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Greek Word Study - Hubris

Odysseus sailed from Crete with nine ships and a host of Greek soldiers. On the fifth day they reached Egypt, and anchored in the broad river. Odysseus told his comrades to remain with the ships, while he set up the lookouts. In an act of outrageous arrogance, however, they went ashore and launched a sneak attack. They killed the unarmed men of the field and carried off their women and children.

Word of their attack got out, and the next morning the whole plain was filled with angry Egyptians. Odysseus and his men not only had to face chariots and weapons of bronze, they also had to face the wrath of angry Zeus. They had committed an act of hubris (HYOO bris), which invited retribution from the gods. Zeus became their nemesis, punishing them for their unprovoked attack Soon the Greeks were all dead or captured.

Hubris was the word for an act of overreaching arrogance. It was an insult—an outrage—to the gods. Lines from an ancient play, Oedipus the King, further illustrate the concept: “Hubris full blown. . . climbs the precipitous height and grasps the throne, then topples o'er and lies in ruin prone. . . .Who when such deeds are done, can hope heaven’s bolts to shun?”

In 1 Timothy 1:13 Paul calls himself “a hubris man” (hybristes, hyoo bris TACE). The NIV translation “violent man” only catches half the picture. When Paul was persecuting Christians, he was an arrogant insult to God. His outrageous act demanded retribution.

But the story of God's salvation is not just another Greek tragedy. Paul could well have expected the Lord to become his nemesis; instead, the Lord became his friend. “I was shown mercy,” Paul says. “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly” (1 Tim 1:13-14). Paul’s hubris was great; God’s grace was greater.