Orator

ORATOR. 1. In Isa.3.3, KJV has “eloquent orator,” but other versions more accurately have “soothsayer” (jb), “clever enchanter” (niv), or “expert in charms” (rsv).

2. A public speaker, especially an advocate. Acts.24.1 mentions “a lawyer named Tertullus” whom the Jews engaged to speak against Paul before Felix, not that they lacked eloquence, but because Tertullus, a Roman, could make the accusation in Latin, the language of the Roman courts.


ORATOR (לַ֫חַשׁ, H4318; ῥήτωρ, G4842). The Eng. term occurs only in (KJV) Isaiah 3:3 and Acts 24:1.

The Heb. word prob. means “a hiss” or “a whisper.” The exact meaning of the term is a matter of dispute. In place of “eloquent orator” in Isaiah 3:3, the RSV has “expert in charms.” George Rawlinson (Pulpit Commentary) suggests “expert enchanter.” The context does not indicate clearly whether a good or bad connotation is to be given to the expression; perhaps the latter is preferable.

The Gr. word is used for Tertullus, who was employed as a prosecuting attorney by the Jews in their case against Paul (Acts 24:1). Since this was a legal case in a Rom. court, it would prob. be conducted in Lat. (Valerius Maximus states that Rom. magistrates used Lat. even in Greece and Asia.) So the Jews would need a Lat. lawyer to represent them. Some scholars, however, think that Tertullus was a Jew and that all the proceedings were carried on in Gr. Again the context is not definitive.

The Gr. term was used first for a public speaker or orator. In the Oxyrhynchus papyri, as well as in Philo and Josephus, it signifies an advocate or attorney.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

or’-a-ter, o-ra’-shun: The word "orator" occurs twice:

(1) As the King James Version rendering of lachash; only Isa 3:3, "the eloquent orator," the King James Version margin "skilful of speech," where the Revised Version (British and American) rightly substitutes "the skillful enchanter." The word lachash is probably a mimetic word meaning "a hiss," "a whisper" and is used in the sense of "incantation" "charm." Hence, nebhon lachash means "skillful in incantation," "expert in magic." See Divination; Enchantment.

(2) As the rendering of rhetor, the title applied to Tertullus, who appeared as the advocate of the Jewish accusers of Paul before Felix (Ac 24:1). The proceedings, as was generally the case in the provincial Roman courts, would probably be conducted in Latin, and under Roman modes of procedure, in which the parties would not be well versed; hence, the need of a professional advocate. Rhetor is here the equivalent of the older Greek sunegoros, "the prosecuting counsel," as opposed to the sundikos, "the defendant’s advocate."

Oration occurs only in Ac 12:21: "Herod .... made an oration unto them" (edemegorei pros autous). The verb demegoreo, "to speak in an assembly" (from demos, "people," agoreuo, "to harangue"), is often found in classical Greek, generally in a bad sense (Latin concionari); here only in the New Testament.

D. Miall Edwards