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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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v. ἀνάθημα, ἀνάθεμα.

Some affirm that these are merely different spellings of the same word, and that they are used indifferently. Were the fact so, their fitness for a place in a book of synonyms would of course disappear; difference as well as likeness being necessary for this. Thus far indeed these have right—namely, that ἀνάθημα and ἀνάθεμα, like εὕρημα and εὕρεμα, ἐπίθημα and ἐπίθεμα, must severally be regarded as having been once no more than different pronunciations, which issued in different spellings, of one and the same word. Nothing, however, is more common than for slightly diverse pronunciations of the same word finally to settle and resolve themselves into different words, with different orthographies, and different domains of meaning which they have severally appropriated to themselves; and which henceforth they maintain in perfect independence one of the other, I have elsewhere given numerous examples of the kind (English Past and Present, 10th edit. pp. 157– 164); and a very few may here suffice: θράσος, and θάρσος, 1Thrax’ and ‘Threx,’ ‘rechtlich’ and ‘redlich,’ ‘fray’ and ‘frey,’Etym. Note. 2harnais’ and ‘harnois,’ ‘allay’ and ‘alloy,’ ‘mettle’ and ‘metal.’ That which may be alarmed of all these, may also be affirmed of ἀνάθημα and ἀνάθεμα. Whether indeed these words had secured each a domain of meaning of its own was debated with no little earnestness and heat by some of the great early Hellenists, and foremost names among these are ranged on either side; Salmasius among those who maintained the existence of a distinction, at least in Hellenistic Greek; Beza among those who denied it. Perhaps here, as in so many cases, the truth aid not absolutely lie with the combatants on either part, but lay rather between them, though much nearer to one part than the other; the most reasonable conclusion, after weighing all the evidence on either side, being this—that such a distinction of meaning did exist, and was allowed by many, but was by no means recognized or observed by all.

In classical Greek ἀνάθημα is quite the predominant form, the only one which Attic writers allow (Lobeck, Phrynichus, pp. 249, 445; Paralip. p. 391). It is there the technical word by which all such costly offerings as were presented to the gods, and then suspended or otherwise exposed to view in their temples, all by the Romans termed ‘donaria,’ as tripods, crowns, vases of silver or gold, and the like, were called; these being in this way separated for ever from all common and profane uses, and openly dedicated to the honour of that deity, to whom they were presented at the first (Xenophon, Ahab. v. 3. 5; Pausanias, x. 9).

But with the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, a new thought demanded to find utterance. Those Scriptures spoke of two ways in which objects might be holy, set apart for God, devoted to Him. The children of Israel were devoted to Him; God was glorified in them: the wicked Canaanites were devoted to Him; God was glorified on them. This awful fact that, in more ways than one things and persons might be חֵרֶם (Lev. 27:28, 29)—that they might be devoted to God for good, and for evil; that there was such a thing as being “accursed to the Lord” (Josh. 6:17; cf. Deut. 13:16; Num. 21:1-3); that of the spoil of the same city a part might be consecrated to the Lord in his treasury, and a part utterly destroyed, and yet this part and that be alike dedicated to Him (Josh. vi. 19, 21), “sacred and devote” (Milton);— this claimed its expression and utterance now, and found it in the two uses of one word; which, while it remained the same, just differenced itself enough to indicate in which of the two senses it was employed. And here let it be observed, that they who find separation from God as the central idea of ἀνάθεμα (Theodoret, for instance, on Rom. 9:3: τὸ ἀνάθεμα διπλῆν ἔχει τὴν διάνοιαν· καὶ γὰρ τὸ ἀφιερώμενον τῷ Φεῷ ἀνάθημα ὀνομάζεται, καὶ τὸ τούτου ἀλλότριον τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχει προσηγορίαν),—are quite unable to trace a common bond of meaning between it and ἀνάθημα, which last is plainly separation to God; or to show the point at which they diverge from one another; while there is no difficulty of the kind when it is seen that separation to God is in both cases implied.2

Already in the Septuagint and in the Apocryphal books we find ἀνάθημα and ἀνάθεμα beginning to disengage themselves from one another, and from a confused and promiscuous use. How far, indeed, the distinction is observed there, and whether universally, it is hard to determine, from the variety of readings in various editions; but in one of the later critical editions (that of Tischendorf, 1850), many passages (such for instance as Judith 16:19; Lev. 27:28, 29; 2 Macc. 2:13); which appear in some earlier editions negligent of the distinction, are found observant of it. In the N. T. the distinction that ἀνάθημα is used to express the ‘sacrum’ in a better sense, ἀνάθεμα in a worse, is invariably maintained. It must be allowed, indeed, that the passages there are not numerous enough to convince a gainsayer; he may attribute to hazard the fact that they fall in with this distinction; ἀνάθημα occurring only once: “Some spake of the how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts” (ἀναθήμασι, Luke 21:5; even here Codd. A and D and Lachmann read ἀναθέμασι); and ἀνάθεμα no more than six times (Acts 23:14; Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor. 7:3; 16:22; Gal. 1:8, 9). So far however as these uses reach, they confirm this view of the matter; while if we turn to the Greek Fathers, we shall find some of them indeed neglecting the distinction; but others, and these of the greatest among them, not merely implicitly allowing it, as does Clement of Alexandria (Coh. ad Gen. 4: ἀνάθημα γεγόναμεν τῷ Θεῷ ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ: where the context plainly shows the meaning to be, “we have become a costly offering to God”); but explicitly recognizing the distinction, and tracing it with accuracy and precision; see, for instance, Chrysostom, Hom. xvi. in Rom., as quoted by Suicer (Thes. s. v. ἀνάθεμα).

And thus, putting all which has been urged together,—the anterior probability, drawn from the existence of similar phenomena in all languages, that the two forms of a word would gradually have two different meanings attached to them; the wondrous way in which the two aspects of dedication to God, for good and for evil, are thus set out by slightly different forms of the same word; the fact that every passage in the N. T., where the words occur, falls in with this scheme; the usage, though not perfectly consistent, of later ecclesiastical books,—I cannot but conclude that ἀνάθημα and ἀνάθεμα are employed not accidentally by the sacred writers of the New Covenant in different senses; but that St. Luke uses ἀνάθημα (21:5), because he intends to express that which is dedicated to God for its own honour as well as for God’s glory; St. Paul uses ἀνάθεμα because he intends that which is devoted to God, but devoted, as were the Canaanites of old, to his honour indeed, but its own utter loss; even as in the end every intelligent being, capable of knowing and loving God, and called to this knowledge, must be either ἀνάθημα or ἀνάθεμα to Him (see Witsius, Misc. Sac. vol. ii. p. 54, sqq.; Deyling, Obss. Sac. vol. ii. p. 495, sqq.; Fritzsche on Rom. 9:3; Hengstenberg, Christologie, 2nd ed. vol. iii. p. 655; Cremer, Biblisch-theologisches Wörterbuch, 2nd ed. p. 550).


1 Gregory Nazianzene (Carm. ii. 34, 35):

θράσος δέ, θάρσος πρὸς τὰ μὴ τολμητέα.

2 Flacius Illyricus (Clavis Script. s. v. Anathema) excellently explains the manner in which the two apparently opposed meanings unfold themselves from a single root: ‘Anathema igitur est res aut persona Deo obligata aut addicta; sive quia Ei ab hominibus est pictaris causâ oblata: sive quia justitia Dei tales, ob singularia aliqua piacula veluti in suos carceres poenasque abripuit, comprobane et declarante id etiam hominum sentcuriaâ. . . . Duplici enim de causâ Deus vult aliquid habere; vel tanquam gratum acceptumque ac sibi oblatum; vel tanquam sibi exosum suaeque irae ac castigationi subjectum ac debitum.’

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G331,G334.]

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