“…Greek—a language spoken by a people of the subtlest intellect; who saw distinctions, where others saw none; who divided out to different words what others often were content to huddle confusedly under a common term…” Trench, preface to Synonyms.
R. C. Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament is one of the earliest and most-quoted authorities on NT Greek word studies. Many later writers are indebted to him for their understanding of this subtle language. In fact, Trench receives a special mention in the preface of both Vine’s and Vincent’s word studies and is quoted over 140 times by Wuest and 104 times in TDNT.
Now, for the first time in electronic format, you can go straight to the source and gain insight for yourself into hundreds of words with great theological significance!
Synonyms offers 107 entries that compare and relate more than 325 words drawn from the Greek NT. Trench’s analysis is detailed and thorough, reflecting the author’s deep love of languages. He reveals the differences in meaning and connotation between synonymous words, tracing words’ history and usage by classical and biblical writers.
What distinguishes Trench’s Synonyms from other books of word studies or from a dictionary like TDNT? Simply this: Synonyms is highly focused on exploring the relationships between related clusters of words. Not only do you benefit from his original thoughts on a word (not filtered by a later scholar), but you also get a more thorough explanation of just how one word is similar to and differs from another.
Archbishop Richard C. Trench (1807-1886) was a man whose passion for words and etymology led to the creation of the first Oxford English Dictionary. This same energy and thirst for knowledge drove him to carefully identify New Testament word origins and distinguish between various shades of meaning.
Here’s an example of one of Archbishop Trench’s analyses:
On p. 239, he begins a discussion of the various NT words for sin. First, he very succinctly lays out the basic concept behind each word:
“It may be regarded as the missing of a mark or aim…(hamartia)…the overpassing or transgressing of a line…(parabasis)…the disobedience to a voice…(parkoe)…the falling where one should have stood upright (paraptoma)…ignorance of what one ought to have known…(agnoema)…diminishing of that which should have been rendered in full measure…(ettema)…non-observance of a law…(anomia or paranomia)…a discord in the harmonies of God’s universe…(plemmeleia)”
Then he goes on to expound in greater detail, over the next 10 pages, how each of these words is derived and how each differs from the others. Trench is highly sensitive to the ways word meanings shift over time and context. In his discussion of hamartia, for example, he distinguishes between Homer’s usage (signifying a thrown spear that misses its target) to that of Aristotle (a mistake, only sometimes serious) to Plato (closer to our notion of sin). Trench observes:
“It is a matter of course that with slighter apprehensions of sin, and of the evil of sin, there must go hand in hand a slighter ethical significance in the words used to express sin. It is therefore nothing wonderful that (hamartia) and (hamartanein) should nowhere in classical Greek obtain that depth of meaning which in revealed religion they have acquired.”
Interesting quote in preface to Vincent’s Word Studies:
In the histories of its choicest words, Christianity asserts itself as a redeemer of human speech. The list of New-Testament words lifted out of ignoble associations and uses, and mitred as ministers of sacred truth, is a long and significant one; and there are few more fascinating lines of study than this, to which Archbishop Trench long ago directed English readers in his “Study of Words” and his “New-Testament Synonyms.”
“The κακός may be content to perish in his own corruption, but the πονηρός is not content unless he is corrupting others as well, and drawing them into the same destruction with himself.” (Page 316)
“Contemplate the new under aspects of time, as that which has recently come into existence, and this is νέος” (Pages 219–220)
“Χρόνος is time, contemplated simply as such; the succession of moments” (Page 210)
“Chrysostom draws the following distinction; that a man μακροθυμεῖ, who having power to avenge himself, yet refrains from the exercise of this power; while he ὑπομένει, who having no choice but to bear, and only the alternative of a patient or impatient bearing, has grace to choose the former.” (Page 195)
“But, while ζωή is thus life intensive (‘vita quâ vivimus’), βίος is life extensive (‘vita quam vivimus’), the period or duration of life; and then, in a secondary sense, the means by which that life is sustained; and thirdly, the manner in which that life is spent; the ‘line of life,’ ‘profession,’ career.” (Page 91)
Richard Chenevix Trench was educated at Trinity College before being appointed Theological Chair at King's College in London. Trench authored many books including Classic Commentaries and Studies on Revelation (27 vols.), Synonyms of the New Testament, and Sermons preached in Westminster Abbey.