Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The amazing verb λυω (luo) means to loose, unbind or disintegrate. It expresses the unbinding of what was previously tied up, or the disintegrating of what was previously integrated.
Our verb is used to describe the unbinding of animals (Matthew 21:2), the releasing of prisoners (Acts 22:30, Revelation 20:3), to untying of shoes (Matthew 3:11, John 1:27, Acts 7:33) or clothes (John 11:44). It's used to describe the breaking of a seal (Revelation 5:2), the unbinding of a mute's tongue (Mark 7:35), even the agony of death (Acts 2:24). Our verb is also used to describe the unraveling of something more complex: for dissolving a marriage (1 Corinthians 7:27), or an assembly (Acts 13:43). Our verb may even express the disintegration or disassembling of ships (Acts 27:41), buildings (John 2:19), or even the whole world (2 Peter 3:10-12).
Particularly interesting is the use of this verb in the sense of the "breaking" of a law or rule (Matthew 5:19, John 7:23). In English we use this same image of law "breaking", which is rather curious since in our modern world, laws are not considered something "solid" that might be snapped in half. In the Judaic mind it appears to have. To the Jews, laws were not made up or man-made things but natural of even godly things, and were created by the Creator along with the rest of creation. Laws that are not from God aren't laws, and laws that are from God are stored within nature (buried in the earth, if you will). That's why the sages of old scrutinized creation in search for the laws upon which the whole shebang, including the human world, operates (Exodus 33:13, Psalm 19:1, 27:11, Romans 1:20).
Those laws (written in stone by the very finger of YHWH; Exodus 31:18) were bound or gathered in the sense that they were slowly extracted, purified, collected, understood and integrated into increasingly righteous societies (Psalm 12:6). The Greek word for reason, λογος (logos), means precisely that: that what was gathered up and bound together into living and reasonable minds, which in turn bundled into living and righteous societies, which in turn would ultimately form into a perfectly just and perfectly well informed New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City (Isaiah 1:26), the City of YHWH (Isaiah 60:14).
In other words: violating a law was not a matter of being naughty but a matter of dissolving that painstakingly gathered, life-saving knowledge of how the Creator designed the world to function (Hosea 4:6, Matthew 5:18). Since society and indeed life itself was equally a matter of elements having been integrated into a close-knit unit, "loosening" a law equaled a motion away from the solid foundation of the City of God and back to primitivity, injustice and death. It's in that same way that the enigmatic statements of Jesus are to be understood: "Whatever you solidify on earth reflects what is solid in heaven, and whatever you dissolve on earth exists disconnected in heaven" (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Understandings that exist as solids on earth but aren't so in heaven, are the lifeless constructions of the father of lies. These ugly concrete untruths that now tarnish the human landscape will in time all be leveled and pulverized by the Word of God (1 John 3:8).
Our verb is used 42 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and comes with the following derivations:
- Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning again: the verb αναλυω (analuo), meaning to release upon, that is: upon the completion of a task, obligation or engagement: to disengage (Luke 12:36 and Philippians 1:23 only). From this verb comes:
- The noun αναλυσις (analusis), meaning departure (2 Timothy 4:6 only).
- Together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from or out of: the verb απολυω (apoluo), meaning to discharge, dismiss or free from some specific situation: to free from sickness (Luke 13:12), to release of debt (Matthew 18:27), to liberate from prison (Matthew 27:15), guilt (Luke 6:37), a marriage covenant (Matthew 5:31). This verb is also used in the sense of to send away (Matthew 14:15, Luke 8:38), or to die (Luke 2:29). This verb is used 69 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διαλυω (dialuo), meaning to dissolve or dissipate (Acts 5:36 only).
- Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the verb εκλυω (ekluo), literally denoting a loss of consistency of either a group or an individual: to come loose, to fall apart or fall out. This verb is used 5 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επιλυω (epiluo), which denotes a rising above loose bits and tying them together into a consistent whole: to sort out or tie together (Mark 4:34 and Acts 19:39 only). From this verb comes:
- The noun επιλυσις (epilusis), meaning figuring out or tying together (2 Peter 1:20 only).
- Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταλυω (kataluo), meaning to dismantle or disassemble (mostly of buildings: Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2, Luke 21:6, but also of law: Matthew 5:17, Galatians 2:18, and societal movements: Acts 5:38-39). On rare occasions this verb takes on the less destructive nuance of "to relax/take a load off" in the sense of taking a rest from business or protocol, putting guards down and feet up.
In Luke 9:12 Jesus probably didn't sent His audience to literally dismantle villages and fields in search of food although releasing a huge crowd upon a rural settlement might indeed have that effect (and also note the parallel with Romans 14:20, "do not dismantle the work of God for the sake of food"). In Luke 19:7 this verb is used to describe what Jesus went to do in Zaccheus' house, whether "dismantling" something or "taking a load off". The bystanders grumbled about whichever it was, and translators traditionally have tried to shoehorn a meaning of "taking a load off" into our verb. But obviously, Jesus went into Zaccheus' house in order to dismantle his dubious operation. The grumbling bystanders were probably either worried what that might mean for the status quo or else were direct beneficiaries of Zaccheus' corruption (see our article on the name Annas for a closer look at the reasons and consequences of the Roman taxation of Judea). This verb is used 17 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
- Together with the preposition of negation α (a), meaning not: the adjective ακαταλυτος (akatalutos), meaning both indestructible and, significantly, without ability to repose from: un-relaxable. This word is used only once, to describe a quality of Christ's life (Hebrews 7:16) but obviously reflects what we know about the deity, namely that He never looses concentration or relaxes His concern. Significantly, there was no room for Jesus in the "relaxery" (next word).
- The noun καταλυμα (kataluma), denoting a "relaxery"; a place to take a load off: an inn or such haunt of repose. Quite significantly, there was famously no room for Jesus in the relaxery (Luke 2:7), yet His mission-defining Last Supper was held in just such a place (Mark 14:14, Luke 22:11). This word occurs only these three times in the New Testament.
- The noun λυσις (lusis), meaning a loosening or divorce (1 Corinthians 7:27 only).
- Together with the noun τελος (telos), in this case denoting a tax or toll: the verb λυσιτελεω (lusiteleo), literally meaning to be separated from one's dues: to pay the price. In the classics this word is sometimes used in the sense of compensating someone for incurred expenses, but mostly denotes opportunity cost: costs made for an expected higher return. This word occurs in the Bible only ones, namely in Luke 17:2, where it remains open for interpretation. Traditionally commentators thought that Jesus offered a preferable fate; here at Abarim Publications we suspect He spoke of a deserved fate of someone who tried to profit from making little ones stumble.
- The noun λυτρον (lutron), denoting a ransom or price to redeem captives (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 only). The English word "ransom" has to do with "reckoning", as both come from the Latin word for redemption. Still, our word ransom is mostly associated with kidnapping and criminal coercion, but our noun λυτρον (lutron) is a word that purely reflects our verb λυω (luo), to loosen, release or disintegrate. Our word describes the price required to achieve that. In the Bible it describes the price Jesus paid to free His people, and liberate them from whatever bondage they got themselves into — mostly from the bondage of sin, slavery and death. From this noun come:
- Together with the preposition αντι (anti), meaning in place of: the noun αντιλυτρον (antilutron), that which is traded for freedom: freedom-cost (1 Timothy 2:6 only).
- The verb λυτροω (lutroo), meaning to pay of forward a ransom, or to be freed by means of one (Luke 24:21, Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 1:18 only). From this verb in turn comes:
- Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παραλυω (paraluo), meaning to be not really or wholly free, particularly not having the freedom needed to act out a purpose. This verb describes limbs or whole people that that are stuck for whatever reason: people with restricted mobility or, literally: limited freedom (Luke 5:18, Acts 8:7, Hebrews 12:12). This verb is used 5 times, see full concordance, and is also the source of our English verb "to paralyze".