Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The prefix and preposition περι (peri) means "about". It implies both a circular motion and a motion out of or around some central point and often evokes a genitive case (out or around of). It survives in modern English in a vast array of words such as periscope (a thing with which to look around), periphony (surround sound) and the infinitely useful adjective and noun peripatetic, which describes a walking around, particular whilst following someone's teachings or the directions of one's vocation.
Our preposition is often joined with a verb that describes the conveying of information (to speak or talk about, teach about, hear about, know about) which leads to the subject assuming the genitive case. It may refer to cause, purpose or state of mind (getting upset about, being yelled at about, getting happy about, being concerned about, being compassionate about). It may introduce a topic of discourse (about this or that; concerning this or that).
Combined with the accusative case, our preposition describes the motion toward and arrival upon some location (like a city or a person), point of reason (like a conclusion or objection), or point in time (like tomorrow). Also with the accusative, our preposition may refer to some overall business which one is concerned about or busy with.
In its unbound state, our word occurs 332 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
Our word is also deployed as part of a vast array of compound words, in which it usually carries the same meaning as when it is unbound, but may also declare a kind of circular boundary around the entire action of the other part of the compound: the whole of it, or very much.
Our prefix περι (peri) also comes with a few pure derivations, one of them being the emphatic particle περ (per), which follows the secondary meaning of its unbound parent and means "very much" or "wholly so". In The New Testament this word does not occur in an unbound state but is in turn part of a small set of compounds, such as the conjunction καιπερ (kaiper), meaning "though indeed/ although," the adverb ωσπερ (hosper), meaning "wholly as/ entirely like," and the conditional εανπερ (eanper), meaning "if truly/ if wholly."
The adverb περιξ (perix) is a stronger version of περι (peri), and it means round-about or surrounding. It's used in the New Testament only once, in Acts 5:16.
Another non-compound derivative of περι (peri) is the adjective περισσος (perissos), meaning over and above, exceeding. The genitive form ("of exceeding") may be interpreted adverbially to mean something like "extraordinarily" or "abundantly" (Mark 6:51, Ephesians 3:20, 1 Thessalonians 3:10). This adjective occurs 9 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
- The genitive form of our adjective prefixed with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the adverb εκπερισσου (ekperissou), which appears to denote an intense emotion: literally from-outburst, or out-of-an-overflowing. The various manuscripts of the New Testament differ widely on the usage of this word (it's exceedingly rare in Greek literature altogether), but the majority of texts that actually have this word places its only occurrence in Mark 14:31. Separated by a space, the coupling of the preposition εκ (ek) and our adjective occurs more often (see below under υπερπερισσευω, huperperisseuo).
- The noun περισσεια (perisseia), meaning abundance, or rather the act of coming into being of a surplus in excess of what is required or acceptable: an overflowing. This word occurs 4 times; see full concordance.
- The verb περισσευω (perisseuo), meaning to exceed (of righteousness: Matthew 5:20), to abound (in love and grace and such: 2 Corinthians 9:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:12) or be physically in excess (pieces of bread remaining after everybody ate their fill: Luke 9:17, John 6:12). In Acts 16:5 this verb is used to say how every day the number of converts exceeded [the number of the previous day]. The interesting passive voice of this verb would translate to something like to have in excess or abundantly (Matthew 13:12, 25:29). This verb is used 39 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- The noun περισσευμα (perisseuma), also meaning abundance or surplus above a certain reference point of sufficiency. The difference with the previous noun is that this noun describes the result of the verb (namely the matter of a surplus), whereas the previous describes the cause of it (the passing of the level of sufficiency). It's used 5 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition υπερ (huper), meaning over or beyond: the verb υπερπερισσευω (huperperisseuo), meaning to super-overflow. This word is not a simple hyperbole but rather describes a complete excess on all fronts; an all-encompassing abundance of all elements involved. This awesome word is used only twice, in Romans 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 7:4, but on occasion Paul uses the phrase υπερ εκ περισσου (huper ek perissos), which means something similar (Ephesians 3:20, 1 Thessalonians 3:10 and 5:13).
- The adjective περισσοτερος (perissoteros) — which is the comparative form of the parent adjective περισσος (perissos) — meaning more exceeding or more abundant (than). It's used 12 times (not counting the adverbial use; see next), see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- The neutral singular form of the previous comparative adjective but used as an adverb: the adjective περισσοτερον (perissoteron), more exceedingly or more abundantly. This adverbial use of our adjective occurs 4 times; see full concordance
- The adverb περισσως (perissos), meaning abundantly, exceedingly. It occurs 16 times: see full concordance.
The Holy Spirit and the Dove
Most abundantly spectacular, however, is the word περιστερα (peristera), meaning dove. It occurs 10 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
The formal etymology of the noun περιστερα (peristera) is not clear, although it's been proposed that it may have had to do with the phrase perah Ishtar, meaning "birds of Ishtar" (and for more on Ishtar, see our article on the name Ashtoreth). But to Greeks who weren't bothered so much with formal etymology, our word looked primarily like an obvious spawn of our περι (peri) and περισσος (perissos) word group. And it also looks like it ends on τερα (tera), from the familiar Proto-Indo-European root that also gave us the Latin terra, meaning [dry] land, and the Greek verb τερσομαι (tersomai), meaning to be dry or dried up. The word for dove looks like "abundant earth" or "the land's bounty" and whether or not that's the true etymology, the formation of this word was possibly helped along by this animal's occasional abundance (possibly comparable to that of the legendary passenger pigeon of North America; note that the ancients did not name species after their genetic constitution but after their defining behavior, which might be shared between what we think of as genetically dissimilar species).
For whatever reason, to the Greeks, the bird we call dove was proverbially known for existing in vast numbers and all over the place, as a kind of avian blanket covering the earth with gentle, unassuming, easy-going seed-eating birds. This obviously also brings to mind the imagery of Genesis 8:11, and it should be noted that the Hebrew in which this story is told makes no distinction between Noah releasing some dove (that's one dove) or the dove (that's the dove as a species; all of them). But for an animal to be called peristera it really needed to be so numerous that if you threw a stone in the air, it would come falling back down together with two unconscious peristeras.
The peristera was also the form which the Holy Spirit assumed in order to bodily descend upon Jesus. It's a rare thing for all four gospels to agree on anything, but all four indeed insist that the bodily form with which the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus was that of a peristera, an "all-over-the-placie," an "exceedingly abundant one" (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32).
John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God (John 1:29), and combined with the Dove of God, the atonement for sinful birth is made: "a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering" (Leviticus 12:6). This prescribed offering for the birth of a child was nearly the same as that of a sin offering (Leviticus 5:6), which does not mean that giving birth is a sin (see 1 Timothy 2:15), but rather that everybody falls short from birth and requires atonement (Romans 3:23).
But lambs could be hard to come by (2 Samuel 12:3) and Moses prescribed that poor people could bring two doves in stead of a lamb and a dove (Leviticus 5:7, 12:8). Really all people had to do was throw a stone in the air and wait for their two doves to drop down, and that appears to have been the point: they had to care enough to do what little it took to get the atonement that was readily available for everybody (Luke 2:24). And that is possibly why Jesus became so furious with the merchants who were selling doves in the temple (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:14): doves were for poor people, not for people who had money to buy them. Selling doves was like selling free health care or putting a price tag on rain.
Cursed are the rich
When Jesus pronounced the poor blessed (Luke 6:20), he didn't congratulate them for being destitute, but for the fact that atonement does not depend on financial clout. This may be precisely why the New Testament treats affluenza (the condition of being sickly rich) as the psychological disorder it is (Matthew 19:23-24, Luke 16:25). The rich young ruler didn't go away sad because he had to part with his beloved fortune but because he realized that he had wasted his own and many other precious human lives in order to create it (Matthew 19:22, see Proverbs 1:19).
Money represents wealth but wealth comes from human interaction, not the other way around. Money does not create wealth, wealth comes from health, security and community. Wealth comes from cooperation, which is how our ancestors were able to build the pyramids and Stonehenge. They had no money, they only had community. One half of the "Great Commandment" dictates to love one's neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:36-40), which has nothing to do with feelings but with cooperation and mutual utilization despite one's feelings. The ability to integrate and mutually utilize lies at the heart of the working of the universe. It's why there are things in the universe in stead of clouds of subatomic particles. It's why atoms form molecules and cells form multicellular organisms. It's why there is language and culture.
There is no natural law that dictates that a small part of humanity should permanently sit on most of humanity's social energy, while the rest exists in a wasteland where all you can do is slowly pine away. Financially comfortable people don't always appreciate it but people who come up short at the end of the month live in a perpetual state of terror, in a world in which folks can be kicked out into the street and lose their children if they can't come up with enough money to pay the rent and buy food and clothing. Poor people are all the time terrified, as if they live amidst wild animals or in a war zone. Poor people have no peace; their world is a senseless, heartless meat grinder.
The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit
Where φιλαργυρια (philarguria), or the "love of money," is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), poverty is the ultimate effect of evil and the paragon of human unholiness. The preservation and manifestation of diversity lies at the root of the First Commandment — namely "be fruitful and multiply"; Genesis 1:22 and 1:28 — and is even the core meaning of the adjective αγιος (hagios), meaning holy, the word that serves as the "first name" of the Spirit of God: the "Holy" Spirit.
Smack in the middle of a discourse on divided kingdoms, binding strong men and carrying off properties, Jesus declared blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to be the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:22-29), and unlike the assertions of a certain children's rhyme about sticks and stones, the Bible writers knew that a man's words reflect his most intimate mindset and thus indeed his bone-breaking antics (Matthew 15:18). And just like the service of Christ may not involve consciously naming Christ (Matthew 25:37), so blaspheming the Holy Spirit can be accomplished without ever referring to anything Biblical, by simply thwarting the diversity of life by perpetuating the uniformity of poverty.
Poverty is a social cancer that eats away a person's autonomy and dignity. It eats away a person's social network and range of engagements. It limits a person's pursuit of interests and prohibits a person to partake in the casual exchange of resources that defines modern existence. As a consequence, poverty even eats away a person's measureable intelligence quotient. Poverty reduces a human from a highly unique and socially engaged natural creature to a shallow, frustrated and self-centered zombie.
But, surprisingly, the same things are true for people who are too wealthy. Poverty is a density of social energy that is below the minimum required to function normally and freely, and in mathematical terms it equals excessive private wealth, which is a density so high that you can't really know who your friends are or why your wife is with you or what it is like to be a wonderful, awestruck, grateful, depending, giving, sharing and hoping human being.
Most people who achieve true wealth — that's health, security and community — stop wanting more stuff and will take up art or science or travel or community service or something like that. Only few among us suffer from the psychological disorder of financial overeating, and become financially obese. Today a large portion of humanity is financially starving (which means that they can not be what they are designed to be) and when a starving person sees an obese person, the former might be forgiven to envy the latter. But most people who are financially healthy realize with pervasive clarity that financial obesity is as undesirable as financial starvation. Healthy people will stop eating and start doing healthy things with their healthy constitutions. A social movement is presently forming that promotes precisely such financial health, and warns against the dangers of financial obesity.
Money is not an absolute but relative affair. Poverty is balanced with excessive wealth on the other end of the bell curve; you can only be very rich if there are others very poor. This means that poverty relief goes hand in hand with the reduction of excessive personal wealth. People who are sufficiently desperate for resources will spend their whole lives trying to move to the other end of the scale and will thus perpetuate the system that entices people to remain rich beyond their needs. In order to eliminate poverty, the system has to be eliminated and for that to happen, both poverty and excessive richness must be reduced to within certain lower and upper limits. That can not be done by force but only by education. Rich people need to be told that their wealth is destroying their humanity. Poor people need to be told that true wealth comes from unification, so that they can negate their disenfranchised state without inadvertently perpetuating the system that caused their poverty in the first place.
Free at last! Free at last!
Note that in Luke 7:22 Jesus juxtaposes poverty with preaching the gospel, which means that no matter how your theological bread is buttered, the sole measurable effect of preaching the gospel is the eradication of poverty and thus that of affluenza. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a matter of clever philosophy or growing wings and halos, but rather the calm understanding that while "uniformity" destroys diversity and brings about a mere bundling at best, "harmony" is the integration of maximally diversified elements and is vastly powerful. Harmony is a natural phenomenon and is readily available to everybody. It has nothing to do with lofty feelings, religious programs, holy energies or chakras and stuff, but a simple and casual interest in one's neighbor — and that's the dude who lives next door, in case you're wondering.
Before getting your hopes up (Matthew 7:6), first make sure that your neighbor knows what harmony is and how it works — this might actually be a very difficult thing to do. Only when he gets it, find out what he needs and what he has to offer and tell him what you need and what you have to offer. Then simply go to work. Don't be scared or dismayed and don't let anyone discourage you. And never ever forget that your desire to escape poverty is equal in strength to the desire of rich people for you to stay poor. Poor people want change as badly as rich people want things to stay the same. Don't believe rich people's words and don't fall in with their schemes. Rich people will always try to maneuver you into destructive directions; that's how they got rich and stayed rich in the first place. Rich people direct companies that employ myriads of people who perform labor that no sane person would choose to do, and hence create the world of discord and dismay that only these very few rich people seek to uphold. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells of another way, a naturally sustainable way in which social energy is not concentrated in a few massive bodies but spread out evenly across the networks of social molecules.
Open your eyes and realize that humanity is not designed to operate as legions of lonely masters and terrified slaves (Genesis 2:18) and that nature itself fights this nonsense and provides ordinary people with means to simply turn their backs on this abuse. Secure your personal freedom by submitting to your neighbors out of the perfect autonomy you have in Christ (Galatians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 16:16). Don't appoint leaders; atoms have no leaders and still they form the molecules that form objects and living things. Follow no man-made program but simply allow the freely available forces of nature to sculpt you and your neighbors into a healthy and secure community (Matthew 23:9-10, Luke 17:21). Or in the words of the ever astute king Solomon (who indeed was rich but not relative to his people; 1 Kings 4:25, see Deuteronomy 17:17):
"Check out the ant, lamo. See how it operates and learn from it. Ants have no commanders, no overseers and no ruler. But they gather their resources when they can and store their surplus when they have it" (Proverbs 6:6-8, somewhat paraphrased).
Financial over- or undernourishment is not only a personal tragedy but also a disaster for society at large. The whole of human culture is like the biosphere and when either famine or plaguy overabundance suppresses the diversity of human activity, the entire ecosystem turns into a desert. Even aided by the best advisors, no individual or small group of individuals can possibly begin to imagine what all other individuals might be able to grow into or what is best or most pleasing to all others all the time. It's for this reason that pockets of excessive wealth do the same thing as political dictatorships: they reduce diversity and ultimately destroy the whole economy in the same way in which a swarm of locusts will ultimately gorge the whole ecosystem, including themselves, to oblivion.
There is not a financially obese person in the world who doesn't count on his money more than anything else, and when a person forgets that humanity is designed to operate as a network in which everybody derives their existence from everybody else, that person also forgets YHWH who created man in His image (Proverbs 11:28, 1 Timothy 6:17). A person who has more than enough and consciously lets anybody else suffer want, does not love his neighbor as himself and does not love God (1 John 3:17). That person is deadly ill.
Doves, doves, everywhere!
Throughout history evil men have not only cultivated an unequal distribution of wealth, they have also promoted the idea that some of us are holier than others and created a kind of elite or esoteric "richness of godliness" for them to revel in (Psalm 12:6, Revelation 3:18). It's certainly true that some of us know more than others, or are more talented or skilled in the art of extracting knowledge from the earth, but all wealth always comes from the whole of human interaction and is always intended to benefit all people (Genesis 12:3, Haggai 2:7, 1 Corinthians 9:22, James 1:5).
Rich people who believe that God blessed them personally because He likes them better than all those poor people, have misunderstood that God gives wealth to certain people because He also equipped them with insight into how humanity could be served with it. God gives people wealth to invest it into humanity, not for their own indulgence. People who have been entrusted with wealth and keep that wealth to themselves better enjoy it while it lasts because when the lights go out for them they will be presented with a hell of a bill for their life of abundance.
Likewise the Bible insists that the Holy Spirit works on the entire earth without discrimination (and in case you're wondering, both the Hebrew word רוח, ruah and the Greek word πνευμα, pneuma, both mean wind and spirit; it's the same idea; see John 3:8). The Holy Spirit offers God's atonement and works globally and universally, without discriminating between people who accept Him and people who don't (Matthew 5:45, Romans 2:11; also compare Genesis 1:2 and 8:1 to Luke 1:35).
The Bible abhors the idea of a priestly elite that gets and hoards the good stuff while the common masses struggle. It's true that Israel's priestly caste, the Levites, was maintained by the people, but their purpose was to create social cohesion and welfare through teaching, engineering and doctoring. They were itinerant and peripatetic and had no land of their own. The Levites were the intellectual and academic elite from which society benefitted greatly, who studied anything that came from anywhere and kept what worked and rejected what didn't (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The Levites weren't religious in the modern sense of the word; they were scientists in the modern sense of the word. Moses, Aaron and Miriam were Levites, and so were Elizabeth, Zacharias and thus John the Baptist (and according to Luke 1:36, Mary of Nazareth was Elizabeth's close relative, so do the math). Israel was to become a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), a landless people who would pervade the entire world and teach the entire world about the Word of God (see Psalm 22:27, 48:10, 61:2, 65:8, 67:7, 98:3, and so on — Zechariah 8:23).
It may be tempting to think that modern science is building its temple of knowledge from thin air and into thin air, but even science can only discover what is already there. The universe works on the same laws of nature as the human brain and thus the human mind do, and although some people may believe they are doing something entirely knew, they are merely playing a song from a songbook that's been around for ever. It surely takes skill to dig the song up and to play it correctly, but the song itself has existed for ever (Colossians 2:3, John 1:1, Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Then he sent out a dove from him
The Word of God — who has always existed and through whom the world exists and will always exist — comes to humanity and not the other way around. Humanity may learn how to recognize him and how to describe him, but it doesn't get to create him or in any way move toward him. The Word of God is the foundation of every atom, every interaction, every process, every breath, every concern, every thought, every joy, every love, and all wealth. He can not be approached because he can not be abandoned (Matthew 28:20). You are in him and he is in you (John 14:20, Deuteronomy 30:14, Luke 17:21). He can be clearly seen by anyone who has eyes in their head (Romans 1:20). He can be heard by anybody who has ears (John 10:27). He can be contemplated by anyone who has a brain. No assembly is required. Neither is a membership card nor fancy building nor secret handshake. It takes no high IQ, no likes on Facebook, no privileged upbringing. It can't be bought, copyrighted or traded. It's all for free.
All anybody ever has to do to atone for their obvious array of deficiencies is to get their two widely available doves. All anyone has to do to see the Word of God is to open their eyes and look. King Solomon exclaimed to his Bride: "How beautiful you are! Your eyes are like doves" (Song of Solomon 1:15), and the ancients imaged several beings (a culture or society or school or discipline) that were "covered with eyes" (Ezekiel 10:12, Revelation 4:8; also see the Greek creature called Argus Panoptes). The idea of a many-eyed being stands in contrast to the solitary "all-seeing" eye that is favored by empires, which in turn are based on a pyramidal hierarchy of power and ultimately tyranny and fascism. The word Christ means anointed, and describes anyone who is autonomous and self-governing (not only Jesus of Nazareth but anyone; 1 John 2:20). A nation of anointed ones is of course the opposite of an empire that is ruled by one deluded dude.
John the Baptist baptized with water but the Word of God baptizes the entire world with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11).
The Hebrew word for eye is עין ('ayin), which is also the word for fountain or well. This probably sheds some light on texts like John 4:6 and 7:38. The Hebrews were well aware of the similarities of water and light (see our article on Relativity Theory) and a Greek world filled with doves (Matthew 10:16) is the same as a Hebrew world filled with wells, which is the same as a heaven filled with stars (Genesis 1:15, 15:5, Daniel 12:3, Matthew 2:2). For an animal to represent abundance, the Hebrews referred to fish rather than doves (see the names Dagon and Nun).
Also note that the Hebrew word תור (tor), meaning dove, comes from the verb תור (twr), meaning to search out in a circular motion, not unlike our Greek word περι (peri). This word תור (tor) looks suspiciously like the masculine version of the feminine תורה (torah), which is the familiar word for law or Torah. The word תורה (torah), meaning law, is a close sibling of the word מרוה (moreh), which either means rain or teacher.
Another Hebrew word for dove is ינה (yonah), hence the name Jonah. This word looks a lot like יין (yayan), meaning wine. Both resemble the root יון (yawen), meaning mire. Hence the name Javan (meaning Greece).