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NIV Matt. 5:44 “But I tell you, love your enemies (Gk. “ἐχθροὺς”) and pray for those who persecute you, …”

What is the usage of the Greek word “ἐχθροὺς” in Matt 5:44?

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  • Depth of meaning is probably not the best term. A difficulty translating is Greek words will have other possible meanings than the English translation, and English words in the translation will have other possible meanings not conveyed by the Greek text.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 24 '18 at 18:31
  • We also need to be careful out etymology, as helpful as it is. You can note this from words with the same etymology in different languages that have different meanings. Ancient Greek has enough texts usually to know its meaning. Hebrew is the language that we often need etymology for the meaning. Unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament language is within one century.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 24 '18 at 18:39
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First, note from Matt. 5:44, “pray for those who persecute you,” is a synonymous parallel to “love your enemies.” Thus, those persecuting you are included in your enemies. Actually, those persecuting you are those of your enemies most likely to be convicted by the Holy Spirit and turn to Christ. Other enemies are probably apathetic.

Looking at the lexical means of ἐχθρός, The following lexicon gives the basic meaning of the word. Romans 5:10 below notes that you enemies have the potential of becoming friends through Christ. Note, the lexical form says the word is an adjective used as a substantive (noun).

ἐχθρός, ά, όν: pertaining to being at enmity with someone—‘being an enemy, in opposition to.’ ἐχθροὶ ὄντες κατηλλάγημεν τῷ θεῷ διὰ τοῦ θανάτου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ ‘being enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ Ro 5:10; κατὰ μὲν τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἐχθροὶ δἰ ὑμᾶς ‘with respect to the good news, they are enemies for your sake’ Ro 11:28.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 493). New York: United Bible Societies.

The BGAD lexicon gives the various possible meanings of the word.

ἐχθρός, ά, όν (Hom.+; inscr., LXX) hostile—

  1. pass. hated (Hom.; θεοῖς ἐ. since Hes., Theog. 766, also Pla., Rep. 1, 23 p. 352B; Epict. 3, 22, 91; Ael. Aristid. 28, 15 K.=49 p. 495 D.; Alciphr. 3, 12, 5; Achilles Tat. 7, 6, 3, likew. X., Cyr. 5, 4, 35 καὶ θεοῖς ἐ. καὶ ἀνθρώποις.—Philo, Spec. Leg. 3, 88 πᾶς ἐ. θεῷ) Ro 11:28, where the pass. sense becomes at least quite probable because of the contrast w. ἀγαπητός.

  2. act. hating, hostile (Pind., Hdt.+; LXX)—

    a. adj. (X., An. 1, 3, 12; 20; PGM 36, 144; Sir 36:9; Jos., Ant. 11, 27)ἐ. ἄνθρωπος (Horapollo 2, 35) Mt 13:28. The position of ἐ. before ἄ. (differently Esth 7:6) suggests that ἐ. is an adj. here; but ἄ. by itself could also serve to emphasize the uncertainty: an enemy at all (s. EKlostermann, Hdb. ad loc.). Then this example would also belong to b.

    b. subst. (Hes., Pind.; Zen.-P. 14 [=Sb 6720], 18 [257/6 BC]; LXX, En., Ep. Arist., Philo, Joseph., Test. 12 Patr.; Sib. Or. 3, 727) ὁ ἐ. the (personal) enemy. >

    α. abs. 2 Cl 6:3. Enemies of men Lk 1:74; 2 Th 3:15; D 1:3b; B 16:4. Enemies of God or Christ Ro 5:10; 1 Cor 15:25; Col 1:21; 1 Cl 36:6. Death as the last enemy 1 Cor 15:26. The devil as the enemy (cf. Test. Dan 6:3f) Lk 10:19; cf. Mt 13:39.

    β. w. gen. of the pers. who is the obj. of the enmity: men Mt 5:43f; Lk 6:27, 35 (Delph. commands: Dit., Syll.3 1286 I, 15; 16 [III BC] φίλοις εὐνόει, ἐχθροὺς ἀμύνου; Sextus 213 εὔχου τοὺς ἐχθροὺς εὐεργετεῖν; Pittacus in Diog. L. 1, 78 φίλον μὴ λέγειν κακῶς, ἀλλὰ μηδὲ ἐχθρόν; Epict. 3, 22, 54 as a principle of the Cynic philosopher: δερόμενον φιλεῖν [δεῖ] αὐτοὺς τοὺς δέροντας. . . ὡς ἀδελφόν; Hierocles 7 p. 430 οὐδεὶς ἐχθρὸς τῷ. σπουδαίῳ. . . μισεῖ οὐδένα ἄνθρωπον. . . φιλία πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους.—HHaas, Idee u. Ideal d. Feindesliebe in d. ausserchr. Welt ’27; MWaldmann, D. Feindesliebe in d. ant. Welt u. im Christent. ’02; ThBirt. Chr. Welt 29, ’15, 475-83; FKattenbusch, StKr 89, ’16, 1-70; PFiebig, ibid. 91, ’18, 30-64; 305f; JEYates, Theology 44, ’42, 48-51); Mt 10:36; 13:25; Lk 1:71; 19:27; Ro 12:20 (Pr 25:21); Gal 4:16. God or Christ as the object of enmity Mt 22:44; Mk 12:36; Lk 20:43; Ac 2:35; Hb 1:13; 10:13; 1 Cl 36:5 (all Ps 109:1). ἐχθρὸς τ. θεοῦ Js 4:4 (cf. Aeschyl., Prom. 120 ὁ Διὸς ἐ.).

    γ. w. gen. of the thing which is the obj. of the enmity (Demosth. 45, 66; Philo, Conf. Lingu. 48 ἀληθείας ἐ., Somn. 2, 90 λογισμοῦ; Jos., C. Ap. 2, 291ἀδικίας) ἐ. πάσης δικαιοσύνης enemy of all righteousness Ac 13:10. ἐ. τοῦ σταυροῦ τ. Χριστοῦ Phil 3:18 (OLinton, Con. Neot. IV ’36, 9-21).—WFoerster, TW II 810-15. M-M. B. 1345.

Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 331). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This lexicon of the Septuagint (LXX) shows how this Greek word was used to translate Hebrew words in the Old Testament:

ἐχθρός echthros, adj., enemy. 441× +NT +AF

Hebrew Alignment

אֹיֵב—enemy (246): Gen 49:8; Ex 15:6; 23:4; Lev 26:7, 17, 34, 37, 41; Num 10:9; 14:42; 24:18; 35:23; Dt 1:42; 12:10; 20:4; 21:10; 25:19; 28:25, 53, 57; 32:27, 42; Josh 7:8, 13; 10:25; 22:8; Jdg 2:14; 3:28; 16:23; 1 Kgdms 2:1; 12:10; 14:30; 18:25; 24:20; 25:29; 30:26; 2 Kgdms 3:18; 5:20; 7:11; 18:19; 22:1, 18, 49; 3 Kgdms 3:11; 8:37, 48; 4 Kgdms 17:39; 1 Ch 14:11; 17:10; 2 Ch 6:24, 34; 25:8; Esd B 8:22; 14:15; 16:16; Es 7:6; Job 27:7; Ps 6:11; 8:3; 12:3; 16:9; 17:18, 41; 24:2; 26:2; 30:9; 36:20; 40:6; 41:10; 44:6; 54:4; 55:10; 63:2; 67:2; 68:5; 70:10; 73:18; 79:7; 88:11, 43; 101:9; 105:42; 118:98; 131:18; 138:22; Pr 15:28; Isa 1:24; 42:13; Jer 6:25; 15:9; 18:17; 19:9; 21:7; 37:14; 41:21; Lam 1:2, 9; 2:3, 5, 22; 3:52; Eze 36:2; Hos 8:3; Amos 9:4; Mic 4:10; 7:6; Nah 1:2; 3:11; Zep 3:15

צַר2—enemy (31): Ge 14:20; Num 24:8; Dt 32:41, 43; 33:7; 2 Kgdms 24:13; 1 Ch 12:17; 21:12; Es 7:6; Job 6:23; 19:11; Ps 43:6, 11; 73:10; 77:61, 66; 88:24, 43; 96:3; 104:24; 106:2; 107:14; 111:8; 118:139; 135:24; Je 26:10; 27:7; 37:16; Lam 1:7; 4:12; Eze 39:23

שׂנא—to hate; to scorn, decrease in status; (pt.) enemy (10): Ex 23:5; Job 8:22; 31:29; Ps 9:14; 40:8; 80:16; 117:7; Pr 25:21; 26:24; 27:6

צרר2—to treat with hostility, attack (8): Es 9:10; Ps 6:8; 7:5, 7; 8:3; 9:26; 30:12; Is 11:13

שׁוֹרֵר—enemy (5): Ps 5:9; 26:11; 53:7; 55:3; 58:11

אֹרֵב—(group in an) ambush (2): 1 Kgdms 22:8, 13

צַר1—narrow; meager; restraint, anxiety; need (2): Job 36:16; 38:23

Unique Hebrew Alignment

סַבָּל—burden bearers: Esd B 14:10; וְ—and; together with; that is; or; then: Es 7:6; בֶּ֫צֶר1—gold ore: Job 22:25; מַת—(pl.) men, people: Ps 16:14; עַ֫יִן—eye; appearance, look; spring; Ain: Ps 76:5; שׁוּר1—wall: Ps 91:12; תְּקוֹמֵם—opponent, adversary; rebel: Ps 138:21; זָר—strange, different; heterogeneous, illicit; unauthorized; non-Israelite; prohibited; other: Prov 6:1; רַע—badly made, of small worth, poor; contemptible, evil, reprobate; (subst.) evil, wickedness: Pr 20:12; אֵיד—disaster: Eze 35:5; הֵם—they (m.): Eze 35:5

Aramaic Alignment

עַר—adversary; enemies (1): Dan 4:16

(2012). The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

This should give you some idea of the meaning of ἐχθρός.

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  • 1
    Use > for one indent, >> for two indents, and >>> for three indents. You need two carriage returns (one blank line) between each paragraph with its own indent. Otherwise, the webpage merges the two paragraphs.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 24 '18 at 21:03
  • 1
    That might be a solution for more common Greek words that BDAG is too long to quote normally.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 24 '18 at 21:09

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