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Bible Lexicons

Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament


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We look in vain for the word conscience in the O.T., except in the margin of Ecclesiastes 10:20, where it represents part of the word Yada', to know (Assyrian, idû) in the Apocryphal Books we meet with συνείδησις twice, viz in Sirach 10:20, where it is rendered 'wittingly;' and in Sap. 17:11, where it seems to point to the constraining power of a sense of right. The verb συνείδω is used of knowledge in Leviticus 5:1; also in Job 27:6, where the LXX reads οὐ γάρ σύνοιδα ἑμαυτῳ̂̂ ἄτοπα πράξας, 'I am not conscious of having acted foolishly,' words which have no Hebrew text answering to them, but which find an echo in St. Paul's phrase, 'I know nothing against myself' (οὐδὲν ἑμαυτῳ̂ σύνοιδα), 1 Corinthians 4:4.

The verb συνείδω is also used to represent ordinary perception, without reference to the moral aspect of the thing perceived, in five passages in the Books of the Maccabees.

Conscience, then, so far as the O.T. throws any light on it, is to be taken not as a separate faculty which enables a man to distinguish right and wrong, but as the exercise of consciousness; and it will be seen, by noting the passages in the N.T in which the word occurs, that this meaning is generally adhered to. Omitting John 8:9, the reading of which is doubtful, we do not meet with the word συνείδησις until we arrive at the end of the Acts. St. Paul, standing before the council, says, ' in all good conscience have I lived under the government of God unto this day' (Acts 23:1). These words are elucidated by the statement made before Felix, ' in this I exercise myself, having (or to have) a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man' (Acts 24:16). He evidently signified that he was not conscious of living or aiming to live in any course which was wrong in the sight of God or really offensive to man in exact accordance with these expressions, he writes to the Corinthians, 'I am not conscious of anything against myself, yet am I not here by justified, but he that judgeth me is the Lord' (1 Corinthians 4:4).

The same Apostle refers to his consciousness that what he said was spoken in sincerity, in Romans 9:1, 'My conscience also bearing witness.' Compare Romans 2:15; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:11 in 1 Corinthians 8:7, we read of those who are eating 'with conscience of the idol' - that is, with a conscious feeling that they are eating what is offered to idols; and their conscience, i.e. their moral sense, being weak and susceptible, is defiled. See also the tenth verse.

The moral sensibility or conscience is referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:25; 1 Corinthians 10:27-29, 'Asking no questions because of consciousness; not your own consciousness, but that of the weak brother who has not yet attained to that liberty and knowledge which enables you to disregard heathen superstitions.'

When St. Paul is describing the end or sum and substance of the charge which Christ lays up on men, he characterises it as 'love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith' (1 Timothy 1:5); by these words he means that there should be nothing selfish or sensual in love, that there should be a conscious aim at that which is good in God's sight, and a faithfulness untainted by a particle of hypocrisy. Compare 1 Timothy 1:19, where faith and a good conscience are again joined together.

The passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews in which the word occurs are very interesting and important. From Hebrews 9:9, we gather that the offerings under the O.T. could not make men 'perfect as pertaining to the conscience,' i.e. could not take away the sense of sin which hinders man from oneness with God. They did not take away sin, as a matter of fact, and they could not, from the nature of things; for if the effect of the Levitical dispensation had been to make men perfect, i.e. at one with God (see chap. viii. § 2), the offerings would not have needed repetition. If the worshippers had been purged once for all, they would have had no more consciousness of sins (Hebrews 10:2). But 'the blood of Christ' cleanses a man's consciousness from dead works, and enables him to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14); and the heart is thus 'sprinkled from an evil conscience' (10:22) in other words, the faithful acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ takes away that sense of sin which had been a bar between man and God, and enables a man to live no longer as a servant, but as a son.

St. Peter says, 'This is grace (A. V. thankworthy) if from conscience towards God (i.e. through consciousness of his duty and of his relationship to God in Christ) a man endure pains, suffering unjustly' (1 Peter 2:19). He urges that men should keep 'a good conscience' (3:16), and he reminds them that it is not the external cleansing, the putting away of the filth of the flesh, that now saves us, hut the answer of a good conscience toward God, or, as we might render it, the seeking [Επερώτημα εἰς θεύν. this passage has awakened much discussion. I am inclined to be guided by the fact that επερωτάω sometimes answers to the meaning of darash (דרשׁ ), to seek, in the O. T. The Vulgate confirms this view by reading interrogatio conscientiae bonae in Deum. Luther renders 'the contract (Bund) of a good conscience (Gewissen) with God.' De Sacy takes it as 'the engagement of the conscience to keep pure for God.'] unto God with a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21).

The verb συνιδει̂ν, to be conscious, is used in only three passages in the N.T., exclusive of that already mentioned in 1 Corinthians 4:4, viz in Acts 5:2; Acts 12:12; Acts 14:6.

Conscience was thus originally identical with consciousness, but while the latter word may be used by us with reference to external facts or to internal feelings, the former is now confined to the knowledge that a man has of the moral aspect of things. A good conscience, according to Scripture, is not only a sense of freedom from past guilt, but also a consciousness of purposing and doing that which is good in God's sight; it implies purity of motive and action; it is inconsistent with a deliberate course of sin, or with departure from the living God, and it is closely connected with faith in Christ.

Words Marking Intelligence

Coming to the words which designate man's intellectual capacities, we may beg in with the word wisdom. this word generally answers in the A. V. to the Hebrew Chacam (חכם ). this is an important word in Scripture, and is used to represent the discernment of good and evil, prudence in secular matters, skill in arts, experience in Divine things, and even dexterity in magic in the reflexive form it signifies to be wise in one's own eyes, and hence to outwit another. The general rendering of the LXX is σοφία, which is used in the same largeness of sense in the N.T. See especially James 3:17. It is moral rather than intellectual; it is the adaptation of what we know to what we have to do in this sense the Lord Jesus grew in wisdom, i.e in its exercise.

The understanding is most generally represented by the word b in (בין ), to perceive, to be intelligent. this word, again, is used with many shades of meaning, suc has to consider, discern, feel, know, look, mark, perceive, view. The LXX usually represents this word by σύνεσις, but occasionally by ἐπιστήμη and φρόνησις.

Sacal (שׁכל ), to look, to be knowing, and hence to prosper, is used to represent a certain kind of wisdom in Genesis 3:6, and a good many other passages. The LXX renderings are generally the same as those last mentioned.

One word remains to be noticed, namely, tushiah (תושׁיה ). The LXX renderings for this word are very variable. Some critics understand it as signifying essentia, or existent being. Hence it is rendered 'that which is' in Job 11:13; Job 26:3, and substance in Job 30:22. Compare the cognate yesh (ישׁ ) in Proverbs 8:21 in Isaiah 28:29, it is translated working, 'wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.' in Job 5:12, we find the word enterprise adopted. The most general rendering, however, is wisdom, or sound wisdom. Thus we read in Job 6:13, ' is wisdom quite driven from me?' Proverbs 2:7, 'He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous;' 8:14, 'Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom;' Micah 6:9, 'The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and (the man of) wisdom shall see thy name;' the margin has here, 'Thy name shall see that which is.'

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Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Conscience'. Synonyms of the Old Testament.
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