WHAT DOES “SUBVERT” MEAN?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The term appears in various forms in the King James Scriptures:
- Lamentations 3:36: “To subvert a man in his cause, the LORD approveth not.”
- Acts 15:24: “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:….”
- 2 Timothy 2:14: “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.”
- Titus 1:11: “Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.”
- Titus 3:11: “Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
Analyzing it from the English perspective, the word consists of the prefix “sub–” (beneath) and “vertere” (to turn). Literally, it means “to turn from beneath”—flipped or overturned. In fact, that applies to the Greek and Hebrew equivalents as well.
The Greek word rendered “subverting” in 2 Timothy 2:14 is “katastrophe,” which is obviously the origin of our English expression “catastrophe!” In this context, it refers to verbal debates that generate more heat than light, more confusion than clarity, and thus wreck souls in the audience. In 2 Peter 2:6, the same word is translated “overthrow,” referring to the LORD God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah: “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;…” (cf. “overthrew” in Genesis 19:29). Both equally disastrous!
In the case of “subvert” in Titus 1:11, that Greek term is “anatrepo,” or “up [ana] turning [trope].” The house—that is, the meeting place of the local Christian assembly—is being flipped over. False teachers have slipped in and are devastating it from the inside out! This Greek term is rendered “overthrow” in 2 Timothy 2:18: “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some,” and speaks of deceived souls who are not observing dispensational boundaries (namely, the Rapture to close the Dispensation of Grace and prevent it from combining with the prophetic program). Regarding the “heretick” of Titus 3:11, this “subverted” man is described as “ekstrepho” (turned inside out), perverted or corrupted. The equivalent is “froward” in Deuteronomy 32:20: “And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.”
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says the following concerning “subverting” in Acts 15:24: “anaskeuazo, primarily, ‘to pack up baggage’ (ana, ‘up,’ skeuos, ‘a vessel’), hence, from a military point of view, ‘to dismantle a town, to plunder,’ is used metaphorically in Acts 15:24, of unsettling or ‘subverting’ the souls of believers. In the papyri it is used of going bankrupt.”
As touching “subvert” in Lamentations 3:36, this is the Hebrew “‘avath:” “To subvert a man in his cause, the LORD approveth not.” The word appears nearly a dozen times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and is rendered several other ways: “pervert” (Job 8:3; Job 34:12), “overthrown” (Job 19:6), “perversely” (Psalm 119:78), “turneth upside down” (Psalm 146:9), “crooked” (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 7:13), “bow” (Ecclesiastes 12:3), and “falsifying” (Amos 8:5).
In all these cases, something (city, local assembly) or someone is being ruined, overturned or overthrown from its foundation. There is unsettling, perversion, or weakening. We need to be especially mindful concerning the wellbeing of our souls, that they not be subverted with non-dispensational Bible study (2 Timothy 2:14-18)!
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