Surprised by covetousness

On Tuesday, I was reading Romans 7 as part of my Scripture reading during my personal worship time. Verse 7 stuck out since we are teaching our son, Allan, the ten commandments.

Romans 7:7 Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων εἰ μὴ διὰ νόμου· τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν οὐκ ᾔδειν εἰ μὴ ὁ νόμος ἔλεγεν· οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "You shall not covet." (NASB)

I was surprised to see that the noun “coveting” = ἐπιθυμία; the verb is a form of ἐπιθυμέω. The standard words for desire, strong desire, frequently translated "lust" by the KJV! Is that what coveting is--desire?

So I checked the LXX. It uses ἐπιθυμέω in Exod. 20 and Deut. 5. Then I checked BDAG, Louw-Nida, and Friberg. None of them list “covet” as a sense of ἐπιθυμέω! Then I went to the Hebrew: חמד is the verb translated “covet.” HALOT does not list ‘covet’ as a sense. It lists “to desire.”

So I looked up “covet” in the Oxford English Dictionary and it lists the 10th commandment under sense three “to desire culpably, to long for (what belongs to another). Sense 1 was ‘desire, eagerly desire.’ Sense 2 to desire with concupiscience or fleshly desire.

Conclusion: “Covet” is not a technical term distinct from other terms for desire. It is the normal word for desire.

This shifts my understanding of the commandment. You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife. You shall not desire your neighbor’s house. When something belongs to another, to desire that very item is wrong. To desire an item like it, then I assume, is not wrong. To desire a wife like one’s neighbor’s wife is ok.

Wow, this ties into 1 John 2:15-17 and worldliness. Since "the things in the world" are lusts -- ἐπιθυμία -- all worldliness is a violation of the 10th commandment as well as a violation of the 1st commandment.


The Grahams said…
I appreciate your thoughts. I was reminded of earlier reading regarding this issue of desire.

Moments ago, I remembered the context: Dr. Joel Green's paper "Sin and Freedom: Perspectives from Evolutionary Psychology and New Testament Studies," recently presented at the Wesleyan Theological Society (currently archived online at

Dr. Green's discussion of free will (using the book of James) notes that desire is identified not "in terms of external pressures" (as if often the case) but "as internal inclinations."

Its also a good read that adds to the discussion of free will and personal responsibility.

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