Author's Preface - Trench's New Testament Synonyms

Author's Preface

This volume grew out of a course of lectures on New Testament synonyms delivered in fulfillment of my duties as professor of divinity at King's College, London. Apart from those higher and more solemn lessons that only God imparts, I have never doubted that there are few things a theological teacher should have more at heart than awakening in his students an enthusiasm for grammatical and lexical studies. We shall have done much for our students if we can persuade them to have grammars and lexicons continually in their hands and if we can make them believe that with these, and out of these, they may learn much that is real and lasting and that will remain with them forever. Grammatical and lexical studies will nourish the mind and spirit and help prepare students for their future work more effectively than reading many a volume of divinity.
As these lectures now will reach a larger audience, I would like to make a few observations on the value of studying synonyms in general and New Testament synonyms in particular. Additionally, I will mention helps for studying synonyms and include a few remarks suggested by my own experience.
Studying synonyms trains the mind by developing precise and accurate habits of thought, and it provides a wealth of knowledge. This has been implicitly recognized by most great writers, many of whom have, from time to time, studied synonyms. Studying Greek synonyms is even more rewarding, since the Greeks were a people of the subtlest intellect who saw distinctions where others saw none and who cultivated the study and use of synonyms. Thus the characteristic excellencies of the Greek language invite us to investigate the likenesses and differences between words.
There are additional reasons for studying New Testament synonyms. Because the words of the New Testament are God's words, it is important that we understand every delicate variation in an author's meaning. Increasing our intellectual riches through the study of New Testament synonyms will increase our spiritual wealth as well. And because the words of the New Testament bring eternal life to those who receive them in faith, it is important that we fathom their exact force and their intricate relationships. Failure to receive the words of the New Testament as the living and powerful words of God breeds all manner of corruptions and heresies, as the history of the church plainly shows.
The words of the New Testament are eminently the stoicheia ("elements," "basic principles") of Christian theology. He who will not begin his theological investigations with a patient study of these words will never make secure or significant theological advances. As is true in all other fields of study, the whole may not be possessed without embracing all of its parts. Studying synonyms necessarily compels a patient and accurate investigation of the words of the text.

I am only too aware of the deficiencies of this present work. Even if the present material were better, I have left an immense number of New Testament synonyms untouched, among which are some of the most interesting and instructive (see appendix). I can only hope and pray that despite its shortcomings, this volume may not wholly miss its aim, which is to lead its readers into a closer and more accurate investigation of the Word of God, in whom "all riches of wisdom and knowledge are contained."
Before concluding, I wish to discuss a few of the rules and principles that should guide the proper study of synonyms. These principles mainly concern the proper selection of passages.
When we say that two or more words are synonyms, we implicitly affirm two things: there are many passages where either word could be suitably used, and there are some passages where only one of the words may properly be used or where one word is more suitable than the other. The latter type of passage is the most important for the study of synonyms, and students of synonyms must be able to recognize these passages. Although identifying these passages is more an art than a science, a few hints may help.
First, find good writers who make careful distinctions between words, especially authoritative authors whose writings contain extended discussions of lexical issues. Distinguishing synonyms comes naturally to great writers. Second, locate passages in which words are used antithetically. Third, discover passages where words are used climactically, that is, where each successive word is stronger than the previous ones. These passages show the relative strength of words in a group of synonyms. Fourth, find passages where great writers alternate one synonym with another. These passages reveal the propriety of using one synonym in one context and another synonym in a different context. Fifth, observe the words with which each synonym is used. These passages disclose the synonym's domain of meaning and show if the synonym habitually is associated with one or more words. Relationships between synonyms and other words may reveal similarities and differences of meaning. Sixth, study equivalent synonyms in cognate and other languages. Seventh, when studying ethical terms, try to learn all the names by which virtues and vices have been called, especially the vocabulary used to ridicule virtues and to honor vices. Such deceitfully misused terms may reveal much about the true meaning of the nomenclature for virtues and vices.
Finally, it requires great skill to match the proper pairs or sets of synonyms. The more similar the words, the more likely they are to be confused. No words can be too near in meaning to one another, since the closer they are in meaning, the more they need to be distinguished. In such cases, the student needs to be very careful in discriminating between them. The more dissimilar the words, the more unlikely it is that they are synonyms. For example, scarlet and crimson are so similar that they may be confused, but scarlet and green are so dissimilar that one does not need to explain the difference between them. It may be helpful to distinguish pride and arrogance, but who needs to distinguish pride and covetousness?

Trench's New Testament Synonyms Topics