Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb σπειρω (speiro) means to sow or scatter. It's the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew verb זרע (zara'), which may have given rise to the name Nazareth (or so we here at Abarim Publications surmise). Our verb σπειρω (speiro) stems from a widely attested Proto-Indo-European root sper-, meaning to strew.
It needs to be remembered that compared to language, agriculture is a relatively late invention and the root sper- was once a hip novelty. By the time of the New Testament, our verb σπειρω (speiro) could denote the sowing of seed but just as much the spreading of a rumor or even the begetting of children (by either parent). Our verb predominantly describes the broadcasting of any sort of "seed," which subsequently needs to settle in fertile "soil" before it can bear fruit itself.
Our verb is used 53 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the preposition δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διασπειρω (diaspeiro), meaning to broadly scatter, albeit with the implied result of seed taking root and producing fruit. This verb is used in Acts 8:1, 8:4 and 11:19 only, and from it in turn derives:
- The noun σπερμα (sperma), which refers to that which is sown, and takes root and produces fruit (hence the English word sperm). This word does not merely refer to the physical seed (that's covered by the word σπορος, sporos; see below) but rather the whole process of the seed's own harvest, the seed's getting sown upon soil, the seed's germinating and beginning to grow toward maturity. Our word covers the entire first section of the agricultural cycle of which the harvest and processing of the produce is the final section (known by the word θερισμος, therismos).
Particularly because Jesus spoke a kingdom like a seed (Matthew 13:31), people have assumed that a seed stood symbol for anything very small but that's not the key. A seed is a living molecule of an entire plant: the smallest possible instance of the whole thing that still possesses all the qualities of the whole thing. A kingdom might be formidable like huge half oak tree, which means that it won't grow, won't photosynthesize, won't produce acorns and won't last a whole lot longer. But a kingdom might also be tiny like a wholly complete mustard seed, which has the whole adult tree within it, including all the tree's future seeds, and thus forests upon forests of living, photosynthesizing and fruit-bearing trees.
Our noun is used 44 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- Together with the noun λογος (logos), which in this case means reason or "a collection of things to know": the adjective σπερμολογος (spermologos). This word originally described birds that wander around aimlessly, picking up whatever they come across, but it became applied to people who pick up tidbits of information and pass them on without context or relevance: gossips and idle babblers. This word occurs in the New Testament only in Acts 17:18.
- The noun σπορα (spora), meaning a sowing. This word may describe the time of sowing or the act of sowing, and as such could also refer to the origin of something of someone. Our noun σπορα (spora) is used in 1 Peter 1:23 only.
- The adjective σποριμος (sporimos), meaning sown, sow-ready or sowable. This word does not necessarily refer to a field that's ready to be sown or has just been sown; it may also simply refer to a piece of land that has an agricultural designation: an acre. In the New Testament it's used in Matthew 12:1, Mark 2:23 and Luke 6:1 only.
- The noun σπορος (sporos), meaning seed; hence our English word spore. Technically this word refers to the physical seed and produce, whereas the noun σπερμα (sperma) refers more to the process. But in practice these words are pretty much synonymous. Our noun σπορος (sporos) is used 5 times; see full concordance.
The noun σπειρα (speira) denotes anything twisted, coiled or wrapped around something; hence our English word spiral. Technically it may have little to do with our previous words but ancient users of Koine Greek might have rather been charmed by their obvious similarity: our noun σπειρα (speira) is thought to stem from Proto-Indo-European root sper- (2), meaning to turn or twist, whereas the σπειρω (speiro) group is thought to come from sper- (3), meaning to strew.
Our noun σπειρα (speira) could refer to anything twisted, from spires of a serpent to twists in ropes or braids in one's coiffure. It could point to throngs, straps or gnarly guides, the rounded molding of columns and even something complicated mathematical called "anchor-ring" or "tore".
It also somehow managed to get attached to the Roman military: namely to describe a tactical unit of some sort. The use of the term in the military sense appears to have shifted a bit over the centuries, so it's not wholly clear what the original non-military audience of the gospel understood when this word was used. Some translations speak of a cohort, but a cohort would have contained 400 to 600 troops, which is a bit much. It's much more likely that our word σπειρα (speira) was not a standard unit but rather a colloquial term that meant "a bunch" or "contingent"; a handful of men "wrapped" around a commander of some sort, which was "strewn out" in order to retrieve someone or get something done; a reconnaissance unit.
This word is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
- The noun σπυρις (spuris), which described a storage basket of relative small size, judging from the contexts in the classics. Some commentators argue that this item was named such because it was made from coiled or braided material. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the word spuris worked the same as the word speira and simply referred to a sample or a unit. It's used 5 times; see full concordance.