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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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IMPORTUNITY.—The only passage in the Authorized and Revised Versions where this word is found is Luke 11:9 ‘Because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth.’ This rendering dates from Tindale (1526). Wyclif (1380) has ‘his contynuel axynge.’ Good modern translations are ‘persistency’ (Weymouth), ‘persistence’ [Twentieth Century NT). Murray’s New English Dict. gives the definition ‘troublesome pertinacity in solicitation’; as early as 1460 the word has this meaning, ‘Through ymportunite off thair suyttes.’ In the companion parable, Coverdale (1535) uses the cognate adjective, Luke 18:5 ‘yet seynge this weddowe is so importune vpon me, I will delyner her.’ The original meaning of ‘importune’ was ‘inopportune,’ ‘untimely’; in Sirach 32:4 ‘display not thy wisdom out of season,’ Coverdale has ‘at an importunyte.’ Intermediate stages in the growth of the later signification of the word from this root idea are marked by the now obsolete meanings ‘troublesome’ and ‘urgent.’

‘Importunity’ (Luke 11:8) is the translation of the Gr. ἀναίδεια, which signifies ‘the absence of αἰδώς’ ‘shamelessness.’ In Biblical Greek it occurs only in Sirach 25:22, and is rendered ‘impudence.’ The Lat. importunitas, ‘unfitness,’ is found with the stronger meaning ‘insolence’ (Cic. de Sen. iii. 7), and is therefore a more accurate translation of ἀναίδεια than its English equivalent. But persistent asking soon becomes insolent asking. The word contains, as Trapp says, ‘a metaphor from beggars, that will not be said Nay, but are impudently importunate’ (Com. in loc.). Cowper uses the word (Task, iv. 414) in an instructive context:

‘Knaves … liberal of their aid

To clam’rous importunity in rags.’

To bring out the striking contrast which our Lord’s parable suggests, it is necessary to show that persistence in asking becomes those who know that prayer is never troublesome to God, and never out of season. He who ‘will not he said Nay,’ and he alone, has learnt the secret of prevailing prayer. Wright notes (Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek, p. 243) that St. Luke ‘three times uses bad men to represent God, or to be examples to us: (1) here, (2) the unjust steward, (3) the unjust judge.’

J. G. Tasker.

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

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