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Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament

Foolish Talk

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morologia (Strong's #3473) Foolish Talk

aischrologia (Strong's #148) Filthy Language

eutrapelia (Strong's #2160) Coarse Jesting, Falsely Refined Discourse

Morologia, aischrologia, and eutrapelia all refer to different sins of the tongue.

Morologia, which only occurs once in the New Testament ( Ephesians 5:4), is aptly translated in the Vulgate by stultiloquium (silly talk). Morologia includes the "every idle word" mentioned by Jesus ( Matthew 12:36) and also the "every corrupt communication" referred to by his apostle ( Ephesians 4:29). Like all of our other actions as Christians, our speech needs to be seasoned with the salt of grace and is in danger of growing insipid and corrupt without it. Those who define morologia as simply "idle words" miss its full meaning. Calvin's definition"unsuitable and empty discourses with no result"is too weak. Even Jeremy Taylor failed to reproduce the full force of the word.

That which is here meant by stultiloquy or foolish speaking is the lubricum verbi, as Ambrose calls it, the "slipping with the tongue" which prating people often suffer, whose discourses betray the vanity of their spirit, and discover "the hidden man of the heart."

In heathen writings morologia may very well have been used as a synonym for adoleschia and for morologein to lerein, but Greek words that were taken up into the ethical terminology of Christianity were given new meanings. When we consider morologia, we need to remember that fool, foolish, and folly receive greater emphasis in Scripture than elsewhere. We need to consider both the positive and negative aspects of folly when we are weighing the meaning of morologia:it is that "talk of fools" that is both foolishness and sin.

Aischrologia, which also occurs only once in the New Testament ( Colossians 3:8), should not be confused with aischrotes (Strong's #151; Ephesians 5:4). The Greek fathers understood aischrologia to refer to obscene discourse, turpiloquium (filthy communication), that fosters wantonness, to "a vehicle of fornication," as Chrysostom explained it. Certainly aischrologia sometimes has this sense predominantly or even exclusively. But more often aischrologia indicates every kind of foul-mouthed abusiveness, not just the most obvious and offensive kind, including "foul language for sacred things." Thus Polybius spoke of "foul language [aischrologia] and abuse against the king," and the author of a supposed treatise by Plutarch denounced all aischrologia as unbecoming to youth ingenuously brought up. In this he included every license of the ungoverned tongue used to abuse others, all the "wicked condiments of saucy speech." Both the context and the company in which Paul used aischrologia show that he certainly intended to forbid such speech, and all the other sins he warned against are outbreaks of a loveless spirit toward our neighbor.

Paul did not use eutrapelia, which, like its synonyms, occurs only once in the New Testament ( Ephesians 5:4), in its common, worldly sense of something that turns easily, of something that adapts itself to the shifting circumstances of the hour, to the moods and conditions of those around it. In classical usage, eutrapelia seldom has the evil sense that Paul gives it and that it has in the Greek fathers. The better sense of eutrapelos is applied to Paul in Acts 26:29. In his panegyric of the Athenians that he put into the mouth of Pericles, Thucydides employed eutrapelos (241) as a synonym for eukinetos (easily moved) to characterize the "versatile nature" of his countrymen. For Aristotle, also, the eutrapelos or epidexios is one who keeps the happy mean between the bomolochos and the agrios, agroikos, or skleros. Such a person is not merely a gelotopoios, or buffoon, but in all his pleasantry or banter he is still charieis, or refined. He always restrains himself within the limits of becoming mirth, never ceasing to be the gentleman.

Even classical usagemost obviously in the adjective eutrapelosanticipated the unfavorable sense in which Paul used eutrapelia. Eutrapelia gradually sank from a better meaning to a worse and in that respect resembles the history of the Latin urbanitas (elegance), its best Latin equivalent and the one Erasmus used in his translation. The following quotation from Cicero attests that urbanitas is the best translation for eutrapelos:"Insult, if it is hurled too impudently, is called reproach; if it is more polite, it is termed urbanity." This agrees with Aristotle's striking phrase that eutrapelia is "trained insolence" or "chastened insolence," as Sir Alexander Grant rendered it. Already in Cicero's time, urbanitas was beginning to obtain the questionable significance that is found more distinctly in Tacitus's and in Seneca's usage of the word. The history of facetious and facetiousness would supply an instructive parallel.

The fineness of the form in which evil might clothe itself did not make Paul more tolerant of the evil itself. Although a sin may lose its coarseness, it does not for that reason lose any of its malignity. The finer banter of the world, howeverits "persiflage" or "badinage"attracts many who would not be tempted to speak or to hear foul-mouthed and filthy abuse and who would find scurrile buffoonery revolting and repelling. Indeed eutrapelia defines a fir more subtle sin than those indicated by the previous synonyms. As Bengel correctly noted: "It is more subtle than base or silly talk, for it relies on innate talent. " Chrysostom called it "disagreeable charm," and Jerome wrote: "It descends from a wise mind and deliberately seeks certain phrases, either clever or boorish or unseemly or humorous." In this last citation, I would only object to the word unseemly, which belongs to the other forms of speech. Chrysostom noted that the eutrapelos always "says clever things," and Cicero remarked: "These things especially are laughed at which signify and describe some shamefulness unshamefully." What the eutrapelos deals in are "charms," albeit "charms of fools" ( Sirach 20:13). All of his polish, refinement, knowledge of the world, presence of mind, and wit are enlisted in the service of sin, not in the service of truth. The very profligate old man of Plautus prided himself (and not without reason) on his wit, elegance, and refinementexactly those abilities that characterize the eutrapelos. It is interesting to note that the sole prohibition against eutrapelia is found in Ephesians (5:4) and that Ephesus was the town in which Plautus's old man lived, an old man who attributed his wit, elegance, and refinement to his Ephesian upbringing: "At Ephesus I was born, not at Apulia or at Animula!"

Although all of these words indicate sins of the tongue, morologia refers to foolishness, aischrologia to foulness, and eutrapelia to false refinement, to discourse that is not seasoned with the salt of grace. All of these sins of speech are noted and condemned.

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Bibliography Information
Trench, Richard C. Entry for 'Foolish Talk'. Synonyms of the New Testament. 1854.

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