Light - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


phos (G5457) Light
phengos (G5338)
phoster (G5458)
lychnos (G3088) Lamp
lampas (G2985) Torch
All of these words are translated by "light" in the Authorized Version, some occasionally and some always. Thus we have phos in Matthew 4:16; Romans 13:12; and often; phengos only in Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 11:33; phoster only in Philippians 2:15 and Revelation 21:11; lychnos in Matthew 6:22; John 5:35; 2 Peter 1:19; and elsewherethough this is often translated as "candle" (Matt. 5:15; Rev. 22:5); and lampas in Acts 20:8, though elsewhere it is translated as "lamp" (Matt. 25:1; Rev. 8:10) and as "torch" (John 18:3).
Previous grammarians distinguished phos from phengos (different forms of the same word) by saying that phos refers to sunlight or daylight and that phengos refers to moonlight. This distinction was only present in the Attic writers, and even they did not always observe it. Thus on three or four occasions Sophocles ascribed phengos to the sun, though Plato used phos selenes (G4582, light of the moon). The grammarians were correct to assert that phengos usually refers to moonlight or to starlight and that phos refers to sunlight or to daylight. Plato contrasted these two words as "light [phos] of day" and "lights [phenge] of night." As with other finer distinctions of the Greek language, this is observed in the New Testament. Wherever moonlight is meant, phengos is used; phos is used to refer to sunlight (Rev. 22:5). Thus phos, not phengos, is the true antithesis of darkness (skotos, G4655). Generally phos is the more absolute designation of light. Thus Habakkuk 3:4 states: "His [God's] brightness [phengos) will be like the light [phos]."
Phoster also is translated "light" in our English versions, as in Philippians 2:15: "Among whom you shine as lights in the world." It would be difficult to improve on this translation, though it fails to reveal Paul's entire intention. The phosteres in Philippians 2:15 are the heavenly bodies, mainly the sun and moon, the "lights" or "great lights" to which Moses referred in Genesis 1:14, 16. In Ecclesiasticus 43:7 the moon is referred to as phoster, and in Wisdom of Solomon 13:2 "the lights [phosteres] of heaven" is exactly equivalent to "the lights [phosteres] in the world." It would be difficult to improve on our translation of Revelation 21:11: "Her light [ho phoster autes] was like a stone most precious." In this passage our translators correctly reverted to Wycliffe's translation and replaced "her shining," which appeared in intermediate versions and which must have conveyed a wrong impression to the English reader, with "her light." But because of its ambiguity, even the present translation is not altogether satisfactory. Some readers may still understand "her light" as the light that the heavenly city will diffuse, when actually phoster refers to the light-giver. "Her lumen[source of light]" is the Vulgate's translation. In verse 23 we discover the source of this light: "The Lamb is its light."
Our translators could have distinguished lychnos and lampas by translating lampas as "torch" (as they did only onceJohn 18:3), which would have left "lamp" (now wrongly appropriated by lampas) free. They could have translated lychnos as "lamp" wherever it occurs without using "candle" at all. But on the occasions where "candle" is inappropriate they reverted to "light," which almost completely obliterates the distinction between phos and lychnos in our English versions.

There would be many advantages to such a redistribution of terms, especially in accuracy of translation. Lychnos does not refer to a "candle" but to an oil-fed hand-lamp. Lampas does not refer to a "lamp" but to a "torch," both in Attic and later Hellenistic Greek and in the New Testament. Our early translators used "brand" or "fire brand" (John 18:4) to translate lampas, which shows that they understood the force of the word. It may be argued that in the parable of the ten virgins the lampades are fed with oil and must necessarily be lamps, but this does not follow. In the East the torch, as well as the lamp, is fed in this manner: "The true Hindu way of lighting up is by torches held by men, who feed the flame with oil from a sort of bottle [the angeion (G30) of Matt. 25:4], constructed for the purpose."
Such an understanding would clarify several passages, especially where it is important to distinguish phos and lychnos. In John 5:35 the Authorized Version (referring to John the Baptist) reads: "He was a burning and a shining light. " In this passage the New King James Version follows the original more closely and translates: "He was the burning and shining lamp." This translation does not obliterate the antithesis between Christ, the phos alethinon (genuine light, John 1:8), and the Baptist, a lamp kindled by the hands of another, whose brightness brings joy to men for a while but will one day be extinguished. The same contrast is intended here between lychnos and phos as that found between lychnos and phosphoros (G5459) in 2 Peter 1:19, only here it is transferred to the highest sphere of the spiritual world. This was Shakespeare's thought when he wrote those glorious lines: "Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund Day / Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops."

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