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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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iv. ἐπιτιμάω, ἐλέγχω (αἰτία, ἔλεγχος).

One may ‘rebuke’ another without bringing the rebuked to a conviction of any fault on his part; and this, either because there was no fault, and the rebuke was therefore unneeded or unjust; or else because, though there was such fault, the rebuke was ineffectual to bring the offender to own it; and in this possibility of ‘rebuking’ for sin, without ‘convincing’ of sin, lies the distinction between these two words. In ἐπιτιμᾶν lies simply the notion of rebuking; which word can therefore be used of one unjustly checking or blaming another; in this sense Peter ‘began to rebuke’ his Lord (ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν, Matt. 16:22; cf. 19:13; Luke 18:39):—or ineffectually, and without any profit to the person rebuked, who is not thereby brought to see his sin; as when the penitent robber ‘rebuked’ (ἐπετίμα) his fellow malefactor (Luke 23:40; cf. Mark 9:25). But ἐλέγχειν is a much more pregnant word; it is so to rebuke another, with such effectual wielding of the victorious arms of the truth, as to bring him, if not always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction, of his sin (Job 5:17; Prov. 19:25), just as in juristic Greek, ἐλέγχειν is not merely to reply to, but to refute, an opponent.

When we keep this distinction well in mind, what a light does it throw on a multitude of passages in the N. T.; and how much deeper a meaning does it give them. Thus our Lord could demand, “Which of you convinceth (ἐλέγχει) Me of sin?” (John 8:46). Many ‘rebuked’ Him; many laid sin to his charge (Matt. 9:3; John 9:16); but none brought sin home to his conscience. Other passages also will gain from realizing the fulness of the meaning of ἐλέγχειν, as John 3:20; 8:9; 1 Cor. 14:24, 25; Heb. 7:5; but above all, the great passage, John 16:8; “Whet He [the Comforter] is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:” for so we have rendered the words, following in our ‘reprove’ the Latin ‘arguet;’ although few, I think, that have in any degree sought to sound the depth of our Lord’s words, but will admit that ‘convince,’ which unfortunately our Translators have relegated to the margin, or ‘convict,’ would have been the preferable rendering, giving a depth and fulness of meaning to this work of the Holy Ghost, which ‘reprove’ in some part fails to express.1 “He who shall come in my room, shall so bring home to the world its own ‘sin,’ my perfect ‘righteousness,’ God’s coming ‘judgment,’ shall so ‘convince’ the world of these, that it shall be obliged itself to acknowledge them; and in this acknowledgment may find, shall be in the right way to find, its own blessedness and salvation.” See more on ἐλέγχειν in Pott’s Wurzel-Wörterbuch, vol. iii. p. 720.

Between αἰτία and ἔλεγχος, which last in the N. T. is found only twice (Heb. 11:1; 2 Tim. 3:16), a difference of a similar character exists. Αἰτία is an accusation, but whether false or true the word does not attempt to anticipate; and thus it could be applied, indeed it was applied, to the accusation made against the Lord of Glory Himself (Matt. 27:37); but ἔλεγχος implies not merely the charge, but the truth of the charge, and further the manifestation of the truth of the charge; nay more than all this, very often also the acknowledgment, if not outward, yet inward, of its truth on the part of the accused; it being the glorious prerogative of the truth in its highest operation not merely to assert itself, and to silence the adversary, but to silence him by convincing him of his error. Thus Job can say of God, ἀλήθεια καὶ ἔλεγχος παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ (xxiii. 7); 2 and Demosthenes (Con. Androt. p. 600): Πάμπολυ λοιδορία τε καὶ αἰτία κεχωρισμένον ἐστὶν ἐλέγχου· αἰτία μὲν γάρ ἐστιν, ὅταν τις ψιλῷ χρησάμενος λόγῳ μὴ παράσχηται πίστιν, ὧν λέγει· ἔλεγχος δέ, ὅταν ὧν ἂν εἴπῃ τις καὶ τάληθὲς ὁμοῦ δείζῃ. Cf. Aristotle (Rhet. ad Alex. 13). Ἔλεγχος ἔστι μὲν ὃ μὴ δυνατὸν ἄλλως ἔχειν, ἀλλ᾽ οὕτως, ὡς ἡμεῖς λέγομεν. By our serviceable distinction between ‘convict’ and ‘convince’ we maintain a difference between the judicial and the moral ἔλεγχος. Both indeed will flow together into one in the last day, when every condemned sinner will be at once ‘convicted’ and ‘convinced;’ which all is implied in that “he was speechless” of the guest found by the king without a marriage garment (Matt. 22:12; cf. Rom. 3:4).


1 Lampe gives excellently well the force of this ἐλέγξει: ‘Opus Doctoris, qui veritatem quae hactenus non est agnita ita ad conscientiam etiam renitentis demonstrat, ut victas dare manus cogatur.’ See an admirable discussion on the word, especially as here used, in Archdeacon Hare’s Mission of the Comforter, 1st edit. pp. 528–544.

2 Therefore Milton could say (P. L. x. 84);

Conviction to the serpent none belongs:’

this was a grace reserved for Adam and Eve, as they only were capable of it.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G156,G1650,G1651,G2008.]

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