lifted up

“Lifted up” – An example of word study in the Bible

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Some time back, I had a conversation with a friend. She told me that when Christians sing “God I lift you up,” they are actually singing “crucify Jesus” without realising it. Therefore, she held a suspicion towards using the expression “lifted up.” My lecturer also told me a story where one of her ex-lecturers would deem the song “Lord I lift Your Name up high” as theological inaccurate. I suspect that it is due to the same reason as well. I decided henceforth to launch my own investigation into the matter. This post will aim to study the Greek word that translates to “lifted up” and see what conclusion we can draw from there. 

The Occurrences of “Lifted Up” in the New Testament

The Greek word that gets translated as “lifted up” or “exalted” in the NT is the word “hypsoo.” In the Greek manuscript of the NT, this word occurs a total of 20 times in 16 verses. In the NIV translation, it translates to “exalted” in the following verses:

  • Matthew 23:12
  • Luke 14:11
  • Luke 18:14
  • Acts 2:33
  • Acts 5:31

It translates to “lifted up” or “lift” in the following verses:

  • Matthew 11:23
  • Luke 1:52
  • Luke 10:15
  • John 3:14
  • John 8:28
  • John 12:32
  • John 12:34
  • James 4:10
  • 1 Peter 5:6

But there are other words it translates to as well. In Acts 13:17, it gets translated as “prosper” and in 2 Cor 11:7, it is translated as “elevate.” 

One conclusion from this cursory survey is that one sense of this word can mean giving a high position. Practically, this is what most Christians are naturally inclined to do or sing. We lift the name of God up and give it a high position. Whether we demonstrate its logical conclusion in our lives is another issue altogether. But we, as a corporate body, do find it easy to give God’s name a high position. 

The issue of concern in “Lifted Up”

But word study requires context. When we do word study and bible study, we need to take note of two things. Firstly, we need to take note how each individual authors use the word. Secondly, we need to consider the context behind the usage of the word. This is where the concern comes in. 

Now, if we examine how each author uses the word “hypsoo” and the context behind the usage, we find that there is one book that stands out – the Gospel according to John. While the rest of the authors use this word in the simple sense of giving high position, John’s usage of “hypsoo” in his gospel is different. In this book, when the word “hypsoo” occurs, it is almost in reference to lifting up the Son of Man. A slightly more detailed probe will show that this refers to Jesus’ crucifixion. When Jesus said “lifted up” in the gospel of John, he is actually referring to His crucifixion on the cross. This is the case in all the 5 occurrences in 4 verses in John. 

What does this mean for us?

From the brief word study, I draw two conclusions.

Firstly, it is true that we should be careful when we say we lift up Jesus. We often sing or say Christian phrases with verses in mind but we do not always bear in mind the context. One example is when we sing the song “Nothing is Impossible” by Planetshakers. The words in the chorus reminds us of Phil 4:13 and Matthew 19:26. But the context of the verses and the intent of the song do not match. This is because the song writers probably took the verses out of context and try to write a song that is uplifting. Likewise, when we sing “let Jesus be lifted up,” we do good to remind ourselves which verses we have in mind. 

Secondly, how one author uses a word does not determine the biblical meaning of the word. It at best tells us how the word can be used. It is important therefore that we do not get too extreme over the meaning of words. We do not need to be so uptight over the usage of the word. A wise Christian would be mindful but not be overly skeptical. There is no need to tell people to be careful about “lifted up” just because you are doing an exegesis on James 4:10. It is unhelpful and tends to draw people on a wild goose chase. 

I hope this simple word study has demonstrated how we can determine the meaning of a word in the NT. More importantly, I will want to hear from you what other problem words you have encountered. It will be interesting for me to launch into another word study and find out more about that word. Share with me in the comments below. 

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