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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxxxiii. φονεύς, ἀνθρωποκτόνος, σικάριος.

Our Translators have rendered all these words by ‘murderer,’ which, apt enough in the case of the first (Matt. 22:7; 1 Pet. 4:15; Rev. 21:8), is at the same time so general that in the other two instances it keeps out of sight characteristic features which the words would bring forward.

Ἀνθρωποκτόνος, exactly corresponding to our ‘manslayer,’ or ‘homicide,’ occurs in the N. T. only in the writings of St. John (8:44; 1 Ep. 3:15, bis); being found also in Euripides (Iphig. in Taur. 390). On our Lord’s lips, at the first of these places, ἀνθρωποκτόνος has its special fitness; no other word would have suited at all so well; an allusion being here to that great, and in part only too successful, assault on the life natural and the life spiritual of all mankind which Satan made, when, planting sin, and through sin death, in them who were ordained the authors of being to the whole race of mankind, he infected the stream of human existence at its fountain- head. Satan was thus ὁ ἀνθρωποκτόνος indeed (βροτοκτόνος in the Greek triodion); for he would fain have slain not this man or that, but the whole race of mankind.

Σικάριος, which only occurs once in the N. T., and then, noticeably enough, on the lips of a Roman officer (Acts 21:38), is one of many Latin words which had followed the Roman domination even into those Eastern provinces of the empire, which, unlike those of the West, had refused to be latinized, but still retained their own language. The ‘sicarius,’ having his name from the ‘sica,’ a short sword, poniard, or stiletto, which he wore and was prompt to use, was the hired bravo or swordsman, troops of whom in the long agony of the Republic the Antonies and the Clodiuses kept in their pay, and oftentimes about their person, to inspire a wholesome fear, and if needful to remove out of the way such as were obnoxious to them. The word had found its way into Palestine, and into the Greek which was spoken there: Josephus in two instructive passages (B. J. ii. 13. 3; Antt. xx. 8. 6) giving us full details about those to whom this name was transferred. They were ‘assassins,’ which word would be to my mind the best rendering at Acts 21:38, of whom a rank growth sprang up in those latter days of the Jewish Commonwealth, when, in ominous token of the approaching doom, all ties of society were fast being dissolved. Concealing under their garments that short sword of theirs, and mingling with the multitude at the great feasts, they stabbed in the crowd whom of their enemies they would, and then, taking part with the bystanders in exclamations of horror, effectually averted suspicion from themselves.

It will appear from what has been said that φονεύς may be any murderer, the genus of which σικάριος is a species, this latter being an assassin, using a particular weapon, and following his trade of blood in a special manner. Again, ἀνθρωποκτόνος has a stress and emphasis of its own. He to whom this name is given is a murderer of men, a homicide. Φονεύς is capable of vaguer use; a wicked man might be characterized as φονεὺς τῆς εὐσεβείας, a destroyer of piety, though he made no direct attack on the lives of men, a traitor or tyrant as φονεὺς τῆς πατρίδος (Plutarch, Praec. Ger. Reip. 19); and such uses of the word are not unfrequent.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G443,G4607,G5406.]

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