From the many unexpected and sometimes shocking aspects of his earthly ministry, and the establishment of the New Covenant announced by the Lord Jesus at his last meal with the disciples before his betrayal, to his triumphant edict from the Throne quoted in Rev.21:5, “Look! I am making everything new!”, it had been obvious to anyone who was paying attention that something quite out-of-the-ordinary was happening whenever Jesus, or sometimes even his followers, appeared on the scene. This was a realization sometimes greeted with delight, and other times with dismay, depending upon the stock in the status-quo held by the observers/participants.
What I did not realize until beginning this study, was that the two Greek words in these accounts, which are both translated “new”, are not synonymous at all! At first I was skeptical of Trench’s assertion that neos, the lesser used of the two – only appearing 11 times – is merely a temporal observation, referring to a person or event younger or more recent than the others to which it is compared, whereas kainos, used 44 times, refers to the quality, kind, or condition of its object. However, the lexicons all bear out that contrast, with L/S offering “fresh, newly made or invented, innovative, without precedent” for kainos, and “youthful, young, or recent” for neos. Bauer concurs, listing “unusual, something not previously present, with implication that ‘old’ is obsolete; unknown, remarkable” for kainos, and “young, new, fresh” for neos. Thayer adds “superior to what it succeeds” and “previously non-existent” for kainos.
Examination of the New Testament uses of both words reveals that both are used in Jesus’ teaching about patching a garment and wine in wineskins, but neos describes the wine (“newly made”), and kainos the skins which had not been previously used, in all three synoptics.
The “new teaching [doctrine]” attributed to Jesus (Mk.1:27, or the “new ideas” discussed in the Areopagos Council (Ac. 17:19-21), both use kainos, as does the “new commandment” (Jn.13:34, I Jn.2:7-8, II Jn.5) which Jesus initiated. The related noun, kainotes, appearing only twice (Rom.6:4, 7:6) likewise refers to the total transformation of life expected of one who chooses to follow Christ.
This meshes well with repeated references to the “new creation” – uniformly kainos – that also describes the radically changed life of the committed (II Cor.5:17, Gal.6:15). Eph.2:15 is especially significant in this regard, representing Jesus as having deliberately “created” out of redeemed and reconciled Jew and Gentile, “one new (kainos) person”. Anthropos , the generic term for “man” — the species — may be taken as either “person” or “humanity”.
All of these carry the expectation of a life never seen before – probably never even imagined! – and not a temporal reference. The only place where neos appears in a similar context is Col.3:10 – and the “new life” in view was indeed temporally “new” to those folks, although Paul goes on to speak of their being “continually renewed” (anakainoumenon) – a present passive participle – as well.
Perhaps the most significant of all is the uniform (except for a single reference in Heb.12:24) use of kainos in both gospel and epistle references to the “new covenant”. In this regard, please also refer to the treatment of “covenant” in W.S.#79 and 80. We discovered in that study the fallacy of the assumption that a “covenant” could never be abrogated. It was always a two-way proposition: “If you will do this, then I will —-” A breach by either party consistently renderes a covenant of no effect.
Most relevant here is the matter of fact statement in Heb.8:13: “In saying ‘new’, he has made the first one ‘old’, and what has become old and been superseded is near to disappearing!” The writer goes on, in chapter 9, to re-cast the term diatheke, formerly rendered “covenant”, in the light of a legal will, and to explain that a will only takes effect upon the death of the testator. It has no necessary connection with the much-touted idea of “blood covenants”. In this way, it becomes patently clear that the “new covenant” is something entirely apart from the old system, and that forcing artificial parallels is of no value. Jesus has done something entirely new! “(He) also made us capable administrators of a new covenant [will], (whose source) is not a written (legal document), but the Spirit! For the legal document kills, but the Spirit makes alive!” (II Cor.3:6)
This may be one reason why the Lord Jesus himself, much earlier, had remarked (Mt.13:52), “Every scribe trained for the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasures (W.S.#131) both new things and old.” Only with the discernment of the Holy Spirit can his people accurately sort out which “new” and “old” things actually belong together!
A different word altogether, used only once, is employed in Heb.10:20, speaking of “the living way he (Jesus) recently made new for us, through the curtain”, giving his people access not only to “holy” places and things that had been forbidden under the “old way”, but even to God himself! Prosphotos refers to recent events: to newly-drawn water, or food that is fresh (not spoiled). Jesus has indeed “done a new thing!”
Kainos appears more frequently in the Revelation than in any other part of the New Testament. We had a foretaste in Peter’s reference to “a new heaven and a new earth” (II Pet.3:13), which is repeated in Rv.21:1. But when the Lord’s triumph is complete, the glorious announcement from the Throne is “Look! I am making everything new!”
New names (identities – see #24 ) have been given to the faithful (Rv.3:12).
The folks singing around the throne do so with a “new song” (Rv.5:9, 14:3) of praise to the glory and worthiness of the Lamb.
A “new Jerusalem” – the prepared Bride is introduced (Rv.3:12, 21:2)
The “new creation” is finally realized: and Paul’s announcement of hope in II Cor.5:17 has finally come to complete fulfillment:
So if anyone is in Christ, (he is) a new creation [or, creation is new!] Old things are gone! Look! Something new – kainos – innovative, unprecedented, and superior to all that has gone before – has happened!”
Thanks be to God!