What is Anathema in the Bible Examples in Christianity


Anathema means excommunication, execration, curse, energetic reproach . From the Greek “ Anáthema ” (thing put aside), formed from the preposition “ aná ” (aside) plus “ tithemí ” (to put).

It is a canonical word (relating to church rules) that refers to the condemnation of a doctrine contrary to any truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Anathema is the expulsion, condemnation, excommunication and execration, from the bosom of the Church, of any person who follows doctrine contrary to the truth of the Catholic faith. The adjectives excommunicated, cursed and accursed qualify those individuals who condemn the patrimony of the Catholic faith.

Concept of Anathema in the Bible

1. Someone or something intensely disliked, usually used as a predicative nominative; or who is cursed by ecclesiastical authority.

2. Prohibition or curse solemnly pronounced by ecclesiastical authority and accompanied by excommunication; the denunciation of something as cursed.

Anathema, as used in the New Testament, comes from the Greek  ana’thema , meaning “a person or thing cursed or condemned to damnation or destruction.” 

Used only six times in the Holy Bible , the word anathema is commonly translated as “accursed”, “damned”, or “eternally damned” in most modern translations. 

Christian Meaning of Anathema in the Bible

The Greek word “anathema” consists of two words: “ ana ”, which is a preposition that indicates upward movement, and “ thema ”, which means a separate part of something. 

In military community was welcomed with affection by its members. To distinguish himself from the others, the neophyte wore white clothing. In Christian religious terminology, “thema” meant a detachment; in civil government, “ theme ” meant a province. Currently, we use the word “theme”, derived from “ thema ”, to mean a specific topic of a written or intellectual work.

“Anathema” literally means the elevation of something apart. In the Old Testament , this phrase was used both in connection with what was alienated due to sinfulness and in addition to what was dedicated to God.

In the New Testament, in the writings of the Apostle Paul , it is used once in connection with “Maranatha”, meaning the coming of the Lord. 

The combination of these words means separation until the coming of the Lord; in other words, being handed over to Him (1Co 16:22).

The Apostle John in Revelation 22:3 says that in the New Jerusalem there will be no anathema; this may be understood in two ways, giving the word anathema both meanings:

1) there will be no elevation to the judgment of God, for this judgment has already been carried out; 

2) there will be no special dedication to God, for all things will be the holy things of God, just as the light of God illuminates everything (Rev. 21:23).

Examples in Christianity

From the time of the apostles, the term ‘anathema’ has come to mean a form of extreme religious sanction known as ex-communion. The first recorded instance of the form is at the Council of Elvira (c. 306), and thereafter it became the common method of eliminating heretics; for example, the Synod of Gangra (c. 340) declared Manichaeism anathema. 

Cyril of Alexandria issued twelve anathemas against Nestorius in 431. In the 5th century, a formal distinction between anathema and ex-“minor” communication evolved, as “minor” excommunication entailed cutting off a person or group from the rite of the Eucharist and attendance at worship, while anathema meant a complete separation from the subject of the Church.

The Orthodox Church distinguishes between  epithemia  (penances) imposed on a person, one of which is “separation from the communion of the Church” (ex-communion) and anathema. While suffering  epithemia , the person remains an orthodox Christian, although his participation in the mystical life of the church is restricted; but those given up to the anathema are considered completely torn from the Church until they repent.

In the formal canons of all ecumenical councils accepted by the Catholic Church, the word “anathema” implies exclusion from the society of the faithful because of heresy . 

Records from the 9th and 12th centuries identify anathema of excommunication, a difference later clarified by using the term “major excommunication” for exclusion from the community of the faithful, and “minor excommunication” for ordinary excommunication or exclusion from reception of the sacraments.

Meaning of anathema in the biblical context

According to Bible Study Tools, “In the New Testament, this word always implies execration. In some cases, an individual calls anathema upon himself unless certain conditions are met (Acts 23:12-14-21).

“To call Jesus accursed” [anathema] (1 Corinthians 12:3) is to pronounce him execrated or accursed.

If anyone preached another gospel, the apostle says, “let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9); i.e. that his conduct in so doing be considered accursed. 

In Romans 9:3 the expression “accursed” (anathema) of Christ, that is, excluded from fellowship or covenant with Christ, has occasioned much difficulty. 

The apostle does not here speak of his desire as a possible thing. It is simply a vehement expression of feeling, showing how strong was his desire for the salvation of his people. 

The anathema in 1 Corinthians 16:22 simply denotes that those who do not love the Lord are justly objects of abhorrence and execration to all holy beings; they are guilty of a crime deserving the severest condemnation; they are exposed to the just sentence of “eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord.”

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