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I am wondering about what it would have meant for 1st century believers to be exhorted to be "blameless".

Two specific verses I have in mind:

Philippians 2:15 (KJV)

  1. That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world...

1 Thessalonians 5:23 (KJV)

  1. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And then, even more specifically, what was and is the context and application behind "blameless" for bishops, both then and now, as seen here:

1 Timothy 3:2 (KJV)

  1. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach...

Titus 1:7 (KJV)

  1. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre...
  • There are really three different Greek words here, not one. I think you need to modify or eliminate or modify your follow-up question, "Are there any universal applications of the word? How about cultural and/or temporal applications from the 1st century that have no bearing on today's believer?", since this deals with the modern application and not necessarily the interpretation of Biblical texts. It's perhaps a question better suited to Christianity StackExchange. I think your first question is a good one though and I tried to answer. – user33515 Dec 15 '17 at 15:44
  • Good point. Thanks, user33515. – The Votive Soul Dec 16 '17 at 7:21
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There are actually three different Greek words translated as "blameless" (KJV) in the verses you cite:

  • ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) - Philippians 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • ἀνεπίλημπτος (anepilēmptos) - 1 Timothy 3:2
  • ἀνέγκλητος (anegklētos) - Titus 1:7

ἄμεμπτος

The word ἄμεμπτος is related to the words μῶμος (mōmos), meaning "blemish" or "defect". The prefix a- indicates "absence of" (e.g. thanatos = "death", athanasia = "immortality). So one could understand ἄμεμπτος to mean "without blemish" or "without defect*. Elsewhere, the KJV translates the word as "faultless" (Hebrews 8:7) and "unblameable" (1 Thessalonians 3:13). In the Septuagint, Job is given the appellation ἄμεμπτος:

There was a certain man in the land of Ausis, whose name was Job; and that man was true, blameless (ἄμεμπτος), righteous, and godly, abstaining from everything evil.1

Only Job and Abraham (Genesis 17:1 LXX) are given this appellation with reference to blamelessness before God.

ἀνεπίλημπτος

This word appears only in 1 Timothy and no where else in the entire Bible (Greek New Testament or Septuagint). In Greek literature2 it means "blameless" in the sense of being beyond reproach, or giving no grounds for dispute. Perhaps a slightly better literal translation might be "reproachless". Whereas ἄμεμπτος implies a sort of intrinsic purity (one is "blameless" before God), ἀνεπίλημπτος seems to imply extrinsic purity before men. The KJV translates the word in 1 Timothy 6:14 as unrebukeable.

ἀνέγκλητος

ἀνέγκλητος is related to the verb ἐγκαλέω (egkaleō), which is in turn related to the verb καλεω ("call", "summon", "name"). ἐγκαλέω means "to accuse" or "to bring charges against", as in:

And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council (Acts 23:28)

The prefix "a(n)-", as noted above, indicates a lack of something; so that ἀνέγκλητος can be understood in one sense to mean blameless in the sense of not being able to be accused. The sense is similar to that of ἀνεπίλημπτος, I think: it is used in 1 Timothy as well (3:10). Brenton translates the word as "innocent" in the Septuagint (3 Maccabees 5:31) when referring to Jews who had been unjustly condemned:

Your parents, or your children, were they here, to these wild beasts a large repast they should have furnished; not these innocent Jews, who me and my forefathers loyally have served.


1. Job 1:1 LXX; also 1:8, 2:3, and 8 other verses.
2. See Perseus entry

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That ye may be blameless (ἄμεμπτοι) and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15)

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless (ἀμέμπτως) unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Thessalonians 5:23)

A bishop then must be blameless (ἀνεπίληπτον), the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; (1 Timothy 3:2)

For a bishop must be blameless (ἀνέγκλητον), as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; (Titus 1:7)

In each case, the King James translators render the Greek as blameless:

The different nuances of the Greek which are not reflected in the KJV are captured in other translations. For example the translators of the Expanded Bible have:

Then you will be ·innocent [blameless] and ·without any wrong [innocent; pure; harmless], God’s children without ·fault [blemish; C as are sacrificial animals]. ·But you are living with people that are crooked and evil [L …in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; Deut. 32:5], among whom you shine like stars in the ·dark world [or sky; L world].
(Philippians 2:15 EXB)

Now may God himself, the God of peace, ·make you holy in every way [sanctify you completely/through and through]. May your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—be kept ·faultless [blameless] when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

An overseer must ·not give people a reason to criticize him [have a good reputation; be above reproach], and he must ·have only one wife [or be faithful to his wife]. He must be ·self-controlled [sober], ·wise [have good judgment], respected by others, ·ready to welcome guests [hospitable], and able to teach. (1 Timothy 3:2 EXB)

As God’s ·managers [stewards], overseers [C probably the same church office as elder; 1 Tim. 3:1, 6, 7; 5:17] must be ·innocent of wrongdoing [blameless], ·unselfish [not arrogant/self-willed], not ·quick-tempered [easily angered]. They must not ·drink too much wine [be a drunkard], ·like to fight [be violent/a brawler], or ·try to get rich by cheating others [be greedy for gain/dishonest in business]. (Titus 1:7 EXB)

ἄμεμπτοι is an adjective and ἀμέμπτως an adverb from ἄμεμπτοι and is used only twice, both in the letter to the Thessalonians:

Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably (ἀμέμπτως) we behaved ourselves among you that believe (1 Thesslaonians 2:10 KJV)

The difference between Philippians and Thessalonians is not the character of the individual. It is how character is perceived by others. The Philippians are encouraged to be lights to the (unbelieving) world, innocent (blameless) of fault and the Thessalonians are encouraged to be faultless (among other believers). Outsiders may call the character of the Philippians into question; so Paul encourages them to be found "innocent" when (falsely) charged.

The other two are straight-forward. Timothy is encouraged not to give people a reason to criticize and Titus is told to be innocent. This reflects challenges Titus will face:

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. (Titus 1:10 ESV)

Titus was a Gentile. This will give rise to issues for Titus which Timothy (whose mother was Jewish) will not face. Again, the difference is driven by how character is perceived by outsiders. There is an external aspect to being "blameless" which cannot be controlled. A person who is "blameless" cannot stop false accusations. However, they can be "blameless" that is innocent of the wrongs alleged by others.

  • The words in Philippians 2:15 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 are essentially the same: Philippians 2:15 uses an adjective form, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 uses the adverb. – user33515 Dec 15 '17 at 17:37

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