Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thinking about Words

I was considering Our Lord’s use of the Greek word kalos instead of agathos for “I am the Good Shepherd.” Both words mean good. But agathos is more typical of that which is intrinsically, morally good. When Our Lord says, “No one is good by God” He uses agathos. Kalos is more typical of that which is fit for its purpose. A good hammer is a hammer that hammers well. So Jesus is the Fit or Beautiful Shepherd.

That got me to considering the word good in English. I went to As usual, I was delighted to find so many entries. If you don’t read the dictionary for fun, you are missing out. Good is such a common word that we rarely give it much consideration. I don’t think I’ve ever looked it up before and I should have.

That got me thinking about how the word is typically used. A good dog, or a good boy for that matter, is one which is obedient. A good mood is a happy mood. A good hamburger is tasty but that is because it is good at being a hamburger. A hamburger that takes like prime rib is not a good hamburger even if it is delicious.

Then I thought of how often single mothers tell me their children’s father is a “good dad.” I am positive that there are fathers who have been separated from their children’s mothers who work hard to provide for, discipline, and teach their children. But when the mothers tell me, his father is a good dad, it almost never true. “Good dad” ought not to mean “good at impregnating.” Nor should it mean “good at playing with children on rare occasions” or “good at enjoying childish cuteness when it is convenient.” It ought to mean good at providing for, disciplining, and teaching children.

And then I considered the new term I heard for the first time within the last year: “baby daddy.” A “baby daddy” is how a single mom refers to a man who impregnated her but with whom she had no real or lasting relationship. He isn’t her ex-husband. He may not even be an ex-boyfriend. When I first heard this I was shocked. What culture in the history of the world needed a word to describe this unique relationship between a man and a woman ? I think we are the first. Before the advent of “baby daddy” the closest words we had to this were “rapist” or “John” as in, customer of a prostitute.

Not all dads are good dads. Some are dirt bags. Some are drunks. Some aren’t worthy of the name. For the record, not all moms are good moms either. Good men throughout the ages have striven to provide for, discipline, and teach their children whether they were allowed to live in the same house or not.

Whether your dad was a good dad or not. The Lord Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He is good at it. He is a Good Shepherd, the Best Shepherd, a Fit and Beautiful Shepherd. And His Dad is likewise a truly Good Dad in ever sense of the term. And in the Good Shepherd He is your Dad and loves you. Therefore, thanks be to God, there is hope for “baby daddys,” “rapists,” and “prostitutes,” as there is also for those who have been spared those degradations.


  1. Jerome Neyrey has a great article on κάλος ποιμήν picking up on just what you noticed. He ties it to a Greek tradition of the noble self-sacrifice and thus translates its The Noble Shepherd.


  2. I was just about to post a comment referring to the Neyrey article. Jinx. It's eye-opening.

  3. Your example distracted from your main point. Today at work, one of the gals referred to a man's wife (his WIFE!) as his "kids' mom." Really? Is it that bizarre for the person a man is living with to be, at the same time, the mother of his children, and at the same time, also to be his wife? I was dumbfounded.

  4. Susan, I believe this is a Dr. Lauraism. She call's a women "her kid's mom" when she is a good mom, meaning kalos good. When she stays at home, feeds, rears, and nurtures her children, vs. shipping them off to daycare. So it has kind of filtered into the culture. Therefore, I believe the husband in question was probably saying his wife was a stay-at-home mom.

  5. Another interesting use of Kalos is in the Old Testament where David fights Goliath.
    It seems that from the last 10 years or so of archeological excavation that the Philestines have been found to be Mycenean Greeks with a name something like Palasti.
    The connection is that the Goli in Goliath's name could easily be Kali from the way pronounciations shift over time. Kaliath, or something very similar was his Greek Name, and of course that means the good or handsome something. I think it's way past time for our publishing house to stop using art that depicts the Palasti as easterners and should depict them as Myceneans, including grieves on Kaliath. It seems that a large group of Mycenean Greeks went a viking directly after the Trojan War and attacked Egypt. There were some fierce battles, but the Egyptian won and made the Palasti settle in empty cities along the Mediterranian Sea in Palastine. This might also suggest how Palestine got it's name. So it would seen that around 1100 BC the Mycenean Greeks and the Israelites were is very close proximity.

  6. thanks, Joanne. Note also that the lax uses kilos for sodi in genesis 1. There is a great article in TDNT on Kalos. Sadly, I read it after this post. I should have read it first because there are a lot of great examples, but I don't thin Goliath was one of them.

  7. Fatherhood is in crisis in the Western world, and it's hardly better in the Lutheran church. Men and fathers have lost their leadership roles in their families and in their congregations - this is not news. But we rarely hear a single word from the pulpit about it! Thank you, Fr. Peterson, for saying something. Think about it: Unless you learned how to be a good father from your own father, you have almost no opportunity to learn anything about it in the Lutheran church. Maybe it's different in the USA. But up here in Canada, pastors simply don't talk about it. There's lots of room for serious Law preaching (and, I suppose, gentle teaching) about parenting.

    1. You've hit a serious weak spot of mine Michael. I feel, perhaps vainly and naively, that I know something about marriage from experience. I am blessed to have very happy, fulfilling marriage. But I do not think I am good at parenting despite having had very good parents or that I know much about it except that I wish I could do it all over again. It is one thing to recognize dirt bag dads for what they are, it is another to know how to "raise" children. Anyway, thanks for the note. The Law's wisdom tends to be neglected by us in most areas and there is definitely a need for all of it and plenty of room in our preaching for it. Certainly, if we consider the preaching of the early Church and Luther himself, we find that it is no way lacking or lite on moral teaching and instruction.

    2. I often fail as a father when I am trying to use my children as a way to make up for failures and weaknesses in my own life, when I try to get them to be and do all the stuff I didn't do and wish I had. This provokes children to anger.

      Instead, we are to raise them in the way he or she is to go--individually, uniquely. We help them. We direct them. We form them. We provide the environment for that. But we can't and shouldn't relive our lives through our children. And yet I see it time and time again.


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