Hapax and Mallon
Romeo and Juliet. Salt and pepper. Brady and Belichick. Bread and butter. Bogart and Bacall. Chips and salsa. To this list of universally familiar pairings, I ask you to add one more: hapax and mallon.
In recent years, I’ve read a few books on the history and distinctives of evangelical theology and found them to be quite helpful and fascinating. In one, author and respected theologian John Stott emphasizes the significance of two Greek words in a proper understanding of theology. Those words, transliterated in English, are hapax and mallon.
Now I know next to nothing about Greek grammar, vocabulary, or syntax. The expression, “it’s Greek to me” is never truer than when uttered by yours truly. But according to Stott, hapax and mallon are both adverbs, meaning they describe how something happens, happened, will happen, or ought to happen. Hapax appears 14 times in the New Testament, while mallon occurs about 77 times, depending on who’s counting.
Hapax basically means “once” and mallon means “more.” But there are four verses in our Bibles where hapaxappears as “once for all” and seven where mallon is translated as “more and more.” Okay, now that we have the brute facts and cold statistics out of the way, what could be the point of all of this?
Some aspects of our faith are hapax, and several others are mallon. For instance, Paul in Romans 6:10 tells us that “…the death He (Christ Jesus) died, He died to sin once for all.” The author of Hebrews wrote “…but He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages…” (9:26). And in the third verse of Jude’s short letter, he instructs us to “…contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” These are hapax.
Compare these expressions to Paul’s words in Philippians 1:9: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment…”; and in I Thessalonians 4:1: “…that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” 2 Pet. 1:10 says, “…be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choice of you…” Mallon.
Now according to Stott, the use of these words in the New Testament helps us understand justification and sanctification. We are justified hapax, but sanctified mallon. The author of Hebrews emphasizes (especially in chapters 9 and 10) that because Christ, the perfect sacrifice, offered Himself hapax (once for all), He does not need to offer Himself mallon (more and more, or as we say in English, again and again), as the high priests of Israel did year after year on the prescribed Day of Atonement.
The use of these words in the New Testament helps us understand justification and sanctification.
We can draw parallels and see this principle at work in many areas of life. A book is written and published one time but may be read and studied over and over. A marriage begins hapax with particular promises and a public ceremony, but it continues and grows mallon through daily relationship and sharing of life’s experiences. An adopted child first joins a family through highly regulated legal proceedings, but then lives as a member of that family by adopting new routines, traditions, disciplines, and affections. Hapax and mallon.
Or consider this: certain employees (athletes, attorneys, entertainers, etc.) only begin their work after signing a contract. Unlike our justification in Christ, the employee’s contract is not interminable (for all time), but it does clearly mark a beginning (once). The occasion of the signing might be accompanied by benefits and incentives (such as a signing bonus, a new laptop, or a corner office), but it also comes with a clear understanding that the employee will work mallon—regularly, diligently, consistently for the good of the team, production, or firm. The contract protects the employee against termination for sick days or downturns in the market. But if the employee never shows up, never performs, never produces, it is understood that the employee doesn’t really “work” for the company after all.
In the same way (and in even greater and better ways), God has spoken to us hapax through His Son, the perfect sacrifice for sin hapax, and we have been given hapax everything we need for life and godliness, once and for all. As we understand these realities to be true and appropriate them in our lives, we ought, we must, and we will mallon—press in and press on, growing in knowledge and grace and in our love for one another more and more. Like the runner on the homestretch, “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11), so let us not run aimlessly but in such a way as to win the prize!