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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xvi. ἀσωτία, ἀσέλγεια.

It is little likely that he who is ἄσωτος will not be ἀσελγής also; but for all this ἀσωτία and ἀσέλγεια are not identical in meaning; they will express different aspects of his sin, or at any rate contemplate it from different points of view.

Ἀσωτία, a word in which heathen ethics said much more than they intended or knew, occurs thrice in the N. T. (Ephes. 5:18; Tit. 1:6; 1 Pet. 4); once in the Septuagint (Prov. 28:7) and once in the Apocrypha, being there joined with κώμοι (2 Macc. 6:4). We have further the adverb ἀσώτως, at Luke 15:13; and ἄσωτος once in the Septuagint (Prov. 7:11). At Ephes. 5:18 we translate it ‘excess;’ in the other two places, ‘riot,’ as ζῶν ἀσώτως, “in riotous living;” the Vulgate always by ‘luxuria’ and ‘luxuriose,’ words implying in medieval Latin a loose and profligate habit of living which is strange to our ‘luxury’ and ‘luxuriously’ at the present: see my Select Glossary, s. vv. in proof. Ἄσωτος is sometimes taken in a passive sense, as == ἄσωστος (Plutarch, Alcib. 3); one who cannot be saved, σώζεσθαι μὴ δυνάμενος, as Clement of Alexandria (Poedag. ii. 1) explains it, ‘perditus’ (Horace, Sat. i. 2. 15), ‘heillos,’ or as we used to say, a ‘losel,’ a ‘hopelost’ (this noticeable word is in Grimeston’s Polybius); Grotius: ‘Genus hominum ita immersorum vitiis, ut eorum salus deplorata sit;’ the word being, so to speak, prophetic of their doom to whom it was applied.1 This, however, was quite the rarer use; more commonly the ἄσωτος is one who himself cannot save, or spare, == ‘prodigus;’ or, again to use a good old English word more than once employed by Spenser, but which we have now let go, a ‘scatterling.’ This extravagant squandering of means Aristotle notes as the proper definition of ἀσωτία (Ethic. Nic. iv. 1. 3): ἀσωτία ἐστὶν ὑπερβολὴ περὶ χρήματα. The word forms part of his ethical terminology; the ἐλευθέριος, or the truly liberal man, keeps the golden mean between the two ἄκρα, namely, ἀσωτία (== ‘effusio’) on one side, and ἀνελευθερία, or ignoble stinginess (== ‘tenacitas,’ Augustine, Ep. 167. 2), on the other. It is in this view of ἀσωτία that Plato (Rep. viii. 560 e), when he names the various catachrestic terms, according to which men call their vices by the names of the virtues which they caricature, makes them style their ἀσωτία, μεγαλοπρέπεια: compare Quintilian (Inst. viii. 36): ‘Pro luxuriâ liberalitas dicitur.’ It is at this stage of its meaning that Plutarch joins with it πολυτέλεια (De Apoph. Cat. 1); and Menander ἄσωτος with πολυτελής (Meineke, Fragm. Com. p. 994).

But it is easy to see that one who is ἄσωτος in this sense of spending too much, of laying out his expenditure on a more magnificent scheme than his means will warrant, slides easily, under the fatal influence of flatterers, and of all those temptations with which he has surrounded himself, into a spending on his own lusts and appetites of that with which he parts so freely, laying it out for the gratification of his own sensual desires. Thus the word takes a new colour, and indicates now not only one of a too expensive, but also and chiefly, of a dissolute, debauched, profligate manner of living; the German ‘liederlich.’ Aristotle has noted this (Ethic. Nic. iv. 1. 36): διὸ καὶ ἀκόλαστοι αὐτῶν [τῶν ἀσώτων] εἰσιν οἱ πολλοί· εὐχερῶς γὰρ ἀναλίσκοντες καὶ εἰς τὰς ἀκολασίας δαπανηροί εἰσι, καὶ διὰ τὸ μὴ πρὸς τὸ καλὸν ζῇν, πρὸς τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀποκλίνουσιν. Here he explains a prior statement: τοὺς ἀκρατεῖς καὶ εἰς ἀκολασίαν δαπανηροὺς ἀσώτους καλοῦμεν.

In this sense ἀσωτία is used in the N. T.; as we find ἀσωτίαι and κραιπάλαι joined elsewhere together (Herodian, ii. 5). The two meanings will of course run often into one another, nor will it be possible to keep them strictly asunder. Thus the several examples of the ἄσωτος, and of ἀσωτία, which Athenaeus (iv. 59–67) gives, are sometimes rather of one kind, sometimes of the other. The waster of his goods will be very often a waster of everything besides, will lay waste himself—his time, his faculties, his powers; and, we may add, uniting the active and passive meanings of the word, will be himself laid waste; he at once loses himself, and is lost. In the Tabula of Cebes, Ἀσωτία, one of the courtesans, the temptresses of Hercules, keeps company with Ἀκρασία, Ἀπληστία and Κολακεία.

The etymology of ἀσέλγεια is wrapped in obscurity; some going so far to look for it as to Selge, a city of Pisidia, whose inhabitants were infamous for their vices; while others derive it from θέλγειν, probably the same word as the German ‘schwelgen:’Etym. Note. 12 see, however, Donaldson, Cratylus, 3rd edit. p. 692. Of more frequent use than ἀσωτία in the N. T., it is in our Version generally rendered ‘lasciviousness’ (Mark 7:22; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Ephes. 4:29; 1 Pet. 4:3; Jude 4); though sometimes ‘wantonness’ (Rom. 13:13; 2 Pet. 2:18); as in the Vulgate now ‘impudicitia,’ and now ‘luxuria;’ even as it is defined in the Etymologicon Magnum as ἑτοιμότης πρὸς πᾶσαν ἡδονήν. If our Translators or the Latin had impurities and lusts of the flesh exclusively in their eye, they have certainly given to the word too narrow a meaning. Ἀσέλγεια, which, it will be observed, is not grouped with such in the catalogue of sins at Mark 7:21, 22, is best described as wanton lawless insolence; being somewhat stronger than the Latin ‘protervitas,’ though of the same quality, more nearly ‘petulantia,’ Chrysostom (Hom. 37 in Matt.) joining ἰταμότης with it. It is defined by Basil the Great (Reg. Brev. Int. 67) as διάθεσις ψυχῆς μὴ ἔχουσα ἢ μὴ φέρουσα ἄλγος ἀθλητικόν. The ἀσελγής, as Passow observes, is very closely allied to the ὑβριστικός and ἀκόλαστος, being one who acknowledges no restraints, who dares whatsoever his caprice and wanton petulance may suggest.2 None would deny that ἀσέλγεια may display itself in acts of what we call ‘lasciviousness;’ for there are no worse displays of ὕβρις than in these; but still it is their petulance, their insolence, which this word, linked by Polybius (v. 111) with βία, expresses. Of its two renderings in our Version, ‘wantonness’ is the best, standing as it does in a remarkable ethical connexion with ἀσέλγεια, and having the same duplicity of meaning.

In numerous passages the notion of lasciviousness is altogether absent from the word. In classical Greek it is defined (Bekker’s Anecdota, p. 451) ἡ μετ᾽ ἐπηρεασμοῦ καὶ θρασύτητος βία. Thus, too, Demosthenes in his First Philippic, 42, denounces the ἀσέλγεια of Philip; while elsewhere he characterizes the blow which Meidias had given him, as in keeping with the known ἀσέλγεια of the man, joining this and ὕβρις together (Cont. Meid. 514); linking elsewhere ἀσελγῶς with δεσποτικῶς (Or. xvii. 21), and with προπετῶς (Or. lix. 46). As ἀσέλγεια Plutarch characterizes a similar outrage on the part of Alcibiades, committed against an honorable citizen of Athens (Alcib. 8); indeed, the whole picture which he draws of Alcibiades is the full-length portrait of an ἀσελγής. Aristotle notices δημαγωγῶν ἀσέλγειαν as a frequent cause of revolutions (Pol. v. 4). Josephus ascribes ἀσέλγεια and μανία to Jezebel, daring, as she did, to build a temple of Baal in the Holy City itself (Antt. viii. 13. 1); and the same to a Roman soldier, who, being on guard at the Temple during the Passover, provoked by an act of grossest indecency a tumult, in which many lives were lost (xx. 5. 3). Other passages, helpful to a fixing of the true meaning of the word, are 3 Macc. 2:26; Polybius, viii. 14. 1; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. v. 1. 26; and see the quotations in Wetstein, vol. i. p. 588. Ἀσέλγεια, then, and ἀσωτία are clearly distinguishable; the fundamental notion of ἀσωτία being wastefulness and riotous excess; of ἀσέλγεια, lawless insolence and wanton caprice.


1 Thus in the Adelphi of Terence (vi. 7), one having spoken of a youth ‘luxu perditum,’ proceeds:

‘ipsa si cupiat Salus,
Servare prorsus non potest hanc familiam.’

No doubt in the Greek original there was a threefold play here on ἄσωτος, σωτηρία and σώζειν, which the absence of a corresponding group of words in Latin has hindered Terence from preserving.

2 Thus Witsius (Melet. Leid. p. 465) observes: ‘ἀσέλγειαν dici posse, omnem tam ingenii, quam morum proterviam, petalantiam, lasciviam quae ab aeschine opponitur τῇ μετριότητι καὶ σωφροσύνῃ.’ There is a capital note, but too long to quote, on all that ἀσέλγεια includes in Cocceius on Gal. 5:19.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G766,G810.]

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