Food for Thought-Catharsis or Clean 1 John 1:1-2:2


Do you want your hands washed or do you want a catharsis? Do you want to take a shower to cleanse your sinfulness or do you want a catharsis which readjusts the very essence of your humanity? I’m reading 1 John in Greek. It’s good stuff. In the first few verses the reader will find lots of solid material about our need to be cleansed from sin. Here’s the thing, the word normally translated as “clean” in New Testament Greek is our modern word “catharsis”. Catharsis is a much stronger word than a simple cleansing. A catharsis goes below the surface; to the soul. People who undergo a catharsis are changed forever. People who are cleaned only stay clean until the next time they get dirty. The other side of a catharsis ought to represent a new way of life. A catharsis carries a degree of permanence. When’s the last time you heard a preacher ask if you’ve had a catharsis with Jesus? I’m betting never.

In the Armenian language, the words “sin” and “cleanse” share a similar root. You can’t have one without the other. There is a clear understanding, in Armenian history and theology, that sin cannot go unanswered, un-cleansed, or forgotten. The verb, to cleanse (մաքրել) is pronounced mak’rel and carries connotations of obliteration and purification. Each word echoes the catharsis John was calling to mind. Sins, մեղք (meghk’) are the unique faults and transgressions produced by a human մարդ (mard). Here the beast of Indo-European linguistics rears its head once again; the Greek word for sin, the one that John uses when telling us we need to be cleansed is amartia. The Greek word for sin and the Armenian word for human being are related on the linguistic family tree-amart/mard. The word for human and the word for sinner are nearly the same; no wonder we need a catharsis.