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Anathema is from the Greek word pronounced, an-ath-ay-mah, generally meaning set apart, or put away. The Old Testament Hebrew equivalents were pronounced kel-aw-lah, meaning contemptable, or vilified, and kheh-rem, meaning doomed, or set apart for destruction. All generally imply a meaning of accursed, as it is often used in English translations of The Bible, although it actually had a wider application.


  • From the time of Moses, anything, or anyone, devoted to The Lord (see Rock Of Ages) as anathema could not be redeemed e.g. "But nothing that a man owns and devotes to The Lord - whether man or animal or family land - may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to The Lord. No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; he must be put to death. (Leviticus 27:28-29)

  • Anathema was used to describe the condemnation of idolatrous nations, and the wicked things that they did (see Images and Idols and Witches And Sorcerers), including slaughtering and burning their own infants (see The Valley Of Hinnom) e.g. "The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to The Lord your God. Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Utterly abhor and detest it, for it is set apart for destruction." (Deuteronomy 7:25-26)

  • In the New Testament, the Greek word was also used to indicate condemnation. For example, in admonishing the Galatians (see Who Were The Galatians?), Paul said, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:6-9)

  • Anathema was also used to denote anything set apart as sacred, in which it was sometimes translated as gifts e.g. in the time of the ministry of Jesus Christ, "Some of His disciples were remarking about how The Temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God." (Luke 21:5)

  • Paul (see On The Road To Damascus) even used the term anathema in a figurative sense, "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!" (Romans 9:3-5)

  • Paul also used it to condemn those who opposed The Lord, "I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. If anyone does not love The Lord - a curse be on him. Come, O Lord! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus." (1 Corinthians 16:21-24)

Fact Finder: When the Israelites conquered Jericho (see The Fall Of Jericho), were they to regard the entire city as anathema?
Joshua 6:17

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