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Bible Lexicons

Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament


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logos (Strong's #3056) Word, Discourse

mythos (Strong's #3454) Account, Fable

Logos means sermo (discourse) as much as verbum (a connected discourse in a single word), and there has been much discussion concerning which of these words best translates the highest application of logos ( John 1:1). We will not dwell on this exceptional and purely theological employment of logos. In the New Testament logos frequently is used to refer to that word which eminently deserves the name "the word of God" ( Acts 4:13) and "the word of the truth" ( 2 Timothy 2:15; cf. Luke 1:2; Acts 6:4; James 1:22). In this regard, we may discuss the similarities and dissimilarities between logos and mythos. Once there was only a slight difference between these two words, but the meaning of mythos grew so that eventually a great gulf separated it from logos.

Mythos passed through three distinct stages of meaning, though it never completely lost its first meaning. Initially, mythos did not refer at all to fables and still less to that which is false. During this period of its use, mythos stood on equal footing with rhema (Strong's #4487), epos (Strong's #2031), and logos. The relationship between mythos and myo, myeo (Strong's #3453), and myzo shows that mythos originally must have signified the word within the mind or the word muttered on the lips, though there are no actual examples of such a usage. Already in Homer, mythos was used to refer to the spoken word. The tragic poets and others who were dependent on Homer continued to use mythos in this way, even at a time in Attic prose when mythos almost had exchanged this meaning for another.

In the second stage of the development of mythos's meaning, it was used in antithesis to logos, though in a respectful and often honorable sense. Mythos was used to refer to that which is conceived by the mind as contrasted with that which actually is true. It did not refer to a literal fact but to something that was "truer," to something that involves a higher teaching, to "an unreal account [logos] symbolizing the truth," as Suidas said. According to Plutarch: "Mythos is an image and likeness of logou." There is "an account [logos] in myth [mytho]" that may have infinitely more value than many actual facts. According to Schiller, it frequently is true that "a deeper import lurks in the legend told our infant years than lies upon the truth we live to learn." By the time of Herodotus and Pindar, mythos was being used in this sense. As we have observed, in Attic prose mythos rarely has any other meaning.

But in a world like ours, a fable easily degenerates into a falsehood. "Tradition, time's suspected register that wears out truth's best stories into tales," always works to bring about such a result. Story, tale, and many other words attest to this fact. In the third stage of the development of mythos's meaning, it came to refer to a fable in the more modern sense of that word, to a fable that is not the vehicle for some lofty truth. During this stage of its development, mythos refers to a lying fable with all its falsehood and pretenses. Thus Eustathius wrote: "Mythos in Homer is the simple account [logos], but in later writers it is unreal and fabricated, having an appearance of truth." This is the only sense of mythos in the New Testament. Thus we have "profane and old wives' fables" ( 1 Timothy 4:7), "Jewish fables" ( Titus 1:14), and "cunningly devised fables." The other two occasions of the word's use ( 1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 4:4) are just as contemptuous. Initially, legend was an honorable word that referred to that which is worthy to be read, but it came to designate "a heap of frivolous and scandalous vanities" (Hooker). Legend has had much the same history as mythos, since similar influences were at work to degrade both. J. H. H. Schmidt said:

Mythos came to denote a fictitious story because the naive faith in the ancient traditions, which had retained their transmitted titles, was gradually lost. Thus mythos like logos implies antithesis to reality, however in such a way as simultaneously pointing out the silly and improbable character of fiction.

Although logos and mythos began their journey together, they gradually parted company. The antagonism between these words grew stronger and stronger until they finally stood in open opposition. This is true of words as well as of people, when one comes to belong to the kingdom of light and truth and the other to the kingdom of darkness and lies.

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

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