Is "Virtue" A Biblical Term? (Eph. 4:25-32)

Is “virtue” a biblical term? This term doesn’t occur in Ephesians 4, but it may be a helpful concept for understanding the goal of Christian morality.

  1. ἀρετὴ = BDAG, “uncommon character worthy of praise”, “excellence of character, exceptional civic virtue”, “finest character”. There is a social dimension to this, because it is about demonstrated high level of character in a civic/social sense.

  2. ἀρετὴ = Liddell Scott Jones, “goodness, excellence of any kind, especially of manly qualities,” “manhood, valor, prowess.” “rank, nobility.”

  3. Philippians 4:8

  4. 2 Peter 1:5a, 5b

    1. DNTT = “ἀρετὴ” in both of these passages is used as a general term for good and correct behavior in Christians.

    2. The lists of “virtues” in the NT are generally spelling out this heading.

    3. But the main difference between the NT virtue lists and the lists of other Greek literature is that the Christian lists are always summed up under the ideas of “love” (Gal. 5:22; Ephesians 4:32-5:2; Col. 3:12) and/or “faith” (Ephesians 4:2; 2 Peter 1:5) and controlled by these.

    4. The NT does not know the Aristotelian distinction between practical and theoretical virtues. It stresses rather that totality of our actions, both as practical acts and as expressions of obedience.

    5. Of greatest importance is the fact that the Stoic’s view of himself as autonomous in his virtues is one completely foreign to the NT. Here the virtues are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), subservient to mutual love and the glorification of God. Hence, the NT virtues are not derived from the harmony of the soul (Plato) nor from the quality of the man (Aristotle), but are seen as gracious gifts (charisma) of the divine Spirit: they are the actions and marks of God’s new creation. (BOOM!)

    6. Love, especially love for one’s enemy, becomes the norm to distinguish virtue from vice, especially as that love is seen in “life in Christ” and its social implications.

      1. This is important, because our standard of “virtue” is centered in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not a theoretical moral code, but the application of the character of the God-Man.

    7. “Haustafeln” = lit. “house-tables”, which is a term derived from Luther, where NT scholars define the body of formalized ethical teaching by which members of the early communities were expected to conform to the standards of their contemporary society, but with a Christian motivation. In particular, the imperatives are addressed to husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, and slaves. The purpose of the “Haustafeln” was to ensure the good ordering of the various relationships in which members of the household or family stood.

      1. Haustafeln lists are given by “stations” in life. They are addressed according to your station in life, especially within the Christian household. Each party is named, a command is given, and a motivation for behavior is supplied.

      2. The key thought in the NT lists is “submission”, though there is reciprocity between members (Eph. 5:21).

      3. IMPORTANT — J.E. Crouch offers the best understanding of the Pauline use of the Haustafeln. He notes that the importance of the teaching in Gal. 3:27-29 is that in Christ the disabilities that Judaism imposed on Gentiles, women, and slaves are removed. It is reasonable to suppose that, given the nature of Corinthian gnosticizing enthusiasm whose watchwords were “freedom,” “gnosis,” and “spiritual,” that the Pauline statement of religious freedom in Christ would be heard as a promise of social egalitarianism. So Paul modifies and corrects this tendency in 1 Cor. 7:17-24 (remain in your station) and 14:33-38 (women are to stay in their place). The effect of the Haustafeln is to confirm this restriction as binding and to safeguard the good order of the church against revolutionary attempts to undermine it by a false claim to unbridled freedom in the name of gnostic enlightenment and license. The Haustafeln are therefore a counter-measure in the name of Pauline “orthodoxy” to keep the social fabric in check, partly on the theological ground of the creation ordinances of the Torah, and partly on the pragmatic level which requires that the Christian is not at liberty to overturn the social framework by denying the Jewish basis of the faith, by getting involved in a slave-uprising of the Spartacus type or by promoting a feminist movement. There are indications that Paul’s controls were so understood in Ephesians 5:22-6:9, 1 Tim. 2:9-15, and 1 Peter 3:1-7 (written under Pauline influence).