God Is Not a Beggar

Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The Greek word translated as “implore” is deomai which can be translated as “to ask, implore, beg, pray, plead, or beseech” depending on the context. Since God is the one making the appeal through us and one of the ways the word can be translated is “to beg,” some have concluded Paul is teaching that God is a beggar. God is begging for people to believe in Jesus just as a beggar on the side of the road begs for money.

But this argument errs because it does not understand the concept of semantic domains. Most words can be used in more than one way by an author depending on how he defines it in the context. While deomai can be used in the sense of “to beg,” the context of 2 Corinthians 5:20 prevents us from understanding the verb this way. The context of the verse is not that of a beggar on the side of the road, but of a royal ambassador who implores foreign nations to repent or perish. The action of the verb flows from the dignity of the office of the one doing the imploring. An ambassador for a king does not need to sit on the side of the road begging for money, but comes with the authority and power of the one he represents. The picture Paul is painting is that of an ambassador for a powerful nation imploring the nations who are at war with it to come to terms of peace before they are destroyed. One day, the kingdom of Christ will conquer the kingdoms of this world and only those who have made peace with him will be spared God’s wrath. That is why modern translations do not translate deomai as “to beg” here because they take into consideration how the term ambassador influences the meaning of the verbs which follow it.

The argument also confuses one of the ways the verb can be translated with the noun beggar. God is not a poor man sitting on the side of the road asking for your pity because people are rejecting his gospel. He is the exalted God of the universe who is sovereign over all things. As creator of all, he owns all things. God has never been in need of mercy or ever will be. He is not helpless, poor, or weak. If Paul wanted to teach that God is a beggar, then there are other verbs besides deomai that he could have used. The act of a beggar begging is more properly spoken of using the verb prosaiteō as in John 9:8. Another verb for begging in Greek is epaiteō as in Luke 16:3 and 18:35. The noun for a beggar in Greek is prosaitēs which is related to the verb prosaiteō similar to how the English noun beggar is related to the verb “to beg.” In contrast, deomai has a broader semantic domain than prosaiteō or epaiteō.

While God is not a beggar, we are. Martin Luther’s last words were, “We are beggars, this is true.” We are beggars in comparison to God and are dependent on him for all things including the advance of the gospel. We do not need to have low thoughts of God in order to emphasize the necessity of sharing the good news of what Christ has done for sinners. Saying things that are untrue of God is not how we should argue against hyper-Calvinists. Doing so only gives them a legitimate ground for rejecting our arguments and secures them in their error. While we may be beggars, we are also royal ambassadors and more than conquerors. If God is a beggar, then he could not give us all things together with his Son (Rom 8:32; 1 Cor 3:21). Because God is not a beggar, we have become rich beyond all comparison in Christ (2 Cor 8:9; Eph 1:3).

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