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Bible Lexicons

Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament


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agrammatos (Strong's #62) Unlearned, Uneducated, Uninformed

idiotes (Strong's #2399) Ignorant, Untrained

Agrammatos and idiotes are used together in Acts 4:13. Agrammatos is not used elsewhere in the New Testament; idiotes is used four other times ( 1 Corinthians 14:16; 1 Corinthians 14:23-24; 2 Corinthians 11:6). When they are used together, it seems that idiotes is stronger than agrammatos and adds something to it. Apparently this is the way the Authorized translators understood these words, for they translated agrammatos as "unlearned," and idiotes as "ignorant." Bengel said: "Agrammatos is 'uninformed,' idiotes is 'more uninformed.'"

It is not difficult to define agrammatos, which corresponds exactly to our illiterate. Plato used agrammatos with oreios and with amousos, and Plutarch contrasted it with memousomenos.

Idiotes has a wider range of meaning and is a far more complex and subtle term. Initially, idiotes referred to a private person who was occupied with his own concerns, as contrasted with the political person (a man without public office as opposed to one who holds an office). Because one of the strongest convictions in the Greek mind was that a person's true education consisted in public life, idiotes became tinged with contempt and scorn. The idiotes stayed at home while others worked. Our ancestors demeaningly referred to such a person as a "house-dove'unexercised in business, unaccustomed to deal with other people, impractical. Plato joined idiotes with apragmon. Plutarch used it with apraktos and contrasted it with the politikos kai praktikos. More than this, however, the idiotes often is boorish, an association that resulted in idiotes being used with agroikos, apaideutos, and with other similar words.

The history of idiotes does not stop here, though we have traced it as far as is necessary to explain its association in Acts 4:13 with agrammatos and to contrast the two terms. To explain why Paul used idiotes in1Corinthians14:16; 1 Corinthians 14:23-24and in what sense requires pursuing its etymology further. There is a unique feature to idiotes that is best communicated by citing a few examples. Idiotes always refers to the negation of some particular skill, knowledge, profession, or standing with which it is contrasted. For example, if the idiotes is contrasted with the demiourgos, the idiotes is the unskilled man who is contrasted with the skilled artificer. The idiotes may possess any other dexterity but that of the demiourgos. If the idiotes is contrasted with the iatros (Strong's #2395), the idiotes is one who is ignorant of the physician's art. If the idiotes is contrasted with the sophistes, the idiotes is unacquainted with the sophist's dialectical skill. If the idiotes is contrasted with the philologos, the idiotes has no interest in those earnest studies. When contrasted with poets, prose writers are idiotai. When compared with the athletai, those unpracticed in gymnastic exercises are idiotai. When contrasted with their prince, the underlings in the harvest field are idiotai kai hyperetai (Strong's #5257), as distinguished from the hegemones. The weak are idiotai (aporoi and adoxoi are qualitative adjectives) as contrasted with the strong. Finally, all of those in the congregation of Israel are idiotai as contrasted with the priests. Based on these examples, we must conclude that the idiotai in1Corinthians14:16; 1 Corinthians 14:23-24are plain believers who have no special spiritual gifts, as distinguished from those who possess such gifts, that is, the lay members of the church as contrasted with those who minister the word and sacraments, for it is always the word with which idiotes is combined and contrasted that determines its meaning.

When the Pharisees recognize Peter and John as men agrammatoi kai idiotai, the first word expresses their lack of book learning, their lack of acquaintance with teaching such as that Paul had received at Gamaliel's feet. The second word emphasizes the apostles' lack of the sort of education that is gained by mingling with people who have important affairs to transact and by transacting such affairs. Apart from the higher training of the heart and intellect that is obtained by direct communion with God and his truth, books and public life (literature and politics) are the world's two most effective instruments of mental and moral training. The second is immeasurably more effective than the first. One is agrammatos who has not shared in the first; one is idiotes who has had no part in the second.

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

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