An abominable word

When I hear the word ‘abomination’, a vivid image comes to mind. Perhaps it’s from a comedy sketch on TV. I see a man dressed in old-fashioned black clothes, with a black hat and, in reference to some aspect of modern culture (perhaps homosexuality), he declares in a slow, but passionate voice, “It is an abor-min-ay-shon”.

‘Abomination’ is not a nice word. It reeks of censoriousness and wowserism. But then Jesus had to go and say this: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

The Greek word is bdelugma—something detestable, loathsome, repugnant. It’s the same word that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses in many places to refer to the various practices of both Israel and the nations that were repellent to the Lord—whether it was the idolatry, apostasy, sexual immorality and wickedness of Israel, or the similar (and worse) practices of the surrounding nations, including their detestable ‘deities’ like Milcom, the “abomination of the Ammonites” (2 Kgs 23:13). An ‘abomination’ is everything from the unclean birds that Israel were not to eat (such as the black vulture), to the practice of homosexuality, to going off and worshipping false gods.

What is it, then, that Jesus labels as such a stench in God’s nostrils? In this context, it is the Pharisees themselves. They mock Jesus for his teaching about money, and congratulate themselves that their public reputation is exemplary. In first-century opinion polling, the Pharisees’ approval rating was stratospheric; everyone applauded their outwardly impressive veneer of religious observance. But this, in Jesus’ eyes, only confirmed their guilt and alienation from God.

What might be the modern equivalents? What, or who, is exalted among men in our world, and thus subject to the dreadful evaluation of being bdelugma to God? High on the list would be those who reject the idea that God might find anything detestable or repugnant at all.

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