Zeal - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


zelos (G2205) Zeal
phthonos (G5355) Envy
Although these words are frequently joined by Paul (Gal. 5:20-21), Clement of Rome (Epistula i ad Corinthios 3, 4, 5), Cyprian (De zelo et livore), and classical writers as well, there are differences between them. First, zelos is a middle term and sometimes is used in Scripture in a good sense but more frequently in an evil one. Phthonos, however, never has a good meaning; it is always used in an evil sense. When used in a good sense, zelos refers to honorable emulation and the consequent imitation of that which is excellent. The verb aemulor (emulate), which expresses the difference between worthy and unworthy emulation, governs an accusative in cases where the first sense is intended and a dative when the second sense is meant. South noted:
We ought by all means to note the difference between envy and emulation; which latter is a brave and noble thing, and quite of another nature, as consisting only in a generous imitation of something excellent; and that such an imitation as scorns to fall short of its copy, but strives, if possible, to outdo it. The emulator is impatient of a superior, not by depressing or maligning another, but by perfecting himself. So that while that sottish thing envy sometimes fills the whole soul, as a great dull fog does the air; this, on the contrary, inspires it with a new life and vigour, whets and stirs up all the powers of it to action. And surely that which does so (if we also abstract it from those heats and sharpnesses that sometimes by accident may attend it), must needs be in the same degree lawful and laudable too, that it is for a man to make himself as useful and accomplished as he can.
Aristotle employed zelos exclusively in the nobler sense of an active emulation that grieves over the good it lacks, not over another who possesses the good. When used in this way, zelos refers to one who seeks to supply his own deficiencies. In this sense, Aristotle contrasted zelos with envy: "Emulation [zelos] is a certain distress over the apparent presence of honorable good things... not because they belong to another but because they do not also belong to oneself. Thus emulation [zelos] is both proper and concerns proper things, but envying [to phthonein] is both contemptible and concerns contemptible things." The church fathers followed in Aristotle's footsteps. Jerome stated: "Emulation [zelos] may be taken also in a good sense when someone endeavors to emulate that which is good. Envy, in truth, is tormented by another's good fortune." In another place Jerome said: "They emulate properly who, when they see graces, gifts, and virtues in others, desire that they themselves be such persons." Oecumenius said: "Emulation [zelos] is a striving of an ecstatic soul toward something with a certain similarity to that which is termed zeal." Compare the words of our English poet: "Envy, to which the ignoble mind's a slave, is emulation in the learned and brave."
It is all too easy for zeal and honorable rivalry to degenerate into meaner passions. The Latin simultas (rivalry) is not related to simulare (to imitate) but to simul (together) and points out that those who together aim at the same object (i. e., competitors) are in danger of being enemies as well, just as hamilla (contest) is related to hama (at the same time) and as rivales (competitors) at first referred to the occupants of the banks of the same river. These degeneracies, which closely follow emulation, sometimes cause emulation to be used for that into which it degenerates, as in the phrase pale and bloodless emulation (Shakespeare). There are two types of degenerate forms of emulation: (G1) a desire to make war upon the good it beholds in anotherand so to trouble that good and make it lessand (G2) a desire (but not the power) to diminish the good, accompanied by petty complaining and fault finding.
Zelos relates to phthonos in this way: the latter is essentially passive, and the former is active and vigorous. Although phthonos is not used in the comprehensive catalogue of sins in Mark 7:21-22, the idea of envy is implied by the circumlocution: an evil eye (cf. Ecclus. 14:8, 10). Also see Matthew 20:15 and 1 Samuel 18:9: "Saul eyed [i. e., envied] David." The "burning eyes" of Persius and the "evil eye" of the Italians must receive the same explanation.
Phthonos, the meaner of the two sins, refers to displeasure at another's good. The Stoics defined it as "distress at others' good fortunes." It is the desire that the good of another might diminish, quite apart from any corresponding gain. It is not surprising that long ago Solomon described it as "rottenness to the bones" (Prov. 14:30). It is not a desire to be raised to the level of the envied but only to lower the envied to one's own level. When the victories of Miltiades would not allow the youthful Themistocles to sleep, this was zelos in its nobler form. This emulation prevented his rest, until he had set a Salamis of his own against the Marathon of his great predecessor. But it was phthonos that made that Athenian citizen weary of hearing Aristides constantly called "the Just."
Baskania, a word that frequently means "envy" in later Greek, does not occur in the New Testament. Baskainein (G940) appears only once (Gal. 3:1).

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