Revelation 3:15-17 – Both Hot and Cold Are Good

This is a Repost from 2009. The original comments were heated.

Revelation 3:15-17 NIV
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

I was always slightly puzzled by what these verses mean but never really looked into it until I read about it in Craig Keener’s The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation.

Regarding verse 15, although it may be well known to most of my readers, who are generally better educated in things Bible than I, Jesus is referring to the water temperature and quality or lack thereof in Laodicea, the church He is addressing here.

Keener writes:

Laodicea lacked its own water supply, having no direct access to the cold water of the mountains or the hot water of the nearby springs in Hierapolis to the north. In contrast to its claims to self-sufficiency (Rev. 3:17), it had to pipe in its water; though much of the aqueduct from the south was underground, nearer the city it came through stone barrel pipes, thus remaining vulnerable to any intended besiegers who wished to cut off the city’s water supply. More important, this water had grown lukewarm by the time of its arrival.

Other sources speak more about how displeasing this water was.

NLT Study Bible:

neither hot nor cold: The hot springs in Hierapolis were famous for their healing qualities. Colosse was equally famous for its cold, refreshing springs. In contrast, the water available in Laodicea was smelly and lukewarm. Such water is distasteful; Jesus was saying that the church’s indecisive commitment to him was revolting.

ESV Study Bible:

The waters of the nearby Lycus River were muddy and undrinkable, and the waters flowing by aqueduct from hot springs 5 miles (8 km) away were lukewarm when they reached Laodicea. Likewise, Jesus found his church’s tepid indifference repugnant. Cold and hot water represent something positive, for cold water refreshes in the heat, and hot water is a tonic when one is chilly.

So in mentioning the hot and cold water Jesus wasn’t speaking to their spiritual zeal or lack. And it doesn’t make sense that Jesus would rather they be spiritually cold than lukewarm. He’s not saying, “Pick a side, any side, as long as you commit to something.” Or that He would rather we be willfully cold towards Him as a way of showing some sort of truthful integrity if we aren’t very thrilled about how we feel about God at the moment.

What Jesus is saying is much more shocking. As Keener puts it,

In today’s English, he is telling the self-satisfied church in Laodicea: ‘I want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water you always complain about. You make me want to puke.’

The Laodiceans, who prided themselves on their wealth and self-sufficiency (Rev. 3:17) didn’t even have water that tasted good and Jesus used this to illustrate their spiritual self sufficiency and pride, and how He felt about it.

I was wondering if puke was a little overboard.

Thayer: to vomit, vomit forth, throw up, i. e. to reject with extreme disgust,

Louw-Nida: Since a term meaning ‘to vomit’ often carries somewhat vulgar connotations, ἐμέω in Re 3.16 has frequently been translated as ‘to spit out of my mouth.’ It is also possible to interpret ‘to vomit out of the mouth’ as an idiom meaning ‘to reject.’

It seems to me that a disservice is done when translations water this down (no pun intended). Most popular translations use spit. Among those that I looked at, the HCSB, LITV, Mounce Sr. (Interlinear), NET, NKJV, The Message and WEB use vomit. The Geneva Bible and King James use spewe and spue. (I think they were ahead of their time.)

Further reading:
The Letter to the Church in Laodicea at Ligonier Ministries

revelation-commentary

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