By O. E. Watts
In a Bible class Col. 3:16 was read, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . .” The question was asked, “What does let mean?” One person answered, “Let here means permit or allow. ” An older man disagreed by saying, “In such expressions as this, let means, `It is commanded.”‘ He was correct. The instruction in the original Greek proves him right. The word construction is one which we do not have in English. It is the imperative mode in the third person. Such a form always expresses a clear cut command, not merely permission of consent. Every time it is used it gives a direct order.
Even without the Greek, careful consideration in our language will convince anyone that this is true. We note Eph. 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more . . .” Are we thus told that we should allow a thief to stop stealing if he wishes? Is this saying that we should not stand in his way if he desires to quit his dishonesty? Or, is this an absolute command? Does the word let here direct that the thief definitely must stop stealing? A little reasoning will give us the answer. As the sign by the side of the road says, “Think!”
Another factor which might lead to misunderstanding here is that our word let has several meanings. The one person answering (see above) mistakenly gave another one of these. That meaning is found elsewhere in the Bible as in Psalms 19:13-14. In our speech now we use let often. By it we never give a command. We say, “Let me do that.” “Let the children play not.” “We can let John be captain.” “Let them have some candy.” The word has come to mean permit, allow, give permission for, consent to. We are settled into this rut of usage. Perhaps we need something to jar us into the realization that in God’s instructions to us the word always means something else. We should remember that let always tells us, “It is commanded!” If we are going to “understand what the will of the Lord is,” we must do so.
New Testament Letters
Mere permission is never expressed by let in the Epistles. In every New Testament instruction for us which begins with, “Let,” and is followed by him, them, or corresponding nouns (third person), we have a command, a demand that something be done. Nearly all of this kind of directives are in the twenty books between Acts and Revelation. In these, dozens of instructions to Christians are worded this way. Some of these books do not contain even one such form. Four of them are in one verse, 1 Peter 3:11. The first chapter of James has seven. The book which contains by far the most “let commands” is First Corinthians.
Scores of illustrations are at hand. We give a few. We agree that brotherly love should continue. But the wording of Hebrews 13:1 commands that it do so. According to I Cor. 7:3, the marriage duty if not optional; it is mandatory. A Christian at the Memorial Supper is not required to do so. In Rom. 13:1, subjection to civil law is not recommended; it is demanded. It is not that women may keep silence in the churches (worship assemblies, I Cor. 14:34); it is that they must. Corrupt speech, bitterness, fornication, and guile are not only discouraged by the words, “Let . . .” They are forbidden.
Can it be that when some Christians read, “Let . . .” they are thinking, “We can do this if we like”? Need we be told constantly that these are requirements? Does our language lose here what God is telling us? While He is saying, “He must be,” are we “receiving” it as, “He may be?” Could a better translation make it clearer?
Indefinite as this rendering may be to some of us, it is due, perhaps, to our own limitations and to those of our language. At least that was the verdict of those scholars giving us the New American Standard Bible, which is by far the best of the modern speech translations. They used, “Let . . .” In some cases the New International Version is better. In most it is worse, too free, too far from the original. It renders this Greek construction in various passages in an even dozen different ways. But, in my opinion, when that committee used the word must they had it right. In Romans 13:1 (“Let every soul be in subjection . . .” ASV) the NIV clearly states, “Everyone must submit himself . . .” If one word need be used for clearness instead of, “It is commanded,” that word would be must. See how the following would be. “All things must be done decently and in order.” “He that stole must steal no more.” “Brotherly love must continue.” “Sin must not reign . . .” “Each one of you must lay by in store.” This expresses the thought with the demand of the imperative, and, by keeping the third person intact, is true to the original. We recommend it.
To you as a reader: If you would like something to help you remember this and its importance we suggest the following. Open your Bible (KJV or ASV) to First Corinthians. In large letters in ink write across the top of the page, or of two facing pages, these words: “Let means it is commanded.”
Truth Magazine XXIII: 45, pp. 729-730
November 15, 1979