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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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REPETITIONS.—The word ‘repetitions’ is found in the Gospels only in the phrase ‘vain repetitions’ in Matthew 6:7 ‘When ye pray (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘in praying’), use not vain repetitions, as the heathen (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘the Gentiles’) do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.’ The original word (βατταλογέω, written by modern scholars with a in the second syllable, after אB) seems to be unknown to classical Greek, occurring only in the comment of Simplicius on Epictetus (c. [Note: circa, about.] 530 a.d.), and in Christian literature influenced by the Gospels.

Its origin has been explained in three ways: (1) as a word related to βατταρίζω, and derived from Battus (Βάττος), the name of a Libyan stammerer said to be associated with the early history of Cyrene, or a wordy poet; (2) as an onomatopoetic word imitating the utterance of a stammerer (Grimm, H. Holtzmann, Meyer); (3) as a hybrid composed of a Semitic element-New Hebrew batal, Aram. Aramaic batal, ‘to be idle,’ ‘vain,’ ‘worthless,’ represented in modern Arabic by batal, a term of contempt (ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] xii. 60), and λογέω. The last derivation, which may have been in the minds of some of the Syriac translators (Syr [Note: yr Syriac.] sin and Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] Lect.), has the powerful support of Blass (ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] xii. 60), and apparently of Zahn. It is not wholly new, for some earlier scholars regarded the word as a hybrid, but found a different Semitic element. Zahn suggests that it was coined by Greek-speaking Semites, who, in writing the word with ττ, thought of βατταρίζω, and wished to connect their new formation with it. This ingenious explanation is not absolutely certain, but may be safely pronounced more probable than the first, and is, on the whole, preferable to the second.

The meaning of the word, or at least part of the meaning, is suggested by πολυλογία in the latter part of the verse. What our Lord condemns is clearly verbosity, the unthinking use of many words, and perhaps also the formal, careless use of expressions which are in themselves appropriate. The reference to Gentile errors in this respect is well illustrated by the cry of the priests of Baal on Carmel (1 Kings 18:26), and the shout of the Ephesian mob, kept up for more than an hour (Acts 19:34). Additional illustrations are supplied by Hindu practice (Ward, cited by Rosenmüller, Das alte und neue Morgenland, v. 38 f.) and Tibetan Buddhism (Rhys Davids, Buddhism, 209 f.). For an Egyptian condemnation of the practice, see ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] vi. 537. That the later Jews were liable to wordiness in prayer might be inferred from the Lord’s warnings, and is put beyond doubt by a number of passages in the Talmud. It is noted with approval (Berakh. 32b) that the righteous of an earlier age used to devote three hours a day to prayer and six-hours to waiting, an hour before and an hour after each hour of prayer. R. Meir (of 2nd cent. a.d.) is reported to have said that a man ought to utter a hundred benedictions in a day (Menahoth, 43b). R. Shimeon ben Nathanael, one of the disciples of R. Jochanan ben Zakai, warned his hearers against formalism: ‘When thou prayest, make not thy prayer an ordinance, but an entreaty before God’ (’Abôth, ii. 17, ed. Taylor). The threefold repetition of the ‘Eighteen Blessings,’ a custom the germ of which may have begun to develop in our Lord’s day, was of itself calculated to encourage formal repetition. Some of the Rabbis recognized the peril and tried to check the tendency. An instance of verbosity which elicited a rebuke from a Rabbi is given in Berakh. 33b, ‘O God, great, mighty, awful, glorious, strong, terrible,’ etc. Vain repetitions are still in favour in the East, in Islam and its sects (Robinson Lees, Village Life in Palestine2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , pp. 48, 51 f.; John P. Brown, Dervishes, p. 57).

Literature.—Besides the authorities cited above, see Wetstein and Zahn on Matthew 6:7; Bischoff, Jesus und die Rabbinen, 1905, p. 71.

W. Taylor Smith.

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

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