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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xlviii. θεοσεβής, εὐσεβής, εὐλαβής, θρῆσκος, δεισιδαίμων.

Θεοσεβής, an epithet three times applied to Job (1:1, 8; 2:3), occurs only once in the N. T. (John 9:31); and θεοσέβεια no oftener (1 Tim. 2:10; Gen. 20:11; cf. Job 28:28). Εὐσεβής, rare in the Septuagint (Isai. 24:16; 26:7; 32:8), but common in the Apocrypha (Ecclus. 11:22; 12:2, 4), with the words dependant on it, is of more frequent occurrence (1 Tim. 2:2; Acts 10:2; 2 Pet. 2:9, and often). Before we proceed to consider the relation of these to the other words in this group, a subordinate distinction between themselves may fitly be noted; this, namely, that in θεοσεβής is implied, by its very derivation, piety toward God, or toward the gods; while εὐσεβής, often as it means this, may also mean piety in the fulfilment of human relations, as toward parents or others (Euripides, Elect. 253, 254), the word according to its etymology only implying ‘worship’ (that is ‘worth-ship’) and reverence, well and rightly directed. It has in fact the same double meaning as the Latin ‘pietas,’ which is not merely ‘justitia adversum Deos,’ or ‘scientia colendorum Deorum’ (Cicero, Nat. Deor. i. 41); but a double meaning, which, deeply instructive as it is, yet proves occasionally embarrassing; so that on several occasions Augustine, when he has need of accuracy and precision in his language, pauses to observe that by ‘pietas’ he means what εὐσέβεια may mean, but θεοσέβεια alone must mean, namely, piety toward God (‘Dei pietaten, quam Graeci vel εὐσέβειαν, vel expressius et plenius θεοσέβειαν, vocant,’ Ep. 167:3; De Trin. xiv. 1; Civ. Dei, x. 1; Enchir. 1). At the same time εὐσέβεια, explained in the Platonic Definitions (412 c) as δικαιοσύνη περὶ θεούς, by the Stoics as ἐπιστήμη θεῶν θεραπείας (Diogenes Laërtius, vii. 1. 64, 119), and not therefore every reverencing of the gods, but a reverencing of them aright (εὖ), is the standing word to express this piety, both in itself (Xenophon, Ages. iii. 5; xi. 1), and as it is the right mean between ἀθεότης and δεισιδαιμονία (Plutarch, De Super. 14); ἀσέβεια and δεισιδαιμονία (Philo, Quod Deus Imm. 3, 4); Josephus in like manner opposes it to εἰδωλολατρεία. The εὐσεβής is set over against the ἀνόσιος (Xenophon, Apol. 19); he is himself φιλόθεος (Lucian, De Calum. 14); σώφρων περὶ τοὺς θεούς (Xenophon, Mem. iv. 3, 2). For some further beautiful remarks on εὐσέβεια in the Greek sense of the word see Nägelsbach, Nachhomerische Theologie, p. 191. Christian εὐσέβεια is well described by Eusebius (Proep. Evang. i. p. 3) as ἡ πρὸς τὸν ἕνα καὶ μόνον ὡς ἀληθῶς ὁμολογούμενόν τε καὶ ὄντα Θεὸν ἀνάνευσις, καὶ ἡ κατὰ τοῦτον ζωή.

What would have needed to be said on εὐλαβής has been for the most part anticipated already (see § 10); yet something further may be added here. I observed there how εὐλάβεια passed over from signifying caution and carefulness in respect of human things to the same in respect of divine; the German ‘Andacht’ had much the same history (see Grimm, Wörterbuch, s. v.). The only places in the N. T. where εὐλαβής occurs are Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5; 8:2; cf. Mic. 7:2. We have uniformly translated it ‘devout’; nor could this translation be bettered. It is the Latin ‘religiosus,’ but not our ‘religious.’ On all these occasions it expresses Jewish, and as one might say, Old Testament piety. On the first it is applied to Simeon; on the second, to those Jews who came from distant parts to keep the commanded feasts at Jerusalem; and, on the third, the ἄνδρες εὐλαβεῖς who carry Stephen to his burial, are in all likelihood not Christian brethren, but devout Jews, who avowed by this courageous act of theirs, as by their great lamentation over the slaughtered saint, that they separated themselves in spirit from this deed of blood, and thus, if it might be, from all the judgments which it would bring down on the city of those murderers. Whether it was further given them to believe on the Crucified, who had such witnesses as Stephen, we are not told; we may well presume that it was.

If we keep in mind that, in that mingled fear and love which together constitute the piety of man toward God, the Old Testament placed its emphasis on the fear, the New places it on the love (though there was love in the fear of God’s saints then, as there must be fear in their love now), it will at once be evident how fitly εὐλαβής was chosen to set forth their piety under the Old Covenant, who, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, “were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6), and leaving nothing willingly undone which pertained to the circle of their prescribed duties. For this sense of accurately and scrupulously performing that which is prescribed, with the consciousness of the danger of slipping into a careless negligent performance of God’s service, and of the need therefore of anxiously watching against the adding to or diminishing from, or in any other way altering, that which has been by Him commanded, lies ever in the words εὐλαβής, εὐλάβεια, when used in their religious signification.1 Compare Pott, Etym. Forsch. vol. v. p. 369.

Plutarch on more occasions than one exalts the εὐλάβεια of the Romans in the handling of divine things, as contrasted with the comparative carelessness of the Greeks. Thus, after other instances in proof (Coriol. 25), he goes on: ‘Of late times also they did renew and begin a sacrifice thirty times one after another; because they thought still there fell out one fault or other in the same; so holy and devout were they to the gods’ (τοιαύτη μὲν εὐλάβεια πρὸς τὸ θεῖον Ῥωμαίων). Elsewhere, he pourtrays aemilius Paulus (c. 3) as eminent for his εὐλάβεια. The passage is long, and I only quote a portion of it, availing myself again of Sir Thomas North’s hearty translation, which, though somewhat loose, is in essentials correct: ‘When he did anything belonging to his office of priesthood, he did it with great experience, judgment, and diligence; leaving all other thoughts, and without omitting any ancient ceremony, or adding to any new; contending oftentimes with his companions in things which seemed light and of small moment; declaring to them that though we do presume the gods are easy to be pacified, and that they readily pardon all faults and scrapes committed by negligence, yet if it were no more but for respect of the commonwealth’s sake they should not slightly or carelessly dissemble or pass over faults committed in those matters’ (p. 206). Compare Aulus Gellius, ii. 28: ‘Veteres Romani in constituendis religionibus atque in diis immortalibus animadvertendis castissimi cautissimique.’ Euripides in one passage contemplates εὐλάβεια as a person and a divine one, χρησιμωτάτη θεῶν (Phoen. 794).

But if in εὐλαβής we have the anxious and scrupulous worshipper, who makes a conscience of changing anything, of omitting anything, being above all things fearful to offend, we have in θρῆσκος (Jam. 1:26), which still more nearly corresponds to the Latin ‘religiosus,’ the zealous and diligent performer of the divine offices, of the outward service of God. The word indeed nowhere else occurs in the whole circle of the profane literature of Greece; but working back from θρησκεία, we are in no difficulty about its exact meaning. Θρησκεία (==‘cultus,’ or perhaps more strictly, ‘cultus exterior’) is predominantly the ceremonial service of religion, of her whom Lord Brooke has so grandly named ‘mother of form and fear,’—the external framework or body, of which εὐσέβεια is the informing soul. The suggestion of Plutarch (Alex. 2), deriving θρῆσκος from Orpheus the Thracian, who brought in the celebration of religious mysteries, is etymologically worthless; but points, and no doubt truly, to the celebration of divine offices as the fundamental notion of the word.

How delicate and fine then is St. James’s choice of θρῆσκος and θρησκεία (i. 26, 27). ‘If any man,’ he would say, ‘seem to himself to be θρῆσκος, a diligent observer of the offices of religion, if any man would render a pure and undefiled θρησκεία to God, let him know that this consists not in outward lustrations or ceremonial observances; nay, that there is a better θρησκεία than thousands of rams and rivers of oil, namely, to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with his God’ (Mic. 6:7, 8); or, according to his own words, “to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (cf. Matt. 23:23). St. James is not herein affirming, as we sometimes hear, these offices to be the sum total, nor yet the great essentials, of true religion, but declares them to be the body, the θρησκεία, of which godliness, or the love of God, is the informing soul. His intention is somewhat obscured to the English reader from the fact that ‘religious’ and ‘religion,’ by which we have rendered θρῆσκος and θρησκεία, possessed a meaning once which they now possess no longer, and in that meaning are here employed. The Apostle claims for the new dispensation a superiority over the old, in that its very θρησκεία consists in acts of mercy, of love, of holiness, in that it has light for its garment, its very robe being righteousness; herein how much nobler than that old, whose θρησκεία was at best merely ceremonial and formal, whatever inner truth it might embody. These observations are made by Coleridge (Aids to Reflection, 1825, p. 15), who at the same time complains of our rendering of θρῆσκος and θρησκεία as erroneous. But it is not so much erroneous as obsolete; an explanation indeed which he has himself suggested, though he was not aware of any such use of ‘religion’ at the time when our Version was made as would bear our Translators out. Milton offers more than one. Some heathen idolatries he characterizes as being

‘adorned
With gay religions full of pomp and gold.’

Paradise Lost, b. i.

And our Homilies will supply many more: thus, in that Against Peril of Idolatry: ‘Images used for no religion or superstition rather, we mean of none worshipped, nor in danger to be worshipped of any, may be suffered.’ A very instructive passage on the merely external character of θρησκεία, which same external character I am confident our Translators saw in ‘religion,’ occurs in Philo (Quod Det. Pot. Ins. 7). Having repelled such as would fain be counted among the εὐσεβεῖς on the score of divers washings, or costly offerings to the temple, he proceeds: πεπλανηται γὰρ καὶ οὗτος τῆς εὐσέβειαν ὁδοῦ, θρησκείαν ἀντὶ ὁσιότητος ἡγουμενος. The readiness with which θρησκεία declined into the meaning of superstition, service of false gods (Wisd. 14:18, 27; Col. 2:18), of itself indicates that it had more to do with the form, than with the essence, of piety. Thus Gregory Nazianzene (Carm. ii. 34. 150, 151):

Θρησκείαν οἶδα καὶ τὸ δαιμόνων σέβας,
Ἡ δ᾽ εὐσέβεια προσκύνησις Τριάδος
.

Δεισιδαίμων, the concluding word of this group, and δεισιδαιμονία as well, had at first an honourable use; was == θεοσεβής (Xenophon, Cyrop. iii. 3. 26). It is quite possible that ‘superstitio’ and ‘superstitiosus’ had the same. There seem traces of such a use of ‘superstitiosus’ by Plautus (Curcul. iii. 27; Amphit. i. 1. 169); although, as no one has yet solved the riddle of this word,2 it is impossible absolutely to say whether this be so or not. In Cicero’s time it had certainly left its better meaning behind (De Nat. Deor. ii. 28; Divin. ii. 72); and compare Seneca: ‘Religio Deos colit, superstitio violat.’ The philosophers first gave an unfavourable significance to δεισιδαιμονία. Ast indeed affirms that it first occurs in an ill sense in a passage of Polybius (vi. 56. 7); but Jebb (Characters of Theophrastus, p. 264) quotes a passage from Aristotle (Pol. v. 11), showing that this meaning was not unknown to him. So soon as ever the philosophers began to account fear not as a right, but as a disturbing element in piety, one therefore to be carefully eliminated from the true idea of it (see Plutarch, De Aud. Poët. 12; and Wyttenbach, Animadd. in Plutarchum, vol. i. p. 997), it was almost inevitable that they should lay hold of the word which by its very etymology implied and involved fear (δεισιδαιμονία, from δείδω), and should employ it to denote that which they disallowed and condemned, namely, the ‘timor inanis Deorum’ (Cicero, Nat. Deor. i. 41): in which phrase the emphasis must not be laid on ‘inanis,’ but on ‘timor’; cf. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, vi. 9): ‘Varro religiosum a superstitioso eâ distinctione discernit, ut a superstitioso dicat timeri Deos; a religioso autem vereri ut parentes; non ut hostes timeri.’ Baxter does not place the emphasis exactly where these have done; but his definition of superstition is also a good one (Cathol. Theol. Preface): ‘A conceit that God is well pleased by over-doing in external things and observances and laws of men’s own making.’

But even after they had thus turned δεισιδαιμονία to ignobler uses, defined it, as does Theophrastus, δειλία περὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον, and Plutarch, De Superst. 6. more vaguely, πολυπάθεια κακὸν τὸ ἀγαθὸν ὑπονοοῦσα, it did not at once and altogether forfeit its higher signification. It remained indeed a middle term to the last, receiving its inclination to good or bad from the intention of the user. Thus we not only find δεισιδαίμων (Xenophon, Ages. xi. 8; Cyr. iii. 3. 58) and δεισιδαιμονία (Polybius, vi. 56. 7; Josephus, Antt. x. 3. 2) in a good sense; but St. Paul himself employed it in no ill meaning in his ever memorable discourse upon Mars’ Hill. He there addresses the Athenians, “I perceive that in all things ye are ὡς δεισιδαιμονεστέρους” (Acts 17:22), which is scarcely “too superstitious,” as we have rendered it, or ‘allzu abergläubisch,’ as Luther; but rather ‘religiosiores,’ as Beza, ‘sehr gottesfürchtig,’ as De Wette, has given it. For indeed it was not St. Paul’s habit to affront, and by affronting to alienate his hearers, least of all at the outset of a discourse intended to win them to the truth. Deeper reasons, too, than those of a mere calculating prudence, would have hindered him from expressing himself thus; none was less disposed than he to overlook or deny the religious element in heathenism, however overlaid or obscured by falsehood or error this might be. Led by such considerations as these, some interpreters, Chrysostom for instance, make δεισιδαιμονεστέρους == εὐλαβεστέρους, taking it altogether as praise. Yet neither must we run into an extreme on this side. St. Paul selects with finest tact and skill, and at the same time with most perfect truth, a word which almost imperceptibly shaded off from praise to blame. Bengel (in loc.): ‘δεισιδαίμων, verbum per se μέσον, ideoque ambiguitatem habet clementem, et exordio huic aptissimam.’ In it he gave to his Athenian hearers the honour which was confessedly their due as zealous worshippers of the superior powers, so far as their knowledge reached, being θεοσεβέστατοι, as Sophocles (Oedip. Col. 256), εὐσεβέστατοι πάντων τῶν Ἑλλήνων, as Josephus, calls them; their land θεοφιλεστάτη, as aeschylus (Eumen. 867) names it; compare the beautiful chorus in The Clouds of Aristophanes, 299–313. But for all this, the apostle does not squander on them the words of very highest honour of all, reserving these for the true worshippers of the true God. And as it is thus in the one passage where δεισιδαίμων, so also in the one where δεισιδαιμονία, occurs (Acts 25:19). Festus may speak there with a certain covert slight of the δεισιδαιμονία, or overstrained way of worshipping God (‘Gottesverehrung’ De Wette translates it), which, as he conceived, was common to St. Paul and his Jewish accusers; but he would scarcely have called it a ‘superstition’ in Agrippa’s face, for it was the same to which Agrippa himself was addicted (Acts 26:3, 27), whom certainly he was very far from intending to insult.


1 Cicero’s well-known words deducing ‘religio’ from ‘relegere’ may be here fitly quoted (De Nat. Deor. ii. 28): ‘Qui omnia quae ad cultum deorum pertinerent, diligenter retractarent, et tanquam relegerent, sunt dicti religiosi.’

2 Pott (Etym. Forsch. vol. ii. p. 921) resumes the latest investigations on the derivation of ‘superstitio.’ For the German ‘Aberglaube’ (==‘Ueberglaube’Etym. Note. 26) see Herzog, Real-Encyc. s. v.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1174,G2126,G2152,G2318,G2357.]

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