Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The amazing word νομος (nomos) means law, but where our English word "law" comes from an ancient verb that means "to lay down" — comparable to the word "statute," which is related to "statue," meaning something artificial put up for public display — this Greek noun comes from the verb νεμω (nemo), meaning to divide and dispense (see for a full description of this verb below).
Our modern social law derives from the Roman imperial idea that humans are brute beasts who need tyrannical rule to keep them from chaos and bloodshed. Fortunately, or so it's thought, the emperor is exempt from this human curse, is divine even, and whatever decree he pulls out of his hat must be obeyed by everybody else. Society would not be possible otherwise, so hail Caesar, the savior of the world.
The view opposite the Roman one, which was elaborately favored by the Bible writers, comes with the notion that humans are natural creatures, which exist like all other natural creatures do, namely by means of natural law.
Formal, government-issued, human law should be like the laws that "govern" atoms, chickens, molluscs, stars, seasons and everything else in the universe. These laws do not exist separately from the creatures they "govern" but emanate from them, like fragrance from flowers, like gravity from massive particles, like consciousness from a human mind. Human law should always describe a society that consists entirely of autonomous and self-determining individuals (or "anointed ones"; this is the meaning of the word Christ). The conscious understanding of human law should arise from human freedom and preserve human freedom (Galatians 5:1). These laws exist naturally within the constitution of every human, because beside govern society, they also govern the single individual (Deuteronomy 30:14, Jeremiah 31:33, 2 Corinthians 3:3).
For the whole of antiquity, the wisest of rulers have tried to grasp and formulate the rules that would create a perfect state, and yearned to see this perfection embodied in a truly free individual (Isaiah 9:2, John 8:32). And it has been known for very long that the only way to find natural law is to observe creation and in so doing revere the Creator (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20, Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10, John 4:23). The priestly elite of old were scholars who studied everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Matthew 2:1-2) and derived social law from the natural law they could see at work in people going about their daily business (Proverbs 1:20-21, Proverbs 11:10, Exodus 18:13-27).
The divine task of studying creation and thus learning about YHWH is in modern times performed by scientists, and they and those who respect sound knowledge of creation march ahead of everybody into the Kingdom of God. And the people who cling to Roman ideals in whatever form and practice lawlessness — that's the promotion of nonsensical reality models designed to keep people ignorant, scared and ultimately enslaved — got a thing or two coming (Matthew 7:21-23).
Our word "science" comes from the Greek verb σχιζω (schizo), which means to split or divide, and which is not unlike our verb νεμω (nemo). This word is also comparable to the Hebrew verb בין, bin, which in turn resembles the word for son: בן (ben) and even the verb בנה (bana), meaning to build. The Hebrew word for law is the familiar word תורה (torah), or Torah.
Also note that striking similarity between our noun νομος (nomos), meaning law and the noun ονομα (onoma), meaning name (or noun), which is the very "atom" of conceptual thought and thus consciousness as we know it. It may seem like a bridge too far (it really isn't) but human culture the way we know it is largely make-believe. Look around you. Most of the things you see derive their essence from what people agree these things are; they are symbols with no or little intrinsic value and only so-called fiat value (agreed upon value). Everything from words to money to streets and fences and property rights and tooth paste and screw drivers and pretty much all things you can name, are only what they are because they are elements of a greater economy that simply does not exist in the consideration of dogs and cats (which is why they don't brush their teeth or look both ways before crossing a street).
Formal law too is an agreed-upon thing, and is therefore closely related to material wealth (which explains why in the Bible wisdom is so often related to gold and silver: Revelation 3:18, Proverbs 16:16, Psalm 12:6). Although law is part of creation, and is established by the sheer, natural interaction of the elements it "governs" (which means "gives freedom to roam unhindered"), only the formulation of law (that is its expression in words and numbers) allows law to be studied, debated and ultimately understood, agreed upon, and crucially, built upon. Our whole wild world exists because we humans agree to a huge degree on how things are and ought to be. It's why we have language and music (these are all based on agreement) and of course science and technology and ultimately the Internet and thanks to blockchain technology maybe very soon world wide peace (and space ships and colonies on other planets).
Human harmony has nothing to do with mushy feelings but derives from the same natural law that lets atoms form molecules, and molecules objects and living cells, and living cells colonies and multicellular organisms, and the latter their cultures. When people work in natural, not coerced harmony, nothing they set their mind to will be impossible for them to achieve (Genesis 11:6; see our articles on the names Babel and Magdalene).
Our word νομος (nomos) occurs 197 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the particle of negation α (a): the adjective ανομος (anomos), meaning lawless, or being without a commonly agreed understanding of reality and thus existing in a state of enslavement. In the New Testament this word is mostly substantially used: a lawless [one], or the lawless [ones], and note that a strenuous adherence to some made up human law, still equals fierce lawlessness when the only real law is natural law. Our word occurs 10 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- The noun ανομια (anomia), meaning lawlessness (or adherence to a law that is no law). This word is used 15 times, see full concordance, consistently referring to the state of being out of synchronicity with God's natural law, and thus in a state of enslavement.
- The adverb ανομως (anomos), meaning lawlessly (Romans 2:12 only).
- Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on, at or by: the adjective εννομος (ennomos), meaning "legal" in the sense of being in accordance with the law: something naturally and spontaneously occurring and not stemming from some human's will or design; being an integral part of the natural law of God that humanity may collectively agree on (Acts 19:39 and 1 Corinthians 9:21 only; Jesus taps into this very principle when he says: "Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst" — Matthew 18:20).
- The verb νομιζω (nomizo), meaning to "legalize" in the sense of to make a matter of the law (agreed on truth, and thus collective value); to assume or to accept from custom. Science has very strict rules that govern the transition between hypothesis (an informed assumption) and theory (something tested and verified; something tried in the fire, so that it's either burnt up or else has emerged as a baked brick — or something metallic — you can build on). There is only so much you can test (Daniel 3:19), and a clever scientist won't fill his limited kiln with dubious ideas. Hastily forwarded assumptions and a smoldering fire may lead to brittle metals, which in turn make for weak tools and weapons, and worthless jewelry. Collective delusion based on untried assumptions is precisely what Exodus 23:2 intends to prevent and for which Jesus sternly warned (Matthew 5:17, 10:34). This verb is used 15 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- The noun νομισμα (nomisma), meaning "anything sanctioned by current or established usage, custom; especially current coin" (in the eloquent words of Liddell and Scott's A Greek-English Lexicon). This word occurs only once, in Matthew 22:19, where indeed it represents monetary currency.
- The adjective νομικος (nomikos), meaning pertaining to laws and legal matters. In our modern world this word means "scientific" or a "scientific one," a scientist; someone who tries to (1) understand how the world works, and (2) find ways to describe this working in such a way that others can agree upon it. In the most corrupt societies it happens that such lawyers/scientists stray from the path of sincerity and transparency and abuse their great office for the sake of personal gain, and publish oppressive nonsense. This kind of counterfeit wealth bleeds true wealth out of society's economy and is a terrible crime. Since it ultimately may cause the death of a human collective, it's on a par with or even exceeding murder. This word occurs 9 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and mostly in plural and may actually denote some kind of formal sect (Luke 11:52, Titus 3:9) — perhaps something like the later Gnostics, who derived their self-congratulatory name from the noun γνωσις, gnosis, meaning knowledge.
- Together with the noun διδασκαλος (didaskalos), meaning teacher: the noun νομοδιδασκαλος (nomodidaskalos), meaning teacher of the law: someone who takes the wisdom mined by scientists and delivers it to the people to use (Luke 5:17, Acts 5:34 and 1 Timothy 1:7 only). Such a teacher could of course be tempted to insert counterfeit wealth into society, in return for a wage, but only the most wretched and decrepit people would do such a thing. In Old Testament times, when someone — whether a true believer or willful deceiver — taught some skill or technique that was subsequently shown to not work because animals died, buildings collapsed, swords broke, harvests failed, wives ran off, wealth depleted (Proverbs 12:11, 28:19), the peddler of such misinformation was executed (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, 1 Kings 18:40).
- Together with the ever useful verb τιθημι (tithemi), meaning to place or set (from which also probably comes the familiar noun θεος, theos, meaning god or "setter"): the noun νομοθετης (nomothetes), meaning law-setter. For people who cling to the Roman ideal, a law-setter could be anyone who has the upper hand (the name Korah jumps to mind). But to people who cling to the Biblical model, only the Creator sets law (and humans can only mine law from creation and thus turn law into wealth). This word occurs in the New Testament only in James 4:12: "There's only law-setter, the One who has the ability to save and to destroy." From this noun in turn come:
The amazing noun νομος (nomos), meaning law, comes from the verb νεμω (nemo), which isn't used in the New Testament but is nevertheless a very common verb in the classics. It means to give or deal out: to divide something into parts and dispense the allotments among the recipients. And although this verb itself is not used in the New Testament, this rather specific action is of course most spectacularly demonstrated in Jesus' famous miraculous feedings of the multitude (5,000 in Matthew 14:16-21 and again 4,000 in 15:32-38). There was doubtlessly not a soul in the gospel's original audience who failed to connect these stories to Moses' giving out of the law, and the existential nature of law: namely the processing of something that God causes to grow freely in nature, in order to make it suitable for human consumption.
This verb could also be used to emphasize the receiving or having such a portion, and as such it was used to describe landownership, or the occupation of a country by its inhabitants. It further assumed the general meaning of to enjoy whatever (time, husbands) and particularly the ruling or managing of something like land, people or cities.
Our verb was also used to mean to shepherd or drive or graze a herd, hence the noun νομη (nome) meaning pasturage (see below). It was used to describe what fire does: to consume or devour, and even certain diseases which marks spread over the body.
The derivations of this verb νεμω (nemo), meaning to dispense, that are used in the New Testament are:
- Together with the preposition δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διανεμω (dianemo), meaning to spread or disperse throughout (Acts 4:17 only).
- Together with the noun κληρος (kleros), which denotes a share in the commercial sense of the word: the noun κληρονομος (kleronomos), meaning shareholder; the recipient of a revenue divided by share among holders of such shares. This word is often translated with "heir" of an "inheritance" but where in English the act of inheriting is commonly associated with the passing away of a relative, this Greek word clearly also describes the sharing of the revenues of an existing enterprise without the transfer of ownership (Matthew 21:38; see Romans 8:17 relative to Psalm 24:1 and 50:12). In the New Testament this amazing word often describes the recipients of the "revenue" of the whole of creation and occurs 15 times; see full concordance. From this word in turn come:
- The verb κληρονομεω (kleronomeo), meaning to sharehold: to be or become a shareholder, to receive partial ownership or to receive dividend. This verb occurs 18 times; see full concordance.
- The noun κληρονομια (kleronomia), meaning a shareholding: either the act of dividing property among shareholders, or else the dividend or portion that one shareholder receives. This word is used 14 times; see full concordance
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the noun συγκληρονομος (sugkleronomos), meaning co-holder of one share and eventually a co-receiver of one portion. This word is used 4 times; see full concordance.
- The noun νομη (nome), which denotes the act of dispensing. In the classics this noun mostly describes the act of pasturage, or providing herd animals with their sustenance; their requirements and particularly their food, but it was also used in the context of monetary revenues or the division of property. This word occurs only twice in the New Testament, namely in John 10:9 and 2 Timothy 2:17.
- The noun νομος (nomos), meaning law. See above for this word's description and derivatives.
- Together with the noun οικος (oikos), meaning house: the noun οικονομος (oikonomos), which describes a house-manager, someone who gave everybody their share of provisions and managed the house's economy and books. That could add up to a huge deal, particularly if the "house" was substantial. Paul's friend Erastus was the oikonomos of the whole "house" of the city of Corinth (Romans 16:23). Note that our English noun 'lord' comes from the antique word hlafweard, which is literally 'loaf' + 'ward(en),' which obviously describes the same function. In more modern times, the word "lord" would mostly come to describe the master of the house, but in Biblical times the function of οικονομος (oikonomos) was commonly held by a hired servant or even slave (like Joseph; Genesis 39:4). This noun occurs 10 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- The verb οικονομεω (oikonomeo), meaning to be a house-manager (Luke 16:2 only). From this word comes:
- The noun οικονομια (oikonomia), the office and administration of the house-manager; the affairs of the house. This word occurs 9 times, see full concordance, possibly most spectacularly in Ephesians 1:10 where Paul speaks of the "house-management" of the whole of creation in Christ (bringing to mind Isaiah 9:6).
- The verb οικονομεω (oikonomeo), meaning to be a house-manager (Luke 16:2 only). From this word comes: