Re: ZELEUW in Rev 3:19

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sat Oct 18 1997 - 08:55:49 EDT

At 11:47 97/10/16 +0100, Georg S Adamsen wrote:

>I am having difficulty with the verb ZELEUW in Rev 3:19. The form of
>the verb is very unusual (the usual form being zelow cf. the
>apparatus in NA27). It seems to be attested only in the 5. or 6.
>century and in a v.l. of a Democrit manuscript which is -
>unfortunately - not dated by Liddell-Scott. Bauer-Aland as well as
>Liddell-Scott 9.ed with 1996-supplement take the meaning as 'to be
>zealous for' or something like that.

My copy of BAGD gives the meaning of ZHLEUW as "be eager, earnest", and
also says, "with same meaning as ZHLOW".

This word is one of five in the NT which have two forms, one in -EUW and
one in -OW. Three of these five occur in passages where there are variant
readings with the -EUW/-OW forms. In addition to ZHLEUW/ZHLOW in Rev 3:19,
the other two such verbs are APODEKATEUW/APODEKATOW (variants in Lk 18:12;
both defined in BAGD as "tithe, give one tenth"), and KUKLEUW/KUKLOW
(variants in John 10:24; "surround"). The other two pairs are
DOULEUW/DOULOW (the former with the meaning "be a slave, act as a slave";
the latter with the meaning "make [someone] a slave"), and PISTEUW/PISTOW
(the former with the primary meaning "believe", but also in some contexts
meaning "entrust [someone with something]"; the latter in the NT only in 2
Tim 3:14, in the aorist passive, "be convinced of").


>So how can 'zealousness' function as an appropriate "answer" to the
>Jesus' harsh critique? Does ZELEUW mean 'to be zealous for' at all? if
>not, what does it mean then?
>Bousset and some of the commentaries mentioned above take the
>"present" aspect as indicating the continuous attitudem but how can
>zealousness be related to their self-delusion? So what is the object
>of the zealousness? is it METANOHSON so that we have in effect as kind
>of hendiadys? or does it not imply any "object" ?
>is the zealousness the basis of repentance or vice
>versa? or is it a rather "weak" verb acting almost in stead of an
>intensifying adverb? something like 'repent eagerly' or 'seriously' ?
>Rev 3:19a is clearly sapiential vocabulary and is well-known. ZELOW is
>also used quite often in sapiential texts but always in rather
>different contexts. So the use of ZELOW in OT and NT does not help me
>as far as I can see.
>The classical Greek usage may indicate (LS s.v. ZELOW) a meaning of
>'desire emulously' or 'strive after', but one should perhaps expect a
>acc.rei if this meaning should be an option ?
>Is the rather special form -EUW in stead of -OW an indication that the
>meaning of the verb is rather special or perhaps different of ZELOW
>Any suggestions are welcome!

I cannot see any reason for differing from the judgement of BAGD (as quoted
above), that ZHLEUW (which only occurs here in the NT) means exactly the
same as ZHLOW, which meaning they give as "be eager, earnest".

In context here with KAI METANOHSON, "and repent", it would mean simply,
"be earnest and repent". That is, "be earnest in repenting, be earnest
about repenting" - i.e., really mean it when you repent. In the language we
speak on this side of the world, "be fair dinkum when you repent".

I wonder whether other list members have ever come across Rev 3:20 used in
an evangelistic context: "Jesus stands outside, waiting, knocking, at the
door of your life. What you have to do - all you have to do - is open the
door and let him in. Will you do it now?"

Wrong! Inadequate theology! Misleading, incomplete gospel message! The
place to start has got to be 3:19.

Let us set this in context. The church in Laodicea is wishy-washy, not hot
and not cold. Not on fire for the Lord, and not totally stone cold dead.
The message from the Lord says, "I wish you were one thing or the other."
Then it would be clear what was to be done about them. But they are
luke-warm. Jesus says to them, "You just make me ready to vomit" (MELLW SE
EMESAI). Then he outlines their problem, their need, and their necessary
course of action ("I counsel you to buy from me ..." etc.

Now we come to verses 19 and 20. Up to this point, although the singular
has been used in the Greek, the message has been addressed to the whole
church. But with the opening words of verse 19 it seems that the message
now is focussed down to anyone who will heed it: hOSOUS EAN, "as many as".
Not the whole church in view, now. This understanding is reinforced by the
third person singulars at the end of verse 20 and in verse 21: "If anyone
hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he
with me. To him who overcomes, I will give ..." etc. An invitation now to
whoever will heed the call of Christ, on a personal and individual level.

[This point is totally lost in the NRSV of verse 20, where they switch it
from third person to second person to avoid the masculine pronouns, and
thus muddy the waters and confabulate the understanding.]

So in 3:19a, rebuking and discipline is promised - and the assurance is
given that this in fact is the evidence of Christ's love. This rebuking and
discipline is directed towards a goal, and that goal is: that the
individual will respond to it with a genuine and sincerely-meant repentance
(3:19b). THEN (and not before) we get to the Saviour waiting and knocking,
willing to enter. There is no promise of a standing and knocking Saviour
ready to enter an unrepentant heart.

So those individuals who respond have the promise that the Saviour and Lord
will enter in, and live with them. The implication is that with these
committed disciples, who are encouraged to be overcomers, the Lord will
rebuild and revitalize the luke-warm church.

That at any rate is how it seems to me. And yes, I reckon you can
legitimately use it in evangelistic preaching today: so long as you start
with 3:19, "Be very much in earnest, and repent."


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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