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The Blue Letter Bible

Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xcviii. λαός, ἕθνος, δῆμος, ὄχλος.

Λαός, a word of rarest use in Attic prose, but occurring between one and two thousand times in the Septuagint, is almost always there a title reserved for the elect people, the Israel of God. Still there are exceptions. The Philistines are a λαός (Gen. 26:11), the Egyptians (Exod. 9:16), and the Moabites (Ruth 1:15); to others too the name is not refused. Then, too, occasionally in the plural οἱ λαοί are == τὰ ἔθνη; as for example at Neh. 1:8; 11:30, 31; Ps. 96:6; Hos. 10:10; Mic. 6:16. Or again we find λαοί joined with ἔθνη as a sort of exhaustive enumeration to comprehend the whole race of mankind; thus Ps. 107:4; Wisd. of Sol. 3:8; Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15. It is true indeed that in all these passages from the Book of Revelation the exhaustive enumeration is fourfold; and to λαοί and ἔθνη are added φυλαί and γλῶσσαι, on one occasion φυλαί making way for βασιλεῖς (10:11) and on anther for ὄχλοι (17:15). We may contrast with this a distributive use of λαός and ἔθνη, but λαός here in the singular, as at Luke 2:32; Acts 26:17, 23, where also, being used together, they between them take in the whole of mankind, but where λαός is claimed for and restricted to the chosen people, while ἔθνη includes all mankind outside of the covenant (Dent. 32:43; Isai. 65:1, 2; 2 Sam. 7:23; Acts 15:14). And this is the general law of the words’ use, every other being exceptional; λαός the chosen people, ἕθνη, or sometimes more fully τὰ ἕθνη τοῦ κόσμου (Luke 12:30), or τῆς γῆς (Ezra 8:89); but always in the plural and with the article, the residue of mankind (οἱ κατάλοιποι τῶν ἀνθρώπων, Acts 15:17). At the same time ἕθνος in the singular has no such limitation; it is a name which, given to the Jews by others, is not intended to convey any slight, thus τὸ ἕθνος τῶν Ἰουδαίων (Acts 10:22); they freely take it as in no way a dishonorable title to themselves, τὸ ἔθνος ἡμῶν (Luke 7:5; cf. 23:2; John 11:18), τὸ ἕθνος τοῦτο (Acts 24:3; cf. Exod. 33:13; Deut. 4:6; Wisd. of Sol. 17:2); nay sometimes and with certain additions it is for them a title of highest honour; they are ἔθνος ἅγιον (Exod. 19:6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9); ἔθνος ἐκ μέσου ἐθνῶν (Clement of Rome, 1 Cor. § 29). If indeed the word is connected with ἔθος, and contemplates a body of people living according to one custom and rule, none could deserve the title better or so well as a nation which ordered their lives according to a more distinctive and rigidly defined custom and rule of their own than probably any other nation that ever lived.

Δῆμος occurs only in St. Luke, and in him, as might be expected, only in the Acts, that is, after his narrative has left behind it the limitations of the Jewish Church, and has entered on and begun to move in the ampler spaces, and among the more varied conditions of the heathen world. The following are the four occasions of its use, 12:22; 17:5; 19:30, 33; they all exemplify well that fine and accurate use of technical terms, that choice of the fittest among them, which we so often observe in St. Luke, and which is so characteristic a mark of the highly educated man. The Greek δῆμος is the Latin ‘populus,’ which Cicero (De Re Publ. i. 25; cf. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, ii. 21) thus defines: ‘Populus autem non omnis hominum coetus quoquo modo eongregatus, sed coetus multitudinis juris consensu et utilitatis communione sociatus;’ ‘die Gemeinde,’ the free commonalty (Plutarch, Mul. Virt. 15, in fine), and these very often contemplated as assembled and in actual exercise of their rights as citizens. This idea indeed so dominates the word that ἐν τῷ δήμῳ is equivalent to, ‘in a popular assembly.’ It is invariably thus used by St. Luke. If we want the exact opposite to δῆμος, it is ὄχλος, the disorganized, or rather the unorganized, multitude (Luke 9:38; Matt. 21:8; Acts 14:14); this word in classic Greek having often a certain tinge of contempt, as designating those who share neither in the duties nor privileges of the free citizens; such contempt, however, does not lie of necessity in the word (Rev. 7:9; Acts 1:15), and there is no hint of it in Scripture, where a man is held worthy of honour even though the only πολίτευμα in which he may claim a share is that which is eternal in the heavens (Phil. 3:20).

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1218,G1484,G2992,G3793.]

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