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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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vi. προφητεύω, μαντεύομαι.

Προφητεύω is a word of constant occurrence in the N. T.; μαντεύομαι occurs but once, namely at Acts 16:16; where, of the girl possessed with the “spirit of divination,” or “spirit of Apollo,” it is said that she “brought her masters much gain by soothsaying” (μαντευομένη). The abstinence from the use of this word on all other occasions, and the use of it on this one, is very observable, furnishing a notable example of that religious instinct wherewith the inspired writers abstain from words, whose employment would tend to break down the distinction between heathenism and revealed religion. Thus εύδαιμονία, although from a heathen point of view a religious word, for it ascribes happiness to the favour of some deity, is yet never emcployed to express Christian blessedness; nor could it fitly have been thus employed, δαίμων, which supplies its base, involving polytheistic error. In like manner ἀρετή, the standing word in heathen ethics for ‘virtue,’ is of very rarest occurrence in the N. T.; it is found but once in all the writings of St. Paul (Phil. 4:8); and where else (which is only in the Epistles of St. Peter), it is in quite different uses from those in which Aristotle employs it.1 In the same way ἤθη, which gives us ‘ethics,’ occurs only on a single occasion, and, which indicates that its absence elsewhere is not accidental, this once is in a quotation from a heathen poet (1 Cor. 15:33).

In conformity with this same law of moral fitness in the admission and exclusion of words, we meet with προφητεύειν as the constant word in the N. T. to express the prophesying by the Spirit of God: while directly a sacred writer has need to make mention of the lying art of heathen divination, he employs this word no longer, but μαντεύεσθαι in preference (cf. 1 Sam. 28:8; Deut. 18:10). What the essential difference between the two things, ‘prophesying’ and ‘soothsaying,’ ‘weissagen’ (from ‘wizan’==‘wissen’) and ‘wahrsagen,’Etym. Note. 3 is, and why it was necessary to keep them distinct and apart by different terms used to designate the one and the other, we shall best understand when we have considered the etymology of one, at least, of the words. But first, it is almost needless at this day to warn against what was once a very common error, one in which many of the Fathers shared (see Suicer, s. v. προφήτης), namely a taking of the προ in προφητεύειν and προφήτης as temporal, which it is not any more than in πρόφασις, and finding as the primary meaning of the word, he who declares things before they come to pass. This foretelling or foreannouncing may be, and often is, of the office of the prophet, but is not of the essence of that office; and this as little in sacred as in classical Greek. The προφήτης is the outspeaker; he who speaks out the counsel of God with the clearness, energy and authority which spring from the consciousness of speaking in God’s name, and having received a direct message from Him to deliver. Of course all this appears in weaker and indistincter form in classical Greek, the word never coming to its full rights until used of the prophets of the true God. But there too the προφήτης is the ‘interpres Deorum;’ thus Euripides (Ion, 372, 413; Bacch. 211): ἐπεὶ σὺ φέγγος, Τειρεσία, τόδ᾽ οὐχ ὀρᾷς, ἐγὼ προφήτης σοι λόγων γενήσομαι: and Pindar (Fragm. 15), μεντευέο, Μοῖσα, προφατεύσω δ᾽ ἐγώ: while in Philo (Quis Rer. Div. Hoer. 52) he is defined as ἑρμηνεὺς Θεοῦ, and again, ὄργανον Θεοῦ ἐστιν ἠχοῦν, κρουόμενον καὶ πληττόμενον ἀοράτως ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ. From signifying thus the interpreter of the gods, or of God, the word abated a little of the dignity of its meaning, and προφήτης was no more than as interpreter in a more general sense; but still of the good and true; thus compare Plato, Phoedr. 262 d; and the fine answer which Lucian puts into the mouth of Diogenes, when it is demanded of him what trade he followed (Vit. Auct. 8 d). But it needs not to follow further the history of the word, as it moves outside the circle of Revelation. Neither indeed does it fare otherwise within this circle. Of the προφήτης alike of the Old Testament and of the New we may with the same confidence affirm that he is not primarily, but only accidentally, one who foretells things future; being rather one who, having been taught of God, speaks out his will (Deut. 18:18; Isai. 1; Jer. 1; Ezek. 2; 1 Cor. 14:3).

In μαντεύομαι we are introduced into quite a different sphere of things. The word, connected with μάντις, is through it connected, as Plato has taught us, with μανία and μαίνομαι. It will follow from this, that it contains a reference to the tumult of the mind, the fury, the temporary madness, under which those were, who were supposed to be possessed by the god, during the time that they delivered their oracles; this mantic fury of theirs displaying itself in the eyes rolling, the lips foaming, the hair flying, as in other tokens of a more than natural agitation.2 It is quite possible that these symptoms were sometimes produced, as no doubt they were often aggravated, in the seers, Pythonesses, Sibyls, and the like, by the inhalation of earth-vapours, or by other artificial excitements (Plutarch, De Def. Orac. 48). Yet no one who believes that real spiritual forces underlie all forms of idolatry, but will acknowledge that there was often much more in these manifestations than mere trickeries and frauds; no one with any insight into the awful mystery of the false religions of the world, but will see in these symptoms the result of an actual relation in which these persons stood to a spiritual world—a spiritual world, it is true, which was not above them, but beneath.

Revelation, on the other hand, knows nothing of this mantic fury, except to condemn it. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32; cf. Chrysostom, In Ep. 1 ad Cor. Hom. 29, ad init.). The true prophet, indeed, speaks not of himself; προφήτης γὰρ ἴδιον οὐδὲν ἀποφθέγγεται, ἀλλότρια δὲ πάντα, ὑπηχοῦντος ἑτέρου, (Philo, Quis Rer. Div. Hoer. 52 d; cf. Plutarch, Amat. 16); he is rapt out of himself; he is ἐν Πνεύματι (Rev. 1:10); ἐν ἐκστάσει (Acts 11:5); ὑπὸ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου φερόμενος (2 Pet. 1:21), which is much more than ‘moved by the Holy Ghost,’ as we have rendered it; rather ‘getrieben,’ as De Wette (cf. Knapp, Script. Var. Argum. p. 33); he is θεόληπτος (Cyril of Alexandria); and we must not go so far in our opposition to heathen and Montanist error as to deny this, which some, above all those engaged in controversy with the Montanists, St. Jerome for example, have done (see the masterly discussion on this subject in Hengstenberg’s Christologie, 2nd ed., vol. iii. part 2, pp. 158–188). But then he is lifted above, not set beside, his every-day self. It is not discord and disorder, but a higher harmony and a diviner order, which are introduced into his soul; so that he is not as one overborne in the region of his lower life by forces stronger than his own, by an insurrection from beneath: but his spirit is lifted out of that region into a clearer atmosphere, a diviner day, than any in which at other times it is permitted him to breathe. All that he before had still remains his, only purged, exalted, quickened by a power higher than his own, but yet not alien to his own; for man is most truly man when he is most filled with the fulness of God.3 Even within the sphere of heathenism itself, the superior dignity of the προφήτης to the μάντις was recognized; and recognized on these very grounds. Thus there is a well-known passage in the Timoeus of Plato (71 e, 72 a, b), where exactly for this reason, that the μάντις is one in whom all discourse of reason is suspended, who, as the word itself implies, more or less rages, the line is drawn broadly and distinctly between him and the προφήτης, the former being subordinated to the latter, and his utterances only allowed to pass after they have received the seal and approbation of the other. Often as it has been cited, it may be yet worth while to cite it, at least in part, once more: τὸ τῶν προφήτων γένος ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐνθέοις μαντείαις κριτὰς ἐπικαθιστάναι νόμος· οὓς μάντεις ἐπονομάζουσί τινες, τὸ πᾶν ἠγνοηκότες ὅτι τῆς δι᾽ αἰνιγμῶν οὗτοι φήμης καὶ φαντάσεως ὑποκριταὶ καὶ οὔτι μάντεις, προφήται δὲ τῶν μαντευομένων δικαιότατα ὀνομάζοιντ᾽ ἄν. The truth which the best heathen philosophy had a glimpse of here, was permanently embodied by the Christian Church in the fact that, while it assumed the προφητεύειν to itself, it relegated the μαντεύεσθαι to that heathenism which it was about to displace and overthrow.


1 ‘Verbum nimium humile, —as Beza, accounting for its absence, says.’—‘si cure donis Spiritûs Sancti comparatur.’

2 Cicero, who loves to bring out, where he can, superiorities of the Latin language over the Greek, claims, and I think with reason, such a superiority here, in that the Latin had ‘divinatio,’ a word embodying the divine character of prophecy, and the fact that it was a gift of the gods, where the Greek had only μαντική, which, seizing not the thing itself at any central point, did no more than set forth one of the external signs which accompanied its giving (De Divin. i. 1): ‘Ut alia nos melius multa quam Graeci, sic huic praestantissimae rei nomen nostri a divis; Graeci, ut Plato interpretatur, a furore duxerunt.’

3 See John Smith, the Cambridge Platonist, On Prophecy: ch. 4. The Difference of the true prophetical Spirit from all Enthusiastical Imposture.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G3132,G4395.]

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