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Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament


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dokeo (Strong's #1380) Seem, Be Considered

phainomai (Strong's #5316) Appear

The translators of the Authorized Version did not always observe the distinction between dokein and phainesthai. Dokein refers to a person's subjective mental estimate or opinion about something. A person's doxa (Strong's #1391) may be right or wrong, since it always involves the possibility of error. Phainesthai, however, refers to how a thing shows and presents itself phenomenally and does not imply the presence of an observer; it suggests an opposition to the nooumenon (apprehending), not to the on (being). Thus when Plato said of certain heroes in the Trojan war that "they appeared [ephanesan] ready for war," he did not mean that they seemed good for the war and really were not but that they showed themselves to be good (the tacit assumption is that they really were). So when Xenophon wrote "there appeared [ephaineto] footprints of horses," he implied that horses actually had left their footprints on the ground. Had Xenophon used dokein, he would have implied that Cyrus and his company took for horses' tracks what may or may not have been horses' tracks. Zeune wrote: "To seem [dokein] is discerned in an opinion, which can be false and groundless; but to appear [phainesthai] usually is in reality outside the mind, inasmuch as no judgment is involved."

Even in passages where dokein and einai (Strong's #1511) may be used interchangeably, dokein does not lose the meaning that Zeune gave it. Dokein always includes a predominant reference to public opinion and estimate, rather than to actual being. The former, however, may be the faithful reflection of the latter ( Proverbs 27:14). There is no irony or depreciation in Paul's use of hoi dokountes in Galatians 2:2 and of hoi dokountes einai ti in Galatians 2:6. Clearly Paul intended no slight by his words, since he used them to characterize the chief of his fellow apostles. Instead, Paul's words refer to the apostles' reputation in the church, not to their own intrinsic worth, though their reputation may have been the true measure of their worth. When Christ referred to "those who are considered [hoi dokountes] rulers over the Gentiles" ( Mark 10:42), he did not cast doubt on the reality of their rule (cf. Matthew 20:25), though these words may contain a slight hint of the contrast between the worldly appearance of greatness and its heavenly realities.

On the one hand, our mental conceptions may or may not correspond to something in the world. On the other hand, appearance may or may not have an underlying reality. Phainesthai is often synonymous with einai and ginesthai. Plato contrasted the phainomena with "the things which truly exist,"as the reflections of things seen in a mirror, as appearances that have no substance, such as the display of goodness made by the hypocrite ( Matthew 23:28). In the latter case, however, we should not assume that the meaning of phainesthai shades into that of dokein or that the distinction between the two words breaks down. The distinction still stands: one word refers to something objective, the other to something subjective. Thus the contrast in Matthew 23:27-28 is not between what other men took the Pharisees to be and what they really were but between what they showed themselves to be to other men ("you also outwardly appear [phainesthe] righteous to men") and what they really were.

Dokein always signifies a subjective estimate of a thing, not the objective appearance and qualities it actually possesses. Consequently, the Authorized translation of James 1:26 is not perfectly satisfactory: "If any man among you seem to be religious [dokei threskos einai], and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." As it now reads, this verse must have perplexed many. How can a man "seem to be religious," that is, present himself to others as such, when his religious pretensions are belied and refuted by the license of an unbridled tongue? But the verse becomes clear when the words are correctly translated (as in the New King James Version): "If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue." Here dokei expresses a person's own mental estimate of his spiritual condition, an estimate that the following words declare to be altogether erroneous. Compare Hebrews 4:1, where for doke the Vulgate correctly has existimetur (is thought). If the Vulgate's translation of dokein here is correct and our Authorized translation is wrong, elsewhere the Vulgate's translation of phainesthai is wrong, and the Authorized Version is correct. In Matthew 6:18 ("that thou appear not unto men to fast") the Vulgate has ne videaris (that you not seem), though in Matthew 6:16 it correctly has ut appareant (that they not appear). The disciples in this verse ( Matthew 6:18) are not warned against the hypocrisy of wishing to be perceived as having fasted when they had not, as ne videaris might imply, but against the ostentation of wishing to be known to fast when they did, which plainly is the meaning of the original hopos me phanes.

The force of phainesthai displayed in Matthew 6:18 was overlooked in the Authorized Version's translation of Philippians 2:15, not by confusing phainesthai with dokein but by confusing phainesthai with phainein. The Authorized Version translates en hois phainesthe hos phosteres en kosmo ( Philippians 2:15) as "among whom ye shine as lights in the world." Instead of using "ye shine," the Authorized Version should have used "ye are seen" or "ye appear." To justify "ye shine," which is common to all the versions of the English Hexapla, Paul should have written phainete, not phainesthe. It is noteworthy that though the Vulgate has lucetis (you shine), sharing and anticipating our error, an earlier Latin Version did not. This is evident from the form of the verse quoted by Augustine: "In which you appear as lights in the sky."

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

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