With This Ring (part2): The Holy Spirit as our “Arrabon”

(What did Paul mean when he referred to the Holy Spirit as our Arrabon ? Does the term arrabon have any special insight to offer as to the Father’s intentions regarding the Church?  In part two we go a little further in our attempts to gain new perspective into the wonderful gift God has give us.)

“The word arrabon has one of the most human and interesting backgrounds of all NT words.”[1]

The word is very common in the papyri in business documents and agreements  Milligan quotes some very interesting usages of it. We take three of them as    examples. A woman selling a cow and she received one thousand drachmae as an arrabon that the remainder of the price would be paid. Certain dancing girls were being hired for a village festival and they are paid so many drachmae in advance  as an arrabon, with proviso that this already paid sum will be taken into account when the final payment is made after the performance has been given. And-a rather amusing instance-a man writes, ‘Regarding Lampon, the mouse catcher, I  paid him for you as arrabon eight drachmae in order that he may catch the mice  while they are with young.’[2]

A tablet was found at Pech-Maho, a fortified trading post occupied from sixth century BC to the third century BC, and is “particularly revealing, because it involves an agreement between people of different origins, as is clear from the names. Witnesses are invoked and an arrabon is given as a pledge. ‘The pledge [arrabon] I handed over where the boats are moored…Basigerros and Bleruas and Golo.biur and Sedegon; these were [witnesses] when I handed over the pledge.’”[3]  Parchments [shopkeeper’s accounts] dug up in the sands of Egypt revealed that arrabon was the word used “for cash on deposit, a pledge for a bill that you would pay at the end.”[4]  The populace of the first century would have been well acquainted with the term arrabon.

  In the first century – an arrabon – αρραβων – bound someone legally to the  complete purchase…  Now the New Testament was written in the common,  ordinary language of the people of that era – in what is known as Koine-Greek.  “Koine” is a term that means “common.” So the term “Koine-Greek” means “Common Greek” indicating it was the commonly used Greek language… Now although arrabon was only used three times in the New Testament, it was a  common word used daily in the lives of everyone living in the New Testament   era.[5]

and again,

In the last seventy-five years through the discovery and examination of countless“ordinary” documents of the time of Christ, we have been able to recapture   something of the language of the day: in bills and receipts, deeds and grocerylists, in letters from traveling fathers, anxious mothers, and prodigal sons. Let us look at just one example. The idea of buying on the installment plan, with a small  initial down payment, is nothing new. Contracts and bills of sale from the first century record such transactions and specify the down-payment which seals andbinds the contract; the word used for this initial payment is “arrabon,” the very  word…[6]

It is worth noting that although one may be tempted to make comparisons between arrabon and terms used in modern society, such as “down payment”, there really is no justification for the comparison. In today’s down payment arrangement, one may decide to forfeit on the desired purchase; on the other hand, an arrabon was/is legally binding. There really is no adequate English terminology that fully captures the significance of arrabon.[7]

    Arrabon, its etymology and employment within the vernacular of the first century has been adequately considered, but it should be noted, at this point, that the term is also still used in today’s modern Grecian culture and this is of particular interest to this writer in that its contemporary usage, while definitely retaining the aspect of something given at the present in assurance of future consummation, possesses a distinctively intimate quality as well. The arrabon of modern Greece has to do with the engagement period prior to an actual wedding.

Among the Greeks, the arravon [arrabon] is the betrothal period, and is itself a formal ceremony. It takes place among the relatives of the contracting parties, and is looked upon almost as binding as the actual wedding itself.[8]  “If we went to Greece today and met an engaged lady and asked to see her arrabon, she would put out her hand with an engagement ring on it.  In modern Greek, that is what the word means.”[9] In the opinion of this writer, it would be redundant to cite the many references available as to the present day usage of arrabon. Scholars such as John MacArthur[10] and Michael Green[11] all attest to the fact that arrabon is the term used today, among modern Greeks, when referring to wedding engagement. It is this aspect of arrabon that prompted this writer to choose the title he selected for the writing at hand. The idea that by giving the Spirit as an arrabon, the eternal Lord and master of all creation has, in effect, said to his beloved, the church, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

To be continued…

7. William Barklay, New Testament Words, (Louisville, Kentucky, John Knox Press, 2000), 58.

8. Ibid., 58, 59.

 9. William Allen Johnson and Holt N. Parker, Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2009), 26.

 10. Lesslie Newbigin and Paul Weston, Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary Theologian: A Reader, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 138.

11. Richard Coombes, “Biblical Vocabulary Term: Arrabon,” Alpha Omega Report (2009) http://aoreport.com/ao/biblical-studies-mainmenu-68/1265-biblical-vocabulary-term-arrabon, (accessed March 21, 2011).

  12. Joel Frank, “The Use of Modern Translations and Their Effect in replacing The King James Version,” wlessays.net (1971) www.wlsessays.net/files/FrankModern.rtf, (accessed March 21, 2011).

  13. Richard Coombes, “Biblical Vocabulary Term: Arrabon,” Alpha Omega Report (2009) http://aoreport.com/ao/biblical-studies-mainmenu-68/1265-biblical-vocabulary-term-arrabon, (accessed March 21, 2011).

14. Lucy M. Garnett, “The Christian Women of Turkey,” Womanhood Vol.3 (December, 1899-May 1900): 340.

 15. David Eckman, “Life Solutions Series on God The Trinity: God The Holy Spirit,” BWGI Ministries (2005) http://www.whatgodintended.com/content/god-spirit.asp, (accessed March 23, 2011).

 16. John MacArthur, Galatians: New Testament Commentary (Chicago, Il.: Moody Publishers, 1987), 66.

17. Michael Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 101.


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