Terms for Newness

Study notes ▪ 1999-2000
Tags: Kainos (Greek word); Neos (Greek word); New Testament; Newness; Renewal; Salvation; Eschatology
Excerpted from Newness in the New Testament


References to newness in the New Testament can be traced primarily to two Greek adjectives—kainos and neos—and their derivatives. There is some debate among biblical scholars as to the extent to which it is possible to make a fine distinction between the meanings of the two terms. R. C. Trench explains: “Some have denied that any difference can in the N.T. be traced between these words. They derive a certain plausible support for this denial from the fact that manifestly neos and kainos, both rendered ‘new’ in our Version, are often interchangeably used . . . “ (219). R. A. Harrisville represents this view (69-72), as does Raymond Collins (“New” 4:1087). Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida are also among those who resist simplistic differentiations between the two terms:

Some persons see in the use of kainos in contrast with neos a distinction based upon that which is novel and different in contrast with that which is young and recent. Though this distinction may be applicable to certain contexts and is more in accordance with classical usage, it is not possible to find in all occurrences of kainos and neos this type of distinction. (594)

On the other hand, authors such as R. C. Trench and Johannes Behm perceive a rather clear demarcation between the two terms. Behm explains: “As distinct from néos, ‘new in time,’ kainós means ‘new in nature’ (with an implication of ‘better’). Both words suggest ‘unfamiliar,’ ‘unexpected,’ ‘wonderful,’ and the distinction fades with time” (“Kainós” 388).

A moderate view is taken by the editors of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, who note that “[i]n the course of time the differences of meaning between neos and kainos became blurred, even to the point of occasional synonymity. But the NT has significantly used kainos with its more qualitative sense in order to give expression to the fundamentally new character of the advent of Christ” (“New” 669-70). Robert Mounce and Carl Hoch corroborate: “While the Greek words are sometimes used synonymously . . ., in most instances they have a difference in nuance that provides insight into the theological significance of certain verses” (3:526).

The author holds to a middle position, defined as follows: The evolution of the Greek language from classical usage to Koine usage appears to have attenuated the difference between kainos and neos. Furthermore, the New Testament seems to illustrate the synonymity of the two words (compare, for example, Mt 9.17 and Mt 26.29; Eph 4.24 and Col 3.10; and Heb 9.15 and Heb 12.24). These evidences argue against defining the two words with rigid distinction. Nevertheless, there is a marked preference on the part of the biblical writers for kainos vis-à-vis neos, particularly in theological writing, suggesting that the former is more useful for eschatological application. In addition, the lexical model proposed by various scholars (viewing neos as newness in time and kainos as newness in character) makes much sense of the biblical usage of the two terms. These considerations lead the author to distinguish between kainos and neos while recognizing that there is a significant amount of commonality between them. Following is a lexical overview of kainos, neos, and the other terms used in the New Testament to denote newness.

Kainos

Kainos is the most common word for new in the New Testament, occurring in its root form over 40 times. According to Joseph Thayer, its primary meaning is “recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn” (317). Its secondary (and distinctive) meaning is “of a new kind; unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of” (317).

Kainos conveys the idea of qualitative newness, describing something that is comparatively new in character. It was chosen by the New Testament writers to emphasize the fundamental difference between the Law and the revelation in Christ. Mounce and Hoch observe that “kainós carries over the basic eschatological orientation of the OT prophets who spoke of the age to come, the new age of messianic fulfillment. Jesus’ first coming introduced radical changes in salvation-history, inaugurating the new age anticipated by the prophets” (526). According to Behm, “kainós denotes the new and miraculous thing that the age of salvation brings. It is thus a key teleological term in eschatological promise . . .” (“Kainós” 388).

The following derivatives of kainos are used in the New Testament: kainotes (newness); anakainizo (to renew); anakainoo (to make new); anakainosis (renewal); and egkainizo (to dedicate).

Neos

Neos is the second most common word for new in the New Testament, occurring in its root form over 20 times. Thayer identifies its primary meaning as “recently born, young, youthful,” and its secondary meaning as “new” (424). Hermann Haarbeck corroborates: “neos . . . has the temporal sense of belonging to the present moment, and so new, not previously existent, just now appearing, in short: new, young” (2:674). He explains further:

With neos the temporal aspect is dominant, marking out the present moment as compared with a former: new dough (1 Cor. 5:7), freshly prepared and not yet blended with leaven; new wine, fresh wine, still fermenting (Matt. 9:17, par. Mk. 2:22, Lk. 5:38); a new man, God’s new creation (Col. 3:9f.)[;] the new covenant, God’s new design as contrasted with the old covenant broken by men (Heb. 12:24). (675)

Behm contrasts neos and kainos: “Meaning ‘belonging to the present,’ néos has the nuances of ‘fresh’ and ‘young.’ . . . The reference is to a new age, whereas kainós would suggest a new nature . . . “ (“Néos” 628). He goes to observe that “[u]nlike kainós, néos does not have an eschatological content in the NT. It refers to the new reality of present salvation” (628).

The following derivatives of neos are used in the New Testament: neotes (youth); neoteros (younger); neophutos (newly planted); and ananeoo (to renew).

Agnaphos

Agnaphos is used only twice in the New Testament (Mt 9.16; Mk 2.21). Thayer identifies its meaning as “unmilled, unfulled, undressed” (7). Commentators and translators agree that agnaphos is used to refer to cloth that is unshrunk (Keener 70, 141; Balz and Schneider 1:20).

Prosphatos

Prosphatos is used only once in the New Testament (Heb 10.20). According to Thayer, the term literally means “lately slaughtered, freshly killed,” but has the general connotation of “recently or very lately made, new.” Haarbeck identifies prosphatos as “a sacrificial term” meaning “just slaughtered, and therefore fresh” (2:674). According to Louw and Nida, it is used to denote “what is new and recent, . . . not previously existing” (594). The adverbial counterpart of prosphatos is used in Acts 18.2 and illustrates well the sense of the term.
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