A Closer Examination at ‘Bearing the Cross’ in Matthew 10:38

Imitation of Christ is the practice of following the example of Jesus.

Apostle Paul refers to the imitation of Christ, as well as himself, and states:

1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NIV)
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Apostle Peter explains the duty of Christians to “follow his [Christ’s] steps”.

1 Peter 2:21 (NIV)
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

The term Life in Christ is sometimes used for the same concept as imitating Christ. Church teaching quotes Jesus as requiring imitation in some form, such as has been quoted in Matthew 10:38.

In following the example of Christ, Matthew 10:38 speaks of ‘Bearing the Cross”‘ as Christ had.

Matthew 10:38 New International Version (NIV)
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10:38 King James Version (KJV)
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

We are given these verses of Scripture from translations made in Old-Middle English in the 15th and 16th centuries from Latin versions written in the 4th century; from the original Greek scripts written in the time of Christ to usually around the 2nd century. The Testimony of Matthew was originally written in Koine Greek (Biblical Greek), which was a common language in the time and area of Jesus and His Disciples. These verse were translated into Latin in the 4th century by a single church council and established as “Canon”. The New Testament was translated from the Church’s established Latin version into every other language after that.

So to closer examine the verse and understand the meaning, we have to look at its original Greek form. The SGLGNT does a fairly close version of this.  In Greek, Matthew 10:38 reads as:

ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 10:38 (SBLGNT) GREEK
καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.

Let us translate the verse of Matthew 10:38, word for word from its original Greek wording, directly into Modern English and skip the Latin version given to us in the 4th century.

Definitions of each Greek word used in the verse of Matthew 10:38 into English.

καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος. 

καί • (kaí) Conjunction

and, even, also, both

ὅς • (hós) m, Pronoun

(in Homeric Greek, often demonstrative pronoun) this
(relative) who, which, that

οὐ • (ou) negative particle

not (indicates negation)

λαμβάνει • (lambanei) present active indicative

to take, seize, receive

τον • (ton) m. sg. definite article

accusative masculine singular of ο (o) “the”

σταυρὸν • (stauron) noun

originally meaning “upright stake” which in the New Testament names the device on which Jesus was executed.

αὐτοῦ • (autoû) adverb

here, there

καί • (kaí) Conjunction

and, even, also, both

ἀκολουθεῖ • (akoloutheó) verb

to follow, accompany

ὀπίσω • (opísō)

(of place) backwards
back, back again, by the same way one took, again
(with genitive) after
(of time) hereafter, following, yet to come

μου • (mou) possessive and weak personal pronoun

(personal, indirect object) me
(possessive) my

οὐκ • (ouk) negative particle

Alternative form of οὐ (ou), “not”

ἔστῐν • (éstin) verb

third-person singular present indicative active paroxytone of εἰμί (eimí) with movable nu meaning: to be, exist; (of persons) live

μου • (mou) possessive and weak personal pronoun

(personal, indirect object) me
(possessive) my

ᾰ̓́ξῐος • (áxios) m; first/second declension Adjective

counterbalancing, weighing as much as, of like value
worthy, fit

Taking our definitions of each Greek word used in the verse of Matthew 10:38,

(Greek) καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.

we get:

(Direct English) and those not taking the sacrifice here and follow after me not exist me worthy.

This differs significantly from the translations given to use from the 4th Century Church’s Latin.

(New International Version) Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

(King James Version) And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

With the up to date translation as:

(Direct English) and those not taking the sacrifice here and follow after me not exist me worthy.

I don’t believe this verse is about having strength and patience as is usually taught. Although teaching one to ‘bear the cross’ of one’s burdens is still sound teaching, I believe the verse had another meaning intended.

I believe this verse is talking about Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice to cleanse our sins. As discussed in the method and device used in Jesus’ execution <here>, He is metaphorically referring to how He will be crucified in much the same manner as a lamb is skewered to be cooked and offered as a sacrifice.

He is saying those who do not take this sacrifice (offering himself in their place) and follow me are not worthy of me.

This follows the context of the rest of the passage, before and after the verse in Matthew 10.
For example, in verse 33:

Matthew 10:33 (NIV)
But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

The rest of the verse speaks of accepting and following Him above all others, no matter who turns against you and no matter the situation.

In Matthew 10:38

(Greek) καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.

we get:

(Direct English) and those not taking the sacrifice here and follow after me not exist me worthy.

(Modern English) and those who do not accept my sacrifice and follow me are not worthy of me.

He’s saying in this verse and the connected verses: don’t forsake Him and make His sacrifice in vain.

~


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