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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. ἀθετεῖν.—(1) The primary signification of the word is to render or consider invalid (ἄθετον), to set aside something laid down (θετόν τι), to bear oneself toward a thing as if it were not, to ignore: Mark 7:9 ἀθ. τ. ἐντολὴν (Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘reject’), to set aside the command of God, replacing it by tradition, and thus to deprive it of its force, by teaching and practice (cf. Isaiah 24:16, Judges 1:8). Hence (2) to thwart the efficacy of anything: Luke 7:30 τ. βουλὴν τ. θεοῦ (Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘reject’), to set at nought as superfluous and invalid (cf. Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:15, Hebrews 10:28). Hence (3) of persons, to ignore, bear oneself towards them as if they were not, or as if they need not be regarded or honoured: Mark 6:26 αὐτήν (Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘rejeet’), break faith with, and then disappoint (Field, Ot. Norv. in loc; cf. Psalms 14 :(15) 4), Luke 10:18 ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘reject’), to ignore, to treat with contempt as deserving no recognition (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:8). To ignore the messenger is to ignore the Son whose message he bears, and this is to ignore the Father who has sent the Son (John 12:48, Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘reject’). To ignore Christ and refuse His word is not to escape responsibility, or to disprove His claims. Denial is not disproof. ‘The word cannot he banished. It still clings to the hearer as his judge. Spiritual judgment is a consequence involved in the rejection of the revelation: it is self-fulfilled: it cannot but be carried out.’ Though rejected now, ‘the word of Christ must justify itself’ (Westcott); cf. Isaiah 33:1.

2. ἐξουθενεῖν (-δενεῖν, -δενοῦν [see WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] , App. P. 106]), to hold or treat as of no account, despise utterly, set at nought: Luke 18:9 ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘set at nought’). The Pharisees ‘invented the most high-flown designations for each other, such as “Light of Israel,” “Glory of the Law,” etc., but they described the vast mass of their fellow-countrymen as “aecursed” for not knowing the Law (John 7:49), and spoke of them as empty cisterns’ (Farrar, in loc., cf. Romans 14:3; Romans 14:10, 1 Corinthians 16:11, Galatians 4:14 etc., Proverbs 1:7). The same word translation by both Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘set at nought,’ is used of the contempt and mockery with which Jesus was treated by the rulers (Mark 9:12 Ἰνα ἐξουδενηθῇ; Luke 23:11 ἑξουθ. αὐτὸν ὁ Ηρῷης), where the special significance of the word is that He was treated not even as a criminal, deserving examination of his case and righteous judgment, but as a mere cypher, to be utterly despised; cf. Acts 4:11, Psalms 21:6, Isaiah 53:3 [Symm. [Note: Symmachus.] ], Ezekiel 22:8.

3. καταφρονεῖν, to look down upon from a position of superiority, whether assumed or real, to think lightly of, to neglect, to disdain, with more or less actively hostile design (cf. Herod, i. 5. 66, viii. 10). Matthew 6:24 || Luke 16:13 : two masters, with opposing interests, cannot be served by the same person, the esteem in which they are held will very according to the reward offered; one will be actively honoured and diligently served, the other will be thought lightly of and his interests will be neglected. Matthew 18:10 : μικροί are not to be held in disdain. (1) They are under the special care of God. Adopting the current Jewish doctrine of angels as guardian spirits, our Lord tells His hearers that children have friends in the court of heaven, in close nearness to the King Himself, whose ‘Face’ they always see; there they are not thought lightly of, here they must not be despised. (2) Accepting the order of the verses, there is a close connexion between ‘despising’ and ‘offending.’ No hostile action must be taken towards them, even unconsciously, no carelessness as to conduct or example which might hurt them; ‘hindrances’ to the life of young disciples, ‘despised’ because of their weakness, are sins against His love to them. (3) If the connexion with Matthew 18:1-4 is original, the young are not to be ‘despised,’ because the childlike disposition is the true way to eternal life; the humility which is essential for entering into the Kingdom of heaven has its symbol in the consciousness of weakness and imperfection that belongs to children, who are therefore not to be ‘despised’ but ‘received’ (cf. Proverbs 13:13, Genesis 27:12).

The active hostility implied in the word is seen in Romans 2:4 τ. μακροθυμιας καταφρονεῖς: God’s longsuffering not only treated with contempt, but also opposed by being sinned against (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12). In Hebrews 12:2 αἰσχύνης καταφρ., the simply passive sense is given—enduring with the resignation that arises from the disdain of real superiority. ‘What men count shame was seen by Christ in another light. From His position, raised infinitely above them, He could disregard their judgment’ (Westcott, in loc.).

ἀθετεῖν and ἐξουθενεῖν are not used by classical writers, καταφρονεῖν is in constant use from Herodotus onwards.

R. Macpherson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Despise'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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