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The Blue Letter Bible

Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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ci. βέβηλος, κοινός.

The image which βέβηλος, derived from βῆλος, a threshold, suggests, is that of a spot trodden and trampled on, lying open to the casual foot of every intruder or careless passer-by;—and thus, in words of Thucydides, a χωρίον βέβηλον (iv. 97). Exactly opposite to this is the ἄδυτον, a spot, that is, fenced and reserved for sacred uses, as such not lightly to be approached, but in the language of the Canticle, ‘a garden enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed’ (Cant. 4:12). It is possible indeed that the ‘profaneness’ which is predicated of person or thing to whom this title is applied, may be rather negatively the absence of any higher consecration than positively the active presence of aught savouring of unholy or profane. Thus it is often joined with ἀμύητος (as by Plutarch, De Def. Orac. 16), and signifying no more than one uninitiated, the ἀνοργίαστος, and, as such, arcendus a sacris; compare Plato, Symp. 218 b, where it is joined with ἀγροῖκος. In like manner ἄρτοι βέβηλοι (1 Sam. 21:4) are simply unconsecrated common loaves, as contrasted with the shew-bread which the high priest declares to be holy. Not otherwise the Latin ‘profanus’ means no more than that which is left outside the τέμενος, that which is ‘pro fano,’ and thus wanting the consecration which the τέμενος, or sanctuary, has obtained. We, too, in English mean no more, when we distinguish between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ history, setting the one over against the other. We do not imply thereby any profaneness, positive and properly so called, in the latter, but only that it is not what the former is, a history having in the first place to do with the kingdom of God, and the course of that kingdom. So too it fared at first with βέβηλος. It was only in later use that it came to be set over against ἅγιος (Ezek. 22:6) and ὅσιος, to be joined with ἀνόσιος (1 Tim. 1:9), with γραώδης (4:7), with ἄνομος (Ezek. 2:25), that μιαραὶ χεῖρες (2 Macc. 5:16) could within a few lines be changed for βέβηλοι, as an adequate equivalent.

But in what relations, it may be asked, do βέβηλος and κοινός stand to one another? Before bringing the latter into such questionable company it may be observed that we have many pleasant and honourable uses of κοινός and its derivatives, κοινωνία and κοινωνικός, in the N. T.; thus Jude 3; 2 Cor. 13:13; 1 Tim. 6:18; while in heathen Greek Socrates is by Dio Chrysostom happily characterized as κοινὸς καὶ φιλάνθρωπος, giving himself, that is, no airs, and in nothing withdrawing himself from friendly and familiar intercourse with his fellow-men; the word being capable of finding a yet higher application to Him, of whom some complained that He ate with publicans and sinners (Matt. 9:10, 11). He, too, in this sense, and in the noblest aspect of the word, was κοινός. This, however, only by the way. The employment with which we have here to do of κοινός and κοινόω in sacred things, and as equivalent to βέβηλος and βεβηλόω, is exclusively Jewish Hellenistic. One might claim for it to be restricted to the N. T. alone, if it were not for two exceptional examples (1 Macc. 1:47, 62). Comparing Acts 21:6 and 24:6, we have curious implicit evidence that such an employment of κοινός was, at the time when the Acts were written, unfamiliar, probably unknown, to the heathen. The Jewish adversaries of St. Paul, when addressing their Israelitish fellow-countrymen, make their charge against him, κεκοίνωκε τὸν ἅγιον τόπον (Acts 21:28); but when they are bringing against him the same accusation, not now to their Jewish fellow-countrymen, but to Felix, a heathen, they change their word, and the charge runs, ἐπείρασε βεβηλῶσαι τὸ ἱερὸν (Acts 24:6); the other language would have been here out of keeping, might very likely have been unintelligible.

Very noticeable is the manner in which κοινός in the N. T. more and more encroaches on the province of meaning which, first belonging exclusively to βέβηλος, the two came afterwards to divide between them, but with the result that κοινός gradually assumed to itself the larger share, and was used the most often (Matt. 7:2; Acts 10:14; Rom. 14:14 bis; Heb. 10:29). How this came to pass, how βέβηλος had, since the Septuagint was written, been gradually pushed from its place, is not difficult to see. Κοινός, which stepped into its room, more commended itself to Jewish ears, as bringing out by contrast the ἐκλογή of the Jewish people as a λαὸς περιούσιος, having no fellowship with aught which was unclean. The less that there necessarily lay in κοινος of defilement, the more strongly the separation of Israel was brought out, that would endure no fellowship with things which had any commonness about them. The ceremonially unclean was in fact more and more breaking down the barrier which divided it from that which was morally unclean; and doing away with any distinction between them.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2839,G952.]

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