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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. Linguistic usage

(1) The English word ‘lust.’ -The word ‘lust,’ which, is modern English, is restricted to sexual desire, had originally a wider application and could be used de neutro and de bono as well as de malo of desire in general, and, as Trench says, was ‘once harmless enough’ ( NT Synonyms 8, 1876, p. 313). The German Lust is still used in this wide sense.

There is no instance in the NT where the English word ‘lust’ is used de bono in the Authorized Versionunless we supply the word in  Galatians 5:17 -‘the flesh lusteth (ἐπιθυμεῖ) against the Spirit and the Spirit (lusteth) against the flesh.’ The verb is absent in the Greek as in the English. Lightfoot (on  Galatians 5:17) thinks that ἐπιθυμεῖ cannot be supplied, as it would be unsuitable to describe the activity of the Spirit by this term. But Rendall is probably right in saying that the word ἐπιθυμεῖ here is neutral and equally applicable to the good desires of the Spirit and the evil lusts of the flesh ( Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Galatians,’ 1903, in loc. ). The English word ‘lust,’ however, is scarcely neutral in the Authorized Version, and yet, because there is no possibility of misunderstanding, no other verb is supplied to describe the action of the Spirit. Even the Revised Versionhas not supplied a different verb in the second clause. This is not to say that the Revisers would consider ‘lust’ a fit word to describe the working of the Spirit.

It is true also that the passage in  James 4:5 -‘the Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy’-is now generally understood of the Indwelling Spirit of God, but it was not so understood by the Authorized Versiontranslators. To them it was the evil, envious spirit of man. The Greek verb used here is ἐπιποθεῖν, which is frequently used in the NT, and always in a good sense. St. Paul uses it of his great longing to see his converts ( 1 Thessalonians 3:6,  2 Corinthians 7:7;  2 Corinthians 7:11,  2 Timothy 1:4,  Philippians 1:8; cf. also  Romans 1:11;  Romans 15:23). They are to him ἐπιπόθητοι. It expresses the longing of Epaphroditus for the Philippians, and of the Judaea n Christians for the Corinthians who had liberally helped them. St. Paul uses it also to express his longing for heaven ( 2 Corinthians 5:2), and St. Peter exhorts his readers to ‘desire’ the sincere (?) milk of the word ( 1 Peter 2:2). The Septuagintuses it of the soul’s longing for God ( Psalms 41:2 [English Version Psalms 42:2]). Analogy would thus lead us to suppose that St. James used the word in a good sense. The quotation in which the word occurs cannot be located in the OT with certainty (cf.  1 Corinthians 2:9,  Ephesians 5:14); otherwise the sense of the word would be beyond dispute. Some suppose that St. James is here quoting St. Paul ( 1 Corinthians 3:16,  Galatians 5:17). The most likely meaning of the passage is: ‘The Spirit which he caused to dwell in us yearneth (for us) unto jealousy.’ The Spirit of God has such a longing desire to possess the whole Christian personality that its passion may well be called holy jealousy. If this be the meaning, the rendering ‘lust’ is erroneous. The Revised Versionis not decided on the interpretation, and has substituted ‘long’ for ‘lust.’ Revised Version margin is probably correct.

There is no passage, then, in the NT where the English word ‘lust’ is used de bono .

(2) The Greek word ἐπιθυμεῖν and its cognatcs .-( a ) The Greek word ἐπιθυμεῖν with its cognates, although as a rule used de malo , is not always so used. It occasionally takes the place of ἐπιποθεῖν ( 1 Thessalonians 2:17,  Philippians 1:23,  1 Timothy 3:1,  Hebrews 6:11), which seems always to be used in a good sense. It is used of the desires of the prophets to see the deeds of the Messianic Age ( Matthew 13:17; cf. also  Luke 17:22), of the desire of Lazarus to eat of the crumbs falling from the rich man’s table (cf.  Luke 16:21;  Luke 15:16; perhaps the desire for food or drink or the sexual desire is the ordinary meaning of the word). It is used by the Saviour to express His desire to eat the Paschal feast with His disciples ( Luke 22:15), by St. Paul of the desire for the office of a bishop ( 1 Timothy 3:1), by St. Peter of the holy desires of the angels ( 1 Peter 1:12), and, in the substantive form, St. Paul uses it of his desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better ( Philippians 1:23), and of his longing to see his Thessalonian converts ( 1 Thessalonians 2:17). The Septuagintalso uses it in a good sense ( Psalms 102:5 [English Version Psalms 103:5],  Proverbs 10:24). In all these cases we have ἐπιθυμεῖν translated by the word ‘desire.’ The word ἐπιθυμεῖν in the Gr. NT is thus much wider than the word ‘lust’ in the Eng. NT, and even ‘lust’ itself in the Authorized Versionis not to be restricted to ‘sexual desire’ but is used of unlawful desire in general, the context determining its specific application.

We find the same large use of the word ἐπιθυμία in Plato. Generally with him it means ‘appetite’ in the narrow sense-the motive element in the lowest part of man-yet he uses it also of the other higher departments of the personality. Even the rational soul has its high and lofty desires ( Rep. , bks. iv. and ix.).

( b ) When the word is used without an object it generally refers to evil longings (cf.  Romans 7:7;  Romans 13:9 [from  Exodus 20:14],  James 4:2,  1 Corinthians 10:6), not, however, in the restricted usage of sexual lust. The moral colouring is as a rule supplied by the context, either by the mention of the object desired, as in  Mark 4:19,  1 Corinthians 10:6, which is the ordinary classical usage, or by the mention of the source of the desire (commonly in the NT) or by a descriptive epithet ( Colossians 3:5). This transference of moral colouring from the object desired to the subject desiring is significant. It is in harmony with the NT moral standpoint. Here the stress is laid on the inwardness of morality, and the object of moral judgment is the character (καρδία), rather than bare outward actions, or the consequences of actions. In the NT the desire is morally judged according to its origin, i.e. the originative personality as a whole is dealt with rather than the desire per se . The NT is thus more concerned with change of character than with the reformation by parts of the individual.

‘Scripture and reason alike require that we should turn entirely to God, that we should obey the whole law. And hard as this may seem at first, there is a witness within us which pleads that it is possible.… “Easier to change many things than one,” is the common saying. Easier, we may add, in religion and morality to change the whole than the part.… Many a person will tease himself by counting minutes and providing small rules for his life who would have found the task an easier and a nobler one had he viewed it in its whole extent and gone to God in a “large and liberal” spirit to offer up his life to Him’ (B. Jowett, Interpretation of Scripture and other Essays , London, n.d., p. 321).

The NT, however, does not hesitate to pass judgment on desires per se and on their consequences. We find such expressions as ‘the corruption that is in the world through lust’ spoken of ( 2 Peter 1:4)-where corruption is the consequence of evil desire. We find the phrase ‘polluting desires’ ( 2 Peter 2:10). We find pleasures (ἡδοναί) regarded as a turbulence of the soul ( James 4:1), as if desires destroyed the balance of the soul (cf.  1 Timothy 6:9,  1 Peter 2:11,  Romans 7:23). The NT has no meticulous fear in passing judgment on evil desires and on their consequences. It does not take up the immaculate, fastidious attitude of ‘virtue for virtue’s sake,’ but its point of view is the whole personality, and on this is moral judgment for good or evil passed.

( c ) Thrice in the NT we find the word ἐπιθυμία translated by ‘concupiscence.’ This term is a dogmatic one, which has played a large part in theological controversy. It means the natural inclinations of man before these have passed into overt acts. It is different from consilium , which is the ‘deliberata assentio voluntatis’ (so Calvin, Institutes , bk. ii. ch. viii. 49). Two questions of importance arise in connexion with this concupiscence; (i.) What is its origin and nature? and (ii.) What is its relation to responsibility and redemption? The Pelagian theologian tends to identify it with man’s nature as appetitive and in itself morally neutral. What makes the moral difference is the exercise of the will, and the will is free. It may be that there is weakness in man due to the removal of ‘original righteousness’ which Adam had before he sinned, but this removal does not impair human nature and it does not make virtue impossible. To this class of theologians free-will is the important matter. Sin is only conscious sinful actions. This is, generally speaking, the position of Abelard, Arminius, and the Tridentine Council. To Augustine and the Reformers, however, this concupiscence was prior to the individual’s evil volition and in a sense caused it. Free-will was not sufficient to cope with it. The redemption of man was a radical affair, cleansing the whole personality, the will included. Concupiscence is not simply a defectus (morally indifferent) but an affectus of the soul resulting in a positive nisus towards sin in man’s nature. The soul as a whole is deflected from its true centre-God. As regards responsibility for concupiscence, this school distinctly teaches it while the other side denies it. The Reformers did not regard ‘desire’ viewed as a part of man’s ideal nature as ‘evil’; but, as a matter of fact, in actual experience the desires are found to be evil.

‘All the desires of men we teach to be evil, … not in so far as they are natural, but because they are inordinate, and they are inordinate because they flow from a corrupt nature’ (Calvin, Institutes , bk. iii. ch. iii. 12).

During the Middle Ages and in Aquinas concupiscence was identified with man’s sensuous nature. The difference between flesh and spirit was physical. So concupiscence was supremely manifested in the lusts of the flesh interpreted in a sensual fashion.

The NT does not directly deal with these aspects of desire, but its spirit is more in harmony with the deeper analysis of Augustine. As regards responsibility and redemption in relation to concupiscence the Augustinian position is the Pauline. The word ‘concupiscence’ has been omitted altogether by the Revised Version. In  Romans 7:8 ἐπιθυμία is translated ‘coveting.’ It means illicit inclinations to follow one’s own will as against God’s law. With the arrival of self-consciousness there is already found in the personality the strong bias to sin which comes to light as man is brought face to face with law. Sin is regarded in a semi-personal fashion as receiving a basis of operation in this bias. The word ἐπιθυμία is thus well translated ‘concupiscence’ in the theological sense of the term. In  Colossians 3:5 the English ‘desire’ is sufficient to express the thought, because it is as vague as the original.

( d ) In  1 Thessalonians 4:5 the word ἐπιθυμία is used, as the context shows, of ‘sexual lust.’ The use of the term in  Judges 1:18 approximates to this but seems to be wider. The same letter ( Judges 1:18) ascribes it to impiety. The passage  1 Peter 2:11 approximates closely to this meaning. In  2 Peter 2:18 it means ‘lust’ in our restricted sense. It is equated with σάρκος ἀσελγείαις. See also Apostol. Church Order (ed. Schaff, The Oldest Church Manual , 1885, p. 242), where it is said that ἐπιθυμία leads to fornication.

ἐπιθυμία, then, when used de malo of illicit desires is not wholly restricted to sexual depravity (exc. in  1 Thessalonians 4:5 and  2 Peter 2:18; cf.  Judges 1:16), although that is included, and owing to its obtrusiveness could not fail to be included. It means ‘the whole world of active lusts and desires’ (Trench, NT Syn. 8, p. 312).

(3) Other Greek words .-( a ) The Greek word πάθος is also translated ‘lust’ in  1 Thessalonians 4:5, and ἐπιθυμία is subordinated to it as species to genus. This is the usage of Aristotle, who regards ‘lust,’ anger, fear, etc., as species of πάθος. It is usually maintained that the difference between the two is that πάθος refers to evil on its passive and ἐπιθυία on its more active side. It is impossible, however, to prove this distinction from the NT, although in  Galatians 5:24, where παθήματα and ἐπιθυμίαι are found side by side, this distinction makes excellent sense. The words are used in a loose popular sense and not as the exact terminology of an ethical system.

( b ) The same is true of the ἡδοναί ( James 4:1), which in translated ‘lusts.’ It refers pleasures in general; though sexual pleasures are included, and perhaps form the chief element, eating and drinking would also he meant. ‘A11 men are by nature weak and inclined to pleasures,’ and so injustice and avarice follow (Swete, Introduction to OT in Greek , 1900, p. 567).

( c ) Similarly ὄρεξις ( Romans 1:27)-a word used sometimes in classical writers of the highest desires-is used by St. Paul of the unnatural sexual lust of heathenism (see Trench, NT Syn. 8, p. 314).

2. Genesis, growth and goal of lust

(1) Genesis of lust .-We do not find any attempt to deal psychologically with this problem. What we find is various suggestions and incidental allusions. In  John 8:44 the lusts of murder and deceit are traced back to the devil . The idea is the Jewish one that the devil tempted Cain to murder his brother Abel, and that the serpent deceived Eve (cf.  1 John 3:8 ff.). This view that the devil is the originator of lust took various forms in Jewish thought ( Sirach 25:23 ff.,  2 Esdras 4:30;  2 Esdras 8:35), and there are echoes of these in the NT. St. Paul ( 1 Corinthians 11:10) seems to regard the wicked angels as moved to sensual lust by unveiled women. The existence of an evil tendency ( yezer hara ) in human nature was a problem for Judaism. Sometimes it was simply referred to the fall of Adam ( Wisdom of Solomon 2:23 ff.; cf.  Romans 5:12 ff.,  1 Corinthians 15:21 ff.), sometimes it was ascribed to the devil, and sometimes to God. The last view is not found in the NT except to be refuted ( James 1:13-17). The good tendency ( yezer hatob ) was without difficulty ascribed to God, but the evil tendency could not be so treated. St. Paul ( Romans 7:15-24) simply states these two tendencies and connects the evil with the fall of Adam. Yet there is nothing to encourage the view that man is not responsible. In truth, where St. John mentions the devil ( 1 John 3:8) as the originator of evil desires, he is opposing the Gnostic view that the ‘spiritual’ man is not responsible for sensual sins. Yet it is certain that the problem of evil is not solved on NT principles by any atomistic view of human personality, and that the redemption of Christ has its cosmic as well as its personal aspects. St. Paul’s teaching in  Romans 7:15-24 was open to misunderstanding, but in principle it is the very opposite of libertinism.

Again, the origin of lust is ascribed to the cosmos ( 1 John 2:15-17). It is whatever is opposed to the will of God. So in  Titus 2:12 we read of ‘worldly lusts’ (cf.  2 Peter 1:4). The world is the ‘lust of the flesh,’ the ‘lust of the eyes,’ and the ‘pride of life.’ It is the kingdom of evil as organized in customs and tendencies in human society and human hearts, including also evil spirits. It is found in man as the desires of the ‘flesh and mind’ ( Ephesians 2:3), and specifically called the lusts of men ( 1 Peter 4:2). It might appear as if this ascription of lust to the ‘world’ destroyed personal responsibility, but such is never the case. The law of God recognized by man as good, i.e. as the law of his own conscience ( Romans 7:7 ff.), is against such lust, and the Christian command is to love God and do His will. The fact of responsibility is not proportional to ability in the NT, and so redemption is always regarded as primarily of grace.

Similarly, and characteristically, the origin of lust is ascribed to the flesh, i.e. the sinful personality as apart from God. The ‘lusts of the flesh’ mean much more than sensuality. ‘It was not the corruptible flesh that made the soul sinful, but the sinful soul that made the flesh corrupt’ (Aug., de Civ. Dei , xiv. 2, 3). It is true that the body (σῶμα) with its desires ( Romans 6:12) was a sort of armoury where sin got its weapons, but the body as such is not the originative seat of evil; otherwise St. Paul’s view of the Resurrection would be meaningless. Platonism looked on the body as the tomb of the soul and as pressing down the soul (cf.  1 Corinthians 9:27), but Rothe is scarcely warranted in making the sensuous nature the primary root of evil ( Theol. Ethik 2, 1870, ii, 181-7).

Again, the heart is viewed as the origin of evil desires ( Romans 1:24; cf.  Sirach 5:2). This centres the origin in man’s personality as a whole, not in any one part of the personality. But it is the personality apart from God. So we read in Jude not only ‘their own desires,’ but also ( Judges 1:18) ‘their own desires of impieties,’ i.e. evil desires originating in their impious state. A similar thought is found in  Romans 1:26 ff. (cf.  Titus 2:12). Evil tendencies develop pari passi , with God’s judicial withdrawal.

It might thus appear that those who make selfishness (φιλαυτία) the root of sinful desires are nearest the truth, Philo does so and Plato. ‘The truth is that the cause of all sins in every person and every instance is excessive self-love’ ( Laws , v. 731); but in the NT the ‘self’ is not an entity that can be understood apart from the redemption of Christ, and the Christian personality is so complex that we cannot safely limit to any single strand the origin of sin. What the NT is concerned with is not the origin-an insoluble problem-but the abolition of evil desires. Man himself is the moral origin, and the great question is how to redeem sinful man. In other words, those questions are discussed not from the point of view or genetic psychology but from the point of view of redemption.

(2) Growth and goal of lust .-St. James gives a graphic picture of how ἐπιθυμία develops. She is pictured as a harlot enticing man. Like the fisherman she baits her hook, and traps her prey as the hunter does. Then sin is produced, and sin completed brings forth death. It is clearly stated that ‘lust’ is not of God. It is man’s own, and the inference is that man can resist it. There is no mention of God’s grace in the specific Christian sense, although in  Judges 1:18 we seem to have this strongly emphasized. Perhaps the writer loosely holds both the Jewish notion of free-will as itself sufficient to resist desire, and the Christian sense of God’s grace. It is possible to restrict the whole passage ( James 1:15-17) to sexual lust, but the wider sense is probable.

Clement of Rome ( Ep. ad Cor. 3.) gives a long list of evil desires leading to death, but to him strife and envy are characteristically causative of this result, as in the case of Cain (iv.). In the Apostol. Church Order (ed. Schaff, p. 242), lust is pictured as a female demon. It leads to fornication, and it darkens the soul so that it cannot see the truth clearly (cf.  Romans 1:26 ff.).

St. Peter associates lust with ignorance ( 1 Peter 1:14) and St. Paul with deceit, the opposite of ‘truth’ ( Ephesians 4:22). Since the time of Plato desire has been regarded by philosophers as aiming at a good (true or false). The end is always viewed sub specie boni . This is an aspect which the NT does not emphasize. But it does say that evil desires leave the soul unsatisfied and produce disorder ( James 4:2). It is possible to be always seeking some new thing and never coming to the knowledge of the truth ( 2 Timothy 3:6 ff.). Knowledge alone is not sufficient, however, for St. Paul regards the law as both revealing desire and intensifying it ( Romans 7:7). Redemption is necessary to cope with evil desires.

The desiring of evil things St. Paul regards as the moral ground of all sinful acts (1 Corinthians 10)-of sensuality both as fornication and idolatry-of unbelief in its varied forms. This desiring does not work in vacuo  ; it is active in an atmosphere already tainted with idolatry, sensuality, and devilry ( 1 Corinthians 10:15 ff.,  1 Thessalonians 3:5,  Ephesians 6:10 ff.). God allows this testing of men, but He also affords a way of escape from it, so that men with this hope can bear up under temptations. The consequence of following one’s own lust is regarded both subjectively and objectively. It produces corruption of the personality, ending in complete φθόρα ( Ephesians 4:22; cf.  2 Peter 1:4, where φθόρα is said to be the fruit of lust), whereas the will of God leads to righteousness and holiness. The man who sets his heart on riches falls into many foolish and hurtful desires, and these bring him to the depth of destruction (ὄλεθρος and ἀπώλεια are the inevitable consequences). Lust is also said to pollute the soul ( 2 Peter 2:10). Besides this, lust brings one face to face with God’s destructive anger against sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 10 and  Deuteronomy 32:28 ff.).

It is not possible, however, from the NT to arrange in psychological order the stages in the development of lust. The progress is as varied as life itself. Catalogues of sins are given because these sins are closely connected in actual experience, and in experience the cause is often the effect and the effect the cause.

St. John ( 1 John 2:15-17) is not to be taken as making the ‘lust of the flesh’ the origin of the ‘lust of the eyes’ and of the ‘pride of possession,’ nor are these a complete summary of sin. They are comprehensive and characteristic, but not necessarily exhaustive. The genitives in this passage are of course subjective, i.e. ‘the lust springing from the flesh,’ etc. Here again the ‘flesh’ is the origin of evil desire-not the body as such, but the sinful personality (Law [ Tests of Life 3, 1914, p. 149] explains ‘flesh’ otherwise here, but the very fact that the ‘flesh’ is regarded as causing desire is against him). To St. John also the issue of sinful desire is destruction, as it is contrary to the abiding will of God.

To the NT, then, evil desires contaminate, corrupt, and destroy the soul itself and bring upon it God’s punishment. These desires, however, are already proofs of a personality out of order, and to set the desires right the personality must be set right. This is done by the new gracious creation of God through His mercy which operates through Christ. Thus man is made God’s ποίημα by the Spirit. To walk in the Spirit is the privilege of the new creature ( Ephesians 2:3 ff.), and in this way he can overcome the desires of the ‘flesh’ ( Romans 13:14), and learn to do the will of God.

Literature.-See Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer, under the various Greek words translated ‘Lust’; H. Cremer, Bib.-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek , 1872, pp. 273-278. For the general teaching see C. Clemen, Christl. Lehre von der Sünde , Göttingen, 1897; J. Müller, Chris. Doct. of Sin , Eng. translation, 1877-85, i. 157. For the Jewish Yezer Hara see F. C. Porter in Bib. and Sem. Studies , New York, 1901; W. O. E. Oesterley, in Expositor’s Greek Testament  : ‘St. James,’ 1910, pp. 408-413. For Concupiscence see I. A. Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine , Eng. translation, 1880-82, Index, s.v. ‘Concupiscentia.’ See also Literature under articleFlesh. The various Commentaries are indispensable: Mayor (3:1910) and Carr (Camb. Gr. Test, 1896) on St. James in relevant places, and Plummer on St. John (Camb. Gr. Test., 1886), pp. 154-156. See further articles ‘Lust’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and ‘Desire’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels .

Donald Mackenzie.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [2]

A — 1: Ἐπιθυμία (Strong'S #1939 — Noun Feminine — epithumia — ep-ee-thoo-mee'-ah )

denotes "strong desire" of any kind, the various kinds being frequently specified by some adjective (see below). The word is used of a good desire only in  Luke 22:15;  Philippians 1:23;  1—Thessalonians 2:17 . Everywhere else it has a bad sense. In  Romans 6:12 the injunction against letting sin reign in our mortal body to obey the "lust" thereof, refers to those evil desires which are ready to express themselves in bodily activity. They are equally the "lusts" of the flesh,   Romans 13:14;  Galatians 5:16,24;  Ephesians 2:3;  2—Peter 2:18;  1—John 2:16 , a phrase which describes the emotions of the soul, the natural tendency towards things evil. Such "lusts" are not necessarily base and immoral, they may be refined in character, but are evil if inconsistent with the will of God.

 Ephesians 2:3 Colossians 3:5 1—Thessalonians 4:5 1—Timothy 6:9 2—Timothy 2:22 2—Timothy 3:6 Titus 3:3 2—Timothy 4:3 2—Peter 3:3 Jude 1:16 Titus 2:12 James 1:14 1—Peter 1:14 1—Peter 2:11 1—Peter 4:2 2—Peter 2:10 1—John 2:16 1—John 2:17 Jude 1:18 Revelation 18:14Desire

A — 2: Ὄρεξις (Strong'S #3715 — Noun Feminine — orexis — or'-ex-is )

lit., "a reaching" or "stretching after" (akin to oregomai, "to stretch oneself out, reach after"), a general term for every kind of desire, is used in  Romans 1:27 , "lust."

A — 3: Ἡδονή (Strong'S #2237 — Noun Feminine — hedone — hay-don-ay' )

"pleasure," is translated "lusts," in the AV of  James 4:1,3 (RV, "pleasure"). See Pleasure.

 1—Thessalonians 4:5 1—Corinthians 12:6

B — 1: Ἐπιθυμέω (Strong'S #1937 — Verb — epithumeo — ep-ee-thoo-meh'-o )

akin to A, No. 1, has the same twofold meaning as the noun, namely (a) "to desire," used of the Holy Spirit against the flesh,  Galatians 5:17 (see below); of the Lord Jesus,   Luke 22:15 , "I have desired;" of the holy angels,  1—Peter 1:12; of good men, for good things,  Matthew 13:17;  1—Timothy 3:1;  Hebrews 6:11; of men, for things without moral quality,  Luke 15:16;  16:21;  17:22;  Revelation 9:6; (b) of "evil desires," in respect of which it is translated "to lust" in  Matthew 5:28;  1—Corinthians 10:6;  Galatians 5:17 (1st part; see below);   James 4:2; to covet,  Acts 20:23;  Romans 7:7;  13:9 . See Covet , Desire , B, No. 2.

 Galatians 5:17 James 4:5  1—Corinthians 6:19Long.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [3]

A strong craving or desire, often of a sexual nature. Though used relatively infrequently (twenty-nine times) in Scripture, a common theme can be seen running through its occurrences. The word is never used in a positive context; rather, it is always seen in a negative light, relating primarily either to a strong desire for sexual immorality or idolatrous worship. In secular literature, the word indicates only a strong desire and can carry either good or bad connotations. The Greek word epithymia [   Matthew 13:17 ). In these instances the New International Version does not translate the word as "lust." Rather, it is translated as "desire, " "longing, " and the like. The context surrounding the word lends to this translation in such instances. However, in Scripture, as translated in the New International Version, the word is used for a strong desire that is negative and forbidden. Indeed, the unregenerate are governed and controlled by deceitful lusts or desires ( Ephesians 2:3;  4:22;  Colossians 3:5;  Titus 2:12 ).

In the Old Testament, the word is primarily used to describe idolatrous activities, although it does have sexual concerns in at least two instances ( Job 31:1;  Proverbs 6:25 ). In both, the context is negative in meaning and is accompanied by a strong warning of God's impending punishment on those with such a strong, all-encompassing desire for inordinate affections. The lust involved in the realm of idolatry involves Israel's strong desire to be like other nations, who worship their gods of wood and metal. The language of Job is especially potent in regard to sexual immorality. Job is kept from looking "lustfully at a girl" because he knows that God's plan is "ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong." In the other Old Testament instances, the meaning clearly displays an idolatrous relationship, primarily Israel's desire to be like her surrounding neighbors (cf.  Isaiah 57:5;  Jeremiah 13:27;  Ezekiel 6:9;  16:26;  20:24,30;  Nahum 3:4 ).

In  Numbers 15:39 Moses is told by God to command that the Israelites wear tassels on the corners of their garments to remind them of the commands of the Lord. This reminder is seen in contradistinction to the outcome of not wearing the tassels, namely, "going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes."

Almost half the occurrences of the word and its derivatives are in the Book of Ezekiel. In every instance, it refers to Israel's idolatrous worship. An interesting display of this attitude is seen in chapter 23, where God's prophet uses the parable of two adulterous sisters, Oholah (representing Samaria) and Oholibah (representing Jerusalem). The imagery involves sexual lust but is descriptive of Israel's spiritual idolatry. Just as Oholah's and Oholibah's love was misdirected toward the officers of enemy armies, so Jerusalem's desire was for the things of her enemies. Throughout the parable, God warns of the judgment that awaits Oholah and Oholibah for their idolatrous lust. Indeed, such judgment occurred for Oholah (Samaria) in 722 b.c., when Assyria conquered her. Oholibah (Jerusalem) fell in 586 b.c.

In the New Testament, the word moves from referring primarily to idolatry to referring instead almost exclusively to sexual immorality. While the idea of idolatry is not completely absent, the primary intention is as a strong, inordinate desire for sexual relations. This sexual immorality, however, is not intended to represent actions alone since lust occurs first as a thought in the mind. The warning is to stop the lust before it moves into the realm of action. For instance, Jesus commands that a man is not to even look at a woman lustfully (i.e., with a desire to have sexual relations with her) because that is the same as committing the physical act of adultery ( Matthew 5:27-30 ); both are sin.

In each of the texts where Paul uses the word, it clearly is condemnatory of sexual immorality, both homosexual ( Romans 1:26-27 ) and heterosexual. The command from Paul is to utterly destroy those inordinate desires that most often manifest themselves in the area of sexuality (cf.  Colossians 3:5 ). Paul continues to warn that we must learn to control our bodies and be sanctified rather than giving in to our base desires, which is characteristic of those who do not know God (cf.  1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ).

Paul is not alone in pointing out that the lustful lifestyle is characteristic of lost humanity. Peter concurs, and exhorts his readers to quit living as they did before they received Christ. He points out that lust is evidence of a pagan lifestyle ( 1 Peter 4:3 ). Also, according to Peter, lustful desires (not necessarily just sexual desires, but desiring anything more than one desires God) are a basic motivation inherent in human sinful nature ( 2 Peter 2:18 ).

It is obvious from John's writings that our lusts do not come from God but from the world. However, we are reminded by John that the world and its desires (lusts) pass away, whereas "the man who does the will of God lives forever" ( 1 John 2:16-17 ). Here we see that our lusts are in direct violation of God's perfect will, because they usually are misdirected, moving and leading us away from God to our own selfish desires.

Our lusts have a very powerful influence on our actions if they are not caught and corrected immediately. We must remember that lust occurs in the mind and is not a physical action in and of itself. It does, however, have great potential of becoming an action—indeed a very damaging action. That is why we must heed the admonition of Paul in  2 Corinthians 10:5 : "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Daniel L. Akin

See also Sexual Immorality; Sin

Holman Bible Dictionary [4]

 Proverbs 10:24 Luke 22:15 Philippians 1:23 Numbers 11:34 Psalm 78:18 Romans 7:7 Exodus 15:9 Proverbs 6:25 1 Corinthians 10:6 Revelation 18:14

The unregenerate (preconversion) life is governed by deceitful lusts or desires ( Ephesians 4:22;  Ephesians 2:3;  Colossians 3:5;  Titus 2:12 ). Following conversion, such fleshly desires compete for control of the individual with spiritual desires ( Galatians 5:16-17;  2 Timothy 2:22 ).  1 John 2:16-17 warns that desires of the flesh and eyes are not from God and will pass away with the sinful world. Here lust or desire includes not only sexual desire but also other vices such as materialism.   James 1:14-15 warns that desire is the beginning of all sin and results in death. Jesus warned that one who lusts has already sinned (  Matthew 5:28 ). Part of God's judgment on sin is to give persons over to their own desires ( Romans 1:24 ). Only the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer makes victory over sinful desires possible ( Romans 8:1-2 ).

King James Dictionary [5]

LUST, n.

1. Longing desire eagerness to possess or enjoy as the lust of gain.

My lust shall be satisfied upon them.  Exodus 15 .

2. Concupiscence carnal appetite unlawful desire of carnal pleasure.  Romans 1 .  2 Peter 2 . 3. Evil propensity depraved affections and desires.  James 1 .  Psalms 81 . 4. Vigor active power. Not used.


1. To desire eagerly to long with after.

Thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.  Deuteronomy 12 .

2. To have carnal desire to desire eagerly the gratification of carnal appetite.

Lust not after her beauty in thy heart.  Proverbs 6 .

Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her,hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  Matthew 5 .

3. To have irregular or inordinate desires.

The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy.  James 4 .

Lust not after evil things as they also lusted.  1 Corinthians 10 .

4. To list to like.

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(1): ( n.) Inclination; desire.

(2): ( n.) To have an eager, passionate, and especially an inordinate or sinful desire, as for the gratification of the sexual appetite or of covetousness; - often with after.

(3): ( n.) To list; to like.

(4): ( n.) Hence: Virility; vigor; active power.

(5): ( n.) Longing desire; eagerness to possess or enjoy; - in a had sense; as, the lust of gain.

(6): ( n.) Pleasure.

(7): ( n.) Licentious craving; sexual appetite.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [7]

Originally meant any longing desire, however innocent,  Deuteronomy 12:15   14:26 . But, in tacit acknowledgment of the depravity of man's passions, general usage soon attached the idea of guilt to the word; and now it usually denotes carnal, lascivious desire. In  Galatians 5:17 , we see that the aspirations of the heart renewed by the Holy Spirit, oppose and will subdue the native evil desires,  1 Corinthians 15:57; but in the unrenewed heart these reign uncontrolled, lead to greater and greater outwards sin, and secure eternal death,  James 1:14,15 .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [8]

LUST. The Eng. word ‘lust,’ which is now restricted to sexual desire, formerly expressed strong desire of any kind. And so, as Thomas Adams says, there can be a lusting of the Spirit, for the Spirit lusteth against the flesh (  Galatians 5:17 ).

Charles Spurgeon's Illustration Collection [9]

Our lusts are cords. Fiery trials are sent to burn and consume them. Who fears the flame which will bring him liberty from bonds intolerable?

Easton's Bible Dictionary [10]

 Romans 1:21 Mark 4:19

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [11]

Graves of lust.

See Kibroth-Hattaavah

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

(usually תִּאֲוָה , Ἐπιθυμία ), in the ethical sense, is used to express sinful longings-sinful either in being directed towards absolutely forbidden objects, or in being so violent as to overcome self-control, and to engross the mind with earthly, carnal, and perishable things. Lust, therefore, is itself sinful, since it is an estrangement from God, destroys the true spiritual life, leads to take pleasure in what displeases God and violates his laws, brings the spirit into subjection to the flesh. and makes man a slave of sin and ungodliness. Lust, therefore, is the inward sin; it leads to the falling away from God; but the real ground of this falling away is in the will. It took place in the earliest days of mankind ( Romans 1:21), and is natural to all in the unregenerated state; it can only be abolished by Christ. The nature of man is not changed, only his empirically moral mode and place of existence. Lust, the origin of sin, has its place in the heart, not of a necessity, but because it is the center of all moral forces and impulses, and of spiritual activity. The law does not therefore destroy sin, nay, it rather increases it, yet not in an active manner, but by the sinner's own fault. The psychological reason of this is, that the law does not destroy the lust, even while accompanied by punishment; consequently the estrangement from God can only be canceled by regeneration. This takes place in the reconciliation with God through Christ, because, in giving his Son as a ransom for sinners, God has manifested his love in such a manner as to awaken man, and give him the strength to love God again. This love of God forms the substance of regeneration, and of the operations of the Holy Spirit, and destroys sinful lust by bringing man into union with God, or by the reception of the Spirit of Christ through faith.

According to  Matthew 5:28, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." This forcible expression is correct, for he who is regenerated, and whose heart is filled with true love of God. and who is possessed of the Spirit of Christ, cannot have such worldly lusts. He, therefore, who looks on a woman to ( Πρός ) lust after her, or, in other words, he in whom her sight will awaken the lust of carnal pleasure, has already committed adultery in his heart. In  Mark 4:19 ( Matthew 13:22;  Luke 8:14): "And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful;" by lusts we are to understand the objects of desire, for lust does not enter the heart, but, on the contrary, proceeds from it, as appears from  Matthew 15:19 : "For out of the heart proceed [through lust] evil thoughts [sins], murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." In  Romans 1:24 : "Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts;" and  Romans 1:26, it is not God who awakened the lusts, but man, who had withdrawn from God, and made gods unto himself to worship. In view of its final object, this estrangement from God is a mystery, as it is an act of free volition.

So in  Romans 6:12 : "Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof;" it call be understood how one could be good so far as intentions are concerned, while yet sin would reign in the lower ego in the perishable body (compare with 7:19,  Galatians 5:17). But the apostle considers man, spiritually and bodily, as a whole. He who lives in God through Christ, and is dead unto sin ( Romans 6:11), must not let lust govern his perishable body, or listen to his desire, but, on the contrary, these ought no longer to exist in him; the body is to be made as subservient to righteousness as the spirit, for it is the temple of the spirit, and therefore is the instrument wherewith the human mind, animated by the Holy Spirit, is to act. Accordingly it is stated in  Romans 7:5, "For when we were in the flesh [before being regenerated], the motions [acts] of sins, which were by the law [which were shown by the law as such], did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." So in  Romans 7:7-8 : "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin [the original source of sin]? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin [the fact of its existence within me] but by the law; for I had not known lust [that it was evil] except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But [my natural] sin [the principle of sin, or lust], taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence [sinful desires resulting from the general lusts of the flesh]. For without the law sin was dead [i.e. not absent, but partly in the sense of not being recognized as sin or lust, and partly because the knowledge of the restrictions imposed by the law served but to increase the desire for what it forbade]." Χωρίς Γὰρ Νόμου Ἁματρτία Νεκρά is a general and popularly expressed aphorism, which is not received in theory.

In  Galatians 5:16-17;  Galatians 5:24, we are directed, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesi [sin] lusteth against [in contradiction with] the [Holy] Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the thing that ye [simply] would; but they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh (in the regeneration), with the affections and lusts." The effect of the strife between the flesh and the Spirit is to prevent the evil which man desires after the flesh. The Holy Spirit helps man to triumph over lust. The image of God is never entirely obliterated, but the lusts of the flesh can lead into enormous sins, and have done so. In like manner, in  Romans 1:24, etc.;  Ephesians 4:22 ( Colossians 3:5 comp. with  Ephesians 2:2;  Titus 3:3): "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;" lust (estrangement from God), as an impulse of free volition, is the original source of error which obscures both the mind and the heart. Further,  Romans 1:21-22;  1 Timothy 6:9 (" But they that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition");  2 Timothy 2:22 ("Flee also youthful lusts");  Titus 2:12 ("Teaching us that, denying ungodliness [ Ἀσίβειαν ] and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world)."

Christians can and must be in the world, but not of the world, and must hold themselves aloof from its contamination. So, again,  James 1:27;  1 Peter 2:11 ("Dearly beloved, I beseech you, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul");  1 Peter 4:1-3 ("He that has suffered in the flesh [ethically, is dead unto the flesh] hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revelings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries"); compare  1 Peter 1:4;  2 Peter 2:10;  2 Peter 2:18;  2 Peter 3:3;  Judges 1:16. Once more,  1 John 2:15-17 : "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof." Finally,  James 1:14-15 : "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (or misery)." The N.T. teaches us that man should eagerly avail himself of the power of sanctification proffered through grace to overcome lust and the consequent sin. Krehl, Neu-Test. Worterbuch . (See Temptation).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [13]

(5 Hebrew and 5 Greek words are so rendered, namely: (1) נפשׁ , nephesh , (2) שׁרירוּת , sherı̄rūth , (3) תּאוה , ta'ăwāh , (4) חמד , ḥāmadh , (5) אוה , 'āwāh  ; (1) ἐπιθυμία , epithumı́a , (2) ἡδονή , hēdonḗ , (3) ἐπιποθέω , epipothéō , (4) ὄρεξις , órexis , (5) πάθος , páthos ): The word both as verb and as substantive has a good and a bad meaning. It probably meant at first a strong desire, a craving, abnormal appetite, not only for physical but for spiritual satisfaction. It has come, however, to be confined in its use almost entirely to the bad sense. Some old translations are not accepted now, the word being used in connections which at present seem almost irreverent. Shades of meaning are learned from an examination of the Hebrew and Greek originals.

1. The Old Testament Use:

The substantive and verbs are: (1) Nephesh , in   Exodus 15:9 and   Psalm 78:18 translated "desire"; "My desire shall be satisfied"; "by asking food according to their desire." A strong but not sensual sense. (2) Sherı̄rūth , meaning "obstinacy," evil imagination. Yahweh said ( Psalm 81:12 ), "I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart," a willful self-satisfaction. (3) Ta'ăwāh , "a delight" "a longing satisfaction," and so it came to mean "sinful pleasure." Translated in  Psalm 78:30 , "that which they desired," intensely longed for, referring to Yahweh's provision of food in the wilderness. Also in  Numbers 11:4 concerning "flesh to eat" it is said the multitude "lusted exceedingly" i.e. "craved eagerly. (4) Ḥāmadh , the verb meaning "to delight in," "greatly belove," "covet," probably for evil purposes. The young man is warned against the evil woman ( Proverbs 6:25 ): "Lust not after her beauty." Here the bad sense is evident, for in the same connection are used such expressions as "harlot," "adulteress," "evil woman." (5) 'Awāh , meaning "greatly to desire," long after, with undue emphasis, with evil spirit though not perhaps with impure thought. In  Numbers 11:34 reference is made to a place called ḳibhrōth ha - ta'ăwāh , "the graves of lust, where "they buried the people that lusted."  Psalm 106:14 also refers to the Israelites who "lusted exceedingly." Translated in   Deuteronomy 12:15 ,  Deuteronomy 12:21 "desire of thy soul";   Deuteronomy 12:20;  Deuteronomy 14:26 , "thy soul desireth." These Deuteronomy passages evidently mean lust only in the good sense.

2. The New Testament Use:

As in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament we find both meanings of the word. (1) Epithumia is used most frequently, and means a longing for the unlawful, hence, concupiscence, desire, lust. The following references hold the idea, not only of sinful desire known as "fleshly," "worldly," as opposed to "spiritual" "heavenly," "the will of man" as opposed to "the will of God," but also the sensual desire connected with adultery, fornication; verb in   Matthew 5:28;  Mark 4:19;  John 8:44;  Romans 1:24;  1 Corinthians 10:6;  Galatians 5:16 ,  Galatians 5:17 ,  Galatians 5:24;  Titus 2:12;  1 Peter 1:14;  1 John 2:16 f;   Judges 1:16 ,  Judges 1:18;  Revelation 18:14 . (2) Hēdonē , delight in sensuality, hence, wicked pleasures; translated in  James 4:1 ,  James 4:3 "pleasures": "Your pleasures that war in your members"; "Ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures" (the King James Version "lust"). (3) Epipotheō means to crave intensely the wrong possession; translated in  James 4:5 "long (the King James Version "lusteth") unto envying." (4) Orexis , used in  Romans 1:27 , from context evidently meaning "lust" in the worst sense; translated "lust." (5) Pathos , meaning "passion" inordinate affection, with the idea in it of suffering; translated in  1 Thessalonians 4:5 "passion of lust."