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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Greek word: πολις
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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary

πολις

The familiar Greek noun πολις (polis) means city, which is a large urban center, usually walled, and usually with well-defined lands and even satellite villages (Matthew 2:23, Acts 19:29, Revelation 16:19). A wall-less village or hamlet was called κωμη, kome), and an intermediately sized settlement, but without a wall, was known as a κωμοπολις (komopolis).

Where in English the word city brings to mind a series of buildings intersected by streets, in Greek it brings to mind an interlinked collective of people. This is shown by the use of this noun πολις (polis) in statements like: "The whole city came out to meet Jesus" (Matthew 8:34), and "the whole city was stirred saying..." (Matthew 21:10, also see Mark 1:33, Acts 13:44 and 21:30).

It's for this reason that John the Revelator and other visionaries viewed the New Creation adorned with a Great City, which again does not emphasize the buildings, as it would in English, but the collective and interconnectedness of people (Hebrews 11:10, Revelation 3:12, 22:14).

Other derivations and compounds that contain the noun πολις (polis) and which are used in the Bible are:

  • Together with the verb αρχω (archo), meaning to rule: the noun πολιταρχης (politarches), meaning city ruler or magistrate (Acts 17:6, 8 only).
  • The noun πολιτης (polites), meaning a citizen, which may either mean someone who lives in a city (Luke 15:15) or it specifically denotes a freeman with citizen's rights (Acts 21:39). This word in turn yields:
    • The verb πολιτευω (politeuo), literally meaning to live as a citizen but used to mean to behave well; to be civilized. It's used only in Philippians 1:27: "Worthy of the gospel of Christ be citizen-like," which obviously ties into the meaning of πολις (polis) as interlinked collective of humans rather than of buildings and streets. This verb in turn yields:
      • The noun πολιτεια (politeia), denoting either the citizenship of the individual (Acts 22:28) or of the state as a whole (Ephesians 2:12).
      • The noun πολιευμα (politeuma), which denotes whatever act can be associated with the verb πολιτευω (politeuo); whatever doings keep the city together, ranging from administration to a good deed. In the Bible it's used only once, in the sense of our collective citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
    • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the noun συμπολιτης (sumpolites), meaning fellow-citizen. In the Bible it's used only once, in Ephesians 2:19, where Paul states that there are no more strangers and passers by; there are only fellow-citizens.
  • Together with the noun μητηρ (meter), meaning mother: the noun μητροπολις (metropolis), literally meaning mother-city, which denotes the principle city of an area. This noun is used only in certain minority texts of 1 Timothy 6:21 (namely the Scrivener's and Stephanus Textus Receptus), which no modern translation incorporates.

The Greek word πολις (polis) survives in English words such as politics, policy and even police.


Associated Biblical names

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