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The Greek word διάφορος (diaphoros) is translated twice as “different” or “various” and twice as “superior.” Is it only context or is there some other reason for the slightly different translations?

Romans 12:6

And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. NET, ©1996

Hebrews 1:4

Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs. NET, ©1996

Hebrews 8:6

But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. NET, ©1996

Hebrews 9:10

They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings; they are external regulations imposed until the new order came. NET, ©1996

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You can think of διάφορος as having two similar meanings: “different” and “distinguished” (any reputable lexicon will attest). Something distinguished is different, indeed, but often eminently so. For example, Daniel described four beasts that arose from the sea, “differing from one another,”1 but the fourth beast, he says, was “more different”2 (i.e., distinguished) than the other three.

Hence, in the New Testament there is mention of “different gifts” and “different washings,” but also of a “distinguished name” and “distinguished ministry.” The name and the ministry are different, but eminently so, hence they are distinguished.

How to determine the meaning? Context, and also grammar. In Heb. 1:4 and 8:6, the author doesn’t merely use the positive form of the adjective διάφορος,3 but the comparative.4 Hence, he isn’t saying that the ministry and name are “more different,” but “more distinguished.”

Footnotes

        1 Dan. 7:3, LXX: διαφέροντα ἀλλήλων
        2 Dan. 7:7, LXX: διάφορον περισσῶς
        3 as it is used in Rom. 12:6 and Heb. 9:10
        4 διαφορώτερον and διαφορωτέρας, respectively

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  • Very clear and concise. Appreciated. +1.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 4 '20 at 7:29

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