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Bible Lexicons

Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament


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elaion (Strong's #1637) Oil

myron (Strong's #3464) Ointment

chrio (Strong's #5548) (Anoint)

adeipho [Strong's #218])

By arguing on the insufficient grounds that the Septuagint sometimes translates Å¡emen (Strong's #8081) by myron but far more frequently by elaion, some scholars have denied that the Old Testament makes any distinction between oil and ointment. Often, however, a single word in one language contains two of another, especially when (as in the case of Greek compared with Hebrew) the other abounds in finer distinctions and in more subtle meanings. To convey this duplicity of meaning is the responsibility of a well-skilled translator. Myron naturally grew out of elaion because it had oil for its base, with only the addition of spice, scent, or other aromatic ingredients. Clement of Alexandria called elaion "adulterated oil." Because of this close relationship between elaion and myron, it was a long time before the need for different names for these terms arose in other languages. In Greek, myron first appears in the writings of Archilochus. Although there were ointments in Homer's time, he used "sweet-smelling oil" and "roseate oil" instead.

Later a clear distinction was drawn between elaion and myron. In fact, a passage in Xenophon depends entirely on the suitability of elaion for men and of myron for women: women prefer men to smell of manly "oil," rather than of effeminate "ointment." According to Xenophon: "The odor of oil [elaiou] in gymnasiums when present is more pleasant to women than that of ointment [myron] and is more longed for when absent." And this distinction underlies Christ's rebuke to the discourteous Pharisee: "You did not anoint My head with oil [elaio], but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil [myro]"( Luke 7:46). Thus in effect Christ said: "You withheld from me cheap and ordinary courtesies, while she bestowed upon me costly and rare homages." Grotius well remarked:

There is continuous contrast. That woman employed tears for washing Christ's feet; Simon did not even furnish water. She constantly kissed the feet of Jesus; Simon received Christ without even one kiss. She poured precious ointment [ungentum = myron) on both His head and His feet; he gave not even mere oil [merum = elaion], which was the custom of perfunctory friendship.

Because some scholars have distinguished the verbs aleiphein and chriein on the basis of the difference between myron and elaion, we need to deal with this topic here. These scholars claim that aleiphein commonly refers to a luxurious or superfluous anointing with ointment and that chriein refers to a sanitary anointing with oil. Thus Casaubon stated: "To be anointed with ointment [aleiphesthai] is characteristic of those devoted to pleasure and a delicate life; to be anointed with oil [chriesthai] is suitable occasionally to temperate people and to those who live virtuously." Valcknaer stated: "People surrendered to pleasures, who anointed their head and hands with precious ointment, were particularly said to be aleiphesthai;chriesthaiwas applied to those smearing their bodies with oil for the sake of health. " No traces of this distinction appear in the New Testament (cf. Mark 6:13; James 5:14 with Mark 16:1; John 11:2), however, nor are there traces of the distinction of Salmasius: "They smear [chriousi] more solid substances; they pour [aleiphousi] liquids."

The New Testament does distinguish the two verbs aleiphein and chriein, but not as they were distinguished above. In the New Testament, aleiphein is used as the mundane and profane term, and chriein is used as the sacred and religious term. Aleiphein is used indiscriminately of all actual anointings, whether with oil or with ointment, and chriein is absolutely restricted to the Father's anointing of the Son with the Holy Spirit for the accomplishment of the Son's great office. In the New Testament, chriein is completely separated from all profane and common uses. The same holds true in the Septuagint, where chrisis, chrisma (Strong's #5545) and chriein are frequently used to refer to all religious and symbolic anointings. Aleiphein occurs only twice in this sense ( Exodus 40:13; Numbers 3:3).

Public Domain
Trench, Richard C. Entry for 'Oil'. Synonyms of the New Testament. 1854.
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