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On the word nomos

Author Stephen Pidgeon - Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM

 

We begin with a review of the word nomos (νομος).  In reliance on Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon, we see that the word, being derived from the primary word nemo, has a meaning more than as it has been construed in the writings.  This word nemo has to do with the practices governing agriculture, especially the practices of dispensing food to animals and the regulation of their grazing.

The regulation governing the practices of feeding animals is not something set forth in scripture, but rather is something established by custom among a given nation or tribe. So, the understanding of the word nomos means something other than what we have come to expect.

Thayer’s tells us that in the first instance, this word nomos means essentially a practice established by usage or custom. This understanding is consistent with its more limited root which discusses the practice of feeding animals established by usage or custom.  This is the primary meaning of the word nomos, although it is also used on occasion to refer to the Mosaic law, or other laws, customs and practices, including the customs governing marriages, the ceremonial law, the moral law, and ethics.

Let’s take a sidebar here to discuss the difference between morals and ethics.  Morals are the practices of a given people – it is what people do by custom and usage.  There is no ethical aspect to the execution of morality; one merely does what one is customary, because it is customary, and the practice of the customs in accord with the customs is moral.

Ethics are another issue. Consider the two-letter Hebrew root eth (את). As has been discussed before, this word eth has a significant meaning: the aleph-tav; the beginning and the end; the aleph – the spiritual head; the tav – the mark of salvation. That which is consistent with the eth (את) is ethical.  That which isn’t, is antithetical. In Hebrew, this would be the word (צֶדֶק) tsedeq (Strong's 6664).

Integrity is the practice of acting in accord with your underlying ethos; i.e., acting ethically.  A person who acts in accord with scriptural righteousness is called (צַדִּיק) tsadiq (Strong's 6662).

The word nomos however, is more in accord with the idea of acting morally – consistent with the mores of the given culture, the practices established by usage or custom. There are exceptions, where a single statute (mishpath) may be discussed, or where the Mosaic law may be referenced.  However, in general, the usage refers to the customs and practices common to the house of Yahudah at the time of Sha’ul (Paul).

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