Darkness - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


skotos (G4655) Darkness
gnophos (G1105) Blackness
zophos (G2217) Gloom
achlys (G887) Mist
Because skotos is the most frequently used and most inclusive word of this group, we will not give it much attention. Skotos is used often in the New Testament, both in its Attic form of skotos and as skotia (G4653), from the common dialect. Skotos is the exact opposite to phos (G5457), as the profoundly pathetic words of Ajax in Euripides reveals: "Alas! darkness [skotos] is my light [phaos]."
Gnophos correctly is regarded as a later Doric form of dnophos.Gnophos is used only once in the New Testament (Heb. 12:18) with zophos, though it is used elsewhere in this same way (Exod. 10:22; Deut. 4:11; Zeph. 1:16). Early English translators apparently felt that gnophos included an element of tempest, as the following translations show: "mist" (Wycliffe and Tyndale), "storm" (Cranmer), "blackness" (Geneva and authorized Version), "whirlwind" (Rheims), and the turbo (storm) in the Vulgate. Our ordinary lexicons indicate such a force only slightly or not at all, though it was distinctly recognized by Pott, who gave as explanatory equivalents the German Finsterniss (darkness), Dunkel (absence of light), and Wirbelwind (tornado). Along with the best modern scholars, Pott understood nephos (G3509), gnophos, and zophos as a group of words that have much in common and that are, perhaps, merely different forms of what once was a single word.
Zophos is used three times in the New Testament (2 Pet. 2:4, 17; Jude 6) or four, if we accept it in Hebrews 12:18 (as it seems we should). Zophos is not used in the Septuagint. Zophos, which may be seen as a kind of emanation of skotos, first refers to the twilight gloom that broods over the regions of the setting sun. And usually in Homer, when zophos is used in this sense it occurs with eeroeis (the cloudy). But zophos means more than this. There is an even darker darknessthe sunless underworld, the nigra Tartara (darkness of Tartarus) of Virgil, the opaca Tartara (shaded Tartarus) of Ovid, and the knephaia Tartarou bathe (dark depths of Tartarus) of Aeschylus. Zophos also can refer to the sunless world itself, though more usually it refers to the gloom that envelops it. In Egyptian mythology, Ahriman was born from the zophos just as Ormuzd was born from the light. The appropriateness of the New Testament use of zophos is apparent, since it always signifies the darkness of that shadowy land where there is no light but only visible darkness.
Achlys is used only once in the New Testament (Acts 13:11) and never in the Septuagint. Galen defined achlys as something that is more dense than omichle and that is less dense than nephos. The single New Testament use of achlys attests to the accuracy of Luke's choice, as so often is the case in his selection of words, especially medical terms. Luke used achlys to refer to the mist of darkness (achlys kai skotos) that fell on the sorcerer Elymas as the outward and visible sign of the inward spiritual darkness that was his temporary portion as a punishment for resisting the truth. All the translations of our English Hexapla translate achlys by "mist," with the exception of the Rheims, which uses "dimness." The Vulgate correctly translated achlys as caligo (mist, fog). Although Luke's use of the term in Acts is separated by nearly a thousand years from its use in Homer, the meaning of achlys remained unchanged. In the Odyssey, when the poet describes the responsive darkness that comes over the sea when it is overshadowed by a dark cloud, he uses the verb achlyein. Homer used achlys to refer to the mist that clouds the eyes of the dying or in which the gods (for one cause or another) may envelop their favorites.

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