In his second letter to his protege Timothy, Paul urges him to embrace God’s calling vigorously, despite opposition and difficulty. In 2 Timothy 1:3-14 Paul shares his longing to see Timothy. His feelings for his friend have their root in their mutual commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul firmly believes in Timothy’s faith commitment. The purpose for his letter then emerges. He wants Timothy to “fan into flame (anazōpurein) the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (1:6 NIV). This the only occurrence of this verb anazōpurein in the New Testament.
Discussion has ensued as to whether Paul in using this verb thinks that Timothy has lessened in his commitment to this mission or whether Timothy, already doing good work, is being encouraged to do even greater exploits for Christ. Do prior uses of this verb outside of the New Testament give us any leverage for deciding between these two options?
This compound verb is formed from zōpurein, “to kindle into flame,” a verb which is used literally and figuratively. An example of literal usage is found in Philo De Aeternitate Mundi 86 where Philo describes the nature of fire, noting that it can be held within a coal, apparently extinguished and dead (teleutai), but from this coal it can “be kindled (zōpuroumenē) into a blaze.” In the Greek Old Testament this verb describes the act of Elisha to “spark to life (ezōpurēsen)” the son of the widow woman (2 Kings 8:1; cf. 2 Kings 8:5). The writer uses the verb in a metaphorical application describing the return of life to a corpse. Other metaphorical uses abound. For example, in Aeschylus’ play Seven Against Thebes (290) the chorous voices that “anxieties border upon my heart and kindle (zōpurousi ) my fear….” In Euripides’ play Electra (1121) Clytemnestra wonders whether Electra is “rekindling (zōpureis) new quarrels….” In his essay entitled De Legatione Philo describes how the emperor Gaius rescinded his order to erect a statute of himself in the temple at Jerusalem, but then “resuscitated (zōpurōn) his desire” (337) and was in process of reversing his decision when he suddenly died.
The simple form zōpurein seems to suggest the recovery of something that has died, fallen into disuse, or some initiative set aside. What became dead or no longer active is enlivened or enabled in some way.
In compound forms the prepositional prefix “ana” can signify “again” (i.e. anapnein “breath again”) (Smyth, Greek Grammar, p.373). So if zōpurein means “kindle into flame,” then adding the prefix “ana” would emphasize “kindling into flame again, rekindling.” Something was in flames previously and died down, but it has been “rekindled” into flame. This verb occurs in fifth century B.C. writers such as Xenophon. In his writing Hellenica 5.4.46 he describes how “the spirits of the Thebans were kindled again (anezōpureito)” in their battle with the Thespiae. Plato in his Republic 527d-e discusses what the curriculum should include in this schools of his utopia and he proposes that astronomy should be taught because “there is in every soul an organ or instrument of knowledge that is purified and kindled afresh (anezōpureitai) by such studies when it has been destroyed and blinded by our ordinary pursuits, a faculty whose preservation outweighs ten thousand eyes….” In both cases the idea is of some motivation or ability that already has been present but for some reason has lapsed. Now in various ways this motivation or ability is being “kindled afresh.”
The Greek translation of the Old Testament (c. 280 B.C.E.) provides us with an interesting example in Genesis 45:27. When Joseph’s brothers return from Egypt with supplies of food and report to Jacob that his son Joseph is alive and well, the text reports that “the spirit of their father Iakob was rekindled (anezōpurēsen)” (an intransitive usage). The other occurrence is in 2 Maccabees 13.7. The people of Judea are alarmed because Trypho is launching a military campaign against them. Simon comes to Jerusalem to encourage them and through his efforts “the spirit of the people was rekindled (anezōpurēsen) as they heard these words….” In both of these contexts the verb describes how morale, which has lapsed, is reasserted.
In the first century B.C.E. Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote his Antiquitates Romanae and in section 8.87.4 he describes how Roman tribunes in a certain time of war “did not regard it as a suitable time, when a foreign war had arisen, to fan (anazōpurein) domestic hatreds into flame again;…” Josephus writing a decade or two after Paul writes this letter to Timothy reports in Bellum 1.444 how Herod, after executing Mariamme, felt remorse and “his wrath subsided, his love revived (palin anezōpureito).” He also used the verb to describe the restoration of Jeroboam’s arm to full usage (Antiquitates 8.234 anazōpurēsai). Finally in his retelling of Esther’s appearance before the king and the terror that had seized her, when the king grants her permission to address him, “through these acts she revived (anazōpurēsasa) and said….”(Antiquitates 11.240).
Marshall in his commentary entitled The Pastoral Epistles (ICC 1999), 696 argues that anazōpurein “is perfectivising…giving the sense ‘to fan fully into flame’.” He bases his conclusions about comments made by Moulton in A Grammar of the New Testament Greek, Vol. 1 Prolegomena (1906), 111ff. about the possible effects of prepositional prefixes attached to certain verbs. Marshall may be correct, but it is interesting that among the parallel passages that I have noted the meaning of the compound verb seems be “rekindle,” without any specific attention to the degree to which a feeling or life or activity is revivified. There is no doubt among the examples of use external to the New Testament that the particular element had already been in existence, but for some reason had lapsed or faded, until some intervention “rekindles” it once again. When we apply these findings to Paul’s use in 2 Timothy 1:6 it seems that he is urging Timothy to “rekindle the Spirit’s gift” which previously he had received, but which in Paul’s perspective no longer was evident to the same degree. Thus his encouragement to Timothy to “rekindle” it once again so that he can complete his assignment among the Ephesian church. The present infinitive form may communicate a durative aspect.