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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxvi. ζῆλος, φθόνος.

These words are often joined together; they are so by St. Paul (Gal. 5:20, 21); by Clement of Rome (1 Ep. § 3), 4, 5; and virtually by Cyprian in his little treatise, De Zelo et Livore: by classical writers as well; by Plato (Phil. 47 e; Legg. iii. 679 c; Menex. 242 a); by Plutarch, Coriol. 19; and by others. Still, there are differences between them; and this first, that ζῆλος is a μέσον, being used sometimes in a good (as John 2:17; Rom. 10:2; 2 Cor. 9:2), sometimes, and in Scripture oftener, in an evil sense (as Acts 5:17; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:20; Jam. 3:14, in which last place, to make quite clear what ζῆλος is meant, it is qualified by the addition of πικρός, and is linked with ἐρίθεια): while φθόνος, incapable of good, is used always and only in an evil, signification. When ζῆλος is taken in good part, it signifies the honorable emulation,1 with the consequent imitation, of that which presents itself to the mind’s eye as excellent: ζῆλος τῶν ἀρίστων (Lucian, Adv. Indoct. 17): ζῆλος τοῦ βελτίονος (Philo, de Proem. et Poen. 3); φιλοτιμία καὶ ζῆλος (Plutarch, De Alex. Fort. Or. ii. 6; An Seni Resp. Ger. 25); ζῆλος καὶ μίμησις (Herodian, ii.4); ζηλωτὴς καὶ μιμητής (vi. 8). It is the Latin ‘aemulatio,’ in which nothing of envy is of necessity included, however such in it, as in our ‘emulation,’ may find place; the German ‘Nacheiferung,’ as distinguished from ‘Eifersucht.’ The verb ‘aemulor,’ I need hardly observe, finely expresses the difference between worthy and unworthy emulation, governing an accusative in cases where the first, a dative where the second, is intended. South here, as always, expresses himself well: ‘We ought by all means to note the difference between envy and emulation; which latter is a brave and a noble thing, and quite of another nature, as consisting only in a generous imitation of something excellent; and that such an imitation as scorns to fall short of its copy, but strives, if possible, to outdo it. The emulator is impatient of a superior, not by depressing or maligning another, but by perfecting himself. So that while that sottish thing envy sometimes fills the whole soul, as a great dull fog does the air; this, on the contrary, inspires it with a new life and vigour, whets and stirs up all the powers of it to action. And surely that which does so (if we also abstract it from those heats and sharpnesses that sometimes by accident may attend it), must needs be in the same degree lawful and laudable too, that it is for a man to make himself as useful and accomplished as he can’ (Works, London, 1737, vol. v. p. 403; and compare Bishop Butler, Works, 1836, vol. i. p. 15).

By Aristotle ζῆλος is employed exclusively in this nobler sense, as that active emulation which grieves, not that another has the good, but that itself has it not; and which, not pausing here, seeks to supply the deficiencies which it finds in itself. From this point of view he contrasts it with envy (Rhet. 2. 11): ἔστι ζῆλος λύπη τις ἐπὶ φαινομένῃ παρουσίᾳ ἀγαθῶν ἐντίμων . . . . οὐχ ὅτι ἄλλῳ, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι οὐχὶ καὶ αὑτῷ ἐστι· διὸ καὶ ἐπιεικές ἐστιν ὁ ζῆλος, καὶ ἐπιεικῶν· τὸ δὲ φθονονεῖν, φαῦλον, καὶ φαύλων. The Church Fathers follow in his footsteps. Jerome (Exp. in Gal. v. 20): ‘ζῆλος et in bonam partem accipi potest, quum quis nititur ea quae bona sunt aemulari. Invidia vero alienâ felicitate torquetur;’ and again (in Gal. iv. 17): ‘aemulantur bene, qui cum videant in aliquibus esse gratias, dona, virtutes, ipsi tales esse desiderant.’ Oecumenius: ἔστι ζῆλος κίνησις ψυχῆς ἐνθουσιώδης ἐπί τι, μετά τινος ἀφομοιώσεως τοῦ πρὸς ὃ ἡ σπουδή ἐστι: cf. Plutarch, Pericles, 2. Compare the words of our English poet:

Envy, to which the ignoble mind’s a slave,
Is emulation in the learned and brave.’

But it is only too easy for this zeal and honorable rivalry to degenerate into a meaner passion; the Latin ‘simultas,’ connected (see Döderlein, Lat. Synon. vol. iii. p. 72), not with ‘simulare,’ but with ‘simul,’ attests the fact: those who together aim at the same object, who are thus competitors, being in danger of being enemies as well; just as ἅμιλλα (which, however, has kept its more honorable use, see Plutarch, Anim. an Corp. App. Pej. 3), is connected with ἅμα; and ‘rivales’ meant no more at first than occupants of the banks of the same river (Pott, Etym. Forsch. ii. 2. 191). These degeneracies which wait so near upon emulation, and which sometimes cause the word itself to be used for that into which it degenerates (‘pale and bloodless emulation,’ Shakespeare), may assume two shapes: either that of a desire to make war upon the good which it beholds in another, and thus to trouble that good, and make it less; therefore we find ζῆλος and ἔρις continually joined together (Rom. 13:13; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Clement of Rome, 1 Ep. § 3, 36): ζῆλος and φιλονεικία (Plutarch, De Cap. Inim. Util. 1): or, where there is not vigour and energy enough to attempt the making of it less, there may be at least the wishing of it less; with such petty carping and fault-finding as it may dare to indulge in—φθόνος and μῶμος being joined, as in Plutarch, Proec. Reg. Reip. 27. And here in this last fact is the point of contact which ζῆλος has with φθόνος (thus Plato, Menex. 242 a: πρῶτον μὲν ζῆλος, ἀπὸ ζήλου δὲ φθόνος: and aeschylus, Agamem. 939: ὁ δ᾽ ἀφθόνητος οὐκ ἐπίζηλος πέλει); the latter being essentially passive, as the former is active and energic. We do not find φθόνος in the comprehensive catalogue of sins at Mark 7:21, 22; but this envy, δύσφρων ἴος, as aeschylus (Agam. 755) has called it, σημεῖον φύσεως παντάπασι πονηρᾶς, as Demosthenes (499, 21), πασῶν μεγίστη τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποις νόσος, as Euripides has done, and of which Herodotus (iii. 80) has said, ἀρχῆθεν ἐμφύεται ἀνθρώπῳ, could not, in one shape or other, be absent; its place is supplied by a circumlocution, ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός (cf. Ecclus. 14:8, 10), but one putting it in connexion with the Latin ‘invidia,’ which is derived, as Cicero observes (Tusc. iii. 9), ‘a nimis intuendo fortunam alterius;’ cf. Matt. 20:15; and 1 Sam. 18:9: “Saul eyed, ” i. e. envied, “David.” The ‘urentes oculi’ of Persius (Sat. ii. 34), the ‘mal’ occhio’ of the Italians, must receive the same explanation, Φθόνος is the meaner sin,—and therefore the beautiful Greek proverb, ὁ φθόνος ἔξω τοῦ θείου χόρου, —being merely displeasure at another’s good;2 λύπη ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς, as the Stoics defined it (Diogenes Laërtius, vii. 63, 111), λύπη τῆς τοῦ πλσίον εὐπραγίας, as Basil (Hom. de Invid.), ‘aegritudo suscepta propter alterius res secundas, quae nihil noceant invidenti,’ as Cicero (Tusc. iv. 8; cf. Xenophon, Mem. iii. 9. 8), ‘odium felicitatis alienae,’ as Augustine (De Gen. ad Lit. 11–14),3 with the desire that this good or this felicity may be less: and this, quite apart from any hope that thereby its own will be more (Aristotle, Rhet. ii. 10); so that it is no wonder that Solomon long ago could describe it as ‘the rottenness of the bones’ (Prov. 14:30). He that is conscious of it is conscious of no impulse or longing to raise himself to the level of him whom he envies, but only to depress the envied to his own. When the victories of Miltiades would not suffer the youthful Themistocles to sleep (Plutarch, Them. 3), here was ζῆλος in its nobler form, an emulation which would not let him rest, till he had set a Salamis of his own against the Marathon of his great predecessor. But it was φθόνος which made that Athenian citizen to be weary of hearing Aristides evermore styled ‘The Just’ (Plutarch, Arist. 7); an envy which contained no impulses moving him to strive for himself after the justice which he envied in another. See on this subject further the beautiful remarks of Plutarch, De Prof. Virt. 14; and on the likenesses and differences between μῖσος and φθόνος, his graceful essay, full of subtle analysis of the human heart, De Invidiâ et Odio. Βασκανία, a word frequent enough in later Greek in this sense of envy, nowhere occurs in the N. T.; βασκαίνειν only once (Gal. 3:1).


1 Ἔρις, which often in the Odyssey, and in the later Greek, very nearly resembled ζῆλος in this its meaning of emulation, was capable in like manner of a nobler application; thus Basil the Great defines it (Reg. Brev. Tract. 66): ἔρις μέν ἐστιν, ὅταν τις, ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ ἐλάττων φανῆναί τινος, σπουδάζῃ ποιεῖν τι.

2 Augustine’s definition of φθόνος (Exp. in Gal. v. 21) introduces into it an ethical element which rarely if at all belongs to it: ‘Invidia dolor animi est, cum indignus videtur aliquis assequi etiam quod non appetebas.’ This would rather be νέμεσις and νεμεσᾶν in the ethical terminology of Aristotle (Ethic. Nic. ii. 7, 15; Rhet, ii. 9).

3 ‘Sick of a strange disease, another’s health.’—Phineas Fletcher.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2205,G5355.]

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