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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Envy (2)

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ENVY—.The word φθόνος occurs in the Gospels only in the two parallel passages Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10 in connexion with the trial of Jesus. When the members of the Jewish hierarchy sought the death of Jesus at the hands of Pilate, they attempted to veil their motives under the pretence of loyalty to Caesar. Pilate was too astute a man to credit these professions for a single instant. He perceived (ἐγίνωσκε, Mark 15:10) the underlying feeling to be envy. If the word ἤδει (‘he knew,’ Matthew 27:18) is significant, it supports the opinion that Pilate had previously become acquainted with the attitude of the chief priests toward Jesus. The message that Pilate later received from his wife (Matthew 27:19) somewhat favours this opinion. In fact it was the business of Pilate to know of the person of Jesus and His relations to the leaders of the Jews, and nothing but the contemptuous indifference of a Gallio would have hindered him from the inquiries necessary for gaining this knowledge.

Perhaps it might seem at first as though the feeling which prompted the priests might more properly be termed jealousy. A comparison of the two feelings, jealousy and envy, readily shows the distinctive character of each: ‘Jealousy is the malign feeling which is often had toward a rival, or possible rival, for the possession of that which we greatly desire, as in love or ambition. Envy is a similar feeling toward one, whether rival or not, who already possesses that which we greatly desire. Jealousy is enmity prompted by fear; envy is enmity prompted by covetousness’ (Century Dictionary, s.v. ‘Envy’). ‘Envy is only a malignant, selfish hunger, casting its evil eye on the elevation or supposed happiness of others’ (Bushnell, ib.). In Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, xxvi., the comparison is less happily stated. Apparently jealousy (ζῆλος) ‘may assume two shapes; either that of a desire to make war upon the good which it beholds in another, and thus to trouble that good, and make it less; or, where it has not vigour and energy enough to attempt the making of it less, there may be at least the wishing of it less. And here is the point of contact which ζῆλος has with φθονος: thus Plato, Menex. 242 A, τρῶτον μὲν ζῆλος, ἁτὸ ζήλου δὲ φθονος: the latter being essentially passive, the former is active and energetic’. This citation from Plato shows that there may be a genetic relation between jealousy and envy, but it does not show that envy is passive. Trench quotes from Aristotle, Rhetoric, ii. 11, omitting ὁ δἑ τὸν πλησιον [παρασκενάζει] μὴ ἑχειν διὰ τον φθόνον [τἁ ἁγεθα]: ‘One that is moved by envy contrives that his neighbour shall not have the good that he has or seems to have.’ A careful examination of the use of φθονος in classic Greek authors justifies this statement of Aristotle, and reveals that it means the same active malignant feeling as is expressed in modern English by the word ‘envy.’ It was φθονος which moved the gods to prevent men from attaining a great or uninterrupted experience of prosperity. Pindar, the tragic writers, and orators also are found using the word to designate the active impulse to destroy another’s prosperity so far as one has the power to do it.

The Septuagint, according to Hatch’s Concordance, uses φθόνος only in the Apocryphal books. The most noteworthy instance is in Wisdom of Solomon 2:24 ‘on account of the envy of the devil, death entered into the world.’

Since envy is an ill-will or malice aroused by the success or good gifts of another, it is the fitting word to designate the motive of the priests who protested their loyalty to Caesar. Envy is not a primary emotion. Other feelings prepare the way for, and may enter into, it. It is the result of a development in the life of selfishness (Jul. Müller, Lehre von der Sünde, i. 233 f. [English translation Christian Doctrine of Sin, i. 171]). In the Gospels this development is not difficult to trace. The deeds and words of Jesus were from the outset attended by suspicion on the part of scribes and Pharisees. His growing popularity aroused their jealousy. When they could charge Him with a compact with Beelzebub (Matthew 12:22 ff., Mark 3:20 ff., Luke 11:14 ff.), they had begun to hate Him because of the popular confidence in Him, and especially because this confidence was of a degree and a quality which they never had received, and which they could not hope to receive. This occurrence was an attempt to discredit Him with the people, and it showed that envy had obtained full lodgment in their hearts. From that time onwards it had so large a share in their lives, that when they appeared before Pilate they were so mastered by this feeling to which they had given free rein for months, that they were unable to conceal it. See also artt. Covetousness and Jealousy.

F. B. Denio.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Envy (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/e/envy-2.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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