Our Wednesday night class has been studying the biblical idea and contours of “forgiveness.” A text that we recently encountered was Luke 17:3 “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Since our focus was on forgiveness, we did not spend much time on “rebuke.” We did note that we do not use the word “rebuke” too often and provided a few definitions of the word. So, this little article will give some information concerning the word “rebuke.”
The Greek verb that is translated “rebuke” is epitimaoo (ἐπιτιμάω) and it occurs 29 times in the Greek New Testament. There are only occurrences of the word (2 Timothy 4:2 and Jude 9) outside the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew – 6x, Mark – 9x, and Luke – 12x). Jesus usually is the subject, and the word always has a negative meaning. The standard scholarly Greek references all provide similar definitions: 1) “to express strong disapproval of someone, rebuke, reprove, censure also speak seriously, warn in order to prevent an action or bring one to an end” (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich); 2) “to express strong disapproval of someone – to rebuke, to denounce” (Louw and Nida); 3) “overcome with a powerful word, rebuke” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament);and 4) “to rebuke, punishment” (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis).
Ἐπιτιμάω is closely connected with Jesus’ message and the reaction to it. Sometimes Jesus rebukes to inhibit and suppress: when He casts out demons (Matthew 17:18; Mark 1:25; 9:25; Luke 4:35, 41; 9:42), dispels a fever (Luke 4:39), or stills a storm (Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:42). These texts depict Jesus as the bringer of salvation, overcoming the evil powers, and demonstrating His Lordship.
People rebuke one another as a sign of displeasure. The disciples toward those who presented children to Jesus (Matthew 19:13; Mark 10:13; Luke 18:15). The crowd toward the blind man who sought Jesus (Matthew 20:31; Mark 10:48; Luke 18:39). Peter toward Jesus for His passion prediction (Matthew 16:22; Mark 8:32). The Pharisees asked Jesus to censure the disciples (Luke 19:39). In each of these instances, Jesus disapproved of the rebuke, though He Himself was free to deliver a reprimand (to Peter, Mark 8:33; to the Sons of Thunder, Luke 9:55). Also, there was no condemnation of the penitent thief when he scolded the other criminal (Luke 23:40).
The presupposition for the brotherly rebuke (Luke 17:3) is sin. When a disciple of the Lord sins against a saint, the saint is to speak to the offending disciple powerful words of disapproval to bring the sin to an end. Its goal is repentance before God and the brother’s forgiveness.