Posted by: mattcolvin | July 1, 2013

Reasonable (??) Service


This is a repost from my old Upsaid blog (Nov. 19, 2005) at the request of my friend John. Not sure I would agree with my old thoughts anymore, but I reproduce them unchanged here:

The Christian’s “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1), λογικὴ λατρεία, is a curious phrase. In The Lord’s Service, Jeffrey Meyers spends much time explaining what λατρεία is in order to underline the sacrificial nature of worship (p. 74ff), and adduces the phrase “living sacrifices” from the same verse many times in order to remind the reader that thinking of NT worship as sacrificial is not a Romish, but a Biblical view. But having established that λατρεία is a Biblical term for worship, he oddly passes over the adjective λογικὴ entirely — probably because most of his book is intended as a corrective to the sermon-dominated, semiotically impoverished worship of American Evangelicalism, and this particular adjective does not really help his case. Meyers translates the phrase as “reasonable service.” This is the KJV’s rendering, no doubt intended to mean “able to reason.” But it is unfortunately vague. To modern ears, it sounds as though the phrase contrasts with “unreasonable service” (like that demanded by Pharaoh). The unclarity of the KJV has in turn left other translators up a creek:

  • “the worship it is right for you to give him.” (BBE) — clearly a mistranslation. Nothing about rightness is conveyed by the Greek λογική.
  • “spiritual service,” (ASV) or “spiritual service of worship” (NASB) or “spiritual act of worship” (NIV) or “spiritual worship” (ESV) — Another mistranslation. Paul has a very good word for speaking of activities and persons empowered by the Holy Spirit: πνευματικός. Such a translation not only misses the meaning of λογικός, but could actually encourage mistaken comparisons with other texts where Paul does use “spiritual.”
  • “intelligent service” (YLT) — Better, but again, other Greek words have this meaning much more precisely, especially νοητικός, νοήμων and other cognates of νοῦς. It is true that λογικός can mean “possessing reason”, or “rational”, in contrast to “dumb brutes.” But this meaning is largely philosophical, occuring in the Stoics (Chrysippus 3.95) and Aristotle (Nico. Eth. 1108b9). And even there, it is only by a sort of metonymy: these philosophers are interested in distinguishing rational creatures from irrational ones, and the main mark of rationality for them is the ability to speak with meaning (λέγειν –> λόγος).

So the KJV has not helped matters by translating the word as “reasonable.” The word λογικός derives, of course, from λόγος, and most often means “verbal,” as the LSJ attests. A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the NT explains λογικός as follows:

λογικός is from λόγος, reason. The phrase means here “worship rendered by the reason (or soul).” Old word, in N.T. only here and 1Pe 2:2 τὸ λογικόν γάλα (not logical milk, but the milk nourishing the soul).

Now, we are not simple-minded exegetes who think that the word must have the same meaning in two different contexts written by two different authors. But surely it would be well to compare the various translations of 1 Pe 2:2 to see whether they have done anything like what they did with Rom. 12:1. What do the various translators do with the word λογικός in 1 Pe 2:2?

  • milk of the word (KJV, NASB)
  • spiritual milk (ASV, NIV, ESV)
  • mental milk of the word (DBY)
  • milk for the soul (WEY)

I find this set of translations very interesting. For there is good reason for thinking that Peter means “milk of the word,” in the sense of “teachings of the Bible.” A similar expression occurs in Hebrews 5:12, where, however, milk is a metaphor for “the elementary principles of the oracles of God”, the ABC’s, as it were, of the Bible. The author of Hebrews clearly considers such milky food inadequate: “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness.” The goal is meat — but that too, presumably, is knowledge of the Word — advanced or deeper knowledge of the Word, greater familiarity with it. A similar metaphor is employed by Paul in 1 Cor. 3:2, where he complains that the Corinthians are not ready for βρῶμα, “solid food,” and he still has to feed them with milk. Why? Because they are σαρκικοί, “fleshly”, a word that is emphatically contrasted with πνευματικoί, “spiritual”, in Paul.

This is, of course, far from a conclusive argument that Rom. 12:1’s λογικὴ λατρεία is “word-centered worship”, but I hope I have started the conversation about it.


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