Reasonableness a Mark of Divine Wisdom
6. What are the literal meaning and implications of the Greek word James used in describing divine wisdom?
6 The disciple James used an interesting word to describe the wisdom of this supremely adaptable God. He wrote: “The wisdom from above is . . . reasonable.” (James 3:17) The Greek word that he used here (e·pi·ei·kesʹ) is difficult to translate. Translators have used such words as “gentle,” “lenient,” “forbearing,” and “considerate.” The New World Translation renders it “reasonable,” with a footnote indicating that the literal meaning is “yielding.”* The word also conveys the sense of not insisting on the letter of the law, not being unduly strict or stern. Scholar William Barclay comments in New Testament Words: “The basic and the fundamental thing about epieikeia is that it goes back to God. If God stood on his rights, if God applied to us nothing but the rigid standards of the law, where would we be? God is the supreme example of one who is epieikēs and who deals with others with epieikeia.”
7. How did Jehovah display reasonableness in the garden of Eden?
7 Consider the time when mankind rebelled against Jehovah’s sovereignty. How easy it would have been for God to execute those three thankless rebels—Adam, Eve, and Satan! How much heartache he might thereby have spared himself! And who could have argued that he had no right to exact such strict justice? Nonetheless, Jehovah never has his celestial chariotlike organization locked into some rigid, unadaptable standard of justice. So that chariot did not roll inexorably over the human family and all prospects for mankind’s happy future. On the contrary, Jehovah maneuvered his chariot with lightninglike swiftness. Immediately after the rebellion, Jehovah God outlined a long-range purpose that offered mercy and hope to all of Adam’s descendants.—Genesis 3:15.
8. (a) How does Christendom’s mistaken view of reasonableness contrast with Jehovah’s genuine reasonableness? (b) Why can we say that Jehovah’s reasonableness does not imply that he might compromise divine principles?
8 Jehovah’s reasonableness does not, however, imply that he might compromise divine principles. Today’s churches of Christendom may think that they are being reasonable when they wink at immorality simply to curry favor with their wayward flocks. (Compare 2 Timothy 4:3.) Jehovah never breaks his own laws, nor does he compromise his principles. Rather, he shows a willingness to yield, to adapt to circumstances, so that those principles may be applied both justly and mercifully. He is ever mindful of balancing his exercise of justice and power with his love and reasonable wisdom. Let us consider three ways in which Jehovah demonstrates reasonableness.
“Ready to Forgive”
9, 10. (a) What does being “ready to forgive” have to do with reasonableness? (b) How did David benefit from Jehovah’s readiness to forgive, and why?
9 David wrote: “For you, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive; and the loving-kindness to all those calling upon you is abundant.” (Psalm 86:5) When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the word for “ready to forgive” was rendered e·pi·ei·kesʹ, or “reasonable.” Indeed, being ready to forgive and show mercy is perhaps the key way to demonstrate reasonableness.
10 David himself was well aware of how reasonable Jehovah is in this regard. When David committed adultery with Bath-sheba and arranged to have her husband killed, both he and Bath-sheba were liable to the death penalty. (Deuteronomy 22:22; 2 Samuel 11:2-27) If rigid human judges had handled the case, both might well have lost their lives. But Jehovah showed reasonableness (e·pi·ei·kesʹ), which, as Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words puts it, “expresses that considerateness that looks ‘humanely and reasonably at the facts of a case.’” The facts that influenced Jehovah’s merciful decision likely included the sincere repentance of the wrongdoers and the mercy that David himself had previously shown in behalf of others. (1 Samuel 24:4-6; 25:32-35; 26:7-11; Matthew 5:7; James 2:13) However, in line with Jehovah’s description of himself at Exodus 34:4-7, it was reasonable that Jehovah would give David correction. He sent the prophet Nathan to David with a strong message, impressing David with the fact that he had despised the word of Jehovah. David repented and so did not die for his sin.—2 Samuel 12:1-14.
Back in 1769, lexicographer John Parkhurst defined the word as “yielding, of a yielding disposition, gentle, mild, patient.” Other scholars too have offered “yielding” as a definition.