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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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civ. βραδύς, νωθρός, ἀργός.

In a careful article which treats of these words, Schmidt expresses in German the ultimate conclusions about them whereat he has arrived; which it may be worth while to repeat, as some instruction may be gotten from them. Βραδύς, he states, would best be represented in German by ‘langsam,’ with ταχύς, or else with ὠκύς (Homer, Odys. viii. 329), or with ἀγχίνους for its antithesis; νωθρός by ‘träge,’ with ὀξύς for its proper opposite; while he morally identifies ἀργός with the German ‘faul,’ or with ‘unthätig,’ and finds in ἐνεργός the proper antithesis of this. Let us examine these words a little closer.

Βραδύς differs from the words with which it is here brought info comparison, that no moral fault or blame is necessarily involved in it; so far indeed from this, that of the three occasions on which it is used in the N. T., two are in honour; for to be ‘slow’ to evil things, to rash speaking, or to anger (Jam. 1:19, bis), is a grace, and not the contrary. Elsewhere too βραδύς is honourably used, as when Isocrates (1:34) advises, to be ‘slow’ in planning and swift in performing. Neither is it in dispraise of the Spartans that Thucydides ascribes slowness of action (βραδύτης) to the Spartans and swiftness to the Athenians. He is in this doing no more than weighing in equal scales, these against those, the more striking and more excellent qualities of each (viii. 96).

Of νωθρός, which is only found twice in the N. T., and both times in the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:11; 6:12), the etymology is uncertain; that from νη and ὠθεῖν, which found favour once, failing to do so now. We meet the word in good Attic Greek; thus in Plato (Theoetet. 144 b); the form νωθὴς being the favourite in the classical periods of the language, and νωθρός not coming into common use till the times of the κοινὴ διάλεκτος. It occurs but once in the Septuagint (Prov. 22:29), νωθροκάρδιος also once (Prov. 12:8); twice in the Apocrypha, at Ecclus. 11:13, and again at 4:34, where νωθρός and παρειμένος ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις stand in instructive juxtaposition.

There is a deeper, more inborn sluggishness implied in νωθρός, and this bound up as it were in the very life, than in either of the other words of this group. The βραδὺς of to-day might become the ὠκὺς of to-morrow; the ἀργὸς might grow to ἐνεργός; but the very constitution of the νωθρός unfits him for activities of the mind or spirit; he is νωθρός ἐν ταῖς ἐπίνοιαις (Polybius, iv. 8. 5). The word is joined by Dionysius of Halicarnassus with ἀναίσθητος, ἀκίνητος, and ἀπαθής; by Hippocrates, cited by Schmidt, with βαρύς; by Plutarch (De Orac. Def.) with δυσκίνητος, this last epithet expressing clearly what in others just named is only suggested, namely, a certain awkwardness and unwieldliness of gait and demeanour, representing to the outward world a slowness and inaptitude for activities of the mind which is within. On its second appearance, Heb. 6:12, the Vulgate happily renders it by ‘segnis’; ‘sluggish,’ in place of the ‘slothful,’ which now stands in our Version, would be an improvement. Delitzsch, upon Heb. 5:11, sums up the force of νωθρός: Schwer in Bewegung zu setzen, schwerfällig, träge, stumpf, matt, lässig; while Pollux makes νώθρεια a synonym of ἀμβλύτης. It is in its earlier form a standing epithet for the ass (Homer, Il. ii. 559).

Ἀργός (== ἀεργός), used of persons (2 Pet. 1:8; Tit. 1:12) and of things (Matt. 12:36; 20:3, 6), is joined in the first of these places with ἄκαρπος. It is there rendered ‘barren,’ a not very happy rendering, for which ‘idle’ might be substituted with advantage, seeing that ‘barren and unfruitful,’ as we read it now, constitute a tautology which it would be well to get rid of. It is joined by Plato to ἀμελής (Rep. 421 d) and to δειλός (Legg. x. 903), by Plutarch, as already had been done by St. Peter, to ἄκαρπος (Poplic. 8); the verb ἀργεῖν by Demosthenes to σχολάζειν and ἀπορεῖν. It is set over against ἐνεργός by Xenophon (Cyrop. iii. 2. 19), against ἐργάτις by Sophocles (Phil. 97).

‘Slow’ (or ‘tardy’), ‘sluggish,’ and ‘idle’ would severally represent the words of this group.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1021,G3576,G692.]

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