New Testament Theology - Introductory Glossaries
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D. and students of Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

Political Theology
by Parker Sandoval

Nation - Gk. ἔθνος (ethnos = "nation, people"; 162x in the NT) refers to the people sharing a common culture (Matt 24:7; Luke 7:5; Acts 7:7; 24:2). Most often in the NT, it denotes the Jewish people (Luke 23:2; John 11:50-52; 18:35; Acts 24:10; 28:19). Occasionally, the Christian community is referred to as God's people (Matt 21:43) or his holy nation (1 Pet 2:9). The plural, ἔθνη (ethne), designates pagan nations or foreigners not yet part of the people of God (Matt 10:5; Luke 21:24; Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 5:1; 12:2; Gal 2:12; Eph 3:1; 1 Pet 2:12); it is usually rendered as "Gentiles."

People - Gk. λαός (laos; 142x in the NT) generally refers to God's people. Luke uses the term to identify Israel (2:10, 32; Acts 4:10). Later, it includes both Israel and the Gentiles who share common faith in Jesus (Acts 15:14; Rom 9:24). More secularly, λαός denotes a crowd (Matt 4:23; Luke 7:1; 20:1, 9: Acts 2:47).

Populace / Crowd - Gk. δῆμος (demos), a term common in Ancient Greek but used only four times in the NT, designates citizens, or a gathered populace (Acts 12:22; 17:5; 19:30, 33). In contrast, ὄχλος (ochlos) refers to a throng or crowd (Matt 9:23, 25; 15:35; Mark 2:4) or mob (John 7:49; Acts 24:12).

City - Gk. ὄχλος (polis = "municipality"). Usually referred to as a "city-state," the polis was the basic political unit of the Roman Empire. The πολίτης (polites = "citizen") has political rights within his polis (Acts 21:39). πολίτευμα (politeuma), used only once in the NT, designates "citizenship," which Christians possess in heaven (Phil 3:20). The term "politics" is obviously derived from polis.

Kingdom - Gk. βασιλεία (basileia = "reign, rule;" 162x in the NT) denotes the territory ruled by a king (Matt 4:8; 12:25-26; Mark 3:24; 6:23; Luke 4:5; 21:10). In the NT, though, it generally refers to the kingdom, or reign, of God. This eschatological reign is the focal point of Jesus' preaching and ministry, especially in the synoptic Gospels. At times, this kingdom is proclaimed as being near or "at hand" (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15); Jesus also affirms that the reign of God is already present (Matt 12:28; Luke 11:20). Through parables, Jesus describes what the kingdom of God is like (Matt 13:24-33, 44-50: Luke 13:18-21). In addition, Jesus allows others to acclaim him as βασιλικός (basilikos), meaning "king" (Matt 21:5; 19:38; John 12:13, 15). His kingship, however, is not of this world (John 18:36).

Rome - Lat. Roma. Located on the Italian Peninsula, Rome was the capital city of the Roman Empire which dominated the Mediterranean Basin beginning in 63 B.C.E. Rome was a dreaded power, mentioned only once by name in the Gospels (John 11:48). Like Babylon before, Rome destroys the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 B.C.E.. Therefore, "Babylon" becomes the code word for Rome because both were seen as hostile to God (1 Pet 5:13; Rev 14:18; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). Paul writes to the Christian community in Rome (Rom 1:7, 15), where he later remains under house-arrest (Acts 19:21; 23:11; 28:14, 16). Tradition holds that both Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome.

Emperor - Lat. imperator, Gk. Καῖσαρ (Kaisar = "Caesar, the one who commands"). Under the initiative of Octavian in 27 B.C.E., this was the title bestowed by the Roman Senate upon the absolute dictatorial ruler of the Empire. Because the Emperor claimed power from the gods, Octavian was also known as Augustus, a Latin term meaning "worthy of reverence or venerable" (Luke 2:1). Augustus and Caesar were the official imperial titles (Matt 22:17; Mark 12:14; Luke 2:1; 3:1; 20:22; John 19:15; Acts 25:21; 1 Pet 2:13, 17). Three emperors are named in the NT: Augustus, namely Octavian (Luke 2:1), Tiberius (Luke 3:1), and Claudius (Acts 11:28; 18:2). Other emperors are alluded to in the Book of Revelation (17:9, 11), most especially Nero (13:3-8; 17:11).

Ruler - Gk. ἄρχων (archon = "first, ruler") denotes a high official or leader (Matt 9:18; Rom 13:3). An ἐθνάρχης ("ethnarch") was the ruler of a nation or tribe (Matt 2:22; 2 Cor 11:32), while a τετραάρχης ("tetrarch") was the ruler of a fourth part of a kingdom. Following the death of King Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided among several of his sones; Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea beginning in 4 B.C.E. (Matt 14:1, 3, 6; Mark 6:14, 17, 21, 26; 8:15; Luke 3:1, 19; 8:3; 9:7; 13:31; 23:7, 15; Acts 4:27; 13:1); his supporters, the Herodians, were hostile to Jesus (Matt 14:3, 6; Mark 3:6; 12:13). In terms of the Roman military, a κεντυρίων ("centurion; captain") was a commander over a hundred soldiers (Matt 8:5, 8, 13; 27:54; Mark 15:39, 44-45; Luke 23:47; Acts 10:1, 22; 21:32; 23:17, 23; 24:23), whereas a χιλίαρχος (chiliarchos; "tribune, general") commanded a thousand soldiers (Acts 21:31-24:22). Related terms in English include "monarchy" (the rule by one) and "oligarchy" (the rule by few).

Authority - Gk. ἐξουσία (exousia = "power, rule") indicates the juridical, political, social, or moral order in which power is exercised (Acts 8:19; 9:14; 26:10, 12). Jesus cured the sick, exorcized demons, and preached the good news "with authority" (Matt 7:29; 9:6; Mark 1:27; 2:10; Luke 5:24); Jesus affords this same authority to his disciples as well (Matt 10:1). Exousia comes from God (Matt 9:8; 28:18; John 5:27; 17:2: 19:11), who is the ultimate source of authority (Acts 1:7: Rom 13:1). Accordingly, Paul insists that Christians be subject to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1-3); 1 Peter, in fact, exhorts the Christian community to honor the emperor (2:13-17).

Might - Gk. δύναμις (dynamis = "power, might") connotes potency, whereas exousia refers to the ordered framework in which power is exercised. Dynamis is present in the strong man as well as in the state. God is omnipotent and sovereign (Matt 19:26; 22:29; Mark 10:27; 14:36, 62; Luke 1:49); Jesus manifests God's power in his miracles (δυνάμεις), literally "mighty deeds" (Luke 19:37). Jesus, in turn, bestows this spirit of power upon his disciples (Acts 1:8; Luke 4:14; Acts 10:38). The plural, δυνάμεις (dynameis) refers to the cosmic forces, or dominions, in the universe (Matt 24:29; Mark 13:25; Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21), which are ultimately created for and subject to Christ (Col 1:16; 1 Pet 3:22).

Power - Gk. κράτος (kratos) refers to physical power or strength, thus also to political sovereignty. In the NT, it is generally attributed to God (Luke 1:51; Acts 19:20; 1 Tim 6:16; Heb 2:14; 1 Pet 4:11; 5:11). Derived words in English include "democracy" (lit. power held by the people) and "aristocracy" (rule by the elite).

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:


See also these other NT Theology Glossaries:
Christology | Discipleship | Ecclesiology | Pneumatology | Trinity | Eschatology | Liturgy | Soteriology | Anthropology
Creeds & Hymns | Cosmology | Morals & Ethics | Religions | Sacraments | Politics & Society | Mariology

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