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Particulars of Christianity:
305 Liberty in Christ

Definitions and New Testament Survey

Liberty in Christ: Extended Introduction
Liberty in Christ: Introduction

Definitions and New Testament Survey
Synonyms for Liberty in Christ
Liberty and Death
Liberty, the Law, and the 10 Commandments
Origin of the Law of Liberty
Liberty and Yet Prohibition
Incorporating Pagan Practices in the Old Testament
"Christianizing" Pagan Practices
What is Observing Times?
Liberty, Bondage, and Righteousness
Liberty and Meat Sacrificed to Idols
Liberty and 1 Corinthians 8
Liberty, 1 Corinthians 10, and Idolatry
Liberty, 1 Corinthians 10, and Your Neighbor
Summary and Practical Applications
Addendum: Romans 14, the Conscience, and Morality

It is a simple matter of fact that the New Testament does use the term "liberty." In fact, there are four Greek words translated into "liberty" in the New Testament: eleutheria, eleutheros, eleutheroo, and exousia. The first three (eleutheria, eleutheros, and eleutheroo) are related Greek words and the last (exousia) is not.

At this point it is important to distinguish specifically what we are looking for. For example, we can find eleutheros (Strong's No 1658) in 1 Corinthians 7:21 where it is translated as "free." In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul uses eleutheros when writing instructions to Christians who were literal slaves to human masters. In this passage, Paul tells the slaves not to be concerned with obtaining freedom, but if they do receive an opportunity to "be made free [eleutheros - 1658]," then they should do so.

Although eleutheros is used elsewhere in the New Testament (such as John 8:36 and 1 Peter 2:16) with regard to the notion of Christian liberty, here in 1 Corinthians 7 it is being employed only in regard to freedom from literal slavery. So, the context of 1 Corinthians 7 shows us that this occurrence of eleutheros should NOT be included in our study of Christian liberty.

In fact, a survey of the New Testament usage of eleutheros shows that half of the time it is used it simply refers to a person who is literally not a slave. In contrast, all 11 times that the related Greek word eleutheria is used, it is being employed to convey the notion of spiritual liberty in Christ. The point is, not every time one of these Greek words is used does it convey the notion of Christian liberty. And, some of these Greek words will be more associated with the notion of Christian liberty than others, as we have just seen by comparing the use of eleutheros to eleutheria.

If we continue with our survey of these Greek words, we find that similar to eleutheria, all 7 times that the Greek word eleutheroo is used, it refers to the spiritual liberty Christians have in Christ.

Conversely, the last Greek word, exousia (Strong's No. 1849) is only translated as "liberty" 1 time out of its 103 occurrences in the New Testament. That single time when exousia is translated as "liberty" occurs in 1 Corinthians 8:9. So, the question is this: is the occurrence of exousia in 1 Corinthians 8:9 meant to refer to Christian liberty?

One good way to answer this question is by examining the other 102 occurrences of the Greek word exousia to see how that word is used in the New Testament. In fact, out of these 102 instances, 99 of them are clearly NOT references to liberty at all, but references to someone having authority and dominion. And in the 3 remaining verses (John 1:12, Hebrews 13:10, and Revelation 22:14), exousia refers to someone's right to do a particular thing. In John 1:12, exousia refers to the "power" to become sons of God. In Hebrews 13:10, exousia refers to fact that unsaved Jewish priests have no "right" to eat at the table of Christ. In Revelation 22:14, exousia refers to the "right" to eat the fruit of the tree of life.

Not once out of these 102 other occurrences of exousia is this word ever used to refer to our liberty in Christ. Therefore, if the occurrence of exousia in 1 Corinthians 8:9 is meant to refer to Christian liberty, then it is the only time exousia is ever used in that way out of a total of 103 times exousia is used in the New Testament.

What can we conclude from all of this? Well, first, as we can see from our survey, that when speaking of our liberty in Christ, the New Testament authors used the 3 related Greek words eleutheria, eleutheros, and eleutheroo. In fact, these 3 Greek words were used to refer to Christian liberty by Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul.

Second, our survey also reveals that even though the word exousia is translated as "liberty" 1 out of 103 times in the New Testament, the New Testament authors did not use exousia with regard to our Christian liberty. As such, the occurrence of exousia in 1 Corinthians 8:9 should not be taken as a reference to Christian liberty. In fact, since elsewhere in that same book (1 Corinthians 10:29), Paul does employ the Greek word "eleutheria" to refer to Christian liberty, we should assume that had Paul meant Christian liberty in 1 Corinthians 8:9, he would have used the same Greek word that both Paul himself later uses and that Peter and James also use to refer to Christian liberty in Christ.

Since there is only 1 possible occasion in which exousia (1849) is translated liberty and we have concluded that exousia is not used in the New Testament to refer to our liberty in Christ, we will only include the use of eleutheria (1657), eleutheros (1658), and eleutheroo (1659) in our study of "liberty" in the New Testament. Here are the definitions for those 3 Greek words.

1657 eleutheria {el-yoo-ther-ee'-ah}
from 1658; TDNT - 2:487,224; n f
AV - liberty 11; 11
1) liberty to do or to omit things having no relationship to salvation
2) fancied liberty
2a) licence, the liberty to do as one pleases
3) true liberty is living as we should not as we please

1658 eleutheros {el-yoo'-ther-os}
probably from the alternate of 2064; TDNT - 2:487,224; adj
AV - free 18, free woman 3, at liberty 1, free man 1; 23
1) freeborn
1a) in a civil sense, one who is not a slave
1b) of one who ceases to be a slave, freed, manumitted
2) free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation
3) in an ethical sense: free from the yoke of the Mosaic Law

1659 eleutheroo {el-yoo-ther-o'-o}
from 1658; TDNT - 2:487,224; v
AV - make free 6, deliver 1; 7
1) to make free
2) set at liberty: from the dominion of sin

As we can see, the key common definition for each of these Greek words involves the notion that in Christ Christians obtain some sort of freedom that we did not have apart from Christ. In large part, the question concerning Christian liberty is very simple. Is this Christian liberty a freedom FROM something? And if so, what? Is this Christian liberty a freedom TO DO something? And if so, what?

Of these questions, the most critical are the "if so, what?" questions.

As we stated earlier, all 11 times that eleutheria occurs in the New Testament, it is used in reference to Christian "liberty in Christ." Part of the definition of eleutheria involves a "license, the liberty to do as one pleases" and that makes an ideal place to begin the main body of this study.