ANATHEMA (a-năth'ĕ-ma, Gr. anathema, the rendering in the LXX and in the NT of the Hebrew herem, anything devoted). A thing devoted to God becomes his and is therefore irrevocably withdrawn from common use. A person so devoted is doomed to death—a death implying moral worthlessness (Lev.27.28-Lev.27.29; Rom.3.9; 1Cor.12.3; 1Cor.16.22; Gal.1.9). See also Devoted Thing.

The Hellenistic Greek word means literally “something set up” or “placed” for a divinity. Both this and the rather stronger classical Greek form were originally used of a votive offering (cf. Luke 21:5). In the LXX the word anathema corresponds to the Hebrew term “consecrated (to God”) or “accursed.” Becoming anathema in the OT period could involve extermination (Deut. 7:1f., etc.). The NT use of the word implies exclusion, being banned, rather than complete extinction (Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor. 16:22, lect. vid.; Gal. 1:8f.; cf. 1 Cor. 12:3; Acts 23:14). The early church extended the biblical meaning (see A.F. Walls, NBD, p.35) to make it synonymous with excommunication. The earliest example of anathematizing beyond the NT occurs in the legislation of the Council of Elvira.* Normally the conciliar anathema was invoked against heresy (cf. the twelve anti-Nestorian anathemas of Cyril of Alexandria*). From the sixth century onward, anathematizing (as complete banning from the church) is distinguished from excommunication (as exclusion from worship and the sacraments).

See also Excommunication.

ANATHEMA ə năth’ ə mə (ἀνάθεμα, G353, / ἀνάθημα, G356, חֵ֫רֶם, H3051; that which is devoted, dedicated, banned or cursed). Although the word occurs only once in KJV (1 Cor 16:22) the LXX uses it frequently, but not exclusively, to tr. ḥērem, a noun which occurs twenty-nine times in the OT. This word is used in two senses, both relating to the idea of devoting something to God. It would appear that Leviticus 27:28 is speaking about a person voluntarily dedicating some of his goods in a solemn way to Yahweh, while the following v. is speaking about someone who is to be destroyed. In contrast to the consecrated things of the earlier parts of the ch., neither of these devoted things can be redeemed. But they are different from each other for there is no reason why the items devoted in the first case should be devoted, whereas such a reason must surely be present in the second because of its eventuating in death to the one devoted. These represent two types: that which is dedicated and that which is set apart for destruction.

In non-Biblical Gr. the emphasis of anathema is upon the idea of dedicating something to deity and anatithēmi becomes used technically for offering up a votive offering. A possible exception to this emphasis is the use of anathema in a curse tablet, but the lateness of the text renders it disputed as to whether it is uninfluenced by Biblical usage.

In the NT one finds the two LXX uses continued: Luke 21:5 speaks of offerings, while the meaning “object devoted to destruction” is perpetuated in Romans 9:3; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 16:22; Galatians 1:8, 9. In Acts 23:14 the word is used of the curse which is to bring destruction.


J. Behm, in TWNT (1933); N. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (1944).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)