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

ψυχω

The verb ψυχω (psucho) means to breathe, or rather to draw breath. Since the need to draw breath demonstrates that the person who does the breathing is in want of something (the deeper the need, the deeper the breathing), the act of breathing is a show of want, and ultimately a frantic taking of resources for oneself (note that the Hebrew word for man or mankind — אנוש, 'enosh — derives from a verb that is identical to the verb אנש (anash), meaning to be sick or weak.

In classical Greek literature, a fire that "draws breath" is one that's needy, and thus getting cooler and thus going out. And water that "draws breath" dries up. In these senses, our verb is applied in its only Biblical occurrence, namely in Matthew 24:12, where Jesus says that lawlessness will cause most people's love to "drawn breath", that is "grow cold/dry/airily".

Our verb's companion verb is πνεω (pneo), which concentrates on expelling breath, or blowing. From this latter verb comes the familiar noun πνευμα (pneuma), usually translated with "spirit", while from our verb ψυχω (psucho) comes the noun ψυχη (psuche), which is often rendered "soul".

Hence a soul is someone's private thing (including one's character, thinking and courage), while a spirit is someone's social thing (kindness, empathy), but please see our article on the latter noun for a brief discussion on why these popular words "spirit" and "soul" are quite disastrous and why translators should diligently avoid them.

The derivatives of our verb ψυχω (psucho) are:

  • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), in this case denoting a rising above a situation: the verb αναψυχω (anapsucho), literally denoting a rising from a state of depletion, hence to refresh or reinvigorate (2 Timothy 1:16 only). From this verb comes:
    • The noun αναψυξις (anapsuxis), denoting a refreshment or the act of making or getting refreshed (Acts 3:19 only).
  • Together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from: the verb αποψυχω (apopsucho), denoting a feeble state of mind due to depletion: to be faint of heart (Luke 21:26).
  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the verb εκψυχω (ekpsucho), meaning to expire or die (Acts 5:5, 5:10 and 12:23 only).
  • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down (from, in, upon, etc): the verb καταψυχω (katapsucho), literally to cool down (Luke 16:24).
  • The celebrated and much misconceived noun ψυχη (psuche), which simply denotes a being that draws breath (but read our feature article on this word for a brief discussion). From this word come the following compounds:
    • Together with the particle of negation α (a): the adjective αψυχος (apsuchos), meaning breathless or inanimate (1 Corinthians 14:7).
    • Together with the adverb δις (dis), meaning twice: the adjective διψυχος (dipsuchos), literally meaning twice-breathing; doubting or rather double-minded (James 1:8 and 4:8 only).
    • Together with the adjective ισος (isos), meaning alike or equal: the adjective ισοψυχος (isopsuchos), meaning like-minded, or of the same motivation (Philippians 2:20).
    • Together with the adjective ολιγος (oligos), meaning small or few: the adjective ολιγοψυχος (oligopsuchos), meaning literally of few or little breath(s); fainthearted or fretful (1 Thessalonians 5:14 only).
    • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the lovely adjective συμψυχος (sumpsuchos), meaning joined-in-breath or like-minded (Philippians 2:2).
    • The adjective ψυχικος (psuchikos), which refers to the need or want that motivates a breath-based creature to draw breath. Being needy is what drives the biosphere, but humans have the ability to cultivate needs and ways to meet them by means of working together with other people and create a satisfying culture for all involved. The ψυχικος (psuchikos) describes the animalistic and naturally selfish human (with cold or no love), while its counterpart, the πνευματικος (pneumatikos) describes the human as part of a social super-organism (in which love is warm). Both these words occur in 1 Corinthians 15:44, and the former also in 2:14, 15:46, James 3:15 and Jude 1:19.
  • The noun ψυχος (psuchos), meaning cold (John 18:18, Acts 28:2 and 2 Corinthians 11:27 only).
  • The adjective ψυχρος (psuchros), also meaning cold (Matthew 10:42, Revelation 3:15-16).
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