Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun αγρος (agros) means acre or field (hence our word "agriculture") and is the Greek synonym of the Hebrew noun אדמה ('adama), from whence comes the name Adam. In Hebrew, the agricultural revolution marks the beginning of the essential breach in symmetry between man and beast (see Genesis 9:20 and Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10), and although perhaps not as obviously laid out, it does so too in Greek.
Whether true in a technical and etymological sense or merely by association, our noun αγρος (agros), meaning field, obviously relates to the verb αγω (ago), meaning to guide or lead (hence words like "synagogue" and "pedagogue"), and the noun αγορα (agora), a place of commercial and cultural exchange (hence words like "gregarious" and "egregious").
In the ancient world, there were five basic environments in which a human could find himself:
- The sea, lakes and rivers;
- Any kind of wilderness from jungles to deserts;
- Maintained forests, which were very large complexes of manicured woodland that produced wild fruits and wood for fuel and building material, and where societies kept their undomesticatable life stock: swine, deer, rabbits and so on;
- Agricultural lands, including fields and gardens;
Our noun αγρος (agros) denotes a specific, designated and manipulated stretch of the more general γη (ge), meaning earth (which is anything not sea or heaven). In literature it tends to denote a plot of land in a very early state of cultivation, one step up from being wilderness: a plot whose natural history is erased by a plough and sowed in to yield a new harvest every year, or a naturally occurring grassy plot upon which herders graze their flocks, so that never anything but grass will grow, or else perhaps a naturally occurring cluster of fruit trees that was encountered by human foragers, who cherished the fruits trees and walked over the rest of the vegetation, until something of a semi-cultivated orchard resulted.
Our noun αγρος (agros) primarily denotes something originally natural and wild that has become domesticated through prolonged usage. It might support wild lilies and grass (Matthew 6:28-30), and domesticated swine (Luke 15:5) but also seed-sowing farmers (Matthew 13:31). It might function as a store of value and be traded like a commodity (Matthew 13:44, Luke 14:18, Acts 4:37), and even be used as a cemetery for foreigners (Matthew 27:7). Our word is often used to establish the rural opposite of the civilized urban (Mark 5:14, Luke 8:34).
An αγρος (agros) may be so rudimentary or primitive that it doesn't even have a border or guard tower and exist in the economic world like a prokaryote in the biosphere: a place where wilderness and cultivation meet and may intermingle (Matthew 13:24-30, Luke 17:36). This in defining contrast to a χωριον (chorion), which is an economic eukaryote: a specifically segregated area dedicated to a particular purpose, like a purposefully designed and maintained garden (κηπος, kepos), or a field that was first wholly cleared then plowed and then planted, cordoned off and guarded against predatory animals and human thieves.
The produce that was ultimately harvested from either cultivated wild fields or erased and repurposed fields became the first commercial products upon which ultimately our whole human society became based. Thus, figuratively, all these nouns also denote the human mind upon which a preacher may deposit his words, to see most of it fail but some of it yield a hundred fold (Matthew 13:1-44).
In that sense, an αγρος (agros) would denote a wisdom tradition that had sprang up locally, and had developed on a par with the growing practical needs of the people, whereas both χωριον (chorion) and κηπος (kepos) described centers of wisdom that had wholly displaced the local traditions, and were most likely willfully imported from somewhere else. The difference between an intellectual αγρος (agros) and an intellectual χωριον (chorion) or κηπος (kepos) is that the former emerges purely from a wish to streamline the practical considerations of life, whereas the latter are the result of a deliberate and intentional pursuit of wisdom (i.e. science, technology and artistry), which exists purely for wisdom's sake and is only useful by happy accident (while still considering that these facilities need upkeep, and so must remain economically attractive to some minimal degree).
There is obvious overlap in the use of the words χωριον (chorion) and κηπος (kepos), but the difference between the two is perhaps the same as that between an agricultural field and a pleasure garden: the former focuses on efficiency and aims to be applicable and useful to society (like, for instance, theoretical physics), whereas the latter focusses on beauty and aims to placate and inspire (like theoretical mathematics, music and art). Modern sociology would argue that a healthy society requires both. Note that Jesus was arrested in a χωριον (chorion) named Gethsemane according to Matthew (26:36) and Mark (14:32) and an unnamed κηπος (kepos) according to John (18:11). John also places Jesus' tomb in a κηπος (kepos) (19:41).
Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Gaul and even pre-Platonic Greece can all be classified as αγρος (agros), whereas Canaan was originally an αγρος (agros) and then became a χωριον (chorion) or κηπος (kepos) first when Israel invaded it and again when the Jews returned from Persia. Another highly praised but ultimately lamented χωριον (chorion) or κηπος (kepos) is Carthage, the colony of the Phoenicians together with whom Solomon built the temple of YHWH, hence the "garden" of the bride (Song of Solomon 4:12), and the suffering daughter of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22).
Our noun αγρος (agros) is used 36 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the verb αυλιζομαι (aulizomai), meaning to put up in a facility like a sheepfold or inn: the verb αγραυλεω (agrauleo), meaning to sleep or be housed in a field (Luke 2:8 only).
- The adjective αγριος (agrios), meaning pertaining to a semi-cultivated field, a field that looks somewhat cultivated because of the prolonged use of its naturally occurring features. It's used in Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6 and Jude 1:13 only, twice to describe honey from not domesticated bees, whose honey was nevertheless harvested by human customers. The Hebrew word for bee, namely דבורה (deborah, hence the name Deborah), comes from the same verb as the word דבר (dabar), which is Dabar in Hebrew and Logos in Greek (from which comes the English scientific suffix "-logy"). The Greek word honey, namely μελι (meli), is the source of the name Malta, where Paul famously shipwrecked due to a storm. Significantly, Jude uses our adjective to describe the raging sea. From this adjective comes:
- Together with the noun ελαια (elaia), meaning olive: the noun αγριελαιος (agrielaios), meaning semi-wild and semi-cultivated olive tree: an olive tree that had sprouted naturally, without the agency of a human sower, but which had been discovered by human customers who gratefully harvested it and kept it clear from things like weeds and animals that could damage it. This word occurs only in Romans 11:17 and 11:24, in Paul's famous assertion that gentile convers to Christ are like branches from a semi-cultivated olive that were grafted upon the wholly domesticated trunk of Christ. The word Christ, of course, means anointed, and anointing was done with olive oil.
The verb αγρευω (agreu) means to catch, and although an etymological link with the above is generally denied, it's obviously associated to it and was most likely as such experienced by the original users of these words.
Our verb describes the catching of anything naturally occurring, with a net or snare and thus with the explicit objective to subdue it (rather than shoot to kill it). The catching of living fish was described by our word, but also the catching of someone in their words. Fish were killed and eaten, of course, but other animals that were caught alive could either be added to one's herd, put to work or even used as pets.
Our verb is used in Mark 12:13 only, where it describes how certain Pharisees and Herodians tried to "catch" Jesus by his words. The use of this particular verb implies that they weren't so much looking to catch Jesus in an error, and so discredit him, but rather tried to figure out a way to feed off him or to take possession of him, to make him work for them or parade him about, much alike the Philippians mentioned by Luke who made great profit from a slave-girl with a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16).
From this verb derives: