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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxi. σύρω, ἕλκω.

These words differ, and the difference between them is not theologically unimportant. We best represent this difference in English, when we render σύρειν, ‘to drag,’ ἑλκύειν, ‘to draw.’ In σύρειν, as in our ‘drag,’ there lies always the notion of force, as when Plutarch (De Lib. Ed. 8) speaks of the headlong course of a river, πάντα αύρων καὶ πάντα παραφέρων: and it will follow, that where persons, and not merely things, are in question, σύρειν will involve the notion of violence (Acts 8:3; 14:19; 17:6; cf. κατασύρειν, Luke 12:58). But in ἑλκύειν this notion of force or violence does not of necessity lie. It may be there (Acts 16:19; 21:30; Jam. 2:6; cf. Homer, Il. xi. 258; xxiv. 52, 417; Aristophanes, Equit. 710; Euripides, Troad. 70: Αἰὰς εἷλκε Κασάνδραν βίᾳ); but not of necessity (thus Plato, Rep. 6:494 e: ἐὰν ἕλκηται πρὸς φιλοσοφίαν: cf. vii. 538 d), any more than in our ‘draw,’ which we use of a mental and moral attraction, or in the Latin ‘traho’ (‘trahit sua quemque voluptas’).

Only by keeping in mind the difference which thus exists between these, can we vindicate from erroneous interpretation two doctrinally important passages in the Gospel of St. John. The first is 12:32: “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men [πάντας ἑλκύσω] unto Me.” But how does a crucified, and thus an exalted, Saviour draw all men unto Him? Not by force, for the will is incapable of force, but by the divine attractions of his love. Again (6:44): “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν). Now as many as feel bound to deny any such ‘gratia irresistibilis’ as turns man into a machine, and by which, willing or unwilling, he is dragged to God, must at once allow, must indeed assert, that this ἑλκύσῃ can mean no more than the potent allurements, the allective force of love, the attracting of men by the Father to the Son; compare Jer. 31:3, “With loving-kindness have I drawn thee” (εἵλκυσά σε), and Cant. 1:3, 4. Did we find αύρειν on either of these occasions (not that this would be possible), the assertors of a ‘gratia irresistibilis’1 might then urge the declarations of our Lord as leaving no room for any other meaning but theirs; but not as they now stand.

In agreement with all this, in ἑλκύειν is predominantly the sense of a drawing to a certain point, in σύρειν merely of dragging after one; thus Lucian (De Merc. Cond. 3), likening a man to a fish already hooked and dragged through the water, describes him as συρόμενον καὶ πρὸς ἀνάγκην ἀγόμενον. Not seldom there will lie in αύρειν the notion of this dragging being upon the ground, inasmuch as that will trail upon the ground (cf. σύρμα, σύρδην, and Isai. 3:16), which is forcibly dragged along with no will of its own; a dead body, for example (Philo, In Flac. 21). We may compare John 21:6, 11 with ver. 8 of the same chapter, in confirmation of what has just been affirmed. At ver. 6 and 11 ἑλκύειν is used; for there a drawing of the net to a certain point is intended; by the disciples to themselves in the ship, by Peter to himself upon the shore. But at ver. 8 ἑλκύειν gives place to σύρειν: for nothing is there intended but the dragging of the net, which had been fastened to the ship, after it through the water. Our Version has maintained the distinction; so too the German of De Wette, by aid of ‘ziehen’ (==ἑλκύειν) and ‘nachschleppen’ (==σύρειν); but neither the Vulgate, nor Beza, both employing ‘traho’ throughout.


1 The excellent words of Augustine on this last passage, himself sometimes adduced as an upholder of this, may be here quoted (In Ev. Joh. Tract. xxvi. 4): ‘Nemo venit ad me, nisi quem Pater adtraxerit. Noli te cogitate invitum trahi; trahitur animus et amore. Nec timere debemus ne ab hominibus qui verba perpendunt, et a rebus maxime divinis intelligendis longe remoti sunt, in hoc Scripturarum sanctarum evangelico verbo forsitan reprehendamur, et dicatur nobis, Quomodo voluntate credo, si trahor? Ego dico: Parum est voluntate, etiam voluptate traheris. Porro si poëtae dicere licuit, Trahit sua quemque voluptas; non necessitas, sed voluptas; non obligatio, sed delectatio; quanto fortius nos dicere debemus, trahi hominem ad Christum, qui delectatur veritate, delectatur beatitudine, delectatur justitiâ, delectatur sempiternâ vitâ, quod totum Christus est?’

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1670,G4951.]

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