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The Blue Letter Bible

Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxxvi. πένης, πτωχός.

In both these words the sense of poverty, and of poverty in this world’s goods, is involved; and they continually occur together in the Septuagint, in the Psalms especially, with no rigid demarcation of their meanings (as at Ps. 39:18; 73:22; 81:4; cf. Ezek. 18:12; 22:29); very much as our “poor and needy;” and whatever distinction may exist in the Hebrew between אֶבְוֹן and עָנִי, the Alexandrian translators have either considered it not reproducible by the help of these words, or have not cared to reproduce it; for they have no fixed rule, translating the one and the other by πτωχός and πένης alike. Still there are passages which show that they were perfectly aware of a distinction between them, and would, where they thought good, maintain it; occasions upon which they employ πένης (as Deut. 24:16, 17; 2 Sam. 12:1, 3, 4), and where πτωχός would have been manifestly unfit.

Πένης occurs but once in the N. T., and on that one occasion in a quotation from the Old (2 Cor. 9:9), while πτωχός between thirty and forty times. Derived from πένομαι, and connected with πόνος, πονέομαι, and the Latin ‘penuria,’Etym. Note. 21 it properly signifies one so poor that he earns his daily bread by his labour; Hesychius calls him well αὐτοδιάκονος, one who by his own hands ministers to his own necessities. The word does not indicate extreme want, or that which verges upon it, any more than the ‘pauper’ and ‘paupertas’ of the Latin; but only the ‘res angusta’ of one to whom πλούσιος would be an inappropriate epithet. What was the popular definition of a πένης we learn from Xenophon (Mem. iv. 2. 37): τοὺς μὲν οἶμαι μὴ ἱκανὰ ἔχοντας εἰς ἃ δεῖ τελεῖν, πένητας· τοὺς δὲ πλείω τῶν ἱκανῶν, πλουσίους. It was an epithet commonly applied to Socrates, and πενία he claims more than once for himself (Plato, Apol. 23 c; 31 c). What his πενία was we know (Xenophon, Oecon. 2. 3), namely, that all which he had, if sold, would not bring five Attic minae. So, too, the Πενέσται in Thessaly (if, indeed, the derivation of the name from πένεσθαι is to stand), were a subject population, but not reduced to abject want; on the contrary, retaining partial rights as serfs or cultivators of the soil.

But while the πένης is ‘pauper,’ the πτωχός is ‘mendicus;’ he is the ‘beggar,’ and lives not by his own labour or industry, but on other men’s alms (Luke 16:20, 21); being one therefore whom Plato would not endure in his ideal State (Legg. xi. 936 c). If indeed we fall back on etymologies, προσαίτης (which ought to find place in the text at John 9:8), or ἐπαίτης, would be the more exactly equivalent to our ‘beggar;’ while πτωχός is generally taken for one who in the sense of his abjectness and needs crouches (ἀπὸ· τοῦ πτώσσειν) in the presence of his superiors; though it may be safest to add here the words of Pott (Etym. Forsch. vol. iii. p. 933), ‘falls dieser wirklich nach scheum unterwürfigem Wesen benannt worden, und nicht als petax.’ The derivation of the word, as though he were one who had fallen from a better estate (ἐκπεπτωκὼς ἐκ τῶν ὄντων: see Herodotus, iii. 14), is merely fanciful: see Didymus, in Ps. xii. 5, in Mai’s Nov. Pat. Bibl. vol. vii. part ii. p. 165.

The words then are clearly distinct. A far deeper depth of destitution is implied in πτωχεία than in πενία, to keep which in mind will add vividness to the contrasts drawn by St. Paul, 2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9. The πένης may be so poor that he earns his bread by daily labour; but the πτωχός is so poor that he only obtains his living by begging. There is an evident climax intended by Plato, when he speaks of tyrannies (Rep. x. 618 a), εἰς πενίας τε καὶ φυγὰς καὶ εἰς πτωχείας τελευτώσας. The πένης has nothing superfluous, the πτωχός nothing at all (see Döderlein, Lat. Synon. vol. iii. p. 117). Tertullian long ago noted the distinction (Adv. Marc. iv. 14), for, dealing with our Lord’s words, μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοί (Luke 6:20), he changes the ‘Beati pauperes,’ which still retains its place in the Vulgate, into ‘Beati mendici,’ and justifies the change, ‘Sic enim exigit interpretatio vocabuli quod in Graeco est;’ and in another place (De Idol. 12) he renders it by ‘egeni.’ The two, πενία (==‘paupertas,’ cf. Martial, ii. 32: ‘Non est paupertas, Nestor, habere nihil’) and πτωχεία (==‘egestas’), may be sisters, as one in Aristophanes will have them (Plut. 549); but if such, yet the latter far barer of the world’s good than the former; and indeed Πενία in that passage seems inclined wholly to disallow any such near relationship at all. The words of Aristophanes, in which he discriminates between them, have been often quoted:

πτωχοῦ μὲν γὰρ βίος, ὃν σὺ λέγεις, ζῆν ἐστιν μηδὲν ἔχοντα· τοῦ δὲ πένητος, ζῆν φειδόμενον, καὶ τοῖς ἔργοις προσέχοντα, περιγίγνεσθαι δ᾽ αὐτῷ μηδὲν, μὴ μέντοι μηδ᾽ ἐπιλείπειν.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G3993,G4434.]

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