Paropsidos (A side-dish)
Parresia (Confidence, boldness, openness, freedom of speech)
Eparresiasato (To speak freely or preach boldly)
One of the things that is highly prized in a democratic society is freedom of speech and action. In some countries this is enshrined in law, e.g., Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 or the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. These enactments give the individual citizen the power or right to express their own opinions. But, like all legal powers, they are subject to certain limitations. The Greek noun parresia knows no such restrictions as it expresses the confidence and freedom not only to act but to speak plainly and openly with boldness and without constraint.
The Greek word parresia is used sparingly in the Septuagint (LXX) and in the majority of occurrences it has no equivalent Hebrew word. In Leviticus chapter 26 verse 13 LXX, it is used to express the openness of Israel’s redemption by God from Egyptian bondage and is a mark of free people. In Job chapter 27 verse 10 LXX, the word is used to indicate that an impious man has forfeited all his right or freedom to call upon God. This is contrasted with Job whose openness before God was exemplary. ‘An important aspect is parresia towards God, and God Himself is the source of parresia’.1 It is also used of wisdom crying aloud with confidence in the busy streets and at the entrance of the gates in the city, Prov. 1. 20 LXX. In the letter of Aristeas to Philocrates, which is a Hellenistic text dated sometime around the 3rd or early 2nd century BC, we read at page 125, ‘since friends unreservedly, parresia, offer advice for one’s best interest’.2 In other non-biblical literature, parresia came to mean ‘candour’ as in the Jewish writings of Philo and Josephus. In classical Greek, ‘freedom of speech’ was a democratic right.3
It is in the New Testament, however, that the noun parresia comes into its own where it occurs thirty-one times and the verb parresiasazomai nine times. The word is associated with John’s account of our Lord’s ministry as He carries out His work publicly and not in secret, 7. 25, 26; 18. 20, 21. Notice the contrast between the phrases en krypto (in secret) and en parresia (openly), commonly seen throughout the Gospel narratives, e.g., John 18. 20. When our Lord contemplates going to the Feast of Tabernacles, His brothers suggest to Him that ‘No-one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret’, 7. 4 NIV. In essence, their advice to Him was to seize the opportunity and declare Himself as the Messiah in Jerusalem, if He was indeed the Messiah. Our Lord rejects their advice because it was not the right time to make a public declaration, 7. 6-8, cp. v. 26. It would be later when He openly declared Himself to the world by being lifted up upon a cross, John 12. 32.
Another feature of the word parresia is that it not only gives prominence to speaking openly but clearly and plainly, without ambiguity or allegorically, John 10. 24, 25; 11. 14; 16. 29. It thus contrasts with the word paroimia in chapter 16 verse 29. Although our Lord did speak in parables to the world it was to effect faith in those who truly sought Him. As Verlyn D. Verbrugge points out, ‘Hence there is a tension between parresia and paroimia, which corresponds to the Johannine dualism of life and death, truth and the lie, etc., which demands a decision and can only be resolved by faith’.4
The apostles inherited this confidence and boldness in their preaching as they proclaimed the gospel throughout the Graeco-Roman world to both Jews and Gentiles. In Acts chapter 4 verse 13 when the crowds observed the boldness, parresia, of Peter and John, they were astonished at their ability to sustain such arguments before the Sanhedrin. Their forcefulness and confidence to preach in this way was not, of course, in their own strength but by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Acts 4. 8, 29, 31. Even when Paul was a prisoner in Rome he preached the kingdom of God and taught about Christ, ‘with all freedom of speech’, parresia, and without hindrance, akolytos, Acts 28. 31.5
Paul again refers to this boldness when at Thessalonica despite the physical and mental sufferings he had previously endured in Philippi, 1 Thess. 2. 2. He attributes this courage to the ‘help of our God’ NEB. Other similar uses by Paul of parresia can be found, for example, in Philemon verse 8 where he suggests that he could be ‘bold’ in Christ but preferred on this occasion to appeal to Philemon on the basis of love. Other New Testament writers use parresia to emphasize that the future should be approached with confidence and boldness, not with uncertainty, Heb. 3. 6; 10. 35; 1 John 2. 28. Believers have the same confidence, parresia, in approaching God, Heb. 10. 19, and seeking His help in prayer, 1 John. 5. 14.
There are many other references to the noun parresia confirming this sense of boldness and confidence which can be ours as believers in preaching the word of God, in our communion with God and our assurance of future blessing. May we be faithful in our service to God and gain great assurance in our faith in Christ, 1 Tim. 3. 13.
Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W. E. Vine, pg. 138.
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged in One Volume) by Geoffrey W. Bromley, pp. 794, 795.
Geoffrey W. Bromley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged in One Volume), pg. 794.
H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, pg. 497.
F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, pg. 121.
The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words, pg. 981.
The Greek word akolytos (hindrance) only occurs here in the New Testament and is a legal term and speaks of the triumphant note on which it brings the Acts of the Apostles to a close (J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, pg. 20). Both words parresia and akolytos emphasise the liberty that the Holy Spirit brings to believers, 2 Cor. 3. 17.
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