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The Blue Letter Bible

Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxxxi. ζῶον, θηρίον.

In passages out of number one of these words might be employed quite as fitly as the other, even as there are many in which they are used interchangeably, as by Plutarch, De Cap. ex Inim. Util. 2. This does not however prove that there is no distinction between them, if other passages occur, however few, where one is fit and the other not; or where, though neither would be unfit, one would possess a greater fitness than the other. The distinction, latent in other cases, because there is nothing to evoke it, reveals itself in these.

The difference between ζῶον (by Lachmann always more correctly written ζῷον) and θηρίον is not that between two coordinate terms; but one, the second is wholly subordinate to the first, is a less included in a greater. All creatures that live on earth, including man himself, λογικὸν καὶ πολιτικὸν ζῶον, as Plutarch (De Am. Prol. 3) so grandly describes him, are ζῶα (Aristotle, Hist. Anim. i. 5. 1); nay, God Himself, according to the Definitions of Plato, is ζῶον ἀθάνατον, being indeed the only One to whom life by absolute right belongs (φαμὲν δὲ τὸν Θεὸν εἶναι ζῶον ἀΐδιον ἄριστον, Aristotle, Metaph. xii. 7). It is true that ζῶον is nowhere employed in the N. T. to designate man (but see Plato, Pol. 271 e; Xenophon, Cyrop. i. 1. 3; Wisd. 19:20); still less to designate God; for whom, as not merely living, but as being absolute Life, the one fountain of life, the αὐτοζῶον, the πηγὴ ζωῆς, the fitter as the more reverent ζωή is retained (John 1:4; 1 John 1:2). In its ordinary use ζῶον covers the same extent of meaning as ‘animal’ with us, having generally, though by no means universally (Plutarch, De Garr. 22; Heb. 13:11), ἄλογον or some such epithet attached (2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10).

Θηρίον looks like a diminutive of θήρ, which in its aeolic form φήρ reappears as the Latin ‘fera,’ and in its more usual shape in the German ‘Thier’ and in our own ‘deer.’Etym. Note. 34 Like χρυσίον, βιβλίον, φορτίον, ἀγγεῖον, and so many other words (see Fischer, Prol. de Vit. Lex. N. T. p. 256), it has quite left behind the force of a diminutive, if it ever possessed it. That it was already without this at the time when the Odyssey was composed is sufficiently attested by the μέγα θηρίον which there occurs (10. 181); compare Xenophon, Cyrop. i. 4. 11. It would be a mistake to regard θηρία as exclusively mischievous and ravening beasts, for see Heb. 12:20; Exod. 19:13; however such by this word are generally intended (Mark 1:13; Acts 28:4, 5); θηρία at Acts 11:6 being distinguished from τετράποδα: while yet Schmidt says rightly: ‘In θηρίον liegt eine sehr starke Nebenbeziehung auf Wildheit und Grausamkeit.’ It is worthy of notice that, numerous as are the passages of the Septuagint where beasts of sacrifice are mentioned, it is never under this name. The reason is evident, namely, that the brutal, bestial element is in θηρίον brought prominently forward, not that wherein the inferior animals are akin to man, not that therefore which gives them a fitness to be offered as substitutes for man, and as his representatives. Here, too, we have an explanation of the frequent transfer of θηρίον and θηριώδης, as in Latin of ‘bestia’ and ‘bellua,’ to fierce and brutal men (Tit. 1:12; 1 Cor. 15:32; Josephus, Antt. xvii. 5. 5; Arrian, in Epict. ii. 9).

All this makes us the more regret, and the regret has been often expressed—it was so by Broughton almost as soon as our Version was published—that in the Apocalypse our Translators should have rendered θηρίον and ζῶον by the same word, “beast”; and should thus for the English reader have obliterated the distinction between them. Both play important parts in this book; both belong to its higher symbolism; while at the same time they move in spheres as far removed from one another as heaven is from hell. The ζῶα or “living creatures,” which stand before the throne, and in which dwells the fulness of all creaturely life, as it gives praise and glory to God (4:6-9; 5:6; 6:1; and often), constitute a part of the heavenly symbolism; the θηρία, the first beast and the second, which rise up, one from the bottomless pit (11:7), the other from the sea (13:1), of whom the one makes war upon the two Witnesses, the other opens his mouth in blasphemies, these form part of the hellish symbolism. To confound these and those under a common designation, to call those ‘beasts’ and these ‘beasts,’ would be an oversight, even granting the name to be suitable to both; it is a more serious one, when the word used, bringing out, as does θηρίον, the predominance of the lower animal life, is applied to glorious creatures in the very court and presence of Heaven. The error is common to all the English translations. That the Rheims should not have escaped it is strange; for the Vulgate renders ζῶα by ‘animalia’ (‘animantia’ would have been still better), and only θηρίον by ‘bestia.’ If ζῶα had always been rendered “living creatures,” this would have had the additional advantage of setting these symbols of the Apocalypse, even for the English reader, in an unmistakeable connexion with Ezek. 1:5, 13, 14, and often; where “living creature” is the rendering in our English Version of חַיָּה, as ζῶον is in the Septuagint.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G226,G2342.]

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