Posted by: mattcolvin | December 13, 2011

“In Patience Possess Your Souls” — What Jesus Really Said

Ember Wednesday of the Third Week in Advent: Luke 21:5-19.

You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head shall be lost. 19 By your patience possess your souls.

I think it’s quite striking how Jesus juxtaposes these two promises: you will be killed, and “not a hair of your head will be lost.” That tells you how much harm He thinks death will be to those who believe.

The final line of the passage explains the connection, but our English translations miss the mark. Bear with me for a bit while I do a little Greek work. “Patience” is not a sufficient rendering of hypomone. The verb κτάομαι does not mean “possess,” but rather, “gain possession of.” And ψυχή is not only “soul”, but “life,” which makes better sense in the context, where Jesus has just spoken about dying. (We moderns tend to pair “soul” with “body,” but that’s not really what Jesus is doing here.)

Put it all together, and we get something like “in endurance, gain possession of your lives.” This is consistent with Jesus’ other teaching that “he who loses His life for my sake will gain it.” As with everything else in this age, your life/soul is not really yours in a secure way. “This very night your life will be demanded of you.” To have firm and complete possession, we need to keep our lives in the age to come.

The way to do that is to have — not mere “patience”, which the modern mind usually associates with queues and waiting rooms — but “endurance.” We are promised persecutions and afflictions, and by bearing them, we will inherit eternal life.


  1. […] Jesus speaks of a final judgment upon the temple that is fairly imminent, but not immediate. Before that occurs, various other events will take place, events which they shouldn’t confuse with the end itself. The spread of the Christian message through trials before authorities should prepare us for the latter half of the book of Acts. The disciples are told some of them will die (v.16), but not a hair on their heads will be lost (v.18). This is an odd juxtaposition. The solution to the apparent tension is helpfully discussed by Matt Colvin in this post. […]

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