Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: θνησκω

Source: http://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/th/th-n-et-s-k-om.html

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb θνησκω (thnesko) means to die, and is the opposite of the verb ζαω (zao), meaning to live. It's used a mere 13 times in the New Testament — see full concordance — but that's probably because dying in the New Testament is usually described with the verb απολλυμι (apollumi), meaning to destroy, or αποθνησκω (apothnesko), meaning to die off (see below).

Life and death have always fascinated humanity but both have always been notoriously hard to define. It's complicated:

Windows of opportunity

The universe can exist in any state between two extremes, namely the singularity and heat death. In the singularity all energy that makes up the universe is concentrated in one point. That means that no structures (forces, particles) exist and hence nothing can happen. In the opposite extreme, namely that of heat death, the universe's energy is stretched so thin that either no particles exist or that they are dispersed so widely that they will never again encounter another particle. That too means that nothing can happen.

For things to happen — for particles to exist and interact — the density of the universe's energy must sit within two values: it must be a lot less dense than the singularity but way more dense than heat death. That means that the window in which things can happen (lets call this window B) is smaller than the window in which the universe can exist (window A). The universe didn't start at a point in time because time is a function of the universe and not the other way around. Said otherwise: the bubble of time sits within the greater bubble of the universe the way a yoke sits within an egg.

In order for atoms and molecules to form, the universe must exist in window B but for life to form, conditions must be even more specific: the energy density must be within two far more narrow values. There must be enough of it to create complex molecules, but not so much that things get too hot and break apart. Let's call the window of life window C.

Window C sits within window B, which sits within window A. In order for intelligence to arise, conditions must again be very specific within the window of life: life must be diverse enough but also in tune enough. The window of intelligence (window D) is much smaller than window C. Complex cultures and language and such, in turn, emerge in window E, which is a sub-window of window D (of intelligent life), and the Bible predicts an even more specific subset of that in the form of the New Jerusalem (window F).

The universe is not simply a space-time blob that zips from tiny singularity to colossal heat death, but rather like a complexity-mountain with the singularity at its southern-most base and heat death at its northern-most base and its summit, well, in heaven. The universe is like a pyramid, with each step representing a window and serving as a foundation for the next level.

The New Jerusalem

Most people who contemplate evolution, regard evolution per window or per step of the pyramid: cosmologist study the trajectory of the universe from big bang to heat death; biologists look at the evolution of life, and social anthropologist look at the evolution of human cultures. But the Bible appears to suggest that sub-windows are like the fruit of trees: the sub-window is what the window is all about, and it yields it fruits half-way its trajectory and not at the finish.

The Bible also appears to dictate that ultimately, from within the New-Jerusalem window, the evolution of the rest of the windows can be influenced and even arrested or reversed. In terms of Chaos Theory, it appears that the New Jerusalem window is the attractor of all evolution: it's what all the laws of nature combined aim to bring about (Colossians 2:15-18).

Imagine an air-tight room filled with gas. Atoms will usually continue their individual momentum, so the atoms of the gas will spread evenly throughout the room. But, we know since Karl Heisenberg, natural law insists that an atom can do what it wants and go where it wants, and there's no rule in natural law that forbids all the atoms to suddenly huddle all together into one corner of the room. The chance that this will happen is small, but not zero. And this is why the universe has a singularity (one of two extremes of window A) that's not part of time (window B).

We know that a bunch of atoms can suddenly all together do something unexpected, something that seems to violate natural law (it won't, obviously), but we have no idea how to bring that about. We moderns are so used to brute-forcing material things that we have no idea how to gently nudge atoms into accepting some scenario as a really fun thing to willingly do (something with vibrations and resonance, perhaps?). But since it's a natural law, it's just a matter of time until we figure it out — provided nobody drops a nuclear bomb. Mankind was just about ready to harness electricity when the Romans came along and took humanity on a two millennia detour through the badlands of cultural evolution.

It might be a while though. For now, we don't even know how to convince a critical mass of people that live in window E of the nature of the universe, and that blue skies and green pastures awaits humanity if a critical mass of us willingly abandons their natural momentum and aligns themselves with the sum of their deepest desire (Haggai 2:7).

But anyway, long story short: to live is to aim for the subwindow and to move up the pyramid, whereas to die is to drop out the subwindow and into the level beneath (Acts 20:9). Whether you step up a level or step down a level, you always die to the previous and become alive to the one you're at.

Life happens when personal thermodynamic energy (or wealth, knowledge and power) is relinquished and energy is invested in the bonds between atoms, cells or minds (which is a process described by the verb αγαπη, agape). When energy is rerouted from bonds and selfishly appropriated, heat ensues, bonds will break and death will occur (hence the flames of hell).

There's no such thing as absolute life or death since each level regards the previous level as death and the next level as super-life (1 Timothy 5:6). The Bible appears to predict that once the universe has brought forth the ultimate lifeform of New Jerusalem, this superlife will affect the entire pyramid and make the whole universe into a well-managed garden in which natural forms of existence are coached and protected, and will ultimately surrender as much diversity as dogs and grasses do to today (Isaiah 11:6-9).

From our verb θνησκω (thnesko), meaning to die, derive the following words:

  • Together with the preposition απο (apo), mostly meaning from or out of: the verb αποθνησκω (apothnesko), meaning to die off or die out of. This verb is used mostly simply as an equivalent of the parent verb θνησκω (thnesko), but the απο (apo)-part emphasizes that dying is done to a higher level of connectedness. Of course, when that higher level of connectedness sucks — and you've been marching onto the wrong summit, a summit of slavery — dying to that summit is required before you can get up the right one (Romans 6:2-11). This verb is used 111 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
  • Together with the prefix ημι (hemi), meaning half: the adjective ημιθανης (hemithanes), meaning half-dead. This word occurs only once in the New Testament, namely in Luke 10:30, where it describes the unfortunately traveler who was helped by the Good Samaritan. Our adjective ημιθανης (hemithanes) is rather curious because there is no such thing as half-death. Our English equivalent describes someone who is nearly dead, but that's a rather forced projection upon a word that doesn't mean that (it would have been παραθανης, parathanes, or near-dead). Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that our word ημιθανης (hemithanes) describes a condition of partial but clear disconnection from the level of normal civic life. In the violent Roman world, people were near-dead all the time, and if our word indeed described a near-dead person, we would have seen our word more often. Instead, our word is so rare that it occurs only once more in extant Greek literature, namely in Strabo's story of the "half-dead" Indian, who was found bobbing about the Arabian Sea and who eventually would pilot Eudoxus of Cyzicus to India (Strabo Geo.2.3.4). Somehow Eudoxus became inspired to also try to circumnavigate Africa, far to the south, and although the rate of his success or even further fate remain unknown, the author of the story of the Good Samaritan appears to (also) suggest that help might come from unlikely sources, that the world is much bigger than what evil people can ruin, and that there are short-cuts to riches all over the place for those who are in the know.
  • The noun θανατος (thanatos), meaning death (hence our English word "euthanasia", meaning pertaining to a good death). This noun corresponds in meaning and scope with its parent verb discussed above, and describes the condition of not-living. Life is the result of investing energy in bonds between elements, and death is what happens when these bonds dissolve. This is why dead things turn to dust.
    Our word θανατος (thanatos), meaning death, relates to the noun νεκρος (nekros), meaning corpse (see below), the way the verb ζαω (zao), meaning to live, relates to the noun ψυχη (psuche), meaning soul. The concept of death was personified in Greek Mythology in the form of Thanatos, and associated with night and sleep.
    Our noun is used 119 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
    • Prefixed with the particle of negation α (a): the adjective αθαναθος (athanatos), meaning undying, immortal. In the New Testament only a secondarily derived noun is used: αθανασια (athanasia), meaning immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53, 15:54 and 1 Timothy 6:16 only). In Greek literature, immortality was mostly associated with gods, even with Thanatos; the "death who can not die" (according to Hyperides). This word was also used to describe how a herd of cattle was kept at the same number of individuals (even when individual cows perished), and that's why Herodotus could use this word to describe a Persian infantry unit: the Immortals, who in our modern culture have become famous for all the wrong reasons. They simply were a heavily trained and carefully choreographed military unit that had to be kept at the same number of 10,000 for it to function properly. Reserves were doubtlessly standing by to replace the fallen.
      The few Biblical occurrences of this concept of immortality probably also speak not of not dying but rather of staying of the same number. Note that every complex organic body (humans included) consists of trillions of living cells that in turn exist in the collective harmony we call "we". Our living body cells live only a short time (some days, other week, other months) but are replaced upon death, which means that during most of our adult lives, our physical bodies are temporarily immortal, so to speak.
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the adjective επιθανατιος (epithanatios), which describes items used for funerals and executions, or else a condition very close to death but not actually there: very sick, as good as dead. This word occurs in the New Testament only in 1 Corinthians 4:9, where Paul writes that God applies this condition to the apostles. How or why isn't immediately clear, but Paul is obviously on a facetious rant, and appears to paint the apostles as representing the very least of those alive in Christ, and actually nearly falling off and back into the general population.
    • The adjective θανασιμος (thanasimos), meaning belonging to death (Mark 16:18 only). In the classics this word may either mean deadly or fatal (of a poison, arrow or blow to the head), or pertaining to a death cult or death ritual, or refer to people who are near dead or liable for the death penalty.
    • Together with the verb φερω (phero) meaning to bring: the adjective θανατηφορος (thanatephoros), meaning death-bringing (James 3:8 only).
    • The verb θανατοω (thanatoo), meaning to make dead or put to death. This verb is used 11 times; see full concordance.
  • The adjective θνητος (thnetos), meaning mortal or prone to falling apart. It's the opposite of αθαναθος (athanatos), meaning immortal (see above), which doesn't simply mean not-dying, but rather being able to keep the number of constituting elements constant. When one is θνητος (thnetos), one's constituting elements diminishes down to a critical level at which the remaining elements can no longer sustain their bonds and fall apart. This adjective occurs 6 times; see full concordance.


The adjective νεκρος (nekros) means dead (hence the many English necro-words, such as necropolis, necromancy, necrophagous, necrophilia and so on). Our adjective is mostly used substantially — the dead, the dead one(s) — as synonym of its much rarer parent-noun νεκυς (nekus), meaning a dead one. This word in turn derives from the ancient proto-Indo-European root nek-, meaning death, from which we also get words like innocent (literally: death-less), nectar (death-transcending), noxious, nuisance and pernicious (total-killing).

In the early Greek classics our word mostly described a dead human, mostly slain in battle, but sometimes someone still dying. Later literature used this word to also describe dead animals. The Greeks believed that "the dead" dwelled in a sort of netherworld, which later became the Christian "hell" (the formation of which was also helped along by Zarathustra's bi-polar model of good versus evil; all of this is thoroughly unbiblical, see Isaiah 45:5-7). The Hebrew take on this differed significantly. It was described by the name Sheol and read our article on that name for a closer look.

When mankind reaches the New Jerusalem, most families that have ever existed will have long died out. That means that at any point in the past, mankind consisted of families that would die off and families that wouldn't. The two kinds couldn't be easily told apart and the soon-to-be-dead ones lived happily among the now-and-forever-eternal ones. The Bible appears to predict that the folks who will people the New Jerusalem will not only themselves live eternally, but will also host their own eternal ancestors that once lived among the morons and evildoers of this world (1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Revelation 20:13). Of course, familiarity in the Bible is mostly a mental rather than a physical thing: people are each other's brother, sons and father not because they relate by blood but because they relate by mentality (Matthew 12:50, 23:9, Philemon 1:10, 1 Timothy 1:2).

Our adjective is used 131 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:

  • The verb νεκροω (nekroo), meaning to make or consider dead, or rather: to move one's condition toward the state of death. Life, as we noticed above, occurs when energy is invested in bonds between elements, and our verb νεκροω (nekroo) describes extracting energy from these bonds. It means to weaken (Romans 4:19, Colossians 3:5 and Hebrews 11:12 only).
    Fighting sin can be an exhausting and frustrating affair because the more we concentrate on temptations and addictions, the more we get sucked in by them. But sin rarely comes in isolation and a sinful state is usually due to a network of failures. Folks suffering from such webs should be encouraged to rather concentrate on removing energy from the connections that exist between more pronounced manifestations of sin (the obvious temptations and addictions). From this verb in turn stems:
    • The noun νεκρωσις (nekrosis), which describes the result of the verb: necrosis (Romans 4:19 and 2 Corinthians 4:10 only). In the later, Paul appears to refer to the familiar principle of dying to oneself: by no longer investing one's efforts into preserving the bonds between one's own elements, but solely into the bonds with other people. One's own sustenance is thus preserved, while simultaneously forming the mental equivalent of a multicellular organism, whose soul is the combined souls of its to-the-self-dead cells.