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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xc. λόγος, μῦθος.

Λόγος is quite as often ‘sermo’ as ‘verbum,’ a connected discourse as a single word. Indeed, as is well known, there was once no little discussion whether Λόγος in its very highest application of all (John 1:1) should not rather be rendered by ‘Sermo’ than by ‘Verbum’; on which controversy see Petavius. De Trin. vi. 1. 4–6. And, not to dwell on this exceptional and purely theological employment of λόγος, it is frequently in the N. T. employed to express that word which by supereminent right deserves the name, being, as it is, “the word of God” (Acts 4:13), “the word of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:15); thus at Luke 1:2; Jam. 1:22; Acts 6:4. As employed in this sense, it may be brought into relations of likeness and unlikeness with μῦθος, between which and λόγος there was at one time but a very slight difference indeed, one however which grew ever wider, until in the end a great gulf has separated them each from the other.

There are three distinctly marked stages through which μῦθος has past; although, as will often happen, in passing into later meanings it has not altogether renounced and left behind its earlier. At the first there is nothing of the fabulous, still less of the false, involved in it. It stands on the same footing with ῥῆμα, ἔπος, λόγος, and, as its connexion with μύω, μυέω, μύζω sufficiently indicates, must have signified originally the word shut up in the mind, or muttered within the lips (see Creuzer, Symbolik, vol. iv. p. 517); although of this there is no actual trace; for already in Homer it appears as the spoken word (Il. xviii. 254), the tragic poets with such other as form their diction on Homer continuing so to employ it (thus aeschylus, Eumen. 582; Euripides, Phoen. 455), and this at a time when in Attic prose it had nearly or altogether exchanged this meaning for another.

At the second stage of its history μῦθος is already in a certain antithesis to λόγος, although still employed in a respectful, often in a very honourable, sense. It is the mentally conceived as set over against the actually true. Not literal fact, it is often truer than the literal truth, involves a higher teaching; λόγος ψευδής, εἰκονίζων τὴν ἀλήθειαν (Suidas); λόγου μῦθος εἰκῶν καὶ εἴδωλόν ἐστι (Plutarch, Bell. an Pace clar. Athen. 4). There is a λόγος ἐν μύθῳ (‘veritas quae in fabulae involucro latet,’ as Wyttenbach, Annott. in Plutarch. vol. ii. part 1, p. 406, gives it), which may have infinitely more value than much which is actual fact, seeing that oftentimes, in Schiller’s words,

‘a deeper import
Lurks in the legend told our infant years
Than lies upon the truth we live to learn.’

Μῦθος had already obtained this significance in Herodotus (ii. 45) and in Pindar (Olymp. i. 29); and Attic prose, as has been observed, hardly knows any other (Plato, Gorg. 523 a; Phoedo, 61 a; Legg. ix. 872 d; Plutarch, De Ser. Num. Vin. 18; Symp. i. 1. 4).

But in a world like ours the fable easily degenerates into the falsehood.

‘Tradition, Time’s suspected register,
That wears out truth’s best stories into tales,’

is ever at work to bring such a result about; ‘story,’ ‘tale,’ and other words not a few, attest this fact; and at its third stage μῦθος is the fable, but not any more the fable undertaking to be, and often being, the vehicle of some lofty truth; it is now the lying fable with all its falsehood and all its pretences to be what it is not: Eustathius: μῦθος παρ᾽ Ὁμήρῳ ὁ ἁπλῶς λόγος, παρὰ δὲ τοῖς ὕστερον, ὁ ψευδὴς καὶ πεπλασμένος, καὶ ἀληθείας ἔχων ἔμφασιν λόγος: this being the only sense of μῦθος which the N. T. knows (in the Apocrypha it occurs but once, Ecclus. 20:19; in the Septuagint never). Thus we have there μῦθοι βεβήλοι καὶ γραώδεις (1 Tim. 4:7); Ἰουδαϊκοί (Tit. 1:14); σεσοφισμένοι (2 Pet. 1:16; cf. μῦθοι πεπλασμένοι, Diodorus Siculus, 1:93); the other two occasions of the word’s use (1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 4:4) being not less slighting and contemptuous. ‘Legend,’ a word of such honourable import at the beginning, meaning, as it does, that worthy to be read, but which has ended in designating ‘a heap of frivolous and scandalous vanities’ (Hooker), has had much the same history as μῦθος; very similar influences having been at work to degrade the one and the other. J.H.H. Schmidt (Synonymik, vol. i. p. 100) traces the history of μῦθος briefly and well: ‘Μῦθος ist zu der Bedeutung einer erdichteten Erzählung gekommen, well man den naiven Glauben an die alten Ueberlieferungen, die ihren hergebrachten Namen behielten allmälig verloren hatte. So wird denn μῦθος wie λόγος der Wirklickheit entgegengesetzt, jedoch so dass man zugleich auf die Albernheit und Unwahrscheinlichleit der Erdichtung hindeutet.

It will thus be seen that λόγος and μῦθος, which begin their journey together, or at all events separated by very slight spaces, gradually part company, the antagonism between them becoming ever stronger, till in the end they stand in open opposition to one another, as words no less than men must do, when they come to belong, one to the kingdom of light and of truth, the other to that of darkness and of lies.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G3056,G3454.]

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