"Receive" = Accept/Approve?

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Puritan Board Junior
What is the inner meaning behind "receive" in the Bible? In 1 Corinthians 4:7 we read,
"For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?"

I've looked up some verses which, according to Strong's Concordance, use the same hebrew word lambanō which, if interpreted as accept/approve, make clearly no sense at all.

James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive (lambanō) the greater condemnation.

- Fancy an unbeliever, in the court of God on the day of judgment, humbly accepting and approving of his proper condemnation. I doubt you will ever see that.

Matthew 21:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

- This passage teaches us we can "receive" anything we ask in faith from our heavenly Father. Now, can this "receive" mean accept/approve? Suppose I were to ask my Father in heaven for charity. Surely God would grant this holy petition (in time appropriate to God's plan), but when could I actually accept/approve this gift? Yes, it is the same with our petitions concerning our estate as it is with God's free, regenerating gift of a new heart. We never accepted/approved our new heart BEFORE God implanted it to us. We didn't have the chance. Our heart surgery (circumcision) was totally in God's hands, and we couldn't help but "receive" this loving grace.

Despite the truth proclaimed and the few verses laid down above the Bible is full of verses which DO make sense if the word "receive" is interpreted as accept/approve, and even verses which make no sense, if the hebrew word lambanō is NOT interpreted as accept/approve (A good example of this is Matt. 8:17, where Christ was said to "took (lambanō our infirmities" (we know Christ took our sins on Himself of His own will, not being compelled). But I even found verses which make no sense whether interpreted as gain, or accept/approve (An example: Matt. 10:38 tells us to "take" (lambanō) our crosses and follow Christ).

When Srong's Dictionary goes to define lambanō, it is not surprising to see they give it meanings which could only promote Arminian soteriology...

One interesting thing I found out is that lambanō occurs only in the New Testament, nowhere in the Old.

If you cannot answer my question at the top accurately (and I doubt you can), give me some general thoughts on this issue. Also, I would be interested to know if there has been official debates between Arminians and Calvinists on defining the term "receive" [in the New Testament].

In Christ our Lord,
Brother Samuel


Staff member

First things, the New Testament was written in Greek and the Old Testament in Hebrew and some Aramaic.

Second, lambano is a Greek word. It would not appear in the Old Testament, except maybe in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT).

Lambano is rendered as "receive" in the KJV. However, it is translated as "incur" (Jas. 3:1) in the NASB.

Now, as far as 1 Cor. 4:7, I don't know what you mean by a "hidden" meaning. There is no hidden meaning. The word translated as "receive" (in both the KJV and NASB) means to receive something from another. This was not a difficult word for the translators to deal with. Paul was admonishing his audience not to be boastful or arrogant. He reminded them that anything good they possessed was given to them by another.

Jas. 3:1 is also very straightforward. James is warning against being quick to assume the role of teacher. Teachers are held to a higher standard and will have to give account for what they teach. This is why lambano is translated as "incur" in this passage. Teachers will incur a stricter judgment than a non-teacher. "Receive" could be used in this passage, but "incur" denotes a consequence. I believe it is a better rendering of lambano.

Mat. 21:22 is another plain and normative translation of lambano. "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive" Matthew 21:22. There is no hidden meaning here. If you ask it will be given to you. Of course, God only gives us those things that are in accordance with His will. We are to pray asking that His will be done. "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).


Tempus faciendi, Domine.

First of all, the word lambano is Greek, not Hebrew. That's why you are only finding it appearing in the New Testament.

Second, the word means take or receive. It does not mean accept or approve. That's the heart of your problem as you've sketched it out. Thus there is an easy answer to your dilemma and you shouldn't be so skeptical of finding a good and sufficient answer.

Lastly, to give you some more insight into how the word is used in the New Testament, quoting from The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Zondervan, 1986), vol. 3, p. 744:

Take, Receive
The process of taking can be understood actively in the sense of taking possession of, passively in the sense of taking delivery. The two Greek verbs, lambano and dechomai correspond to these two operational directions. lambano stresses primarily the active aspect of getting hold of, whereas dechomai emphasizes more the passive attitude of receiving. The meanings of the numerous compounds formed from both verbs are frequently assimilated to one another, as are the meanings of the root words in figurative senses and contexts, and they are occasionally used synonymously. Both word-groups have a special significance in the New Testament through expressing particularly the complementary movements of faith in appropriation and acceptance.

One of the things strongly implied in the above quote is that context is always key to understanding how a word is used in a particular passage.

At that point I'll back away and let someone more skilled speak to your other questions. [Edit: Like Bill there. Thanks!]


Staff member
Samuel, you should check a lexicon regarding this verb. First of all, it is commonly translated primarily as to "get a hold of something", "grasping something, or "receive." In the sense of "receive" one could see it meaning "accept" in some places, based on context, but that is not its primary meaning.

And the verb is used in the OT. My lexicon mentions a special use in the OT for the verb to mean "to show partiality or favoritism." On a hunch I looked up Malachi 2:9 and found that, in the Septuagint, it in fact does use the verb. I haven't looked elsewhere, but it wouldn't surprise me to find it.

I've looked up some verses which, according to Strong's Concordance, use the same hebrew word lambanō which, if interpreted as accept/approve, make clearly no sense at all.

Lambano is not a Hebrew word, but a Greek word. That is why I refered to the Septuagint.

A good rule is that if you find that your interpretation of a word makes no sense, dig a bit deeper and find what does make sense. Strong's is at best a start, but you ought to have a good lexicon to press on, and try to learn how Greek verbs are conjugated and how they sometimes change form before trying to come to some exigetical conclusion. Having said that, I note that Strong's in fact defines lambano primarily as "get hold of" which fits with "receive" in the context.

Edit to add: I see Bill and Wayne beat me to the same points. At least I found an LXX reference. ;)


Puritan Board Junior
Oh, I subconciously wrote "hebrew", when I meant greek! My bad. Also, I suddenly realize I shouldn't have been so skeptical of finding the New Testament people mostly meaning "getting hold of", when they say "receive", whereas I was desiring to find a meaning similar to the greek word dechomai which "emphasizes more the passive attitude of receiving". It really gives no advantage to the Arminian soteriology, if indeed we are to be active ourselves in this "receiving", because we know from the context of the passage and from the whole testimony of Scripture that we can receive actively (synergistically) Christ, only because we have first received passively (monergistically) a new heart.

But I do see a logical fallacy here. When you think about the question, "WHAT hast thou that thou didst not receive?", it clearly implies that ALL things we have are, then, "received". So, did we "get hold of" (or receive actively) the family we have? No. Did we "get hold of" (or receive actively) any of the fruits of the Spirit we have? No. Starting to see my point? IN WHAT MANNER HAVE WE RECEIVED ALL THINGS WE HAVE? Passively? No, because we have things which we have gladly and willingly accepted (our car, house, wife/husband, children etc.) Actively? No, because we know we didn't choose to be regenerated, that is, we didn't receive actively the new heart God implanted to us. Conclusion: the word "receive" MUST have various meanings AT THE SAME TIME. Please, see if I'm wrong.
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