The general understanding of the word "religion" conveys characteristics of "form" and "control." It is identified by a lengthy list of ceremony, holy orders, titles and designations, and rules of conduct. Websters Dictionary conveys this: " ... religio; bind together ... from ligare, to bind ... to pay heed. .... specific system ... religious observances, rites ... "
The meaning of the Greek word sometimes rendered "religion" is explained by The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Metzger, Coogan), page 645: "Narrowly understood, religion means actions, especially cultic or ceremonial. ... Threskeia is also rare in the NT. .... James speaks of "pure religion" (James 1:27 KJV), perhaps implying a contrast between the expression of religion in cultic forms and its expression in acts of charity and self-control. ... More broadly, religion involves a complex of faith and conduct. For this the common Greek term is eusebeia, ‘piety,’ that is, reverence for the gods. ... The relative rarity of words for ‘religion’ in the Bible, and the confining of the broader terms to what are generally considered the latest writings of the NT, has been used to argue ‘religion,’ with its connotations of outward activity or generalized piety, is inappropriate language to use of ancient Israel or of earliest Christianity."
Another explanation is in the Dictionary of New Testament Theolgy, Vol 3, pages 549-551: "threskeia . . . service of God, religion. ... latron, wages ... cultic service ... at a later stage it had a cultic use, honouring of the gods. (Heb) abad rendering the LXX by douleuo ( -> Slave) . . . It is, however characteristic of the OT that it is not the meticulously performed cultus which is the true worship of God, but obedience to the voice of the Lord. ... All 21 cases of latreuo in the NT are used in a religious sense. ... We see that latreuo had largely lost its cultic connotation in favor of that of the inner worship of the heart by faith. ... Both passages give clear expression to Jesus’ statement that true and genuine worship as God wills it must be in Spirit and through the Spirit, for God himself is Spirit. (John 4:23 f) ... Such worship is freed from all the restrictions of cultic rules . . . and the struggle to attain righteousness through works."
The difference between "religion" (a ceremonial "form") and "worship" (service to God) may be illustrated between that "worship" associated with Jerusalem (John 4:20-24) and that characterized by the early disciples. The former was marked by impressive buildings with exact locations for regular ceremony, a thousand regulations, a feared and obeyed hierarchy of elders, judges and scribes. It was large and impressive. Contrasted with the liberated worship of the Nazarenes. They had no buildings for worship. They met in private homes in small groups. They had no lengthy list of organizational rules and procedures, for God’s law was in their hearts. Christ operated within and the result was their love and kindness was their worship. (James 1:27-29) Someone, some where, once said: "Religion is a snare and a racket." This is probably true today.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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