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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xviii. παλιγγενεσία, ἀνακαίνωσις.

Παλιγγενεσία is one among the many words which the Gospel found, and, so to speak, glorified; enlarged the borders of its meaning; lifted it up into a higher sphere; made it the expression of far deeper thoughts, of far mightier truths, than any of which it had been the vehicle before. It was, indeed, already in use; but as the Christian new- birth was not till after Christ’s birth; as men were not new-born, till Christ was born (John 1:12); as their regeneration did not go before, but only followed his generation; so the word could not be used in this its highest, most mysterious sense, till that great mystery of the birth of the Son of God into our world had actually found place. And yet it is exceedingly interesting to trace these its subordinate, and, as they proved, preparatory uses. There are passages (as, for instance, in Lucian, (Muscoe Encore. 7) in which it means revivification, and nothing more. In the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls, their reappearance in new bodies was called their παλιγγενεσία (Plutarch, De Esu Car. i. 7; ii. 6: De Isid. et Osir. 35: Ὀσίριδος αἱ ἀναβιώσεις καὶ παλιγγενεσίαι: De Ei ap. Delp. 9: ἀποβιώσεις καὶ παλιγγενεσίαι: De Def. Orac. 51: μεταβολαὶ καὶ παλιγγενεσίαι). For the Stoics the word set forth the periodic renovation of the earth, when, budding and blossoming in the spring-time, it woke up from its winter sleep, and, so to speak, revived from its winter death: which revival therefore Marcus Antoninus calls (ii. 1) τὴν περιοδικὴν παλιγγενεσίαν τῶν ὅλων. Philo also constantly sets forth by aid of παλιγγενεσία the phoenix-like resurrection of the material world out of fire, which the Stoics taught (De Incorr. Mun. 17, 21; De Mun. 15); while in another place, of Noah and those in the Ark with him, he says (De Vit. Mos. ii. 12): παλιγγενεσίας ἐγένοντο ἡγεμόνες, καὶ δευτέρας ἀρχηγέται περιόδου. Basil the Great (Hexaëm. Hom. 3) notes some heretics, who, bringing old heathen speculations into the Christian Church, ἀπείρους φθορὰς κόσμου καὶ παλιγγενεσίας εἰσάγουσιν. Cicero (Ad Attic. vi. 6) calls his restoration to his dignities and honours, after his return from exile, ‘hanc παλιγγενεσίαν nostram,’ with which compare Philo, Leg. ad Cai. 41. Josephus (Antt. xi. 3. 9) characterizes the restoration of the Jewish nation after the Captivity, as τὴν ἀνάκτησιν καὶ παλιγγενεσίαν τῆς πατρίδος (== ζωοποίησιν, Ezra 9:8, 9). And, to cite one passage more, Olympiodorus, a later Platonist, styles recollection or reminiscence, which must be carefully distinguished from memory,1 the παλιγγενεσία of knowledge (Journal des Savans, 1834, p. 488): παλιγγενεσία τῆς γνώσεώς ἐστιν ἡ ἀνάμνησις.

Παλιγγενεσία, which has thus in heathen and Jewish Greek the meaning of a recovery, a restoration, a revival, yet never reaches, or even approaches, there the depth of meaning which it has acquired in Christian language. The word does not once occur in the O. T. (but πάλιν γίνεσθαι at Job 14.14; cf. Josephus, Con. Apion. ii. 30), and only twice in the New (Matt. 19:28; Tit. 3:5); but on these two occasions (as is most remarkable), with meanings apparently different. In our Lord’s own words there is evident reference to the new-birth of the whole creation, the ἀποκατάστασις πάντων (Acts 3:21), which shall be when the Son of Man hereafter comes in his glory; while “the washing of regeneration” whereof St. Paul speaks, has to do with that new-birth, not of the whole travailing creation, but of the single soul, which is now evermore finding place. Is then παλιγγενεσία used in two different senses, with no common bond binding the diverse uses of it together? By no means: all laws of language are violated by any such supposition. The fact is, rather, that the word by our Lord is used in a wider, by his Apostle in a narrower, meaning. They are two circles of meaning, one comprehending more than the other, but their centre is the same. The παλιγγενεσία which Scripture proclaims begins with the μικρόκοσμος of single souls; but it does not end with this; it does not cease its effectual working till it has embraced the whole μακρόκοσμος of the universe. The primary seat of the παλιγγενεσία is the soul of man; it is of this that St. Paul speaks; but, having established its centre there, it extends in ever-widening circles; and, first, to his body; the day of resurrection being the day of παλιγγενεσία for it. It follows that those Fathers had a certain, though only a partial, right, who at Matt. 19:28 made παλιγγενεσία equivalent to ἀνάστασις, and themselves continually used the words as synonymous (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. v. 1. 58; iii. 23; Euthymius: παλιγγενεσίαν λέγει τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀνάστασιν ὡς παλινζωΐαν; see Suicer, s. v.). Doubtless our Lord there implies, or presupposes, the resurrection, but he also includes much more. Beyond the day of resurrection, or, it may be, contemporaneous with it, a day will come when all nature shall put off its soiled workday garments, and clothe itself in its holy-day attire, “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21); of what Plutarch, reaching out after this glorious truth, calls the μετακόσμησις (De Fac. in Orbe Lunoe, 13); of ‘the new heaven and the new earth’ (Rev. 21:1; Isai. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13); a day by St. Paul regarded as one in the labour-pangs of which all creation is groaning and travailing until now (Rom. 8:21-23).2 Man is the present subject of the παλιγγενεσία, and of the wondrous change which it implies; but in that day it will have included within its limits that whole world of which man is the central figure: and here is the reconciliation of the two passages, in one of which it is contemplated as pertaining to the single soul, in the other to the whole redeemed creation. These refer both to the same event, but at different epochs and stages of its development. ‘Palingenesia,’ as Delitzsch says concisely and well (Apologetik, p. 213), ‘ist kurzer Ausdruck für die Wiedergeburt oder Verklaärung der menschlichen Leiblichkeit und der aussermenschlichen Gesammtnatur.’ Compare Engelhardt, Weltverklärung und Welterneuerung in the Zeitschrift für Luther. Theol. 1871, p. 48, sqq.

Ἀναγέννησις, a word common enough with the Greek Fathers (see Suicer, s. v.), nowhere occurs in the N. T., although the verb ἀναγεννάω twice (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). Did we meet it there, it would constitute a closer synonym to παλιγγενεσία than ἀνακαίνωσις can do; ἀναγέννησις (== regeneratio) bringing out the active operation of Him who is the author of the new-birth; while παλιγγενεσία (== renascentia) is that same new-birth itself. But not urging this further, we have now to speak of ἀνακαίνωσις (== renovatio), of the relations in which it stands to παλιγγεσία, and the exact limits to the meaning of each.

And first it is worth observing that while the word παλιγγενεσία is drawn from the realm of nature, ἀνακαίνωσις is derived from that of art. A word peculiar to the Greek of the N. T., it occurs there only twice—once in connexion with παλιγγενεσία (Tit. 3:5), and again at Rom. 12:2; but we have the verb ἀνακαινόω, which also is exclusively a N. T. form, at 2 Cor. 4:16; Col. 3:10; and the more classical ἀνακαινίζω, Heb. 6:6, from which the nouns, frequent in the Greek Fathers, ἀνακαινισμός and ἀνακαίνισις, 3 are more immediately drawn; we have also ἀνανεόω at Ephes. 4:23; all in similar uses. More on these words will be found in § lx. Our Collect for Christmas day expresses excellently well the relation in which the παλιγγενεσία and the ἀνακαίνωσις stand to each other; we there pray, ‘that we being regenerate,’ in other words, having been already made the subjects of the παλιγγενεσία, ‘may daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit,’ may continually know the ἀνακαίνωσις Πνεύματος Ἁγίου. In this Collect, uttering, as do so many, profound theological truth in forms at once the simplest and the most accurate, the new-birth is contemplated as already past, as having found place once for all, while the ‘renewal’ or ‘renovation’ is daily proceeding—being as it is that gradual restoration of the Divine image, which is ever going forward in him who, through the new-birth, has come under the transforming4 powers of the world to come. It is called ‘the renewal of the Holy Ghost,’ inasmuch as He is the efficient cause, by whom alone this putting on of the new man, and putting off the old, is brought about.

These two then are bound by closest ties to one another; the second the following up, the consequence, the consummation of the first. The παλιγγενεσία is that free act of God’s mercy and power, whereby He causes the sinner to pass out of the kingdom of darkness into that of light, out of death into life; it is the ἄνωθεν γεννηθῆναι of John 3:3; the γεννηθῆναι ἐκ Θειῦ of 1 John 5:4; the θεογενεσία of Dionysius the Areopagite and other Greek theologians; the γεννηθῆναι ἐκ σπορᾶς ἀφθάρτου of 1 Pet. 1:23; in it that glorious word begins to be fulfilled, ἰδοὺ καινὰ ποιῶ τὰ πάντα (Rev. 21:5). In it,—not in the preparations for it, but in the act itself,—the subject of it is passive, even as the child has nothing to do with its own birth. With the ἀνακαίνωσις it is otherwise. This is the gradual conforming of the man more and more to that new spiritual world into which he has been introduced, and in which he now lives and moves; the restoration of the Divine image; and in all this, so far from being passive, he must be a fellow-worker with God. That was ‘regeneratio,’ this is ‘renovatio;’ which two must not be separated, but as little may be confounded, as Gerhard (Locc. Theoll. xxi. 7. 113) has well declared: ‘Renovatio, licet a regeneratione proprie et specialiter acceptâ distinguatur, individuo tamen et perpetuo nexu cum eâ est conjuncta.’ What infinite perplexities, conflicts, scandals, obscurations of God’s truth on this side and on that, have arisen now from the confusing, and now from the separating, of these two!


1 The very purpose of the passage in Olympiodorus is to bring out the old Aristotelian and Platonic distinction between ‘memory’ (μνήμη, Gedächtniss) and ‘recollection’ or ‘reminiscence’ (ἀνάμνησις, Heb. 10:3; Wiedererinnerung), the first being instinctive, and common to beasts with men, the second being the reviving of faded impressions by a distinct act of the will, the reflux, at the bidding of the mind, of knowledge which has once ebbed (Plato, Philebus, 34 b; Legg. v. 732 b: ἀνάμνησις δ᾽ ἐστὶν ἐπιῤῥοὴ φρονήσεως ἀπολιπούσης: cf. Philo, Cong. Erud. Grat. 8), and as such proper only to man (Aristotle, De Hist. Anim. i. 1. 15; Brandis, Aristoteles, pp. 1148–53). It will at once be seen that of this latter only Olympiodorus could say, that it is παλιγγενεσία τῆς γνώσεως.

2 Parallels from heathen writers are very often deceptive, none are more likely to prove so than those which Seneca offers; on which see Lightfoot in an Appendix to his Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, p. 268, sqq.; and also Aubertin, Sur les Rapports supposaés entre Sénèque et S. Paul. And yet, with the fullest admission of this, the words which follow must be acknowledged as remarkable (Ep. 102): ‘Quemadmodum novem mensibus nos tenet maternus uterus, et praeparat non sibi sed illi loco in quem videmur emitti, jam idonei spiritum trahere, et in aperto durare, sic per hoc spatium quod ab infantiâ patet in senectutem, in alium naturae sumimur partum, alia origo nos expectat, alius rerum status.’

3 Thus Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. 10): ἀναμένω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ μετασχηματισμόν, τῆς γῆς μεταποίησιν, τὴν τῶν στοιχείων ἐλευθερίαν, τοῦ κόσμου παντὸς ἀνακαίνισιν.

4 Μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός (Rom. 12:2). The striking words of Seneca (Ep. 6): ‘Intelligo me emendari non tantum, sed transfigurari,’ are far too big to express any benefits which he could have indeed gotten from his books and schools of philosophy; they reach out after blessings to be obtained, not in the schools of men, but only in the Church of the living God.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G342,G3824.]

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