The Law of Antithesis
Those who believe and teach that the scriptures are just a bunch of jumbled up words that require the special and esoteric assistance of the Holy Spirit to interpret are largely responsible for much of the chaos in the religious world (cp. Eph. 3: 4). The fact of the matter is Godís word is subject to the same basic methods of interpretation and study as any literature. The more the Bible student realizes this, the more truth he is capable of ascertaining. One situation seen in literature and in the scriptures is the law of antithesis. The word "antithesis" is straight from the Greek (transliterated form). It is a compound word made up of, "anti," meaning against; and, "thesis, a setting. It is defined as:
"An opposition of words or sentiments occurring in the same sentenceÖ" (Hermeneutics, by D. R. Duncan, pg. 346).
Hermeneutics by Duncan is a classic and has been used extensively as a class book to teach language study, especially the study of language as observed in the scriptures and a work from which I shall quote to set up a frame of reference for this article. The verse to which we want to apply the law of antithesis is Paulís famous statement in Romans 6: 23. However, prior to doing this, I want to share some thoughts from Professor Duncan regarding some other verses and passages.
Anterior to noticing instances of the law of antithesis and how it serves to irrefutably establish various biblical truths, one might ask what is the essential difference between a comparison, contrast, and an antithesis. In general, a cursory consideration of this question might not establish any serious dissimilarities. A comparison involves two or more matters being considered as to any similarities or differences they may possess in proximity one to another. A contrast would be a more detailed comparison for the purpose of clearly establishing likenesses and areas of converse. An antithesis, on the other hand, would be to observe the direct opposites in such a comparison or contrast. The law of antithesis, then, extracts properties that are the reverse. One can learn important truths by first establishing an affirmation and then either observing or inferring the opposite. Let me inject that we must first determine that the set up is that of antithesis and then we must be careful to observe what antithetical truths are intended. Hence, an antithesis can either be very simple or more complex, requiring more caution.
One subject that has divided religious people is the future condition of the lost, whether or not they will be everlastingly and consciously punished. I now quote Duncan:
"The duration of the punishment of the wicked can be settled by this law of antithesis (Matt. 25: 46). ĎAnd these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.í The duration which is the measure of the one of these, must of necessity be the measure of the other, unless the author of the antithesis has seen proper to make a difference in that respect. In this case, so far from making any difference, He has used the same word on both sides (aionios, translated first "everlasting" and then "eternal" in the KJV, dm); if the eternal life of the righteous is life without end, so is the punishment of the wicked. This is absolutely demanded by the law of antithesis" (Hermeneutics, pg. 347, 348).
I have intimated that there can be more involved than simply establishing opposites. In Matthew chapter five, Jesus presents six instances of antithetical teaching. In the first, it would appear that Jesus is only referring to Exodus 20: 13, "Thou shalt not kill" (Matt. 5: 21). This sixth law in the Decalogue is a moral law that stands and is absolute. What then is Jesus doing when he says what he does, using the law of antithesis, in verse twenty-two? Jesus is not meaning to be understood, albeit he often is so understood, as saying here is what Exodus 20: 13 says, but I am telling you something different, even opposite. Jesusí antithesis is in showing the opposite of what the interpreters of the law were saying Exodus 20: 13 meant and allowed. This is clearly seen in Jesusí sixth case of antithetical teaching (Matt. 5: 43, the law never taught such a matter, the Jew had erroneously thus inferred, probably from Leviticus 19: 18, that they only were required to love fellow Jews).
Even regarding Matthew 25: 46, there is an extra requisite step in fully understanding Jesusí antithesis. Some materialists have erred and abused Jesusí teaching by contending, "Jesus is saying that both the lost and saved shall have eternal life; hence, there is no difference in the future state of both."
Matthew 25: 46 is a good example of how there can be more involved in the law of antithesis. For instance, while both the lost and saved shall continue on eternally (Greek aionios); there shall be a condition opposite in terms of qualitativeness. We see this taught in other scripture. The lost shall suffer eternally while the saved shall be in eternal bliss (cp. Mark 9: 42f.; Rev. 20, 21). Even in Matthew 25: 46, Jesus states this qualitative difference when he uses "punishment" (kolasin) in the case of the lost.
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6: 23).
Romans 6: 23 contains one of the most powerful and didactic antitheses of all time. The situation of antithesis has been set up in verse twenty-two by the use of "fruit" (karpon). The full background and impetus involved the very premise of Romans, the gospel is Godís power unto salvation (Rom. 1: 16). Also, man cannot merit or earn his salvation (Rom. 4: 1-10). Paul will later show that there are two basic and mutually exclusive systems, the system of salvation by works or merit, the common view held by the Jews and some today, and the system of grace (Rom. 11: 6).
In this wonderful antithesis circumstance, first consider a key word, "wages." The Greek opsonion is the word used for the soldierís pay and for preacher support (Luke 3: 14; 2 Cor. 11: 8). The Greek opsonion is fully used not only for pay for work rendered, but also there can be a commensurate meaning. In other words, the amount of pay based on the amount of work. In the case of Romans 6: 23, the pay based on the amount of work, sin, is, "death" (thanatos, cp. Isa. 59: 1, 2). "Death" involves everlasting punishment in hell. Yes, sin pays and it pays according to the rendered work. In a qualified sense, there are even "degrees," in the sense of, "Son remember" (Luke 16: 25, the more one has to remember, the more punitive future punishment will be, even this intermediate state set forth in Luke 16: 19-31).
In antithesis to "wages," Paul uses the word "gift" (Greek, charisma). "Gift" is "grace" (charisma). While humble obedience is required (one must accept Godís grace and receive it not in vain, 2 Cor. 6: 1, Heb. 5: 8, 9), such submission does not constitute meriting eternal life (cp. Luke 17: 10). Godís gift of grace is not something that we receive commensurate to our works, because all men, even Christians sin (Rom. 3: 23, I John 1: 7-10). Without the intervention of Godís grace, all would be doomed to hell. We have earned hell, but not eternal life!
Please appreciate the location of this gift of God: "Öin Christ JesusÖ." (en christo Iesou). I understand that some translations have "through Jesus Christ," but the preposition is the Greek "en" (simply stated, location) not "dia" (means). All are, "baptized into Christ" (Gal. 3: 26, 27, cp. Tit. 3: 5).
Thus, Paul by means of the law of antithesis presents both God and man. Man, the sinner, on his own suffering spiritual death. God provides man the means of escape, His gift of grace. Man is observed as effecting his own death through his sin, but God is set forth as presenting man eternal life, totally free of manís merit. "Wages" and "gift," "death" and "eternal life" are powerful antithetical words, words meaning the direct opposite. The law of antithesis, then, is used by the Holy Spirit to show the helpless state of man and the incomprehensible love and grace of God (Rom. 5: 6-10).