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Greek Word Devos–phulē

In our Greek Word Devotional series, we discuss some of our favorite passages in the Bible, focusing on the specific use of certain Greek words. As the CSB celebrates 5 years of ministry, and as we seek to live out the Bible in every aspect of our lives, we thought it would be helpful to look at a communal word: phulē, which means “tribe.”

“After this I looked and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.”

The following is an excerpt from the CSB Study Bible:


Greek pronunciation: foo LAY

CSB translation: tribe

Uses in Revelation: 13

Uses in the NT: 23

Focus passage: Revelation 7:4-9

Phulē can refer to a group of people united along sociopolitical lines (i.e., a nation) or to a subgroup within a nation, characterized by a distinctive bloodline (i.e., a tribe). Outside of the book of Revelation, phulē normally refers to one or more of Israel’s twelve tribes (Mt 19:28; Lk 2:36; 22:30; Ac 13:21; Rm 11:1; Php 3:5; Heb 7:13-14), a usage less frequently attested in the book of Revelation (5:5; 7:4-8; 21:12). Phulē occurs thirteen times in Revelation, where John speaks of tribes among the Gentile nations (Rv 1:7; 5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; this broder sphere of tribes may also be in view in Mt 24:30 and Jms 1:1). In this latter sense, phulē has some semantic overlap with the Gk terms genos (nation, race) and ethnos (foreigns, nations). 

Reflections on phulē

So in John’s vision, he sees “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language…standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It’s truly beautiful that John sees this scene. It’s a scene we all eagerly await not only seeing, but participating in. But that’s for a Kingdom yet to come. What can we do for people, from all walks of life, in the here and now that lets all of us get a taste of what’s to come?

The answer that comes to mind is the easiest to say but perhaps the hardest to do. We first need to love them. 1 Corinthians has a lot to say about love, and not just when we are at a wedding. Love is a lot of things, but it can be distilled down to this rule we’ve all heard our whole lives: love others as you love yourself.

That’s how we aim to live out the Bible from here on out–by loving our neighbors, making them feel welcomed, at-home, and comfortable in our tribe. That tribe can be as small as a group of neighbors, as big as your church, or even larger. But it’s our responsibility and privilege to love those around us in a way that mirrors Christ’s love for his church–the love that God has for all of his creation.

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