(Or at least bigger than *I* thought, but that’s not as good a title.)

I’m working on Untwisting Scriptures #5, “Suffering, Death (to Self), and Life.”

In preparation for that, I’m studying all the uses in the New Testament of the Greek words that indicate some form of suffering. Which brought me to the Greek word dioko (Strong number G1377), which is translated “persecute.”

I thought this one would be straightforward and I wouldn’t find much. God forgive me for my assumptions.

Anybody ready for a Bible study? Cause buckle up and here we go.

What “persecution” means in the New Testament

Many New Testament Scriptures make very clear that in its negative sense, the Greek word translated “persecution” (literally “chasing after,” Strong’s number G1377) indicates being “chased after” in order to be actively abused: to be stoned, beaten, and even crucified. (It can also mean “chased after” in order to be passively abused: to be cast out into utter isolation from all interaction with the people the Christians had always known as their people.)

But having examined all uses of this word in the New Testament, I’d like to zero in on just one of them. One fascinating use of this word is in Galatians 4:29, when Paul was in the middle of describing the differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

Hang with me. We’re diving in.

“Persecution” in Galatians 4

The book of Galatians is all about helping the New Covenant people of God stand firm in the New Covenant in spite of the pressures and even persecutions they experienced from the Jews—and more specifically, the Judaizers (Jews who claimed to be Christians but thought one needed to be a Jew, even a proselytized Jew, in order to be a Christian). Paul had very strong—very strong—censure against these false teachers.

In Galatians 4:29, Paul compared this situation to the way Ishmael persecuted Isaac, back in Genesis.

But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh [Ishmael] persecuted [G1377] him who was born according to the Spirit [Isaac], so also it is now.

The fully developed allegory in Chapter 4 is fascinating and worthy of a beautiful chart of comparisons and conclusions, but I’m reining myself in and staying focused on the persecution.

What did that “persecute” refer to, back in Genesis? It’s time to cross reference.

Persecution in Genesis 21

Genesis 21:8-9 says,

And the child [Isaac] grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw [Ishmael] the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.

That’s all it says about that.

That was it? Ishmael was laughing? That was what Paul called “persecution”?

But it must have been something really bad. Because in verse 10, Sarah’s reaction to Ishmael’s “laughing” was to plead with Abraham in verse 10, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son.”

(And God told Abraham to do what Sarah said, and Paul’s argument in Galatians hinges on that decision.)

At the time of weaning in those days, Isaac would have been around 2 or 3. Ishmael would have been around 15 or 16. This sets the stage.

The Hebrew word translated “laughing” there (the word that matches with Paul’s word translated “persecution”) is used a few other places to mean different things. I’m walking through some important stuff here, so keep hanging with me.

Four meanings for that Hebrew word (number 4 will surprise you)

At least it did me.

I found four meanings for the Hebrew word translated “laughing,” what Ishmael did to Isaac. Two of them would fit with this idea of “persecution.”





This article has now been incorporated into the book Untwisting Scriptures to Find Freedom and Joy in Jesus Christ: Book 5 Brokenness & Suffering. You can find that book here.




Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.

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