Two New Testament Words For ‘New’

Two New Testament words for ‘New’

Listen here: Richard on New

There are two New Testament words for new. One is néos, the other kainós. Both words are used in Classical Greek and have a well developed range of meanings. We shall take néos first, as it is the simpler of the two words.

Néos means basically ‘new’ in a temporal sense, new as opposed to old. It can also mean ‘young’. So in the New Testament we have it referring to new wineskins, new wine, and young people. And that’s about all there is to say about the word. It is clearly a word sharing a derivation with our word “new”, from an ancient root newos, which gives rise to Sanskrit nava, návya, Germanic niujis, cf. our Afrikaans nuwe. Also Celtic nuae, Welsh newydd. So in the widest selection of related languages in the Indo-European family, the word is attested with the simple meaning “new”, “young”, which is the New Testament usage as we have seen.

The other word for new in the New Testament is kainós, which basically means ‘new’ in quality as opposed to mere temporal novelty. The New Testament is called the “kainḕ diathḗkē”, new in nature, with the undertone of “better”, as is written in Hebrews 8:6. It means something that is new with novelty, such as the “new ideas” that the Athenians were wont to discuss in the agora, in Acts 17:21. The Greeks had a finely and richly nuanced conception of the idea of newness, reflected in their two words for “new”. The newnesses of John’s new commandment, our new names, the new Jerusalem, the new song of Revelation, and the new heaven and the new earth are all denoted by the word kainós.

It is fitting that the wholly new revelation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ his Son should be denoted by a suitably richly textured word from Classical Greek.

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