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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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viii. ἀληθής, ἀληθινός.

The Latin ‘verax’ and ‘verus’ would severally represent ἀληθής and ἀληθινός, and in the main reproduce the distinctions existing between them; indeed, the Vulgate does commonly by aid of these indicate whether of the two stands in the original; but we having lost, or nearly lost, ‘very’ (vrai) as an adjective, retaining it only as an adverb, have ‘true’ alone whereby to render them both. It follows that the difference between the two disappears in our Version: and this by no fault of our Translators— unless, indeed, they erred in not recovering ‘very,’ which was Wiclif’s common translation of ‘verus’ (thus John 15:1, “I am the verri vine”), and which to recover would not have been easy in their time (indeed they actually so use it at Gen. 27:21, 24); as it would not be impossible in ours. We in fact do retain it in the Nicene Creed, where it does excellent service—‘very God of very God’ (Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ). It would have been worth while to make the attempt, for the differences which we now efface are most real. Thus God is ἀληθής, and He is also ἀληθινός: but very different attributes are ascribed to Him by the one epithet, and by the other. He is ἀληθής (John 3:33; Rom. 3:4; ==‘verax’), inasmuch as He cannot lie, as He is ἀψευδής (Tit. 1:2), the truth-speaking, and the truth-loving God (cf. Euripides, Ion, 1554). But He is ἀληθινός (1 Thess. 1:9; John 17:3; Isai. 65:16; == ‘verus’), very God, as distinguished from idols and all other false gods, the dreams of the diseased fancy of man, with no substantial existence in the world of realities (cf. Athenaeus, vi. 62, where one records how the Athenians received Demetrius with divine honours: ὡ σεἴη μόνος θεός ἀληθινός, οἱ δ᾽ ἄλλοι καθεύδουσιν, ἢ ἀποδημοῦσιν, ἢ οὐκ εἰσί). “The adjectives in -ι-νος express the material out of which anything is made, or rather they imply a mixed relation, of quality and origin, to the object denoted by the substantive from which they are derived. Thus ξύλ-ι-νος means ‘of wood,’ ‘wooden;’ [ὀστράκ-ι-νος, ‘of earth,’ ‘earthen;’ ὑάλ-ι-νος, ‘of glass,’ ‘glassen;’] and ἀληθ-ι-νός signifies ‘genuine,’ made up of that which is true [that which, in chemical language, has truth for its stuff and base]. This last adjective is particularly applied to express that which is all that it pretends to be; for instance, pure gold as opposed to adulterated metal” (Donaldson, New Cratylus, p. 426).

It will be seen from this last remark that it does not of necessity follow, that whatever may be contrasted with the ἀληθινός must thereby be concluded to have no substantial existence, to be altogether false and fraudulent. Inferior and subordinate realizations, partial and imperfect anticipations, of the truth, may be set over against the truth in its highest form, in its ripest and completest development; and then to this last alone the title ἀληθινός will be vouchsafed. Kahnis has said well (Abendmahl, p. 119): ‘Ἀληθής schliesst das Unwahre und Unwirkliche, ἀληθινός das seiner Idee nicht Entsprechende auf. Das Mass des ἀληθής ist die Wirklichkeit, das des ἀληθινός die Idee. Bei ἀληθής entspricht die Idee der Sache, bei ἀληθινός die Sache der Idee.’ Thus Xenophon affirms of Cyrus (Anab. i. 9. 17), that he commanded ἀληθινὸν στράτευμα, an army indeed, an army deserving the name; but he would not have altogether refused this name of ‘army’ to inferior hosts; and Plato (Tim. 25 a), calling the sea beyond the Straits of Hercules, πέλαγος ὄντως, ἀληθινὸς πόντος, would say that it alone realized to the full the idea of the great ocean deep; cf. Rep. i. 347 d: ὁ τῷ ὄντι ἀληθινὸς ἄρχων; and again vi. 499 c: ἀληθινῆς φιλοσοφίας ἀληθινὸς ἔρως. We should frequently miss the exact force of the word, we might find ourselves entangled in serious embarrassments, if we understood ἀληθινός as necessarily the true opposed to the false. Rather it is very often the substantial as opposed to the shadowy and outlinear; as Origen (in Joan. tom. ii. § 4) has well expressed it: ἀληθινός, πρὸς ἀντιδιαστολὴν σκιᾶς καὶ τύπου καὶ εἰκόνος. Thus at Heb. 8:2, mention is made of the σκηνὴ ἀληθινή into which our great High Priest entered; which, of course, does not imply that the tabernacle in the wilderness was not also most truly pitched at God’s bidding, and according to the pattern which He had shown (Exod. 25); but only that it, and all things in it, were weak earthly copies of heavenly realities (ἀντίτυπα τῶν ἀληθινῶν); the passing of the Jewish High Priest into the Holy of Holies, with all else pertaining to the worldly sanctuary, being but the σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων ἀγαθῶν, while the σῶμα, the so filling up of these outlines that they should be bulk and body, and not shadow any more, was of Christ (Col. 2:17).1

So, too, when the Baptist announces, “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17), the antithesis cannot lie between the false and the true, but only between the imperfect and the perfect, the shadowy and the substantial. In like manner, the Eternal Word is declared to be τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν (John 1:9), not denying thereby that the Baptist was also “a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35), or that the faithful are “lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15; Matt. 5:14), but only claiming for a greater than all to be “the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”2 Christ proclaims Himself ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ἀληθινός (John 6:32), not suggesting thereby that the bread which Moses gave was not also “bread of heaven” (Ps. 105:40), but only that it was such in a secondary inferior degree; it was not food in the highest sense, inasmuch as it did not nourish up unto eternal life those that ate it (John 6:49). He is ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή (John 15:1), not thereby denying that Israel also was God’s vine (Ps. 80:8; Jer. 2:21), but affirming that none except Himself realized this name, and all which this name implied, to the full (Hos. 10:1; Deut. 32:32).3 It would be easy to follow this up further; but these examples, which the thoughtful student will observe are drawn chiefly from St. John, may suffice. The fact that in the writings of this Evangelist ἀληθινός is used two and twenty times as against five times in all the rest of the N. T., he will scarcely esteem accidental.

To sum up then, as briefly as possible, the differences between these two words, we may affirm of the ἀληθής, that he fulfils the promise of his lips, but the ἀληθινός the wider promise of his name. Whatever that name imports, taken in its highest, deepest, widest sense, whatever according to that he ought to be, that he is to the full. This, let me further add, holds equally good of things as of persons; πιστοί and ἀληθινοί are therefore at Rev. 21:5 justly found together.


1 This F. Spanheim (Dub. Evang. 106) has well put: ‘Ἀλήθεια in Scripturâ Sacrâ interdum sumitur ethice, et opponitur falsitati et mendacio; interdum mystice, et opponitur typis et umbris, ut εἰκών illis respondens, quae veritas alio modo etiam σῶμα vocatur a Spiritu S. opposita τῇ σκιᾷ’. Cf. Deyling, Obss. Sac. vol. iii. p. 317; vol. iv. pp. 548, 627; and Delitzsch: ‘Es ist Beiname dessen was seinem Namen und Begriffe im vollsten, tiefsten, uneingeschränktesten Sinne entspricht, dessen was das was es heisst nicht blos relativ ist, sondern absolut; nicht blos materiell, sondern geistig und geistlich; nicht blos zeitlich, sondern ewig; nicht blos bildlich, d. h. vorbildlich, abbildlich, nachbildlich, sondern gegenbildlich und urbildlich.’

2 Lampe (in loc.): ‘Innuitur ergo hic oppositio tum luminarium naturalium, qualia fuere lux creationis, lux Israëlitarum in aegypto, lux columnae in deserto, lux gemmarum in pectorali, quae non nisi umbrae fuere hujus verae lucis; tum eorum, qui falso se esse lumen hominum gloriantur, quales sigillatim fuere Sol et Luna Ecclesiae Judaicae, qui cum ortu hujus Lucis obscurandi, Joel 2:31; tum denique verorum quoque luminarium, sed in minore gradu, quaeque omne suum lumen ab hoc Lumine mutuantur, qualia sunt omnes Sancti, Doctores, Angeli lucis, ipse denique Joannes Baptista.’

3 Lampe: ‘Christus est Vitis vera, . . . et quâ talis proeponi, quin et opponi, potest omnibus aliis qui etiam sub hoc symbolo in scriptis propheticis pinguntur.’

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G227,G228.]

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