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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. The term. -Ἀρετή (translation‘virtue’ in  Philippians 4:8,  2 Peter 1:3;  2 Peter 1:5 [Authorized Versionand Revised Version]; pl.[Note: plural.]‘virtues’ AVm[Note: Vm Authorized Version margin.]of  1 Peter 2:9) was the common heathen term for ‘moral goodness.’ In this sense it is used in the books of Maccabees. But it was also the Septuaginttranslationof הוֹד (‘magnificence,’ ‘splendour,’  Habakkuk 3:3,  Zechariah 6:13) and תְּהִלָּה (‘glory,’ ‘praise,’  Isaiah 42:12;  Isaiah 43:20). In  Philippians 4:8 (‘Whatsoever things are true … if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things’) and in  2 Peter 1:5 (‘In your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge’) the reference is to a human attribute, and the sense is the ordinary classical one of moral excellence possibly coloured with its Septuagintmeaning of ‘praiseworthiness.’ (The association of ἔπαινος with ἀρετή in the former passage suggests that this fuller significance is in the writer’s mind; cf. the coupling of ἀρετή with δόξα in  2 Peter 1:2.) J. B. Lightfoot gives us the meaning of ἀρετή in  Philippians 4:8, ‘Whatever value may reside in your old heathen conception of virtue’ ( Philippians , London, 1878, p. 162). In the other two NT passages ( 2 Peter 1:3,  1 Peter 2:9) the reference is to an attribute of God or Christ, and the Septuagintsenses of ‘glory’ and ‘praise’ are more appropriate. G. A. Deissmann ( Bible Studies , Edinburgh, 1901, p. 95 f.) contends that ἀρετή sometimes signifies neither the righteousness nor the praise of God, but the manifestation of His power. He compares  2 Peter 1:3 with an inscription of Stratonicea in Caria belonging to the earliest years of the Imperial period, and considers that in both ἀρετή bears the meaning of ‘marvel.’ ‘Marvellous power’ would well suit the context in  2 Peter 1:3 and  1 Peter 2:9.

2. The Christian conception of virtue. -( a ) The motives of Christian virtue, according to the writers of the Apostolic Church, are: (1) the rewards and punishments of God’s moral law ( Galatians 6:7;  Galatians 6:9,  Hebrews 10:26f.,  1 Corinthians 10:1f. etc.) and of the coming Day of the Lord ( Romans 2:5-6,  2 Thessalonians 1:5f.,  James 5:7f.,  1 Peter 4:17, etc.); (2) the consciousness of a future life (‘If after the manner of men,’ i.e. from merely human motives, ‘I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what doth it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die’ [ 1 Corinthians 15:32; cf.  2 Corinthians 5:10]); (3) the promise of faith, reinforced by the inspiration of ancient heroes and the general exemplarship of Jesus (Hebrews 11, 12); the example of Jesus is specifically a motive for humility ( Philippians 2:5 f.) and generosity ( 2 Corinthians 8:9); (4) the inspiration of Christian idealism-‘the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ ( Philippians 3:14), the recognition of a Divine mission (‘Necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel’ [ 1 Corinthians 9:16]); (5) highest of all, the imperative of the love of God (1 Jn., etc.), the constraining love of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 5:14)-the dynamic of the ‘unio mystica.’ Virtuous life is the natural fruit of the Spirit ( Galatians 5:22, etc.); hence also the justification of St. Paul’s emphasis on ‘faith’-communion with the Oversoul: right ‘works’ will proceed from right attitude.

( b ) The guiding principle of Christian virtue is the ‘royal law’ ( James 2:8)-the loving one’s neighbour as oneself. ‘He that loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law’ ( Romans 13:8f.,  Romans 14:15;  Romans 15:1 f; 1 Corinthians 8;  1 Corinthians 10:24,  Galatians 5:13, 1 Jn, etc.). The law of brotherly love limits the freedom of action which otherwise might belong to the strong Christian. ‘All things are lawful; but all things are not expedient’ ( 1 Corinthians 10:23). Virtue must be interpreted not merely in the light of abstract right, but also in the light of brotherly service.

( c ) Christian virtue stands in contrast to Stoic virtue, inasmuch as the latter (1) is uninfluenced by immortality, and (2) insists on the suppression of the emotions. ‘The sage will console with them that weep, without weeping with them’ (Seneca, de Clem . ii. 6). The general tendency of Christianity has been to exalt the amiable rather than the heroic qualities.

( d ) Asceticism is not a virtue of the NT Church, yet there must be self-mastery and self-restraint . Marriage is lawful and honourable (1 Corinthians 7,  Hebrews 13:4), though with its dangers to supreme spiritual service (1 Corinthians 7,  Revelation 14:4), but sexual immorality is strongly denounced ( 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Corinthians 5, etc.). The apostolic insistence upon elementary morality among the Christians is noteworthy. ‘That is a reminder that the churches were composed of converts from heathenism, and lived in the midst of a heathen environment’ (R. Mackintosh, Christian Ethics , London, 1909, p. 63).

( e ) The communistic spirit of the early Church created its own set of virtues -mutual hospitality, contribution to the Church’s poor, the ignoring of distinction between rich and poor believers ( James 2:1-4). One also notes the stress laid upon loyalty to Church rule ( 1 Thessalonians 5:13,  Hebrews 13:17,  Judges 1:17) and avoidance of Church divisions (see articleMurmuring). The references to ‘false teachers’ and schismatics are impressively severe.

( f ) St. Paul appears to acquiesce in the system of slavery , and the apostolic ideals of womanhood are obviously imperfect. We must distinguish between the detailed virtues of the 1st cent. Church and the master-principle which inspired them. The implications of brotherhood will unfold with the progression of civilization. Christian principles abide, yet ‘New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth’ (J. R. Lowell, The Present Crisis , 171 f.).

Consult, further, the various lists of virtues ( Ephesians 4:25;  Ephesians 5:3, etc.) and the various duties for special classes-husbands, wives, church officials, women, widows, young men, masters, slaves, etc.

Literature.-W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals 8, 2 vols., London, 1888; J. Vernon Bartlet, article‘Didache,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v.; Newman Smyth, Christian Ethics , Edinburgh, 1892; T. B. Strong:, Christian Ethics ( BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.]), London, 1896; T. B. Kilpatrick, Christian Character , Edinburgh, 1899; J. Butler, Fifteen Sermons (1726), ed. R. Carmichael, London, 1856; J. R. Seeley, Ecce Homo 5, do., 1866; L. N. Tolstoy, Religion and Morality , 1894; R. W. Dale, Laws of Christ for Common Life 5, London, 1891. For fuller list of authorities see Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , arc. ‘Ethics and Morality (Christian),’ Literature, sect. 3.

H. Bulcock.

King James Dictionary [2]

VIRTUE, n. vur'tu. L. virtus, from vireo, or its root. See Worth. The radical sense is strength, from straining, stretching, extending. This is the primary sense of L. vir, a man.

1. Strength that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies. In this literal and proper sense, we speak of the virtue or virtues of plants in medicine, and the virtues of drugs. In decoctions, the virtues of plants are extracted. By long standing in the open air, the virtues are lost. 2. Bravery valor. This was the predominant signification of virtus among the Romans.

Trust to thy single virtue.

This sense is nearly or quite obsolete.

3. Moral goodness the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue, as distinct from religion. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws, is virtue and religion. In this sense it is true,

That virtue only makes our bliss below.

Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth.

4. A particular moral excellence as the virtue of temperance, of chastity, of charity.

Remember all his virtues.

5. Acting power something efficacious.

Jesus, knowing that virtue had gone out of him, turned -  Mark 3 .

6. Secret agency efficacy without visible or material action.

She moves the body which she doth possess,

Yet no part toucheth, but by virtue's touch.

7. Excellence or that which constitutes value and merit.

- Terence, who thought the sole grace and virtue of their fable, the sticking in of sentences.

8. One of the orders of the celestial hierarchy.

Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers.

9. Efficacy power.

He used to travel through Greece by virtue of this fable, which procured him reception in all the towns.

10. Legal efficacy or power authority. A man administers the laws by virtue of a commission.

In virtue, in consequence by the efficacy or authority.

This they shall attain, partly in virtue of the promise of God, and partly in virtue of piety.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [3]

1: Ἀρετή (Strong'S #703 — Noun Feminine — arete — ar-et'-ay )

properly denotes whatever procures preeminent estimation for a person or thing; hence, "intrinsic eminence, moral goodness, virtue," (a) of God,  1—Peter 2:9 , "excellencies" (AV, "praises"); here the original and general sense seems to be blended with the impression made on others, i.e., renown, excellence or praise (Hort); in  2—Peter 1:3 , "(by His own glory and) virtue," RV (instrumental dative), i.e., the manifestation of His Divine power; this significance is frequently illustrated in the papyri and was evidently common in current Greek speech; (b) of any particular moral excellence,  Philippians 4:8;  2—Peter 1:5 (twice), where virtue is enjoined as an essential quality in the excercise of faith, RV, "(in your faith supply) virtue."

 Mark 5:30 Luke 6:19 8:46

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): ( n.) Active quality or power; capacity or power adequate to the production of a given effect; energy; strength; potency; efficacy; as, the virtue of a medicine.

(2): ( n.) Manly strength or courage; bravery; daring; spirit; valor.

(3): ( n.) One of the orders of the celestial hierarchy.

(4): ( n.) Energy or influence operating without contact of the material or sensible substance.

(5): ( n.) Excellence; value; merit; meritoriousness; worth.

(6): ( n.) Specifically, moral excellence; integrity of character; purity of soul; performance of duty.

(7): ( n.) A particular moral excellence; as, the virtue of temperance, of charity, etc.

(8): ( n.) Specifically: Chastity; purity; especially, the chastity of women; virginity.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [5]

A term used in various significations. Some define it to be "living according to nature;" others, "universal benevolence to being." Some, again, place it "in regard to truth;" others in "the moral sense." Some place it in "the imitation of God;" others, "in the love of God and our fellow-creatures." Some, again, think it consists "in mediocrity, " supposing vice to consist in extremes; others have placed it in "a wise regard to our own interest." Dr. Smith refers it to the principle of sympathy; and Paley defines it to be the doing good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness. Some of these definitions are certainly objectionable. Perhaps those who place it in the love of God and our fellow-creatures, may come as near to the truth, as any.

See Edwards and Jameson on Virtue; Grove's and Paley's Moral Phil. Cumberland's Law of Nature, cap. 1. & 4; Beattie's Elements of Moral Science, vol. 2: p. 8, 77; Dr. Watts' Self-Love and Virtue Reconciled, 2d vol. of his work, last edition.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [6]

VIRTUE . In   Mark 5:30 ,   Luke 6:19;   Luke 8:46 the word ‘virtue’ is used with the antiquated meaning of ‘power,’ or ‘powerful influence’ (Gr. dynamis ).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [7]

vûr´t̬u  : This word has two quite distinct meanings in the King James Version: (1) It was formerly often used in the now obsolete sense of "manly power," "valor," "efficacy" (Latin, virtus , "manly strength" or "excellence," from vir , "man"):

"Trust in thy single virtue  ; for thy soldiers

All levied in thy name, have in thy name

Took their discharge."

- S hakespeare, King Lear , V, iii, 103 ff.

It was also used in the sense of a mighty work, a miracle. Thus Wycliffe translates  Matthew 11:20 : " Thanne Jhesus bigan to saye repreef to cities in whiche ful many vertues of him weren don ." So in the King James Version,  Mark 5:30;  Luke 6:19;  Luke 8:46 , in the sense of "power," "miraculous energy or influence" (δύναμις , dúnamis , "inherent power, residing in the nature of a thing"; contrast ἐξουσία , exousı́a , "power arising from external opportunity or liberty of action"). In these passages it is translated in the Revised Version (British and American) "power" (as elsewhere in the King James Version; compare  Acts 3:12 , etc.). (2) In its ordinary modern meaning of "moral goodness" it occurs in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) The Wisdom of Solomon 4:1; 5:13; 8:7;  Philippians 4:8;  2 Peter 1:3 ,  2 Peter 1:5 . In these passages it stands for ἀρετή , aretḗ , the usual classical term for "moral excellence" (originally "fitness" of any sort), used in Septuagint to translate words meaning "glory," "praiseworthiness," as in  Habakkuk 3:3;  Isaiah 42:12;  Isaiah 63:7 (of God);   Zechariah 6:13 (of the Messiah). The Septuagint sense may color the meaning of the word as applied to God in   2 Peter 1:3 the Revised Version (British and American); as also in its plural use (of God) in   1 Peter 2:9 (the King James Version "praises," the Revised Version (British and American) "excellencies").

The adjective "virtuous" occurs in the King James Version, the English Revised Version Rth 3:11;  Proverbs 12:4;  Proverbs 31:10 (the American Standard Revised Version "worthy"), and the adverb "virtuously" in   Proverbs 31:29 (the American Standard Revised Version "worthily"), in each case for חיל , ḥayil , "strength," "force" (whether of body or of mind), then in a moral sense of "worth," "virtue."

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [8]

a term used in various significations. Some define it to be "living according to attire" others, "universal benevolence to being." Some, again, place it "in regard to truth; " others, in the "moral sense." Some place it in "the imitation of God;" others, "in the love of God and our fellow-creatures." Some, again, think it consists "in mediocrity," supposing vice to consist in extremes; others have placed it in "a wise regard to our own interest." Dr. Smith refers it to the principle of sympathy; land Paley defines it to be the doing good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness. Some of these definitions are certainly objectionable. Perhaps those who place it in the love of God and our fellow creatures may come as near to the truth as any. See Edwards and Jameson, On Virtue; Grove and Paley, Moral Phil.; Cumberland, Law of Nature, 1, 4; Beattie, Elements of Moral Science, 2, 8, 77; Watts, Self love and Virtue Reconciled, 2nd vol. of his: Works, last ed.

The standard of virtue is the will of God as expressed in nature (including the human constitution) and his written word. See Fleming and Krauth, Vocab. of Philos. p. 487, 548, 907.