I am preaching through Hebrews and as I worked through 10:19-25, I came across a little used noun that has been driving me a bit crazy. In 10:24, the writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers stating, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” The expression “to stimulate” is the noun παροξυσμός and is used only twice in the NT, here and in Acts 15:39 where it is used of a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas over whether to take along John Mark. There are only two uses of the term in the LXX and both of these are negative as well. It is used in the summary of covenant demands at Moab by Moses in warning Israel of the ramifications of disobedience. In Deuteronomy 29:27 (28 English) Moses warns that such disobedience would culminate with God’s “wrath” toward his people. It is also used in Jeremiah 39:37 (32:37 English) where God promises to regather his people one day from the places he drove them in his “indignation.” This negative sense is also the only way the noun is used in classical Greek (Seesmann, TDNT, 5:857). Given that the context of Hebrews 10:24 is positive in that the goal of this “stimulation” is “love” and “good deeds,” it is understandable why some versions avoid negative renderings of παροξυσμός. In other words, the context is determining that the term has the more “neutral meaning” in Hebrews (Ellingworth, Hebrews, NIGTC, 527). The various renderings include “stimulate” (NASB95), “stir up” (ESV, NKJV, RSV), and “spur…on” (NIV) while some other versions are seemingly a little more in line with the negative connotation and translate the term “provoke” (NRSV, ASV, KJV).
But why choose a term that is negative in connotation? Surely a term like “encourage” would have worked. Several lexicons actually use “encouragement” as a gloss using Hebrews 10:24 as the only example. This may be because the verb form is used in such a manner in classical Greek (e.g. Isocrates). But I am still struck by the choice. You almost get the sense that we are to be irritants to one another, but of a good sort! Perhaps at the end of the day, the choice of noun is for the purpose of describing the way a believer, by their own lives of love and good deeds, provokes or spurs each other to a similar lifestyle. Perhaps the NIV has captured the idea best with the rendering “spur on.” A spur it a bit of an irritant if you are a horse.