Dear Ones,

I strongly believe that I should always present myself as a Christian

gentleman, avoiding offense in every way in order that I might more

effectively present the true offense, the Cross. But I am not sure that the

human authors of Scripture were as careful as I try to be. The Bible uses

filthy words and concepts to portray very vividly and repulsively the true

nature of evil. How offended do you think Ezekiel’s congregation was at his

diatribes against Judah, comparing her to a slut in Ezekiel 16 and 23?

Isaiah 64:6 refers to human righteousness as a “cloth of the times,”

referring to a protective cloth used during menses, something not only

odious but ceremonially defiling as well. (Leviticus 15:19-24.) I have

literally preached thousands of sermons to my congregation here in Louisiana

and, in spite of being accused of being rather too graphic at times, I have

never dared to give an exposition from Ezekiel’s two filthy chapters.

Ever since the Battle of Hastings, Old Saxon, onomatopoetic, monosyllabic,

physiological terms have been frowned on. Norman elitism looked down on all

things Anglo-Saxon, and only Latin was viewed with more respect than Norman

French. Consider the level of sophistication of the following words as an

example: Latin, “Interrogate;” French, “Question;” Saxon, “Ask.” Added to

that is the fact that so many old Saxon words were onomatopoetic words that

reminded the hearer of the action they described — take puke and snot,

merely uttering them conjures up distasteful memories in the mind. Remnants

of Old Saxon earthiness are found in the King James Version of the Bible’s

use of the word, piss: “But Rab-shakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy

master and to thee to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men that

sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own

piss with you?” (Isaiah 36:12; cf. 1 Samuel 25:22, 34; 1 Kings 14:10; 16:11;

21:21; 2 Kings 9:8; 18:27.)

I’ll stop with these three examples, because I don’t want to go too far and

give offense. But that does not mean that their use is absolutely

proscribed. Consider the Lord’s holy apostle’s statement in Philippians 3:8,

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of

knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all

things and count them as rubbish (_SKYBALAN_ [dung, crap]), in order that I

may gain Christ.”

When we think about idle talk and speculation, Saint Paul’s vulgar word,

_SKYBALON_ comes to mind. In The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or

Ecclesiasticus, we find the following statement: “As when one sifteth with a

sieve, the refuse remaineth; so the filth of man in his talk.” (Sirach 27:4,


“In a shaken sieve manure (_KOPRIA_) is left behind, so the crap (_SKYBALA_)

of man (is seen) in his reflections (calculations, reasoning, sentiments).”

(Sirach 27:4, RBV)

Thinking about Jesus’ words above, I get the modern picture of people

sitting around “shooting the bull.” Human beings are all experts in Bovine

Scatology; there is a B.S. artist down inside us all. That was true in Jesus

ben Sirach’s day in the second century before Christ, and it is true today.

Nothing stands out more vividly as an example of the ability of people to

pontificate on subjects about which they know next to nothing than the

incident when the U. S. Presidential race was still in doubt on December 12,

2000, and television journalists dashed in front of cameras, scanned the U.

S. Supreme Court’s decision and shared what they had gleaned with facile

declarations as they read. Even an attorney would need time to read the

whole document and digest it before commenting on it, but here were people

who, at the most, simply have degrees in journalism, leafing through a

carefully crafted but complex document, and pontificating off the cuff.

When I think about such foolishness, I sometimes mutter “_SKOObahlon_.”

Friedrich Lang alerted me to Jesus ben Sirach’s deuterocanonical reference

in his article on _SKYBALON_ in the _Theological Dictionary of the New

Testament_, (Vol. 7, Page 445-447). I have expanded his abbreviations for

clarity, transliterated his Greek into Roman letters and written it below.

‘Only with hesitation does literature seems to have adopted it from popular

speech. Lit(erally) . . . _SKYBALON_ means 1. “dung,” “muck” both as

“excrement” . . .and also as “fodder or food that has gone bad”. . .

‘B. Hellenistic Judaism.

‘The employment of the word in Hell. Judaism remains within the compass of

Gk. usage. In the LXX _SKYBALON_, occurs only once in a late work and in a

transf(erred) sense. Sir(ach) 27:4 uses the image of lumps of manure

(_KOPRIA_) remaining in the sieve to illustrate the refuse, i.e., the

impurity and wickedness in the mind of man (_SKYBALA ANTHRWPOU_) . . .

Joseph. tells how the inhabitants of Jerusalem, during the famine when the

city was besieged by Titus, had to search sewers and dung for something to

eat, _Bell(um Judaicum_ — Wars of the Jews), 5, 571. . . .

‘C. The New Testament.

‘In the NT _SKYBALON_ is used only once by Paul at Phil. 3:8. As one who has

been led to faith by Jesus Christ he is evaluating all the natural and

religious factors (v. 5f.) which seemed to him to be very important in his

former life: . . . “I count them all as dung.” . . . The threefold use of .

. . (count, consider) forms a crescendo. The perfect . . . (v. 7) relates to

conversion; since this Paul has learned to regard all his former . . . (gain

as loss) . . . for Christ’s sake. The present . . . (count, consider) (v.

8a) confirms that this is his judgment now. The second present . . . (count,

consider) (v. 8c) strengthens this by substituting _SKYBALON_ for _ZHMIA_

(loss). The intensification lies in the element of resolute turning aside

from something worthless and abhorrent, with which one will have nothing

more to do. The choice of the vulgar term stresses the force and totality of

this renunciation. The divine privileges of Israel (R[omans] 3:1 ff.; 9:4

f.) and the spiritual character of the Law are not herewith denied. But the

striving for self-righteousness by one’s own achievement is unmasked as . .

. (having put confidence in flesh) (v. 3), as a carnal and worldly

enterprise, the complete antithesis of faith. Materially, perhaps, Paul

chose _SKYBALA_, which in religious Hellenism was used for the dualism of

the divine and the secular . . ., to echo the contrast between spirit and

flesh, _XRISTOS_ (_PNEUMA_) and _SARX_, in the passage. To the degree that

the Law is used in self-justification, it serves the flesh and is not just

worthless but noxious and even abhorrent. The two elements in _SKYBALON_,

namely, worthlessness and filth, are best expressed by a term like “dung.”

‘The post-apost(olic). fathers do not use the word.’

Friedrich Lang, “_SKYBALON_,” _Theological Dictionary of the New Testament_,

(Vol. 7, Page 445-447).

Here are two other scholarly comments on Saint Paul’s word:

‘_SKYBALON_ . . . useless or undesirable material that is subject to

disposal, refuse, garbage (in var. senses, ‘excrement, manure, garbage,

kitchen scraps . . . specif. of human excrement . . . consider everything

garbage/crud Phil 3:8. “to convey the crudity of the Greek . . . : ‘It’s all

crap'”). [Frederick William Danker (ed.), _A Greek-English Lexicon of the

New Testament and other Early Christian Literature_. Third edition (BDAG)

(based on Walter Bauer’s _Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften

des Neuen Testaments und der frühchristlichen Literatur_, sixth edit.

Chicago/London: Chicago University Press, 2000.), p. 932.]

‘_skybalon_, scrap, debris, refuse, dung, excrement ‘It is not easy to

translate this NT _hapax_ at Phil 3:8, where St. Paul, renouncing confidence

in the flesh, meaning his privileges as a Jew, says they are worthless, to

be discarded . . ., in order to know Christ, gain him, be in him, share in

the power of his resurrection.’

‘IV. — In any event, the word means what must be eliminated. J. Huby’s

comment is exactly right, in spite of the anachronism: “All of that is worth

no more than the contents of a garbage can.” {J. Juby, Les Epitres de la

captivite, Paris, 1934, p. 335} To convey the crudity of the Greek, however:

“It’s all crap.” {The translation of E. Osty . . . in Ecole de langues

orientales anciennes: Memorial du Cinquantenaire, Paris, 1964 . . ..}’

[Ceslas Spicq, _The Theological Lexicon of the New Testament_, (Peabody, MA:

Hendrickson, 1994) Vol. 3, pp. 263-265]

SKYBALON — what a word; it sums up all my efforts to feel good about myself

except as I stand washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and clothed

in his righteousness.

Cordially in Christ,


“Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he

pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous

in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only

for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to

them, and received by faith alone.” (The Larger Catechism, 70)

Robert Benn Vincent, Sr.

Grace Presbyterian Church

4900 Jackson Street

Alexandria, Louisiana 71303-2509

Tutissimum Refugium Sanguinis Christi

80 Hickory Hill Drive

Boyce, Louisiana 71409-8784

318.445.7271 church

318.443.1034 fax

318.793.5354 home


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