Empty - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


kenos (G2756) Empty
mataios (G3152) Vain
Although kenos and mataios do not occur together in the New Testament, they are used together in the Septuagint (Job 20:18; Isa. 37:7; cf. 49:4; Hos. 12:1), in Clement of Rome, and in classical Greek. We will only investigate the ethical uses of mataios and kenos, since this is the only way that mataios is used in Scripture and since kenos must be compared to it in terms of similar usage.
Kenos means "empty" or "leer" in English, and mataios means "vain." Kenos implies hollowness, mataios aimlessness. Thus kenai elpides (G1680) are empty hopes, hopes that are not built on a solid foundation. In the New Testament, kenoi logoi are words that have no inner substance and kernel of truth, hollow sophistries and apologies for sin; kopos (G2873) kenos is labor that yields no return (1 Cor. 15:58), as is kenophoniai. Suidas said that kenologia and kenodoxia refer to "some empty opinion about oneself." Paul reminded the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:1) that his coming to them was not kene, not without the demonstration of the Spirit and power. When used to refer to people instead of things, kenos implies not only an absence of good but the presence of evil, since man's moral nature permits no vacuum. Kenos is used this way in James 2:20, the only passage where it occurs in the New Testament. Anthropos (G444) kenos refers to someone who does not possess any higher wisdom but who is puffed up with a vain conceit of his own spiritual insight. Also note the "worthless [kenoi] men" of Judges 9:4. Plutarch stated: "We regard those who in their walk flatter themselves and carry their neck high as foolish and empty [kenous]." Also of interest is the Greek proverb: "Empty persons [kenoi] think about empty things [kena]."
But if kenos expresses the emptiness of anything that is not filled with God, then mataios refers to the aimlessness (lacking object and end) and vanity of everything that does not have God, who should be the only true and ultimate aim of any intelligent creature. When used to refer to natural things, mataion means to build houses of sand on the seashore, to chase the wind, to shoot at the stars, to pursue one's own shadow. Pindar correctly described the mataios as one "hunting for vain things with idle hopes." The toil that can result in nothing is mataios, grief without a basis is mataios, an "empty [mataios] prayer" is one that by the nature of things cannot be fulfilled, and the prophecies of the false prophet that God will not fulfill are manteiai mataiai.So in the New Testament mataioi kai anopheleis zeteseis (Titus 3:9) are idle and unprofitable questions whose discussion cannot lead to any advancement in true godliness. Mataiologoi are vain talkers whose speech results only in poverty or worse (Isa. 32:6), and mataioponia is labor that by its very nature is in vain.
Mataiotes (G3153) was not used in secular Greek, and had it been, it could never have imparted the depth of meaning it has in Scripture. The heathen world was too hopelessly debased in vanity to be aware of its own condition, to be capable of judging itself. One must at least be partially delivered from the mataiotes to be able to recognize it for what it is. When the Preacher exclaimed "all is vanity" (Eccles. 1:2), it is clear that something in him was not vanity, or else he could never have arrived at this conclusion. Hugh of St. Victor said: "There was something in him which was not vanity and that was able to speak not aimlessly against vanity." However, some intimations of his cry are apparent in the moral waste of the old heathen world, perhaps most frequently and distinctly in Lucretius. The great pathetic passages in his poem may be summed up briefly in these words: "The human race strives for the empty and futile always, and squanders a lifetime on idle concerns." But if these confessions are comparatively rare elsewhere, they are frequent in Scripture. In fact vanity is the keyword in Ecclesiastes. In that book mataiotes, or its Hebrew equivalent hebel(G1892), occurs nearly forty times. Vanity is the sum the Preacher gave to the total good of man's life and labors apart from God. The false gods of heathendom are eminently ta mataia.The mataiousthai (G3154) is ascribed to the followers of idols, because by following vain things they become mataiophrones like the vain things they follow. Their whole conversation is vain (1 Pet. 1:18) because the mataiotes reaches to the very center of their moral being, the nous (G3563) itself (Eph. 4:17). Nor is this all; this mataiotes or douleia tes phthopas (bondage of corruption) extends to the entire creation that was made dependent on man. With a certain blind consciousness, this creation longs for a deliverance it is never able to grasp because its restitution can only follow man's. Olshausen clearly remarked:
Every natural human being, every animal, every plant strives to get beyond itself, to realize an ideal, in the realization of which it has its eleutheria [G1657], that is, a state of being consistent with its divine design. However its inherent transitoriness (Ps. 39:6; Eccles. 1:2, 14), that is, its deficient supply of life, the perishableness derived from it and destined to come to an end, namely in death, does not permit any created thing to attain its goal; each individual member of a species begins its life-cycle anew and strives unsuccessfully to overcome the impossibility of completing itself.

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