Word of the Week
January 1, 2023
NOTE: In honor of the new year, we are bringing back a word study from our 2019 archives. Feel free to browse more word studies at ezraproject.com/blog.
Kainos: New and Improved?
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Revelation 21:5a NASB
We recently bought a new car.
That could mean that we drove off the lot with a sparkling 2019 Mercedes, with the odometer in double digits. In reality, it meant that we came home with a 2007 Pontiac G6 that had traveled 128,000 miles.
You see, the word “new” comes in more than one flavor. It can mean something that is fresh from the factory, something that has never been used. Or it can simply mean “something we haven’t had before.” The difference amounts to thousands of miles and thousands of dollars.
The Bible portrays a God who delights in new things. In fact, He climaxes the book of Revelation by declaring, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
New Testament Greek uses two words for “new.”
- Neos means new in the sense of “more recent in time.”
It could refer to wine that had just recently been made or wine skins that were fresh and supple (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-39).
It could refer to a fresh batch of yeast (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Most often it was used to describe “young” people. The prodigal was the younger of the two sons (Luke 15:12-13). Timothy and Titus received guidance from Paul on the best ways to minister to younger men and women (1 Timothy 5:1-2, 11, 14; Titus 2:4,6).
Colossians 3:10 explains that a believer has put on a neos self, a new version of you that you didn’t possess before you came to Christ.
- Kainos means new in the sense of “new in quality, different in nature from the old.”
Sometimes it describes something that has not previously been used, such as the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed (Matthew 27:60; John 19:41).
Sometimes it describes something novel, unknown, or remarkable. Acts 17:19, 21 describes the Greek philosophers who lounged around Mars Hill waiting to hear a kainos idea.
It frequently refers to something that is not only new, but superior to the old. The crowds who followed Jesus around Galilee were amazed at his “new” (kainos) teaching, which was accompanied by miracles and healings (Mark 1:27).
The bottom line: neos meant “new”; kainos meant “new and improved.”
OK – I recognize that this is oversimplified. In the New Testament period, the two words sometimes overlapped. The new covenant described in Hebrews 12:24 was neos because it came 1500 years later than the covenant with Moses. But it was also described as kainos in Hebrews 8:8, 13; 9:15 because it was different from and superior to the old version.
If you had bought the very first hybrid Prius, you would have been able to say, “I’ve bought a new (neos) car,” because it had just recently come off the assembly line. And you would also be accurate to say, “I have a new (kainos) car” because its hybrid engine was something unprecedented, something that would boost your gas mileage way beyond anything you previously experienced.
Consider all that the Lord describes as kainos:
- He gives us a new commandment to love one another (John 13:34; 1 John 2:7-8).
- He created the church as something new that transcends Jew and Gentile boundaries (Ephesians 2:15).
- We become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- He created us as a new self, made in his likeness (Ephesians 4:24).
- He promises us a new name (Revelation 2:17).
- We get to sing a new song (Revelation 5:9; 14:3).
- The new Jerusalem will be our eternal home (Revelation 21:2).
- We will spend eternity in the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1).
When God does a new thing, He unwraps something so startlingly superior to the past that our jaws will drop with wonder. And in the end, He will do this to everything!
In the Ezra Project Word Study Course, you can learn how to use electronic tools like blueletterbible.org and print resources like Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the New Testament. Here are some more advanced sources that I find helpful:
Danker, Frederick William. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009. [best if you know the Greek alphabet]
Mounce, William D., ed. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
The word study course will equip you to add these and more to your tool chest.
Next week we will begin a series of word studies that take us through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. We have already looked at some of these words, and we will link you to those earlier studies, but we will take a fresh look at all the words that are still unexplored. Happy New Year!
©Ezra Project 2023