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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. Usage.-The Greek word occurs 10 times in the NT (Mark 7:22, Romans 13:13, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 4:19, 1 Peter 4:3; 1 Peter 2:2; 1 Peter 2:7; 1 Peter 2:18, Judges 1:4). It should be read instead of ἀπώλεια in 2 Peter 2:2. It is 7 times translated by ‘lasciviousness’ (AVm [Note: Vm Authorized Version margin.] so translates it in 2 Peter 2:2) in the Authorized Version , while the Revised Version translates it so in all cases except Romans 13:13, where the ‘wantonness’ of the Authorized Version is retained (cf. 2 Peter 2:18). In 2 Peter 2:7 ἐν ἀσελγείᾳ is translated ‘filthy conversation.’

2. Derivation.-The derivation of the word is unknown. The old derivation was from Selge, a city in Pisidia regarded by some as remarkably addicted to wantonness (Suidas, s.v.), and by others as noted for its sobriety (Etymologicon Magnum, s.v.; Strabo, xii.; Libanius, schol. in Dem. Orat.). In the first case the α- would be intensive, in the second privative. Moderns derive it from α + σέλγω (θέλγω) (see Trench, NT Synonyms8, 1876, p. 54, and T. K. Abbott, Ephesians and Colossians [International Critical Commentary , 1897, p. 132]), or from ασ (‘satiety’) + ελγ, or from α + σαλαγ (σελας), in which case the primary meaning would be ‘foul’ (J. W. Donaldson, New Cratylus3, 1859, p. 692; Ellicott on Galatians 5:19).

3. Classical meaning.-The classical meaning of the word is excess of any kind-even inordinate size (see Donaldson, op. cit. p. 692), but particularly moral excess and outrage, contemptuous violence and insolence towards others. It has thus much the same range of meaning as ὕβρις. Trench brings out well the classical meaning of the word (op. cit. p. 54ff.).

4. NT meaning.-In the NT, however, the term seems to refer exclusively to ‘open, shameless impurity.’ It has plainly this meaning in Romans 13:13, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 4:19, 2 Peter 2:7; 2 Peter 2:18. It is one of the works of darkness, the fit climax of fornication and uncleanness; it is a vice closely associated with banquetings and drinking bouts (κῶμοι καὶ μέθη; cf. ‘wine, women, and song’); see C. Bigg, St. Peter and St. Jude (International Critical Commentary , 1901), 168.

ἀσέλγεια or ἀκαθαρσία (‘a man may be ἁκάθαρτος and hide his sin; he does not become ἀσελγὴς until he shocks public decency’ [J. B. Lightfoot, Galatians5, 1876, p. 210]) and πλεονεξία seem to be the two characteristic heathen vices.

Bengel (on Romans 1:29), followed by Trench, maintains that psychologically man without God must seek satisfaction in either ἀσέλγεια (ἀκαθαρσία) or πλεονεξία, and ἀσέλγεια is associated in the NT with ἀσέβεια and seems to be characteristically a heathen sin (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 14:26, 3 Maccabees 2:26). Abbott (op. cit. p. 133f.) opposes this view of Bengel.

In Mark 7:22 and 1 Peter 4:3 it is possible to defend the classical sense of ‘excesses.’ ‘Raphelius justly observes that if ἀσέλγεια were in this passage [Mark 7:22] designed to denote lewdness or lasciviousness it would have been added to μοιχεῖαι and πορνεῖαι, vices of a like kind, in the preceding verse. But as it is joined with δόλος-deceit-he interprets it in general-an injury of a more remarkable and enormous kind; and shows that Polybius has in several passages used the word in this sense; cf. also Wetstein’ (J. Parkhurst, Greek Lexicon to the NT4, 1804).

Against this, however, see the convincing note of H. B. Swete (St. Mark2, 1902, p. 154): ‘Here the reference is probably to the dissolute life of the Herodian court, and of the Greek cities of Galilee and the Decapolis; if δόλος characterized the Jew, his Greek neighbour was yet more terribly branded by ἀσέλγεια.’ In 1 Peter 4:3 the word is definitely used as a general term of the ‘will of the Gentiles,’ and is evidently the licentiousness which accompanied heathen feasts and lawless idolatries, while in Jude and 2 Peter it is the typical sin of the cities of the plain, which the libertines, under the guise of a spurious freedom, followed, and into which they inveigled others. In their case the sin of πλεονεξία was associated with it. While a rigid asceticism sprang from a horror of this sin, sensuality defended itself by the principle that the body did not count for spiritual life.

We may, then, conclude that the prominent idea in ἀσέλγεια in the NT is flagrant, shameless sensuality. While this was reckoned one of the ἀδιάφορα among the heathen, it was branded as deadly and loathsome by Christianity. In the heathen world ‘sexual vice was no longer counted vice. It was provided for by public law; it was incorporated into the worship of the gods. It was cultivated in every luxurious and monstrous excess. It was eating out the manhood of the Greek and Latin races. From the imperial Caesar down to the horde of slaves, it seemed as though every class of society had abandoned itself to the horrid practices of lust’ (G. G. Findlay, Ephesians [Expositor’s Bible, 1892], 272).

Literature.-Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer , s.v. ἀσέλγεια; R. C. Trench, NT Synonyms8, 1876, p. 54f.; J. Müller, The Christian Doctrine of Sin, 1877-85, i. 159ff.; the Commentaries of Hammond (on Romans 1:29, where an attempt is made to equate ἀσέλγεια and πλεονεξία), C. J. Ellicott, J. B. Lightfoot (on Galatians 5:19), H. B. Swete (on Mark 7:22), J. B. Mayor (on 2 Peter 2:2).

Donald Mackenzie.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lasciviousness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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