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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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ABIDING.—Of the three possible renderings of the Greek μονή and μένω, ‘remaining, to remain,’ ‘dwelling, to dwell,’ ‘abiding, to abide,’ the last is the most satisfactory. The first has the advantage of being akin to the Greek in derivation, but it is too passive in its sense, and in so far as it includes the conception of expectation it is misleading; the second is too local, and is rather the fitting rendering of κατοικία, κατοικέω; the last is an adequate though not a perfect rendering. ‘Mansions’ ((Revised Version margin) ‘abiding-places’) is the stately rendering (Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885), through the Vulgate mansiones, of the noun in John 14:2; but it becomes impossible in John 14:23 of the same chapter when the translators fall back on ‘abode.’ Further, in the English of to-day ‘mansion’ suggests merely a building, and that of an ostentatious type. The Scottish ‘manse,’ self-contained, modest, and secure, would be a nearly exact equivalent if it carried with it more than the idea of a dwelling-house; yet neither it nor ‘mansion’ has any correspondent verb.

Students who desire to get at the full meaning of verb or noun will find all that is needful in the etymological paragraph sub voc. μένω in the larger edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon. They will discover how rich in language product is the root of this word. The inquiry cannot be pursued further here. It is enough to say that locality enters very slightly into its conception, and that what is dominant is ethical. The leading idea is that of steadfast continuance. This is apparent the moment one turns to the derivative ὑπομονή (cf. Romans 2:7), the term of Stoic virtue boldly incorporated and transmuted in Christian usage and experience. The primitive noun, however (μονή), reminds Christians more clearly of the sphere in which it is contained, of a life in which it survives, of a power not its own on which it depends, and which in turn it exercises. If, as will be shown, the ethical import of μένω and μονή is dominant in the Gospels, the instances where the verb has a purely local sense, the sense of stopping or staying, may be dismissed. As a matter of fact, the instances are almost entirely confined to the Synoptists, and occur but in twelve passages; the use of the noun is purely Johannine. Only twice in the Synoptists does the verb occur in relation to persons, viz. Luke 24:29 in the pathetic appeal of Cleopas and his anonymous comrade, and the gracious response of the risen Christ; and even here there is no ethical significance, for the prepositions which link the verb and the personal pronouns imply only association (μεῖνον μεθʼ ἡμῶν), or joint action (εἰσῆλθεν τοῦ μεῖναι σὺν αὐτοῖς).

As soon as the student turns from the Synoptists to the Johannine literature, the idea of ‘mansion’ (one could wish it were a theological term) becomes full, luminous, and suggestive. St. John uses the verb μένω only thrice in its literal sense in the, Gospel (John 2:12; John 4:40; John 10:40); he seems almost jealously to reserve it for metaphorical, i.e. ethical, application. We are not here concerned with St. John’s letters, but it is pertinent to observe that μένω occurs 23 times therein, while it is used in the Gospel some 35 times. Moreover, as if the Evangelist and letter-writer would not suffer the spiritual point to be lost, he perpetually reminds his readers and children of the sphere of ‘mansion,’ and the source of its power. With a singular and marked uniformity, he employs the preposition ἐν in connexion with the verb. The Evangelist presses the idea not only of intimate relationship, but also of resultant power and blessing.

It is to be observed that, until we reach the great discourses in the chamber and on the way (chs. 14 and 15), we have only passing hints of the nature of the Abiding. The former chapter unfolds its meaning. The difficulties besetting the interpretation of these discourses are familiar to all students of the Fourth Gospel, and need not be dealt with here. They are not adequately met by references to the subjectivity or mysticism of the Evangelist. Our modes of thought, as Bishop Westcott reminds us,* [Note: to the Gospel of St. John, John 2:7.] follow a logical sequence; Hebrew modes of thought follow a moral sequence. The sermon to the Apostles in the chamber, especially, bears this moral impress throughout, and is rightly interpreted as the complement to the Sermon on the Mount. But while the connexion is thus somewhat precarious to the reader, certain great ideas or conceptions of the Abiding stand luminously forth for the devout mind. Here is set forth—(1) the Abiding of Christ in the Father; (2) the Abiding of Christ in the Church, as in the individual believer; (3) the issues of the Abiding.

1. The Abiding of Christ in the Father.—Here the student is, indeed, on ground most holy. He may not add to the Lord’s words, he trembles as he ventures to interpret them. He feels with the patriarch that this place in the Scriptures is dreadful—full of a holy awe. Thus much, however, may be said, that the abiding of Christ in the Father belongs wholly to the operation and energy of the Holy Spirit. The keynote of this truth is struck by the testimony of the Baptist in the preamble of the Gospel (John 1:32 f.). It is important to notice that that which was the object of sight to the Baptist was not merely the descent of the Holy Spirit, but the Abiding. And here the careful student will observe that, though the preposition used in these verses is not ἐν but ἐπί, yet the employment of the latter is necessary as linking the descent and the continuous indwelling of the Spirit in the Son. But if any hesitation remains as to the view that the character and sphere of Christ’s abiding in the Father lies in and through the indwelling Spirit, it must disappear on consideration of our Lord’s words (John 14:20), ‘At that day [the day of realized life] ye shall come to know [by the Spirit what is at present a matter of faith only] that I am in my Father.’ The thought is inevitably linked with the Spirit’s work both in Him and for them. When, therefore, the Lord invites His own to abide in His love (John 15:10), He does not merely imply that His love is the atmosphere of their discipleship, but, as St. Augustine [Note: in Joan. xiv. No. lxxiv, ad fin.] suggests, He invites them to abide in that Holy Spirit whose love as fully permeates Him as it is imperfectly exhibited in His disciples.

2. The Abiding of Christ in the Church, as in the individual believer.—Our Lord’s teaching as to the Abiding in Him refers even more closely to the Church than to the individual. John 14, 15 are penetrated through and through by Pentecostal costal thought and Pentecostal expectations. Christ looked eagerly forward to the birthday of the Spirit-bearing body. He could and does, indeed, fully abide in the heart of each individual believer; but that believer is not a mere unit standing solitary and unsupported. The individual disciple will be a terrible loser unless he realize his incorporation, his oneness with the universal body, the body of Christ. But as if to make sure that this great truth should never escape His own down the ages, Christ introduces the great figure of the Vine and the branches (John 15:1-6). The vine was already the symbol of the ancient Church;* [Note: Hosea 10:1, Isaiah 5:1 ff., Jeremiah 2:21.] Christ speaks of Himself as the true, the ideal Vine. But it is as a formula incomplete without the complement of John 15:5 ‘I am the Vine, ye are the branches.’ As a vine is inconceivable without branches, [Note: Westcott’s Commentary, in loco.] so in all devoutness it may be said He is inconceivable without His disciples. Again, they draw their life from abiding in Him. The life may be imperfectly realized, the fruitage may be disappointing, it may be nothing but leaves (Matthew 21:19); the task of discipline, or of cleansing (καθαίρειν John 15:2 f.) is in the hands of the Great Husbandman. Thus as in ancient Israel union with the Church nation was the condition of life, so in the new dispensation the condition of life was to be the abiding in Christ. As apart from the vine the branches are useless since the living sap is therein no longer, so separated from Christ there can be no productiveness in Christian lives. St. John bears record of one more thought of the highest consolation to Christian hearts. There is a true analogy and correspondence between the abiding of Christ in the Father and the abiding of believers in Him (John 15:10). Our abidings in Christ, often so sadly brief, uncertain, precarious, through the consequences of sin, have still their sublime counterpart in the abiding of Christ in the Father.

3. The issues of the Abiding.—We have seen that the Abiding finally depends upon the Spirit’s work, whether in the Church or in the individual heart. The first fruit of that Spirit is love. The Spirit moves in this sphere, He manifests and expresses Himself in love. Thus love furnishes the test of the indwelling, as truly as it contains the pledge of a fruitful issue. According, moreover, to Johannine teaching, this love spread abroad in the hearts of believers is not a stagnant or sentimental affection. Of the basal or abiding virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13) it is the greatest because of its fruitful action. St. John presents another aspect of this truth when he shows that obedience and love are strictly correlated (John 15:10). This love is seen in action. It doeth the will, and the reward of such loving obedience is final and complete. Those who in this dutiful and affectionate temper keep the commandments are raised by Christ from the base of bond service to the height of friendship. It is enough—the fiat has gone forth—‘such ones I have called friends.’ [Note: John 15:15.]

Literature.—A. Maclaren, Holy of Holies. 190; A. Murray, Abide in Christ; T. D. Bernard, Central Teaching of Jesus Christ, 219; J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, 225; B. F. Westcott, Peterborough Sermons, 49, 61; Sir A. Blackwood, Christian Service, 46; G. B. Stevens, Johannine Theology, 258.

B. Whitefoord.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Abiding'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​a/abiding.html. 1906-1918.
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