Envy Or Jealousy?

Envy Or Jealousy? February 9, 2018

photo-1462747772350-460bb4aad7f4_optOur series on the Friday With Our Fathers (FWOF), using Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers.

1 Clement 4:1–6:4 lays out ancient biblical examples of jealousy in the Bible. In 1 Clem 3:4 we encountered “ungodly jealousy” (zelon adikon).

In English, the term “jealous” refers to a person’s response when their status is jeopardized while the term “envy” refers to a person’s desire to have what another has. Envy and covet are friends; jealousy and envy are not synonyms. We are careless on these terms, but the Greek term zelos doesn’t completely map onto our usage of terms in English. On now to 1 Clement.

But, they know the ideas. On Cain and Abel we get this: “You see, brothers, jealousy and envy (phthonos) brought about a brother’s murder” (4:7). Jacob ran from Esau out of jealousy; Joseph was nearly persecuted to death out of jealousy; Moses fled from Egypt out of jealousy; the same caused punishment for Aaron and Miriam; the same for Dathan and Abiram; Saul persecuted David out of jealousy. So 1 Clem 4:8-13.

The apostles, 1 Clement continues, were persecuted out of jealousy and envy (5:2). Peter endured many trials. Much more on Paul here and this is the summary of his life:

Because of jealousy and strife (eris) Paul showed the way to the prize for patient endurance. After he had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the east and in the west, he won the genuine glory for his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the west [sounds like Spain/Gaul]. Finally, when he had given his testimony before the rulers, he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example of patient endurance.

From OT saints to Peter and Paul Clement moves into his own time. Women were persecuted out of jealousy. They too reached the goal (presence of God, ultimate approval, heaven). Some noble women have left their husbands and persecuted out of jealousy. Jealousy and strife have undone “great cities and uprooted great nations” (6:4).

No one contends this explains all of persecution but there is at work here three big terms: jealousy, envy and strife. Zeal, attached as it is to anger and the amygdala, is about protecting one’s status and righteousness and it is this that the author sees at work in persecuting the people of God in history. Not only jealousy (zeal, zelos) but at least that.

If the Christian is right, the other person must be wrong. If the person is wrong, that person’s status is absolved or threatened. Obedience and faithfulness are the opposite of jealousy, envy and strife. The divisions in Corinth (last week’s post on 1 Clement) are shaped by “ungodly jealousy.” Obedience folds before truth and embraces the other.

The persecuted in the list above were humble, were not jealous and envious and full of strife; they were obedient and loving.

One wonders how much this sense of jealousy/zeal/zelos animates political anger in our day.

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