Intimacy: Let's Get Biblical, Part II

Last time I blogged I wrote about how the word intimate plays out in the Old Testament and it often portrays a picture of resting upon another as you would a pillow. Intimacy expressed is where we find ourselves able to relinquish our walls, barriers, and guards and let ourselves relax in the embrace of another. I mentioned there was a picture of intimacy in the New Testament which came to mind and reveals the idea with perfect clarity. Before I get to that passage of Scripture, I want to do justice to a few other mentions of intimacy/intimate in the New Testament to be sure to cover the scope of the word. Note: There was no translations that are typically used that contained the words intimacy. These are the outliers.

Acts 10.24 in the Darby Translation highlights the use of “intimate” as it relates to a modifier of friendship. “And on the morrow they came to Caesarea. But Cornelius was looking for them, having called together his kinsmen and [his] intimate friends.” Although friends are a powerful picture of close relationship, the author goes a step further to indicate these friends were more than just buds, they were “close, intimate, necessary, or essential friends.” The word in the Greek is anagkaios, which has some connections to those who are bent or have an uplifted arm to meet a pressing need. It also carries the idea of being an outward influence or exerting pressure upon another (sometimes negative, sometimes positive). I think it is safe to say "intimate" in this verse captures the idea of having friendship where one cannot do without the other. In some ways, we can recognize this kind of intimacy as being core to being human, and furthermore core to being good friends. We all have those friends who we think - man, I didn’t know how much I needed them until I knew them. This is an intimate friend. Side note - the Latin word used for this kind of friend is necessarios, meaning "a necessary one" or "one who is bound or tied to another." I think few of us realize how much we need friendship, need intimacy, need one another.

Another use of intimate comes up in the Weymouth Translation of Ephesians 1:1, “For I always beseech the God of our Lord Jesus Christ--the Father most glorious--to give you a spirit of wisdom and penetration through an intimate knowledge of Him…” The word here in Greek for “intimate knowledge” is epignosis, meaning literally, “on, fitting," combined with “knowledge gained through first-hand relationship” or more simply said “contact-knowledge” or “experiential knowledge.” This word knowledge definitely has come up numerous times in my conversation of intimacy. Pastors, leaders, friends, and many commentators stress the importance of knowledge when understanding intimacy. But - this is no normal knowledge. This is a full disclosure, an absolutely true knowing, that happens from close contact with another. This kind of intimate knowledge is not merely intellectual but is inherently spiritual. The passage also intimates, pun intended, that Jesus is the way we come to intimacy with God the Father. This "knowing" is about seeing the revealed Jesus, and in this revelation recognizing and receiving with full embrace who God really is. In other words, intimacy in the New Testament is a friendship, a revelation, a need for another, and a revealed other all simultaneously.

I think we are now poised to engage one more passage of Scripture which I previously mentioned. As a reminder, we have talked about intimacy meaning disclosure and embrace, it having a deep sense of resting or laying back on another like a pillow, and lastly as a relationship that is necessary, revealing, and experiential. The story that I think embodies many of these aspects is from John 13.25, where we see John, “leaning back against Jesus,” to ask a question about who the betrayer was. In this moment of reclining as they ate, which was the normal custom, John leans back to gain closer contact with Jesus. "Leaning" always reveals a change of posture in the Greek and many times is used to describe a rower leaning back before pulling back the oar. This was a definitive act of intimacy. It expresses an abandon and a freedom that is not often connected to the ideas of intimacy. See intimacy tends to be so privatized that is can be misunderstood for exclusionary. However, this picture in John 13 seems to indicate you will be able to see the freedom in intimate relationship. People will know how close you really are. Another thought about intimacy from this passage of Scripture is John re-positions himself to ask a question. I wonder if many times our intimacy should be found from the place of asking hard questions and with an ear to listen. The last unique thing I recognized about this passage is the content of the conversation is driven by loyalty. John wants to know if he is in right relationship or if he could be faulted with the betrayal. I wonder if many of our intimate conversations should look less about just getting closer and look more like freeing moments where we can find ourselves inquiring about loyalties. Caveat: I will confess that although I have used John 13:25 to describe a New Testament picture of intimacy, there aren’t any actual uses of the word in the passage. However, it appears to me to be too similar to what we found in the Old Testament understanding to neglect it.

My posture today is to ask the question of Jesus in the spirit of disclosure, “Am I loyal to you?” And wait to let him embrace my leaning and for him to say, “You are loyal enough.” There’s not a more beautiful picture of intimacy I can think of at present. And I think I am going to embrace more freedom, more inquiry, and more loyalty in my relationships.

The next blog will be about what I am learning from Henri Nouwen’s book, Intimacy, and how it contributes to the conversation on intimacy.