Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb ακουω (akouo) means to hear (hence our English word "acoustic"). It probably comes from a combination of the prefix α (a), which in this case means "together with," and a word that probably stemmed from a hugely old Proto-Indo-European root kous-, that also gave the English language the verb "to hear".
In the New Testament this verb is used pretty much in parallel with our English verb. It may denote the mere perception of sound (Matthew 2:18, 11:15) or the physical ability to do so (Matthew 11:5). But more often describes the receiving of certain news (Matthew 2:3, Mark 2:1) or handed down traditions (Matthew 5:21). It may describe attending a verbal presentation (Matthew 12:42), or the mental capacity to understand what was said (Romans 11:8).
Our verb may imply compliance (Luke 10:16), cooperation (Matthew 10:14), or examination (a hearing; Acts 25:22), but most often it describes the understanding and comprehension of information, which is where faith begins. Or as Paul says, "Faith is by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17, also see Galatians 3:2-5).
Our verb occurs a total of 436 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The noun ακοη (akoe), which describes the act or result of the action of the verb: a hearer or hearing. A hearer or hearing may denote something that's heard of (buzz or reports; Matthew 4:24, Mark 13:7), the act or capacity of hearing (Luke 7:1, Acts 28:26), a person who hears (Matthew 13:14, Hebrews 4:2), and when in plural, evidently, the organ that does the hearing: the ears (Mark 7:35). Our noun occurs 24 times; see full concordance
- Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διακουω (diakouo), meaning to hear-through; to thoroughly hear or verbally examine (Acts 23:35 only).
- Together with the preposition εις (eis) meaning in or to: the verb εισακουω (eisakouo), meaning to "in-hear"; to listen or listen to, to harken, heed or obey. This verb occurs 5 times; see full concordance
- Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επακουω (epakouo), which means the same as the previous verb but with more implied action. This verb also means to listen to or to heed, but a heeding plus a responsive coming to the rescue (2 Corinthians 6:2 only).
- Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παρακουω (parakouo), meaning to "nearly hear", or rather: to ignore, mis-hear or even partially obey. This word may seem an attractive alternative to full compliance, but in delicate situations, a partial compliance could nevertheless result in a massive disaster. This word occurs in Matthew 18:17 only, and from it in turn derives:
- The noun παρακοη (parakoe), meaning the act or result of the parent verb: partial compliance or partial comprehension, which in practice comes down to a complete failure to comply or comprehend (Romans 5:19, 2 Corinthians 10:6 and Hebrews 2:2 only). This word describes a failure to achieve the condition offered by the noun υπακοη (hupakoe; see three words down), which means obedience or compliance. These words ring rather high pitched in our free-fought modern age, but the readers must understand that this demanded compliance is to the truth and the truth sets free (John 8:32). The compliance that the New Testament discusses does not deal with the servitude to a tyrant but rather the opposite. Obeying the gospel is the same as obeying the laws of physics; everything works much better when you do, there's much more happiness and much more freedom. Man was designed to be entirely free, and a failure to comply with freedom results in fetters and bondage (see Galatians 5:1, our article on idols and creeds and statements of faith, and our explanatory remark under υπακοη, hupakoe below).
- Together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning before: the verb προακουω (proakouo), meaning to hear something on forehand or prior (Colossians 1:5 only)
- Together with the preposition υπο (hupo) meaning under or through: the verb υπακουω (hupakouo), meaning to obey or heed in the sense of to pay close attention and do as instructed. The subjects of this verb are: winds and sea (Matthew 8:27), unclean spirits (Mark 1:27), a sycamine tree (Luke 17:6), Jewish priests (Acts 6:7), Rhoda the servant girl (Acts 12:13), Abraham (Hebrews 11:8), folks following sin (Romans 6:12) or righteousness (Romans 6:16) or the gospel (Romans 10:16, or not: 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 3:14), children their parents (Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20), slaves their masters (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22), the Philippians Paul (Philippians 2:12), the saved the Christ (Hebrews 5:9), Sarah Abraham (1 Peter 3:6). All in all, our verb is used 21 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
- The noun υπακοη (hupakoe), meaning obedience, compliance or the acceptance of instructions. It should be noted that our traditional translations were penned down in times when all virtue was thought to come from government, and that thus blindly obeying whoever happened to be in charge (friends of the king, the guy with the bigger gun, et cetera) was somehow divinely ordained. Today we understand that the Creator speaks in every person's heart and individual freedom is a requisite for the making of mankind's equivalent of a beehive or anthill. Today we understand that instructions from our fellow humans should stem from love and a proven insight into the matters of the Lord. And instructions should lead to a removal of obstructions between the recipient and the voice of same Creator. Our noun is used 15 times see full concordance. Also see our note under the noun παρακοη (parakoe), meaning "almost-obedient"; three words up.
- The adjective υπηκοος (hupekoos), meaning obedient (Acts 7:39, 2 Corinthians 2:9 and Philippians 2:8 only).
The verb ακροαομαι (akroaomai) means to hear or harken. It's not clear where it came from but Emile Boisacq (Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, 1907-1916) believed that it had to do with the verb we discuss above: ακουω (akouo), to hear. Boisacq did not, however, attempt to explain how the "r" may have managed to sneak in, nor did he point out that a similar invasive "r" marks the difference between the nouns ακρον (akron), extremity, and ακη (ake), point, where the former derives from. That noted, a native speaker of Greek, and particularly one who was not too attached to formal etymology, would probably have assumed that our verb ακροαομαι (akroaomai) had something to do with peaking or pointing one's ears — the noun ους, ous, means ear.
In Greek mythology, only fauns and satyrs had pointy ears and that was because of the proximity of their physique to those of deer and goats and such. As we point out in our article on the noun τραγος (tragos), meaning goat, hence our word tragedy: the Hebrew word for goat is שער (se'ir), which also means horror. The Hebrew word for sticking out or to protrude, namely אלל ('alal), also yields words for deer and ram. The Greek word for deer is the same as the name Dorcas, probably because of the deer's great eyes, since this word comes from the verb δερκομαι (derkomai), to see. This same verb yields the familiar word δρακων (drakon), snake or dragon, which may help to explain the link with the Hebrew word for horror.
In the Hebrew world, when a slave had served his term but loved his master and chose to stay, his master would bind the slave perpetually to his house by piercing his ear with a stylus (Deuteronomy 15:17). In the Indo-European mythological arena, points and pointy things commonly refer to law and law enforcement (see our article on the name Tigris), which also explains the goad against which Paul kicked, the crown of thorns that Jesus was made to wear, as well as the λογχη (logche) with which Longinus stabbed his side.
Goats and deer, unlike sheep and horses, are notoriously disobedient to verbal commands, which suggests that goats and deer signified proverbial hearers-but-not-doers (Romans 2:13). All this combined suggests that our verb mostly means to hear but not necessarily follow rules, to listen to but not necessarily adhere to instructions. This specific verb does not occur in the New Testament but from it derive:
- The noun ακροατηριον (akroaterion), which describes a room or facility where the parent verb is performed: a room for hearing or enforcing legislation (Acts 25:23 only).
- The noun ακροατης (akroates), which describes someone who performs the verb: a hearer but not necessarily a doer. This noun occurs 4 times in the New Testament; see full concordance