Only a couple more fun with words, and then we’ll move on to fun with archaeology! I’m taking an archaeology class this semester and I absolutely love it so far. I’m learning about ancient Middle East earliest civilization right now, and have an awesome parallel to share with you next week sometime. But for now…put on your Bible thinking cap once more so you can crack the codes and understand your Bible readings more clearly.
I recently learned that the word frequently translated “tribulation” in the Bible to convey horrible, terrible, catastrophic, apocalyptic prophecy actually comes from the Greek word, “thlipsis (Strong’s #2347),” which simply means “to press.” If you do a little research, you will find that this word is associated with pressing of grapes in a winepress and it is used, for example, in these corrected verses:
Rom. 2:9: “There will be pressing and ‘small space’ for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (More Literal Translation, MLT).
James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their pressing (distress), and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (MLT).
Funny how translators use “tribulation” in places where thlipsis occurs, especially when referring to the fate of the wicked, but in this passage they rendered it, “distress.”
What is really fascinating is that Strong’s first definition is “a pressing,” yet not once is it translated this way in modern Bibles.
Why it Matters?
First of all, there’s been a whole mini-doctrine created around the word “tribulation” of some special catastrophic event that lasts for seven years. But I see it as just a word that means being put through a time of distress for testing, growing, and learning. Sure, there are times in history of widespread “pressing” (and probably will be again), but I don’t believe this word conveys a one-time, formal event. There are many forms and occurrences of the pressing of mankind. Consider these verses:
Romans 2:9: “There will be tribulation (pressing) and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek…”
Romans 8:35: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation (pressing), or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
Romans 12:12: “…rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation (pressing), devoted to prayer…”
Secondly, it matters because this word is another carry-over theme from the Old Testament, speaking of the “harvest of mankind.” The point of pressing and the winepress is that grapes have tough skin and have to be pressed in order to yield their juice, but wine is often considered the most favorable and desirable part of a crop. It’s all about making difficult or rebellious people worthy for the Kingdom, not utter destruction.
“And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation (pressing), and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:14).