Fulness πλήρωμα (Pleroma)

This morning was my first official day of fully taking the reigns of a youth Sunday School class. I have often filled in many times, and was on a rotation with others for the jr high. The students had just returned from a week at Camp Eagle, where I asked them to share their experiences, challenges, and team building/bonding experiences.

Next, I confessed some of my personal struggles with Sunday School. Often times, I have been disappointed and sad, as I have watched teachers spend a week studying the lesson material, only to regurgitate what they learned to an unprepared class, and after five minutes, there was a memory dump. For some, it was a spiritual discipline of checking the box that they were in attendance.

Now, I am responsible for taking hold of the reigns, selecting the curriculum, and hopefully leaving my audience captivated and unimpaired. What would I do differently and out of the box? I pondered on a well known quote of giving a man a fish…teach a man to fish; Paul’s instructions to Timothy, Study to shew thyself approved, or as the ESV translates Do your best, and then Solomon’s instructions at the end of Ecclesiastes.

A lot of my studies begin by reading scripture for the content, then using the Blue Letter Bible app to go into a deeper study of words. I asked my students to download the app to their phone, and gave a brief introduction of some of the tools. I have a great appreciation for the hard work developing this app, for it organizes hundreds of years of Biblical work at your finger tips!

To prepare them for lesson one – the title of this article – I passed around a jar for them to draw a letter that corresponded to a folded piece of paper. Each paper had a Greek word as the header, and individual drawings or ancient ships from the Bible. (Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Galilean or Phoenician). As captain of their ship, they were to list ten things to bring on their ship for a voyage, read some verses for next week’s session.

This would be their individual ship to apply in learning how the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic languages often paint a picture for the reader.

Here are some versus to review which uses a form of the Greek word, pleroma:

And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. John 1:16

Which is his body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:23

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Ephesians 3:19

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: Ephesians 4:13

What does a ship have to do with understanding fulness? As I looked at the word in the concordance and lexicons, I found it was used in classical Greek for supplying a ship (i.e. sailors, rowers, cargo) This is the imagery of pleroma.

Spiritually, and arguably physically, we are individual vessels to be filled with the Fullness of God and Christ as part of the body of Christ. Who fills us? Christ fills us with the Holy Spirit, and spiritual gifts.

From here, I like to look for this word in Hebrew and found the Septuagint (Hebrew to Greek) uses pleroma for the Hebrew word: מְלֹא mᵊlō’ as found in Psalms 96:11.

Using Hebrew opens up several study tools and methods, but starting with the concordances, I didn’t get the imagery for the word. Jeff Benner has an Ancient Hebrew Lexicon using pictorial Hebrew, and has a few definitions for melo I summarized as:

A conglomeration of ingredients to fill up something, occupying to full capacity, containing as much as possible.

Abstractly, melo has the idea of continuation.

Another tool I will use is to look at the letters, and try and pull some nuggets of deeper meaning to help understand better, or to see more spiritually. For this part, I have spent a few days considering how the letters would tie filling a ship with the fulness of God and Christ. A resource I use is a book from Chaim Bentorah, “Beyond the Lexicon.” Here’s how I summarized the letters:

The shape of the Hebrew letter מְ (mem) is a vessel with a hole in the bottom, which is taught as a draining of the pain, negative things to be filled by God. The letter לֹ (lamed) means moving toward something, teaching and learning and also represents hands lifted and the heart. Lastly, the א (aleph) represents God, unity. Tying all this together:

We are vessels sailing life’s journey towards God as he continually fills us for this voyage.

How will I present this to the class next week? I will tie the word fulness, being filled by God, with preparing a ship for a journey and hopefully it will open their minds for good discussions and they will start looking more carefully at the words in the verses to better understand what scripture is telling us.

As we begin our journey this semester, we will take our ships on an adventure through the Bible, sailing with Paul from port to port, being shipwrecked, and if possible have a guest speaker from WWII who was shipwrecked. Hopefully, this will help give them the guidance to seek God and follow Him with their hearts, and a better understanding of what Christ has done for us.

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