WHAT DOES “ANATHEMA MARANATHA” MEAN IN 1 CORINTHIANS 16:22?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Apostle Paul, near the conclusion of this epistle, wrote, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22). What does “Anathema Maranatha” mean?
Firstly, “Anathema” is Greek; “Maranatha” is Aramaic (Hebrew with some Gentile/Babylonian influence). These were two of the many languages the Apostle Paul spoke. Secondly, by searching the Epistle of 1 Corinthians, we can gather clues to stitch together a Scriptural definition of “Anathema Maranatha.”
This Greek word appears six times in the Textus Receptus (the basis for our King James New Testament). Once it was rendered, “We have bound ourselves under a great curse” (Acts 23:14, Paul’s enemies vehemently determined to take his life). Four times, it was translated “accursed” (Romans 9:3; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 1:8-9). Once, in 1 Corinthians 16:22, it was left untranslated—“anathema” (the verse now under discussion).
Galatians 1:8-9 is helpful here: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed [anathema]. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed [anathema].” The language is strong here, but it is warranted because false teachers have slipped into the Galatian churches under the guise of “Christianity.” God the Holy Spirit thunders here in this Epistle, “Let those false teachers be excommunicated, excluded, removed!” The Galatian Christians were to have nothing further to do with these denominationalists, for these religious traditionalists were using the Law of Moses to corrupt the Grace of God. Thousands of church leaders are guilty of this same practice, and we would do well to apply Galatians 1:8-9 to them too! See also Romans 16:17-20, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, and Titus 3:9-11.
When we come to 1 Corinthians 16:22, which is actually just before Galatians chapter 1, it should not be difficult to discern what “Anathema” means. The idea is “banned, removed, expelled.” Considering the mentality and lifestyles of the Corinthian Christians, we can easily surmise false teachers have corrupted them too. Read 1 and 2 Corinthians to behold the worst bunch of Christians you will ever see in Scripture! Greek philosophers, legalists (just as in Galatia), and other proponents of bad doctrine have defiled the saints at Corinth. Paul’s two epistles to Corinth are designed to bring these saints back to the truth, to mature them in the faith, that they be no more fleshly or worldly. One of Paul’s closing remarks in 1 Corinthians is found in 16:22: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema….” Those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ—especially those who do not love His doctrine communicated through Paul—are to be isolated or detached from the Corinthian assembly. Any heretics, any apostates, any unbelievers, or even any Christians acting like unbelievers, are to be expelled—lest the assembly become even more depraved and further ensnared in Satan’s policy of evil. Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, with special emphasis on verse 2 and verses 7-13. “Therefore put away [divorce, separate] from among yourselves that wicked person.”
Some have contended the Aramaic (and transliterated into Greek) phrase “Maran atha” means (and can only mean), “The Lord has come.” They thus have Paul referring to Jesus’ earthly ministry in 1 Corinthians 16:22 (the present perfect, an action already completed). Others claim the intended tense is simple future: “The Lord will come.” Here, Paul would be speaking of Jesus’ return (something imminent). When writing “Maranatha,” is Paul speaking of a previous coming of Christ or a future one?
Personally, again, this author would view 1 Corinthians 16:22 in light of what has already come before in the Epistle. Read chapter 1, verses 7-8: “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Would this be Christ’s earthly ministry, something that has already happened? Of course not! Paul is writing to the Corinthians a few decades after Calvary; Christ’s earthly ministry is long over. They are awaiting Jesus’ return, the Rapture, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and… our gathering together unto him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1). Based on 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, we would take “Maranatha” to mean a future coming of Christ not a past coming.
“Anathema Maranatha” simply means, “withdraw or separate from all who love not the Lord Jesus Christ, for that same Lord Jesus Christ is coming.” These saints would certainly not want to be fellowshipping with “questionable characters” when their Saviour came back, would they? “Let your moderation [self-control, reasonableness] be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5). In other words, live like the Lord is returning in the next few seconds! The nation Israel was given basically the same instructions in light of Christ’s Second Coming to end Daniel’s 70th Week (see Matthew 24:42-51; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35-48). Whether the prophetic program (Israel) or the mystery program (us, the Church the Body of Christ), all saints should be conducting themselves according to God’s words to them, ready to meet their Saviour whenever He appears, doing what He left them to do, when He does return! (And, remember, “Maranatha!,” the Lord is coming back!)
SUPPLEMENTAL: WHY LEAVE IT UNTRANSLATED?
The King James scholars are not here for us to ask them why they left these words untranslated, but it may be a case of euphony. “Anathema Maranatha” is a memorable word combination that sounds pleasant to the ears, is it not? Once you understand its meaning, you never forget it. May we thus be careful to remember to keep our distance from those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ (especially His words to us, the Dispensation of Grace, Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon), for that same Lord Jesus Christ is coming again and we want Him to find us pure in doctrine and lifestyle!