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

Source: http://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/ch/ch-a-i-r-om.html

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb χαιρω (chairo; hence English words like charity and charisma) means to rejoice or be glad, and although that may seem clear enough, it really isn't. Everybody is familiar with the verbs to rejoice and be glad, but it's wildly unclear what real-world act, activity or deed is described by it. When we use the verbs "to hammer" or "to walk" we know precisely what activity is described, but when we seek engage in the act of rejoicing, we have no real idea what to actually do. Or in the words of Calvin: We can't even tell what muscle to flex. It's probably why half the world is on crack and no party is complete without sedation and violent stimulants.

This mysterious verb χαιρω (chairo is used 74 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but fortunately we can reconstruct rather precisely what our ancestors meant to encapsulate with it by looking at its origin and related terms:

To farm is to rejoice

Our verb χαιρω (chairo) stems from the widely attested ancient proto-Indo-European root gher- which meant to like or want, and which also gave us the word "whore." This may in turn help to explain why prostitution plays such a major part in the Bible — the very tribe of Judah including Jesus via Perez came about from an act of prostitution (Genesis 38:12-30). Prostitution, of course, seeks to simulate the joy that comes with a lasting union and belongs to the earlier mentioned category of crack and booze (see Isaiah 54:5). But its core idea, namely that joy comes from union, is actually spot on.

Linguists conclude that there were two separate but identical roots gher- because a large cluster of modern words that stem from this form gher- have to do with collectivity and enclosures: carol, choir, chorus, cohort, court but also garden, the Latin horthus and even the Slavic grad, meaning city. Here at Abarim Publications, however, we doubt that there were two separate roots that accidentally sounded the same but had two widely differing meanings. Partly because doubt is our default position and partly because accidental symmetry is very rare in the natural world. In very old and natural languages, words that look alike most likely relate in some way, and even if our two word groups spontaneously converged out of two widely dissimilar origins, some underlying shared concern must have attracted them. But it gets better.

The verb εργω (ergo; hence our word "energy") means to labor, and particularly to labor in the wild as opposed to in a boutique. An identical verb εργω (ergo) means to shut in, up or out; to enclose. In other words: there probably were not two separate verbs but one verb εργω (ergo) that described the very first stages of farming: to fence in and cultivate. Likewise, there were probably not two roots gher- but one, that also pertained to the very first stages of farming.

The familiar noun γαια (gaia), meaning earth as element, probably has to do with the noun γη (ge), meaning earth as fundament. These words in turn are clearly similar to the verb γαιω (gaio), meaning to rejoice, and ultimately the verb γανυμαι (ganumai), meaning to brighten up or get happy in a personal or private sense. These words in turn all stem from the proto-Indo-European root gau- from which we get our words gaud(y) and even our very word joy (in a similar roundabout way as the Hebrew name Jacob became the French name Gemmes and finally the English name James).

It's been noted with some wonder that in the early phases of agriculture, the quality of life went steeply down in stead of up, which leaves scientist with the riddle of why our ancestors kept at it. According to unearthed remains, people lived less long, ate less diverse and developed all kinds of malnutrition related illnesses and skeletal problems from repeating the same monotonous motions. For their trouble to domesticate cattle they got plagues like flue, measles, pox and anthrax. And because humans began to concentrate in cities, modern centralized governments could emerge to enslave the common masses and invent modern warfare. Still, the same degree of marvel could be applied to the industrial revolution, when our most recent ancestors traded the meadows and their gently lowing cows for lives confined to coal mines and smelting plants.

Somehow, early humans understood what is such common knowledge today, namely that the welfare of the individual depends on the strength of the group, and the strength of the group depends on the diversity and connectedness of the members (quite alike neural connections in a brain). Agriculture allowed for higher population densities, which allowed for more connections, more diversity, more security and way more fun. We moderns have lived in cities so long that we've forgotten that once we shared our habitats with bears and lions. Read our article on the noun λαος (laos), meaning people, and λεων (leon), meaning lion for a quick look at how agriculture might have started, how lions became cats and what every human being deep inside knows humanity's destiny to be. Read our article on the noun περιστερα (peristera), meaning dove, for a closer look at why wealth is related to connectedness and joy, whereas poverty has to do disconnectedness and ultimately the worst of all evils and the sin against the holy Spirit.

Here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure that one of the themes of the Book of Genesis is early humanity's rise from nomadic tribal communities and the occasional early empire to a global network of trade routes (see our article on Abraham) and ultimately the rise of sedentarization and agriculture (noted in the Jacob cycle and culminating in his building booths at Succoth). Between Abraham and Jacob sits the generation of Isaac, and his name means laughter or joy. Somewhere between instigating international trade and settling down in agricultural communities, mankind had received the gift of laughter.

Shiny, happy networks holding hands

Being joyful has nothing to do with quietly gloating or feeling in any particular way, but with having a secure shelter and being surrounded by and connected to a whole bunch of equally secure others. Our verb χαιρω (chairo) originally described the formation of a social network, and expresses the security that comes from connectedness and diversity. Nuclear fusion (the reason why the sun shines and why there are elements other than hydrogen) is all about sharing resources and extracting the subsequent surplus, which is exactly the reason why sufficiently compact societies can generate and store wealth. In fact, the more diversely intra-connected a society is, the more wealth it can release and the brighter its social "star" shines (hence Matthew 2:2, Genesis 15:5, Daniel 12:3; all those).

Our verb refers to social compaction, describes the opposite of social scattering (Matthew 26:31) and goes hand in hand with the adjective αγιος (agios), which is usually translated with "holy" but literally expresses social convergence. This adjective was also used substantively, in which case it denoted "the holy [place]" or temple.

Temples originated as storages of societal surplus, and were managed by the tribe's wizard (= wise man). This wizard in turn guarded the tribe's wisdom — technology, science and history, commonly stored in lyrical prose — and if the tribe was large enough, this would grow out into a genuine school. Temples were thus initially central banks annex academies, that as a side effect began to express tribal identities and thus their totems and ultimately their deities (see our article on ναος, naos, meaning temple). Most of the other nations surmised that a nation's strength came from its government (Psalm 146:3), its technology (Daniel 3:19), or its army (Psalm 20:7), but Israel knew that the strongest and broadest networks are formed according to the laws of nature (Romans 1:20), and arise not from strong men teaming up but from weak people reaching out (1 Corinthians 13:9, Colossians 1:24).

More than half of this verb's occurrences in the New Testament are in the passive voice, which has traditionally been deemed deponent (meaning when the form is passive, translate as active anyway) but here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the passive form is indeed meant to be passive and means to be en-joyed, to be infused with joy, to be made (to feel) secure and widely connected. Hence John 16:20 does not say that the world will rejoice, but rather that the world will be made secure, diverse and connected.

Likewise, the active voice describes to be, make or feel secure and widely connected. The nations mentioned in Acts 13:48 were fully functioning cultures with their own wisdom traditions based on verified science and technology that was demonstrated to work. Upon their hearing the gospel (which is an insight into the natural world and not a religious manifesto as is commonly believed: Romans 1:20) they were making their nations secure, diverse and connected (compare Luke 15:5 to Isaiah 9:6).

Our verb's imperative (resulting in the command: "rejoice!") and infinitive moods ("[in order] to rejoice") often serve as greeting, which quite literally stems from an invitation to bond and secure (Matthew 28:9, John 19:3, Acts 23:26, James 1:1).

The verb χαιρω (chairo) means to be socially joyful. From our verb derive:

  • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συγχαιρω (sugchairo), meaning to jointly rejoice. This verb is used 7 times, see full concordance, possibly most spectacularly in 1 Corinthians 13:6: "Love rejoices not upon injustice, but jointly rejoices in the truth."
  • The noun χαρα (chara), meaning a rejoicing due to security, diversity and connectedness. This noun is used 59 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun χαρις (charis), meaning joy — not a private elation or internal feelings of ecstasy, but rather social felicity, and by extension a reason for, or consequence of, social felicity. This would have initially been any form or agent of security, diversity and connectedness but by Hellenistic times this word also, or rather predominantly so, described attractiveness (that which promotes social cohesion). Our noun may describe an attraction initiated (by someone attractive) or felt (by someone attracted), and in the latter case our word came to describe what in English is called grace, kindness or goodwill. It hence went hand in hand with gratitude emanating as response from someone who received attraction from someone from whom emanated attraction.
    Our word may describe a favor done, a gift extended and in rare cases even a homage paid or emphasize delight subsequently experienced. In Greek mythology this important concept of social currency was embodied by the three Graces, or Charites: three daughters of Zeus named Aglaia (from αγλος, aglos, meaning radiant or beautiful), Euphrosyne (from ευφροσυνη, euphrosune, meaning merriment, particularly of festive gatherings) also known similarly as Euthymia (from ευθυμος, euthumos, or good social cheer), and Thalia (meaning abundance, from θαλλω, thallo, to sprout, grow, thrive). The name Judah refers to precisely the same sort of social felicity and Israel's year was initially based on three major week-long nation-wide festivals (Exodus 23:14). The likes and frequencies of these national festivals had not been seen in antiquity, and in time these grew out into an even broader spectrum of feasts and celebrations. From their escape from Egypt (Exodus 5:1, 10:9, 12:14, 13:6) and despite their hardships and serious devotion, the Jews are without a doubt the most festive and cheerful people the world has ever seen. The three main categories of social cohesion called Graces by the Greeks are of course of great significance to the gospel, and may even be respectfully hinted at by the three women under the cross (and for an extensive review of the crucifixion, see our article on the name Mary).
    The important noun χαρις (charis) is used 156 times in the New Testament — see full concordance — which is slightly less than the word χειρ (cheir), meaning "hand" and denotes therefore something nearly as common. Note the pleasing symmetry between the nouns χαρις (charis), social joy, and χειρ (cheir), hand, and the name Judah (יהודה) and the Hebrew noun for hand: יד (yad). From our noun in turn come:
    • The verb χαριζομαι (charizomai), meaning to joy-ize, to provide security, diversity and connectedness, or even simply "to hand over" with implied benefit or pleasure (Acts 3:14, 25:11, 1 Corinthians 2:12, Romans 8:32).
      English has no proper equivalent of this verb probably because in our modern world the concerns that this verb expresses are not often shared. Since all energy flows from high to low, any kind of economy arises from unequal distribution of energy concentrations. But this distribution must stay within certain limits, or else the economy will stagnate. Too poor or too lean causes the individual to malfunction, which causes the economy to stagnate, and too wealthy or too obese does the same thing. Our verb meaning to joy-ize expresses whatever it takes to curb energy density to within normal operating parameters. It should be emphasized that the essence of this verb has nothing to do with legally forgiving a crime or expunging a record, but rather with establishing, improving or restoring social health; to ameliorate, to make stronger or better. Since this verb occurs almost only in the passive voice, it may also describes the agency of making stronger or better (Philippians 1:29).
      Our verb is mostly used to express debt remission: giving someone wealth in order to raise him from a position of subnominal social energy density to the level at which he can again partake normally in the economy, and thus make the economy more diverse and thus stronger. Strikingly, this verb is also used to explain why Paul was sent to Rome (Acts 25:16) and why God gave him his shipmates (27:24). In Luke 7:21, our verb is used most spectacularly to describe how Jesus restored blind people's eye-sight, which may very well also refer to very rich people who have no idea what life is about (Matthew 19:24, 23:16; note that the rich young ruler was "very sad, for he was extremely rich"; Luke 18:23). This verb is used 23 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
      • The noun χαρισμα (charisma), meaning a joy-izing; the result of a joy-causing act, the effect of a deed that leads to security, diversity and connectedness. This word is used to describe spiritual "gifts", which are not simply talents that are given to whoever has them (1 Timothy 4:14), but rather manifestations of security, diversity and connectedness of the collective as a result of someone doing something conductive. This noun is used 17 times; see full concordance.
    • The adverb χαριν (charin), meaning joyfully — not simply "merrily" but rather "in such a way that it leads to social felicity" (or the idle assumption thereof; Titus 1:11, 1 John 3:12). This word is actually is the accusative form of the noun χαρις (charis). It occurs 9 times; see full concordance.
    • The verb χαριτοω (charitoo), meaning to do joy to, to establish social felicity in (Luke 1:28 and Ephesians 1:6 only).