from "eris", rivalry, strife. Same word as in: Rom 13:13 "let us walk . . . not in strife and emulation." The term is also used in:

1 Cor 1:11 "It has been shewn to me concerning you, my brethren . . . that there are strifes among you."

1 Cor. 3:3 "For whereas there are among you emulation and strife."

2 Cor. 12:20 "I find you not such as I wish, and that *I* be found by you such as ye do not wish: lest {there might be} strifes."

Gal. 5:20 "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are . . . strifes."

Debate can mean: (1) contention in words, this is strife and must be avoided.

It can also mean: (2) a formal argument, a discussion. In this meaning it is not a correct translation.

If we encounter people that have abandoned the basic teaching of the gospel, we are admonished not to enter into contentious debate with them. "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh . . . strife" (1 Tim. 6:3, 4).

All of this is to be distinguished from what happens in Acts 15 e.g. The apostles and the elders of the Churches in Jerusalem were gathered together to "see about" the matters brought before them. Vs. 7 then states: "much discussion having taken place".

In verse 22 then a decision is taken under the guidance of the Spirit i.e. in submission to Christ and unanimous. The word for discussion in Acts 15 is "dzetesis", question, (grounds for) inquiry. It is derived from "dzeteo", which means to search. When there were several opinions, there was nothing like the contentious debate we know now so often, i.e. not the pro and contra positions, being defended on both sides, that we like so much (well, I confess I do) and that is part of modern political and academic life.

What happened was, that several of the responsible elders realized that there were differing views on the application of Christ's commandments and the interpretation of the gospel as in Acts 15, so a "dzetesis," a search for God's will was in order. So they searched for material, experiences, views, scriptures that would enlighten them in their search and then finally, with prayer in their heart, they decided "together" if that was necessary.

What Christians might try to do more than they do now, since we have grown accustomed to the ways in which this world seeks truth, is to listen carefully to all views. Then step by step they need to try to formulate a view that will do justice to all, and then in a joint gathering bring it with prayer before the Lord and accept the result of a final vote or statement on the matter if all are agreed there and then.

To reason together is then not a point-counterpoint thing, defending a position against an other by bringing in argument, for that is strife and can easily become a clash of interests. But to add materials for a joint discernment and learning experience, that sometimes will and sometimes will not lead to a final decision. In that sense, debate is not a Christian way of finding truth, but belonged in NT-times specifically to the Jewish way of applying scripture: teacher against teacher, argument against argument. None of them had the final say, but we have a Lord that taught not as the rabbi's but as one who had authority. For us, it is necessary always to search out His will and commandment together (since we all have been given the authority to bind

And loose, i.e. to make final decisions about our way of life under Christ's rule and accepting or banning others who have forsaken their faith-commitment publicly (all in Matthew 18), without making distinctions as to experience and learning. Only then is Christ really our Lord also in our discerning and finding truth.

On a personal note: on this forum, I find I don't mind debate so much, since it is part of the academic world anyway. That is my second "home" so to speak. But in my congregational "home", it should not work like that. Part of my job as a pastor is, to help ensure that our congregational decisions are not made by warring parties trying to win with better, i.e. more clever arguments, while they already have decided upon the best course of action before they have heard others. Come to think of it, the academic process of finding truth could benefit greatly from listening to the way the early Church found truth together.

It is, however, a difficult process, that I am many times unable to help perform, I mean that I am drawn to debate, because - I think - it enlarges my ego to 'win" or at least have a good argument. I confess that lures me, but it should not be so and I know that. Maybe we should pray that we are able to follow this example of the apostles on this forum.

Finally, one of the primary aims of talking to each other is to help us find God's will for our personal life. In a moral sense, and I think also in the area of truth. Should we do that more often? The Jews have a saying: if three are together and not a word of Torah is spoken, it is a congregation of the wicked. I think that is basically true: if two Christian are together and they do not speak about Christ: see, what is the difference between them and a congregation of the wicked?

 To state the ideal is something else than following it, rest assured, I am not claiming to realize this. But Donna's question makes me aware how far off the mark I probably am.

By Robbert Veen
The Netherlands
July 1999

The Bible quotations are from the Darby Bible (1884/1890) 


You are welcome to make copies of the above article provided you show the copyright information and source.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Send them to the Webmaster.

This page is presented by:

Biblical Viewpoints Publications
63100 County Road 111
Goshen, IN 46526
Phone: 574-875-8007

Back to the Articles page.

Return to Home Page

May God's grace and peace be with you as you study His Word.

June 22, 2000