by Kevin Cauley
One of the things that I’ve noticed about Forthright is the magazine’s motto: “Straight to the cross.” In the English language, we have a homonym which is often confused with the word “straight,” namely, the word “strait.” The word “straight” means “extending continuously in the same direction without curves” (American Heritage Dictionary). The word “strait,” on the other hand, means “Narrow; not broad” (Websters). This homonym got me curious about the Greek word for “strait.”
Jesus said in Matthew 7:13,14 “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” He was speaking of the narrow and difficult gate as opposed to the broad and easy way. The Greek word for “strait” is STENOS, and this word is only used in the Greek New Testament in Matthew 7 and in the parallel passage in Luke 13:24. The word, however, is found in the Septuagint (a.k.a. LXX, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament made around 200 B.C.). It is illustrative of the meaning of the word to note a few passages from that translation.
In the LXX we find STENOS in Numbers 22:26, “And the angel of Jehovah went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.” You may recognize the passage as being part of the story of Balaam and his insubordinate (?) donkey. This is a good illustration of the literal meaning of STENOS, a narrow place. Another literal usage is found in 1 Samuel 23:29 which reads, “And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi.” The word for “strongholds” in the Septuagint is our Greek word STENOS. An English translation of the Septuagint in this passage is: “And David got up from that place, and dwelt in the narrow places of Engedi.” If you have ever seen the land around the oasis of Engedi, then you know exactly what this passage is discussing. The land is full of cracks and crannies and numerous narrow places to hide.
STENOS, however, also has a figurative meaning which is reflected in the English word “strait” as well. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it: “A position of difficulty, perplexity, distress, or need.” We see this meaning illustrated in 1 Samuel 13:6 when the Philistines threatened some of the people of Israel: “When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,)then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.” Here, the word indicates a difficult circumstance. You might say they looked for “straits” (the literal meaning) due to a “strait” (the figurative meaning). 2 Samuel 24:14 is also illustrative. The prophet Gad had told David that he had been given a choice of three punishments for his sin of numbering Israel and that David had to make the decision which. “And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.” David was in a “difficult circumstance” no doubt.
The Greek word STENOS can be understood both literally, (i.e. in relationship to physical surroundings) and figuratively, (in relationship to difficult circumstances). When considering the “strait” gate vs. the broad way, perhaps Jesus had a more figurative thought in mind, something akin to what Paul said in Acts 14:22, “… we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” In that regard, not only would the word “straight” serve well in the motto “straight to the cross,” but “strait” too.
by Kevin Cauley