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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxviii. ἄφθαρτος, ἀμάραντος, ἀμαράντινος.

It is a remarkable testimony to the reign of sin, and therefore of imperfection, of decay, of death, throughout this whole fallen world, that as often as we desire to set forth the glory, purity, and perfection of that other higher world toward which we strive, we are almost inevitably compelled to do this by the aid of negatives, by the denying to that higher order of things the leading features and characteristics of this. Such is signally the case in a passage wherein two of the words with which we are now dealing occur. St. Peter, magnifying the inheritance reserved in heaven for the faithful (1 Pet. 1:4), does this,—and he had hardly any choice in the matter,—by aid of three negatives; by affirming that it is ἄφθαρτος, or without our corruption; that it is ἀμίαντος, or without our defilement; that it is ἀμάραντος, or without our withering and fading away. lie can only set forth what it is by declaring what it is not. Of these three, however, I set one, namely ἀμίαντος, aside, the distinction between it and the others being too evident to leave them fair subjects of synonymous discrimination.

Ἄφθαρτος, a word of the later Greek, is not once found in the Septuagint, and only twice in the Apocrypha (Wisd. 12:1; 18:4). Properly speaking, God only is ἄφθαρτος, the heathen theology recognizing this not less clearly than the Biblical. Thus Plutarch (De Stoic. Rep. 38) quotes the grand saying of the Stoic philosopher, Antipater of Tarsus, Θεὸν νοοῦμεν ζῶον μακάριον καὶ ἄφθαρτον: cf. Diogenes Laërtius, x. 1. 31. 139. And in agreement with this we find the word by him associated with ἰσόθεος (Ne Suav. Viv. Posse, 7), with ἀΐδιος (Adv. Col. 13), with ἀνέκλειπτος (De Def. Orac. 51), with ἀγέννητος (De Stoic. Rep. 38), with ἀγένητος (De Ei ap. Delph. 19), with ἀπαθής (De Def. Orac. 20); so, too, with ὀλύμπιος by Philo, and with other epithets corresponding. ‘Immortal’ we have rendered it on one occasion (1 Tim. 1:17); but there is a clear distinction between it and ἀθάνατος or ὁ ἔχων ἀθανασίαν (1 Tim. 6:16); and ‘incorruptible,’ by which we have given it in other places (1 Cor. 9:25; 15:52; 1 Pet. 1:23), is to be preferred: the word predicating of God that He is exempt from that wear and waste and final perishing; that φθορά, which time, and sin working in time, bring about in all which is outside of Him, and to which He has not communicated of his own ἀφθαρσία (1 Cor. 15:52; cf. Isai. 51:6; Heb. 1:10-12).

Ἀμάραντος occurs only once in the N. T. (1 Pet. 1:4); once also in the Apocrypha, being joined there with λαμπρός (Wisd. 6:12); and ἀμαράντινος not oftener (1 Pet. 5:4). There may well be a question whether ἀμαράντινος, an epithet given to a crown, should not be rendered ‘of amaranths.’ We, however, have made no distinction between the two, having rendered both by the same circumlocution, ‘that fadeth not away’; our Translators no doubt counting ‘immarcescible’—a word which has found favour with Bishops Hall and Taylor and with other scholarly writers of the seventeenth century—too much of an ‘inkhorn term’ to be admitted into our English Bible. Even the Rheims Translators, with ‘immarcescibilis’ in the Vulgate before them, have not ventured upon it. In this ἀμάραντος there is affirmed of the heavenly inheritance that it is exempt from that swift withering which is the portion of all the loveliness which springs out of an earthly root; the most exquisite beauty which the natural world can boast, that, namely, of the flower, being also the shortest-lived (‘breve lilium’), the quickest to fall away and fade and die (Job 24:2; Ps. 37:2; 103:15; Isai. 40:6, 7; Matt. 6:30; Jam. 1:9; 1 Pet. 1:24). All this is declared to find no place in that inheritance of unfading loveliness, reserved for the faithful in heaven.

If, indeed, it be asked wherein ἄφθαρτος and ἀμάραντος differ, what the latter predicates concerning this heavenly inheritance which the former had not claimed already, the answer must be that essentially it claims nothing; yet with all this in ἀμάραντος is contained, so to speak, a pledge that the more delicate grace, beauty, and bloom which it owns will as little wither and wane as will its solid and substantial worth depart. Not merely decay and corruption cannot touch it; but it shall wear its freshness, brightness, and beauty for ever. Estius: ‘Immarcescibilis est, quia vigorem suum et gratiam, instar amaranti floris, semper retinet, ut nullo unquam tempore possessori fastidium taediumve subrepat.’

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G262,G263,G862.]

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