Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: αγω

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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb αγω (ago) means to guide or lead and thus to bring, carry, conduct, fetch and so on. It's is cognate with the Latin verb agere (to set in motion), the Sanskrit ajati (to drive) and shares its proto-Indo-European root with English words like "agile" and even the verb "to act." It's somewhat on a par with the verb φερω (phero), although the latter seems to be more calculated and commercial while the former somewhat more natural.

Our verb αγω (ago) essentially describes the artificial directing of something's natural energy — like water along the banks of a channel, or groups of people along directives and instructions — which comes down to a partial restriction of free movement.

In the subjunctive mood (which expresses a wish) and applied to oneself or oneselves, our verb translates as something like "that we might lead ourselves" or rather simply "let's go" (Matthew 26:46, Mark 1:38, John 11:7). In 2 Timothy 3:6 this verb implies a "leading by the nose" or a "leading up the garden path"; to deceive or hoodwink. In Matthew 14:6 our verb is used to describe how the matter of Herod's birthday was "guided": organized or celebrated.

Our verb αγω (ago) also plays the active part of words like "synagogue" and "pedagogue" (see below) and although it is not etymologically related, someone with a poetic slant could be forgiven to see a link with the noun αγορα (agora), meaning market place or more general: place of goings on. But the connection between these words runs deep enough to remark on it. The noun αγορα (agora) comes from a root that expresses herd-behavior (hence our words gregarious and egregious), whereas the noun αγελη (agele), which comes from our verb αγω (ago), means herd (see below).

Our verb is used without much mystery a mere 75 times, see full concordance, but is also part of an enormous list of derivatives and compounds:

  • The adverb αγαν (agan), meaning very much. This word isn't used in the New Testament, but from it derive:
    • Together with the verb αλλομαι (allomai), meaning to burst forth: the verb αγαλλιαω (agalliao), meaning to greatly exult, to leap for joy. This verb is used 11 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
      • The noun αγαλλιασις (agalliasis), meaning exultation, great joy. This word occurs 5 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun αγελη (agele) meaning herd, and particularly a herd that's driven. In the New Testament this word only denotes a herd of swine, which is typically the opposite of a flock of sheep, since sheep proverbially follow the shepherd and don't need to be driven (John 10:27). The essential difference between the Kingdom of God and that of Rome (or antichrist in general) is the same as the difference between a herd and a flock. The members of a flock are free to go wherever they want, and choose to follow the voice of the shepherd whom they trust. The members of a herd are not free and find themselves forced in a direction they would not go naturally — hence the story of Legion. Our noun is used 8 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
  • The noun αγωγη (agoge), literally meaning a carrying away or a leading (hence English words like pedagogue and demagogue). In the classics this word may be used for the handling and directing of cargo (or even water across an aqueduct) but mostly describes the guidance or directing of people of all guidance-needing sorts: prisoners, soldiers, students, and so forth. It may also be used in the sense of "guiding" a discourse or train of thought to a proper conclusion, or even one's entire life: one's conduct, life's management or "comportment" (which is a rare English noun that hails fittingly from the Latin equivalent of the Greek verb φερω, phero). Our noun appears only in 2 Timothy 3:10.
  • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon: the verb αναγω (anago), meaning to bring or lead up. In the passive voice (to be brought up) this verb becomes a maritime term that simply means "to set sail" (Luke 8:22, Acts 20:13). Once the passive voice is most awesomely used to describe how Jesus was "brought up/set sail" by the πνευμα (pneuma), meaning "wind/Spirit" into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). This appears to be a wordplay that takes into account the similarity between the words ναυς (naus), meaning ship and ναος (naos) meaning temple and hence accentuates the importance of international trade (see our article on the name Abraham). Our verb occurs 24 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi), also meaning on or upon: the verb επαναγω (epanago), meaning to bring up and hence to stir up or to elevate, or to lead or draw back, or to withdraw or retreat. The epi-part may indicate a conclusion of a cycle of bringing up (Matthew 21:18), or emphasize the control over the thing guided. As its parent verb, his verb also serves as a nautical term that describes putting a ship (back) out to sea (Luke 5:3 and 5:4). It occurs these three times only, but note the graceful balance between Luke 5:4, where Jesus tells Simon to "retreat" to depth, and Matthew 21:18 where Jesus "retreats" to the city.
  • The adjective αξιος (axios), meaning guiding in the sense of being a standard or norm. It was probably the original word for standardized weights that merchants employed to measure out bulk goods. Weights relate to goods in a comparable quality, which is how our word came to be used as a comparative: one thing being analogous to some other thing (Romans 8:18, Matthew 10:10) or one person to some other person (Matthew 10:37).
    But it should be remembered that where Roman tyranny is based on bosses and slaves an chains of command, the Body of Christ is based on personal autonomy and natural application (Matthew 23:8-12, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). In other words: when in Rome a person is found to be not "worthy" of something, he is found to be of intrinsic lower rank and status (like a dime amidst dollars). When in the Kingdom of God one is found not "fitting" something, he is simply misplaced (like a euro amidst dollars). John the Baptist's famous hyper-humility of not being "worthy" to remove Jesus' sandals is in fact a calm declaration of his job description: "although he comes after me (like a younger sibling of subsequent lower rank) he is mightier than I — I am not the giant upon whose shoulders he stands" (Matthew 3:11). Likewise, one is not "worthy" of eternal life as if having somehow earned or deserved such future bliss, but rather because one's earthly existence corresponds seamlessly to eternal life (Acts 13:46). The opposite, namely eternal death, is also a condition that starts now, here on earth and simply continues (Romans 1:32). Salvation does not follow one's proper behavior or all the right knowledge (because that would mean that God favors the rich for being sophisticated and condemn the poor for having to slave all day) but rather the consistent sharing of each other's burdens and loving one's neighbor as oneself. The "worthies" that John the Revelator speaks of (3:4, 16:6) are not some super-saints amidst their brutal contemporaries but rather those people who fit right into the homogeneous but naturally diverse collective they uphold (Isaiah 40:4, Luke 17:17). Segregation of any kind demonstrates an unholy anaxios (see next).
    Our adjective does not talk about higher and lower but about correlation and correspondence (Luke 3:8, Acts 13:46, 1 Timothy 6:1). It's also the origin of our English word "axiom," which describes a self-evident principle that is accepted not because it's proven but because it "seems fitting". Axioms are foundations upon which whole buildings of thought rest, and our adjective may also be used to express suitability to support further developments (Matthew 3:8). The adjective αξιος (axios) occurs 41 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
    • Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective αναξιος (anaxios), meaning unbefitting (1 Corinthians 6:2 only). From it in turn comes:
    • The verb αξιοω (axioo), meaning to consider (be)fitting. This word is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
      • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταξιοω (kataxioo), which appears to differ from its parent verb in that it suggests a more intimate relationship between the two things that are being compared. It is used 4 times; see full concordance.
    • The adverb αξιως (axios), meaning (be)fittingly. It occurs 6 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from: the verb απαγω (apago), meaning to lead away (from or out of). It's used 15 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συναπαγω (sunapago), meaning to lead away together, either as the result of a bad influence (Galatians 2:13 and 2 Peter 3:17) or of compassion ((Romans 12:16; this word occurs only these three times).
  • Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διαγω (diago), meaning to lead through or conduct throughout (1 Timothy 2:2 and Titus 3:3 only).
  • Together with the noun δουλος (doulos), meaning servant: the verb δουλαγωγεω (doulagogeo), meaning to lead into servitude or subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27 only).
  • Together with the preposition εις (eis) meaning in or to: the verb εισαγω (eisago), meaning to lead in. This verb occurs 10 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
    • Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παρεισαγω (pareisago), meaning to bring someone or something in that the carrier keeps close to himself, to sneak or smuggle something in (2 Peter 2:1 only). From this word derives:
      • The adjective παρεισακτος (pareisaktos), meaning smuggled or snuck in (Galatians 2:4 only).
  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εξαγω (exago), meaning to lead out. This verb occurs 13 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επαγω (epago), meaning to lead or bring on or upon (Acts 5:28, 2 Peter 2:1 and 2:5 only).
  • The middle deponent verb ηγεομαι (hegeomai), also meaning to lead or guide. The difference with the parent verb appears to be that where the parent verb describes the restricting of movement in directions other than the desired (and the resulting movement due to the natural energy of what is led), the verb ηγεομαι (hegeomai) describes a leading by being in front of what is led and blazing the trail. Previously we discussed the noun αγελη (agele), meaning herd (of swine), which derives from the parent verb and which describes a group of animals that are driven from behind and against their natural inclination. The participle of our verb ηγεομαι (hegeomai) denotes a leading [one] or simply "a leader"; one who leads like a shepherd who walks in front of the sheep and lets them follow voluntarily (Matthew 2:6, Acts 15:22, Hebrews 13:17).
    Summarized, this verb means to direct or to be a director, to issue directives, decisions or opinions (this verb's middle deponent voice is somewhat followed in the sense of "to be of the opinion") — but always implying a natural authority rather than a formal one, and an intimate involvement rather than a remote dictatorship. Ultimately, a leader like this is part of the people led, and forms his opinions from an intimate familiarity with the people led. This verb occurs 28 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
    • Again with the prefix δια (dia): the verb διηγεομαι (diegeomai), meaning to lead through (a talk to the end); to report in full or give a thorough account. This verb is used 8 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
      • The noun διηγησις (diegesis), meaning a thorough account or exhaustive explanation (Luke 1:1 only).
      • Again together with the prefix εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εκδιηγεομαι (ekdiegeomai), meaning to relate an account with the added intent to explain it or its causes. This verb is used in Acts 13:41 and 15:3 only. In 2 Corinthians 9:15 occurs a derived adjective prefixed with the familiar particle of negation, α (a): ανεκδιηγετος (anekdiegetos), meaning inexplicable but with the important nuance of being inexhaustible rather than incomprehensible.
    • Once more together with the prefix εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εξηγεομαι (exegeomai), meaning to lead out, that is to explain something or organize information so that it can be understood. This amazing verb describes how the Son converts his intimate knowledge of the Creator to his human audience (John 1:18). This verb occurs 6 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives the noun εξηγησις (exegesis). This noun doesn't occur in the Bible but from it we get our English word "exegesis."
    • The noun ηγεμον (hegemon), meaning leader. This word is magnificently contrasted with the parent verb's participle applied to the Messiah in Matthew 2:6, as part of the greater battle-over-the-titles that the followers of Jesus waged with the Roman Empire. The familiar titles Son of God, Savior of the World, King of kings and Lord of lords were all Roman imperial titles which Paul used to declare that not one superman (the emperor) would lead humanity to salvation but rather a society of all ordinary men who are autonomous, self-governing and free to commune with the Creator (which is what the word Christ means). Any centralized human government is a herder, but humanity is designed not to be a herd but to be a flock; sheep that freely and voluntarily follow the Creator by listening to the familiar voice of natural law (Romans 1:20, Colossians 1:16).
      In the New Testament, our noun ηγεμον (hegemon) is exclusively used for the top military officer in an occupied region, who took his orders directly from the emperor (which makes this word somewhat equivalent to στρατεγος, strategos, see below). In more recent times, this very same idea of "leader directly under some godly ideal" gave us the German variant: führer. Since the Nazi German house-style and modus operandi were on a close par with that of imperial Rome, the word "führer" is a most fitting translation of this Greek word and may help a modern reader to realize in what sort of world Jesus and his people operated: a world highly similar to the one that would have been if Hitler had won. Our noun is used 22 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
      • The verb ηγεμονευω (hegemoneuo) , meaning to be a Roman führer (Luke 2:2 and 3:1 only).
      • The noun ηγεμονια (hegemonia), meaning a government or führer-hood (Luke 3:1 only). From this noun stems our English word "hegemony."
    • Together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning before: the verb προηγεομαι (proegeomai), meaning to lead the way or lead by example (Romans 12:10 only).
    • Together with the noun οδος (hodos), meaning road or way: the noun οδηγος (hodegos), which literally means a leader of the way; a guide. This noun occurs 5 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
      • The verb οδηγεω (hodegeo), to lead the way or be a guide. This verb and its parent noun occur together in Matthew 15:14. The verb occurs 5 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταγω (katago), meaning to lead or bring down. In the passive voice this verb serves as a maritime term meaning to land or dock a ship. It occurs 10 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition μετα (meta), usually meaning in the middle but this time emphasizing transferral: the verb μεταγω (metago), meaning to lead over or transfer (James 3:3 and 3:4 only). In the classics this word is also used to mean to translate.
  • Again together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παραγω (parago), meaning to lead along or close by. This word may describe a passing close by something (Matthew 9:9, Mark 15:21, John 9:1), but in the classics it often denotes a leading astray, divert or "take for a ride" or "give the slip" (John 8:59). It may also mean to change slightly and is used to describe the changing of the letters of a derived word. This puts to mind natural evolution and may even be hinted at in texts such as 1 Corinthians 7:31 and 1 John 2:8 and 2:17. This verb occurs 10 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the verb περιαγω (periago) meaning to lead [oneself] about, or to go around. This verb occurs 6 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning before or in front of: the verb προαγω (proago), meaning to lead before or lead in front. It may be used in the sense of to present before someone (Acts 12:6, 25:26), but it mostly occurs in the sense of to lead by going ahead (Matthew 2:9, Mark 14:28, Acts 16:30). When Paul speaks to Timothy of prophecies that "came before" he rather speaks of prophesies that had once come and have led Timothy the way ever since (1 Timothy 1:18, also see Hebrews 7:18). Likewise, the sins of some men "lead ahead" to judgment which causes the sins of others to follow — people are, after all, more prone to certain behaviors when someone else is doing it first (1 Timothy 5:24). Most strikingly, when Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God "ahead of" the chief priests and elders, he uses this verb, which suggests that the tax collectors and prostitutes are not only simply the early birds but are actually leading the way with the purpose of being followed by the rest of us (Matthew 21:31). This verb occurs 18 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition προς (pros), which describes a motion toward: the verb προσαγω (prosago) meaning to bring close. It's used 4 times (in Acts 27:27 as a maritime term), see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • The noun προσαγωγη (prosagoge), meaning a coming close (Romans 5:2, Ephesians 2:18 and 3:12 only). Some translations consistently have "access" in these texts, which reflects the old imperial idea of God in His throne room and lowly humans shivering out in the cold hallway, waiting for the doors to open and to get yelled at. Modern theology realizes that God is omnipresent, and the "nearing" of man to the deity is not a matter of spatial movement but rather a degree of resonance of man's individual aspirations with the laws of nature (Romans 1:20). If this resonance is poor, the person will succumb to anger, substance abuse and disease, but if this resonance is close or even perfect, the person integrates fully into a universe strewn with the brightest stars (Genesis 15:5, Daniel 12:3, Matthew 2:2).
  • Together with the otherwise unused noun στρατος (stratos), meaning army: the noun στρατεγος (strategos), meaning army-leader (hence our English word "strategy"). This word became a title, most notably in old Athens, where it denoted one of ten annually elected generals who governed the war department. In Roman times this title began to describe a wider seat of government (or rather: the job of strategos became more administrative) which made it similar to the job of the ηγεμον (hegemon; see above). Still, the strategos was clearly a lower rank than the hegemon as the former often occurs in plural (Luke 22:4) and may even describe captains of the temple police (Luke 22:52, Acts 5:24; in Jesus' time the templar enterprise was mostly a tax bureau and required its own security detail; see our article on the name Annas). This noun is used 10 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the noun συλον (sulon), which describes either legally impounded cargo or booty acquired in a raid: the verb συλαγωγεω (sulagogeo), meaning to be carried off like impounded goods, or as spoil. It's used only in Colossians 2:8, where it not simply refers to a spoiling of one's otherwise excellent state of mind, but rather the diversion of one's energies of perception. In other words: in Paul's metaphor, the listener is the ship and the speculative philosopher impounds or occupies the listener's precious capacity for being occupied with matters that have practical use.
  • Again together with the prefix συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συναγω (sunago), meaning to bring together or gather for whatever reason: wise men to consult (Matthew 2:4), wheat to process (3:12) or store (6:26), followers (12:30), an audience (13:2), fish (13:47), two or three in Jesus' name (18:20), wedding guests (22:10), vultures (24:28), nations (25:32). It may even denote the "gathering to oneself" in an act of hospitality (Matthew 25:35; certain New Testament imagery may be somewhat explained when we realize that from the Hebrew verb ארה, 'ara, meaning to gather, comes the noun ארי, 'ary, meaning lion). Our Greek verb occurs 61 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it come:
    • Again together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επισυναγω (episunago), meaning to gather in one place, to cause to converge. The archetype of this verb occurs on the third creation day, when the waters converged to produce dry land (Genesis 1:9). This verb is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
      • The noun επισυναγωγη (episunagoge), meaning a gathering onto one, a convergence or congregation. This awesome word is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 and Hebrews 10:25 only.
    • The familiar noun συναγωγη (sunagoge) or synagogue: a gathering or place of gathering. Although this word is now mostly associated with a Jewish place of worship, in the classics it simply denotes any gathering of people or things for whatever reason. The synagogues in Jesus' time where indeed typically associated with gatherings of Jews, but these gatherings were not solely religious in nature but rather described the governing body of elders of a community. Synagogues were not at all like our modern churches or temples and much more alike city halls and community centers in which all matters of life were dealt with. Jesus spoke often in these community centers and his message had a much greater practical, political and economic element than is commonly suggested. Christianity the way we know it didn't start until the fourth century, and until then the church was a Jewish sect that met in Jewish community centers (James 2:2). This noun is used 57 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
      • Again together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from: the adjective αποσυναγωγος (aposunagogos), meaning excommunicated (John 9:22, 12:42 and 16:2 only).
      • Together with the prefix αρχι (archi-), which denotes primality: the noun αρχισυναγωγος (archisunagogos), meaning synagogue-leader, which in modern terms comes down to the village mayor or a community's president. This noun occurs 9 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with υπο (hupo), meaning under, beneath, through: the verb υπαγω (hupago), which predominantly appears to describe a going below someone's horizon: to disappear or simply to go away. It's this word that Jesus famously commanded Peter to do in Matthew 4:10. Tradition tends to interpret this statement with variations of a bombastic "get thee behind me, satan!" but probably more suited would be something like: "get outa here, clown!" It's used 81 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the noun χαλινος (chalinos), meaning bridle: the verb χαλιναγωγεω (chalinagogeo), meaning to lead by bridle (James 1:26 and 3:2 only).
  • Together with the noun χειρ (cheir), meaning hand: the noun χειραγωγος (cheiragogos), which literally describes someone who leads someone else by the hand. In the classics this verb has an undertone of jest, since the recipient of it is obviously rather helpless or gullible: to cajole, to inveigle, to take for a ride. But often this word is simply a more intimate word for leader or guide: someone who "lends a hand." Its only usage in the New Testament (Acts 13:11) involves a wordplay on the "hand" of the Lord, which is mentioned earlier in the sentence. From this noun in turn derives:
    • The verb χειραγωγεω (cheiragogeo), meaning to lead by the hand (Acts 9:8 and 22:11 only).