Old - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


archaios (G744) Old
palaios (G3820)
It would be a mistake to attempt to distinguish archaios and palaios on the basis of which term expresses the greatest antiquity, since sometimes this is expressed by one word and then the other. Archaios refers to that which was from the beginning. If we accept this as the first beginning of all, it must be older than a person or a thing that is merely palaioshaving existed a long time ago. But since there may be later beginnings, it is quite possible to view the palaios as older than the archaios. Donaldson wrote:
As the word archaeology is already appropriated to the discussion of those subjects of which the antiquity is only comparative, it would be consistent with the usual distinction between archaios and palaios to give the name of palaeology to those sciences which aim at reproducing an absolutely primeval state or condition.
I fail to trace such a strong or constant sense of a more primeval state or condition in the uses of palaios as Donaldson's statement implies. Thus compare Thucydides, 2.15: "This has happened from the very ancient [archaiou] of time," from the prehistoric time of Cecrops, with 1.18: "Sparta was well governed from very ancient [palaitatou] time," from very early times but still within the historic period. Here the words are used in exactly the opposite sense.
It is not always possible to determine the difference between archaios and palaios. Often these words are used together as merely cumulative synonyms or with no greater antiquity predicated by one than by the other. Etymologically the words are often used indifferentlythat which was from the beginning is generally from a long time ago, and that which was from a long time ago often will be from the beginning. Thus the archaia phone (G5456) of one passage in Plato is exactly equivalent to the palaia phone of another. The archaioi theoi (G2316) of one passage in the Euthyphro are the palaia daimonia (G1140) of another. Hoi palaioi and hoi archaioi both refer to the ancients.There cannot be much difference between palaioi chronoi and archaiai hemerai.
But whenever the emphasis is on going back to a beginning (whatever that beginning may be), archaios is the preferred term. Thus archaia and prota (G4413) are used together in Isaiah 33:18. Satan is the "serpent of old" (Rev. 12:9; 20:2), since his malignant work against God reaches back to the earliest epoch in human history. The world before the flood (which was from the first) is ho archaios kosmos. Mnason was archaios mathetes (G3101; Acts 21:16), "an old disciple," not in the sense that English readers almost inevitably take the words"an aged disciple"but one who had been a disciple from the commencement of the faith, from the day of Pentecost or before it. Although he probably was advanced in years, this is not the emphasis here. The original founders of the Jewish commonwealth, who gave the law with authority, are hoi archaioi. Pistis (G4102) archaia is the faith that was from the beginning, "once delivered to the saints." In a passage where both words occur, Plato traced the language's finer distinctions in a way that determined the respective uses of these words. In a passage in Sophocles, Deianira speaks of the poisoned shirt, her gift from Nessus, in this way: "I had a gift, given long ago [palaion] by a monster of olden time [archaiou] hidden in an urn of bronze."
Archaios often designates something that is both ancient and venerable, something that is honorable because of its antiquity, just as its opposite modern is always used disparagingly by Shakespeare. This is the point where the meaning of archaios and palaios diverge. These words do not share secondary meanings; each has its own proper domain. I noted that the honor of antiquity is sometimes expressed by archaios, though palaios also may have this meaning. But that which is ancient also is old-fashioned, ill-adapted to the present, part of a world that has passed away. Archaios often has this additional sense of old-world fashion and refers to something that not only is antique but that also is antiquated and out-of-date. This can be seen even more strongly in archaiotes, which only has this meaning.
Although the meaning of archaios moves in that direction, the meaning of palaios diverges in another. What has existed for a long time has been exposed to, and perhaps suffered from, the wrongs and injuries of time. Only palaios means old in the sense of more or less worn out. Thus we have "an old [palaion] garment" (Matt. 9:16), "old [palaioi] wineskins" (Matt. 9:17), "old [palaioi] wineskins torn and mended" (Josh. 9:4), and "old [palaia] rags (Jer. 38:11). Although hoi archaioi could never be used to refer to the old men of a living generation as compared with that generation's young men, this is always the meaning of hoi palaioi. Thus we read of "young and old [palaios)" and of "aged and old [palaioi]." This is also true of words formed on palaios, as in Hebrews 8:13: "Now what is becoming obsolete [palaioumenon] and growing old is ready to vanish away." Plato used palaiotes (G3821) and saprotes (cf. G4550) together. Whenever palaios means that which is worn out or wearing out by age, it requires kainos (G2537) as its opposite. When it does not denote something that is worn out, there is nothing to prevent neos (G3501) from being used as its opposite. Kainos also may be contrasted with archaios.

Trench's New Testament Synonyms Topics