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The Blue Letter Bible

Dictionaries :: Earthly

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


urth'-li (epigeios, "existing upon the earth," "terrestrial," from epi, "upon" and ge, "earth"; Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD.) terrenus):

Of or pertaining to the earth, or to the present state of existence. The word epigeios is not found in Septuagint, but occurs in classical Greek from Plato down. In Plutarch Mor. 566 D, it occurs in the remarkable phrase, "that which is earthly of the soul."

Its meaning is primarily merely local ("being on the earth"). The word ge ("earth") has not in itself an ethical significance, and does not carry a suggestion of moral taint, such as the word kosmos ("world") has, especially in the Johannine writings, and sarx ("flesh"), especially in Paul. It does, however, suggest a certain limitation or frailty; and in some passages, the context gives the adjective epigeios an ethical color, though in the New Testament the purely local meaning is never lost sight of. It is translated "earthly" in the following passages:

(1) Joh 3:12, "if I told you earthly things," i.e. things which are realized on earth, things within the circle of human observation, truths of subjective experience (eg. the new birth); in contrast to "heavenly things," the objective truths which, as not directly realizable in human experience, must be revealed from above (the mysteries of the Divine purpose and plans). Clearly "earthly" here implies no moral contrast to the heavenly or spiritual.

(2) 2Co 5:1, "the earthly house of our tabernacle," i.e. the body with which we are clothed on earth, in contrast to the spiritual resurrection-body, "which is from heaven" (verse 2). Here again the word has a merely local, not an ethical, significance.

(3) Php 3:19, "whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things," i.e. whose thoughts rest on earth, on the pleasures of life here below.

(4) Jas 3:15, "This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly," i.e. it is on the plane of life on earth, merely human, incapable of ascending to the level of Divine wisdom. In the last two passages, the literal local meaning is still evident, but the word shades off into the moral and suggests that which is opposed to the spiritual in character. The same word is translated "terrestrial" in 1Co 15:40, and "things in (the Revised Version (British and American) "on") earth" in Php 2:10 the King James Version has "earthly" in Joh 3:31, where it translates ek tes ges = literally, "out of the earth," the reference being to the character and mission of the Baptist as partaking of the limitations of his earthly (human) origin, in contrast to the Messiah "that cometh from heaven." The the King James Version rendering is somewhat misleading, for it introduces a confusion with the "earthly" of Joh 3:12 (see Westcott in the place cited.). The Revised Version (British and American) rightly renders "of the earth."

"Earthly" is to be distinguished from "earthy" = made of earth or clay (choikos, from chous, "earth dug out," 1Co 15:47 ff).

Written by D. Miall Edwards

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