Previous |Contents | Previous |

Epiousios


The most disputed question of Greek philology that ever arose concerns the meaning of the word epiousios in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:11): ton arton hmwn ton epiousion do” hmin shmeran

A summary of the ancient and contemporary disputes on the meaning of this term would fill a volume. The interpretation adopted by tradition as panem quotidianum renders the essence of the thought, since as I have shown the provision for daily needs was conceived as the main expression of divine grace, but fails to solve the philological problem. Already Origenes (middle of third century A.D.) thought that the word could not be explained:

h lexis h epiousis par’ oudeni twn Ellenwn oute twn sofwn wnomastai, oute en th twn idiwtwn sunjeia tetriptai, alla eoike peplasjai upo twn euaggelistwn.

The ancients who did not know the science of etymology, suggested derivations such as epi-ousia, epi-iousa (hmera), or epi-ousa (hmera). These interpretations are still defended today by scholars of repute, but their assumption is that the evangelists took impossible liberties with the Greek language. There is a school of New Testament scholars which assumes on principle that the language of early Christian writings was a barbaric one, but in my opinion this results from the tendency to identify linguistic purity with cultural and ethnic purity, the same tendency for which conversely classicists conclude from the form of classical Greek that ancient Greece was racially and culturally splendidly isolated. On firmer grounds are those scholars who interpret New Testament Greek more as the expression of the common speech of all Greek-speaking persons of a given social and educational level, than as the result of a local intrusion of Semitic speech. If this position is correct, the term epiousios can be explained only as derived from epi-wn. Primo Vannutelli has succeeded in discovering a parallel to the term in a document contemporary to the Gospels, the Discourses of Epiktetos (II, 21, 20): oti eis to epion pepaideumai. He has not succeeded, however, in explaining the meaning of to epion; he interprets it as autarkh, using one of the explanations offered for epiousios on the basis of Old Testament parallels. A line of Prov. 30:8 has been suggested as the Old Testament antecedent of the Lord’s Prayer: “feed me with bread” (huqiy); the Septuagint translates: suntaxon de moi ta deonta kai ta autarkh. The term hoq means “established by law, prescribed, assigned by God.” Hence it can be used to describe the right daily portion of bread, but even though it corresponds in spirit to the notion of epiousios, it does not reflect it linguistically. The rendering autarkhs does not go nearer the correct rendering than the traditional quotidianus.

A survey of the problem by A. Friedricksen concludes that in epiousios “there is probably preserved the popular designation of a specific small quantity (ration). Its linguistic origins and semantic development remain an open question.”

A similar survey by Werner Foerster arrives by the process of elimination at the conclusion: “This leads to another possibility: to see in the word a definition of the quantity of the bread.” It follows that the metrological explanation must be explored.

That the metrological explanation is the correct one is suggested by the internal evidence of the Gospels. I have pointed out that the phrase “Beware of the bread of the Pharisees” means literally that the Pharisees do not give a good measure. I have pointed out that theological disputes arose among the Hebrews on the question whether the right modius was the modios xustos of 22 sextarii, or the modios koumoulatos of 24 sextarii. I have also pointed out that the Hebrews of Galilee calculated volumes according to the specific gravity of barley, whereas Hebrews of Judea calculated volumes according to the specific gravity of wheat, and that perhaps this difference reflects a theological disagreement between the rabbinical school of Sepphoris and that of Jerusalem. In general, I have pointed out that in the Old Testament the right measure of daily bread is the main expression of God’s grace. I have also explained that the analysis by Christ of the metrology of the two miracles of the multiplication of breads has the purpose of pointing out that whether the bread was made of barley or of wheat, he had given the corresponding right measure. This metrological analysis follows as a commentary on the warning blepete apo ths zumhs twn Farisaiwn (Mark 8:15) and has the purpose of allaying the fears of the disciples that they may be short of bread. From this follows that Christ’s measures will not be short ones like those of the Pharisees. Hence we can presume that the term epiousios refers to the fullness of the measure.

This interpretation is supported by the mentioned passage of the Gospel of Luke (6: 38) to the effect that the measure used by God is “kalon pepiesmenon sesaleumenon uperekcunnomenon.” The last word is rendered by the Vulgate as supereffluentem; to this we may compare the rendering of epiousios as supersubstantialis. St. Jerome was right in the translation of the first element of epi-ousios. We have seen how the adjectives epiorrutos and aporrutos can apply to “full” and to “level” measures. The explanation of epiousios is to be found in the normal meaning of the verb epeimi that when used with numerals means “to be added, to be above”; numerals and measures are normally treated identically in grammatical forms. The opposite meaning is conveyed by apeimi. In the Gospels the opposite of epeimi is usterew. Before the miracle at the marriage of Cana, the wine was short, usterhsantos oinou; other manuscripts read, oinou ouk eicon oti sunletelesjh o oinos tou gamou (John 2:3). It is worth noting that the vessels of the miracle are “filled full to the brim,” kai egemisan autas ews anw. In interpreting this phrase one must keep in mind that one of the terms used to describe the modius cumulatus is gemwn; it must also be noted that the Gospel gives a precise metrological description of the vessels. They are piqoi of stone (piqoi are not intended for transportation and hence can be made of stone) measuring either 2 or 3 metretai; these figures agree with the normal sizes of piqoi (whether the metretai are of 8 or 12 coes). Here again there is emphasis on the fact that Christ gives a full measure. Compare Ps. 33: 10-11:

fobhqete ton kurion, oi agioi autou, oti ouk estin usterhma tois foboumenois autou plouisioi eptwceusan kai epeinesan, oi de ekzhtountes ton kurion ouk elattwdhsontai pantos agaqou.

The verb usterew is also found in the Septuaginta translation of the episode of the Handwriting upon the Wall (Daniel 5:27): “It has been weighed on the balance and found wanting: estaqh en zugw kai eureqh usterousa. The meaning of the verb usterew in these contexts is to “fall below par.” Compare Ps. 39:38:

gnwpiswn moi, kurie, to peras mou kai ton arijmon twn hmerwn mou, tis esti ina gnw ti usterw egw.

The classical equivalent of epiousios is perissos. The contrast between perissew and usterew is much played upon in the New Testament. The New Testament normally uses the verbs usterew and perissew instead of the verbs apeimi and epeimi. Probably epiousios was preferred in the Lord’s Prayer because it is more pregnant with meaning and it refers more specifically to a quality of measures, whereas the adjective perissos had acquired many different…

In the Gospels there is emphasized again and again the idea that those who want grace from God must show charity unto others. This is the idea expressed in the words kai afes ta efeimata hmwn, ws kai hmeis afhkamen tois ofeiketais hmwn, which the Vulgate renders as: et dimitte debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. But this idea is not separable from the preceding ton arton hmwn ton epiousion (panem nostrum quotidianum) dos hmin shmeran. This sentence expressed the idea that those that want to receive a full measure from God must use a full measure with others. There cannot be any doubt that this is the correct interpretation, since in expounding on the Lord’s Prayer the Gospel of Matthew paraphrases the two…

A passage of the Gospel of Luke (6:38) indicates that the adjective sesaleumenon refers to some quality of the measures. The translation of the Vulgate reads: date et dabitur vobis mensuram bonam et confertam et coagitatam et supereffluentem dabunt in sinum vestrum. Biblical scholars have not been able to quote any parallel to this passage, except for the Latin proverb mensura quassando repletur. They are not even agreed on the question whether the measure is a liquid or a dry one; but the prevailing opinion is that it is a grain measure. There seems to be a conflict between the adjective sesaleumenon applied by the Gospel to indicate a good measure and the adjective used in the inscriptions. Perhaps the measure of the Gospel is a grain measure, whereas the measure of the inscriptions is a liquid measure; the content of a grain measure is increased by shaking, whereas by shaking a liquid measure one obtains the result of skimming off the overflow. A measure of grain can be shaken so as to force the overflow below the level line.

The Syriac verb that Dean translates as “shaking down” is nezal, “to shake, to vibrate, to throw down”; it is used in relation to the modius in the sense of. In Semitic languages the general meaning of this root is “to flow, to flow down, to descend.” The Hebrew verb, zalal, from the same root, means “to shake, to make tremble, to pur out, to shake out, to squander”; this verb is rendered in the Septuagint as. Hence there can be no doubt about the meaning of when applied to measures: it means to remove the overflow by shaking. When this operation is performed in relation to grain measures, it actually increases the content. In relation to liquid measures, has the same meaning as; conversely, has the same meaning as.

St. Epiphanios mentions a measure that is; but: [Dean 62b]:

But the Cyprians say choiniqta, but among them they indicate by it one-eighth of a modius. And the modius among them, being measured without shaking down but pressed down, consists of 17$xestai, so that the choinix is 2 xestai and a little more.

This passage does not make the problem any clearer, but it is a fact that a modius which measures 17 sextarii instead of the normal 16…

The Cyprian modius of which St. Epiphanios speaks is considered an overflowing, variety of Italic modius of 16 sextarii. The measure is said to be “pressed down” but not “shaken down,” in the sense that the grain in it is made compact but not caused to descend to the level line. The Syriac term that Dean renders by “pressed down” has also the meaning of confertus. The Syriac root tkb corresponds to the Aramaic root, tkp, the main meaning of which is “to make continuous.” Hence it is a question of a grain measure that is made well packed without lowering the overflow.


Previous |Contents | Previous |