Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
conscience, the English translation of a word that, in classical Greek, referred to knowledge, especially the knowledge derived from reflection on ones past deeds. The appraisal of these deeds determined whether the conscience was good or bad. The focus of OT faith is primarily on Israels relation to God, and the Greek idea of conscience as self-reflection finds little place. Something similar to the concern for a clear conscience before God is expressed, however, in the OT desire for a clean heart (e.g., Ps. 51:10), and a usage similar to that in the Hellenistic world is found in the Wisdom of Solomon 17:11.
In the NT, which appears to be influenced by Hellenistic usage, the term occurs some thirty times, primarily in Pauls Letters (Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians) and in other writings traditionally associated with Paul (the pastoral Letters), although it also occurs twice in Acts (23:1; 24:16, both times on the lips of Paul), five times in Hebrews (9:9, 14; 10:2, 22; 13:18), and three times in 1 Peter (2:19; 3:16, 21). In a few instances, the meaning apparently is something like consciousness or awareness (Heb. 10:2; 1 Pet. 2:19, rsv: mindful). Elsewhere, the writers can speak of a good or bad conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9; 4:2; 2 Tim. 1:3; Titus 1:15; Heb. 10:22; 13:18; 1 Pet. 3:16, 21) or of perfecting or purifying the conscience (Heb. 9:9, 14).
Pauls use of the term is somewhat more difficult to characterize. In Rom. 2:15; 9:1 and 2 Cor. 1:12, he apparently uses it in the sense of ones knowledge or awareness of the nature of ones own thoughts, motives, and actions. In 2 Cor. 4:2 and 5:11, it appears to refer to ones judgments regarding the motives and actions of another. The exact meaning in Rom. 13:5 is unclear. Pauls understanding of the role of conscience is most fully expressed in his correspondence with the Corinthians concerning eating food offered to idols (1 Cor. 8-10). Some Corinthians apparently decided to let their conscience be their guide in this matter. Paul responds that conscience alone is an inadequate guide for Christian ethics. In an extremely sensitive or weak Christian, conscience may become too critical and oppressive. The stronger Christian, on the other hand, may be inconsiderate of the scruples of the weaker Christian. Paul does not think additional knowledge per se will be a sufficient guide for behavior in such a situation; rather, he admonishes that conscience follow the love ethic.
BibleTexts.com note: The Greek word translated as "conscience" is suneidesis, which is Strong's number 4893.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer