miracle/wonder
Posted: 15 October 2013 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Biblically, I’d assumed these were synonyms and the online dictionaries I checked define one as the other so why are there two words? Is there some theological nuance I have missed? Presumably the Greek original has two distinct terms (and the Hebrew?) reflected in the KJV.

In English “wonder” might mislead some readers of the Bible into thinking it merely means awe-inspiring or wondrous rather than physics-defying. The non-Biblical “God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform” is a similar case in point. Surely “acts” would be better in this context unless the original meaning was that everything that happens is God’s will and therefore good a la Islam. People always associate miracles with positive outcomes and you’d expect the same of wonders in English IMHO.

How are the words handled in other languages and religions I wonder?

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Posted: 15 October 2013 12:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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As to why there are two words in English, that’s easy. Blame it on the Norman Conquest. Wonder is from Old English, miracle from Old French. As you note, wonder has a wider range of meanings, encompassing both the supernatural and the merely marvelous. Miracle almost always carries of connotation of supernatural power behind the event.

As to why biblical translators choose one or the other in a particular passage is not something that could be answered easily. I’m sure the reasons vary with each translator.

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Posted: 16 October 2013 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks, but were there two words in the original Greek or is it just a case of elegant variation by English translators?

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Posted: 16 October 2013 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The word “miracle” occurs in the KJV-OT once, in Exodus 7:9. the corresponding Hebrew word is mofet. The word “wonder” occurs a number of times in the KJV-OT. I checked: Deut. 13:1, 13:2, II Chronicles 32:31, Psalms 71:7 --- in all cases, the Hebrew word is mofet. Draw your own conclusions.

I can’t answer for the Greek; if you know any Greek, you should have very little trouble finding a side-by-side Greek/English version of the Bible on-line.

For searching English-language versions of the Bible, I use the Blue Letter Bible, which is easy to use, and comes in very useful at times like this.

http://www.blueletterbible.org/

EDIT: the new-fangled version of the Blue Letter Bible website is completely unintelligible to me, but fortunately lets one link to the older ("Classic") version of the site, which is what I use.

[ Edited: 16 October 2013 12:58 PM by lionello ]
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Posted: 16 October 2013 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The KJV translators do seem to make a distinction. The miracle in Ex 7:9 is a supernatural act, Aaron turning his staff into a serpent. The other wonders are all signs or omens, not miraculous acts.

For comparison the much more recent NSRV uses wonder in the Exodus passage, omens or portents in the Deuteronomy verses, sign in 2 Chronicles, and portent in Psalm 71.

The Vulgate has signo (sign) for Ex 7:9 and Deut 13:1 (it uses quod (that) in 13:2), portentum (portent) in 2 Chron and Psalms. (It’s Psalm 70 in the Vulgate; the numbering of the Psalms is different.)

(I tend to go to either http://www.latinvulgate.com/ or http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/www/Vulgate/, but I’m a medievalist and the Vulgate is the version I most often need to consult.)

[ Edited: 16 October 2013 01:54 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 17 October 2013 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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In both Hebrew and Greek Scriptures the phrase that appears often is “Signs and Wonders” or “Wonders and signs”. In Greek the first word is sēmeion which has an obvious modern analogue and the second is τέρας teras. τέρας was used by Homer to mean the “fear arousing force of a monster” where, for example, Odysseus recalls seeing a dreadful monster at the beginning of the battle against Troy in Illiad 5, 741f. But he also used it to mean a sign which displays the work of the gods.

Neither OED nor Etymonline trace terror to this etymon (they both stop at Latin), but I would be surprised if it weren’t the case.

It’s used to translate mofet in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) as Lionello noted.

Translators all use different words for this word though. At Acts 2:19 for example, which is a quote from the prophet Joel, (Septuagint version), τέρας is translated:

New Revised Standard: portents
AV: wonders
New International Version: wonders
Wycliffe: wonders

sēmeion is also often translated as “miracle” depending on the context. FWIW It is also used to translate mofet and ut in the Septuagint. The most common use of sēmeion is in the Gospel of John. It can variously be translated as “sign, wonder, mark, proof, etc.” Interestingly when Judas kisses Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, this is his sēmeion for the arresting soldiers.

In short, where there is a sēmeion, it is there as a “sign” not just a miracle in itself.

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Posted: 17 October 2013 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Thanks to you both, that largely answers what I was originally puzzled by.

lionello, what is the Spanish name, assuming a Spanish translation of the Hebrew unrelated to English ones?  (I have no Latin and less Greek :()

From what Dave says it seems they should not strictly be defined as synonyms in online dictionaries (except descriptively) though I have just found THIS link from a Christian perspective prompted by both your remarks which starts:

Words used in the Scriptures to describe the miraculous include sign, wonder, work, mighty work, portent, power.

with exhaustive definitions including Hebrew “sign” (oth ) and “wonder” (mopheth ). McNeal clearly knows his scripture.

(My favourite sign is the one Steve Martin ignores in The Man with Two Brains.)

Edit: Thanks to Oecolampadius too who posted while I was typing

[ Edited: 17 October 2013 08:30 AM by venomousbede ]
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Posted: 17 October 2013 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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English words that do derive from teras include medical terms beginning with terato-, such as teratology, teratoma, teratogen (all referring to the sense of “monster” as a deformed birth) and the metric prefix tera- for trillion, as in terabyte, terawatt.

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Posted: 17 October 2013 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The expression otot umoftim appears many times in the Bible.  It is used as a figure of speech in modern Hebrew. The usual KJV rendering is “signs and wonders” (whereas the NEB translates Deut. 6.22 as “signs and portents"). Ot definitely has the connotation of “a sign”—in modern Hebrew it means “a signal” (there are other words for printed signs, billboards, etc.). Ot also means “a letter of the alphabet” (I don’t know if it occurs in that sense in the Hebrew scriptures).  Mofet/moftim, as we’ve already seen, is rendered by translators in a variety of ways, depending on context.

The Reina-Valera Spanish Bible (I think it’s the 1960 version) renders mofet as milagro in Exodus 7:9.  In Deut. 13:1, ot and mofet are rendered as señal and prodigio respectively. In Psalms 71Ñ7, mofet is given again as prodigio.

http://www.biblestudytools.com/rvr/

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Posted: 24 October 2013 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I had associated miracles with Christ (which is why I kept asking about the Greek) and if you’d asked me about the OT I would have come up with Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. From the above posts though it is clear there are many Judaic ones which are not described as such but are, now I think eg the creation of the Earth, the articulate snake, the flood, God in direct communication with some of his creation (Abraham, Job) and so on.
As I see it, our general understanding of a biblical miracle in English involves an isolated event by a representative of God performing God’s will in order to demonstrate that his teachings are right. Signs, portents, omens, etc in English usage are interpretations of quotidian stuff rather than actual supernatural events, as Dave said. McNeal (link above to Bible Encyclopaedia) seems a bit too keen to assign everything he possibly can in the Bible to the miraculous.

All old religions have miracles in their scriptures for obvious reasons, even Buddhism. I’d love to know if non-Abrahamic ones have more than one term for miracle and gradations.

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