Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun ακρον (akron) means extremity, or the highest or farthest point: tip, top, end. It comes from the adjective ακρος (acros), topmost, outermost, in turn from the nouns ακη (ake), point, and ακις (akis), any pointy object (needle, chisel, arrow, hook, even desire), which ultimately hail from the Proto-Indo-European root "hek-", sharp or pointed, from which also stems the Latin acere, sour (hence the English acid), and the Germanic ahar (hence the English ear).
Our noun is used 6 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The noun ακροβυστια (akrobustia), which either describes the physical foreskin, or else the condition or status of having a foreskin (i.e. not being circumcised), or the collective state of a whole culture of men that have an intact foreskin (i.e. the foreskinned ones; the culture based on being uncircumcised). The first part of our word comes from ακρον (akron), tip, but the origin of the second part is debated. Some suggest it's the otherwise unused verb βυω (buo), to stuff or stow away (or block, as in one's nose), but others insist it's the familiar Hebrew term בשת (boshet), shame. That would mean that our noun literally means extremity-shame, as opposed to the extremity-pride that circumcision would imply.
As we discuss in our elaborate article on περιτομη (peritome), meaning circumcision, circumcision had nothing to do with advertising the membership of some group (or else the covenant with Abraham would have been sealed with something like a big red dot between Abraham's eyes), but rather with behavior modification. More specifically: circumcision was instated to aid humanity's transition between an existence based on the wild swings of natural reflexes (scream, rape and kill when agitated; like an animal) to one based on sophisticated restraint: equalized and predictable (not unlike the Sabbath, which was initiated to force mankind off dependency on natural cycles). When circumcision was initiated, the world at large was wholly natural, and physical circumcision was needed to force a small sub-population into behavioral sophistication (Genesis 18:32, Matthew 5:16). When the merits of manners were sufficiently demonstrated, and parents began to consciously raise their sons to curb their various enthusiasms, physical circumcision was no longer necessary, and having a ακροβυστια (akrobustia) should no longer necessarily signify one's barbaric or unsophisticated mind (Romans 2:25-27). This noun is used 20 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the noun γωνια (gonia), meaning corner or angle: the noun ακρογωνιαιος (akrogoniaios), meaning corner-stone, main aspect or most prominent feature. This term is not a common Greek architectural term, and does not appear to describe the keystone of the widely applied Roman arch (as is often suggested), but is rather a translation of the Hebrew term אבן ראש פנה ('eben rosh paneh), which combines the words אבן ('eben), stone, ראש (rosh), head, chief or top, and פנה (paneh), turning or facial feature (Psalm 118:22, Job 38:6, Jeremiah 51:26). Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that this word may have also denoted the pyramidical apex, the capstone of a pyramid: the only stone of the greater structure that was shaped identical (self-similar) to the pyramid at large; the only stone that couldn't possibly go anywhere else, and which was installed last (and in everybody's way until then: Romans 9:32-33). This magnificent word ακρογωνιαιος (akrogoniaios) is used in Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6 only.
- Together with the otherwise unused noun θις (this), meaning heap or pile (mostly of sand: a dune, sand-bank or duny beach): the noun ακροθινιον (akrothinion), meaning the top of a pile, the topmost, the best. In the classics this word occurs often in plural and often in association with offerings (particularly of war booty) to deities, and particularly certain choice items conspicuously placed atop the pile. In the New Testament this word occurs in Hebrews 7:4 only, in the formulation "a tenth of the ακροθινιον (akrothinion)", which corresponds to "a tenth of כל (kol)" in the Hebrew original of Genesis 14:20. The Hebrew original, however, did not speak of a war booty that was purloined from the vanquished, but rather a dedication of a portion of Abraham's own offspring: the Levites (the word θις, this, mostly describes piles of sand, which is what Abraham's offspring would be like — Genesis 22:17).
The noun ακανθα (akantha) primarily denotes a thorn or any prickle, and secondarily any thorny or prickly plant. It stems from the same noun ακη (ake), meaning point, and ultimately the PIE root "hek-", sharp or pointed, as the above.
Beside a rare mention of "thorny" questions, the Greek classics are remarkably literal about this word, which one would expect to have incited a slew of metaphors. This is further remarkable because in the New Testament our noun shows up nearly wholly in support of metaphors and allegories.
While contemplating the nature of thorns — particularly seeds that fall among thorns, crowns of thorns and thorns in one's side (although that colorful expression uses the noun σκολοψ, skolops; 2 Corinthians 12:7) — keep in mind the adjective ακριβης (akribes), meaning accurate or precise (see below), which could be a noble attribute of the wise but is rather more often a claim of the stubborn and ignorant.
Thorny plants are notoriously fruitless, which serves to illustrate something about human minds (Matthew 7:16). What that might be isn't immediately clear, but plants that grow thorns often grow in arid regions, produce little fruit and aim to prevent being consumed themselves by growing thorns (or less poetically: thorny plants survive where non-thorny plants got eaten). A thorny mind, likewise, might be imagined to have little exposure to fresh happenings (see for a review of the cognitive equivalent of the hydrological cycle, our article on the noun νεφελη, nephele, cloud), and protect whatever cognitive saps it might have stored by being overly defensive and even offensive. Such a mind might aim its spikes with cold generosity, even unaware that a thorn that has long lost its own attentions, may have lodged itself in a passer-by and bother him for years after.
Thorny plants may grow rapidly and choke whatever non-thorny creature might try to sprout among them; thorns in this instance represent "the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches" (Matthew 13:7).
Most shockingly, of course, is the crown of thorns that Jesus was made to wear (Matthew 27:29), which perhaps in part may have signified the circle of spear-carrying proto-senators called curia (see our article on κυριος, kurios, meaning lord or sir), but mostly embodied the Romans' disdain for Jesus' words and royalty, and their implied conclusion that he was in it for the fame and money ("the deceitfulness of riches").
Our noun ακανθα (akantha), thorn, occurs 14 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives:
- The adjective ακανθινος (akanthinos), meaning thorny or made of thorns or thorny plants (Mark 15:17 and John 19:5 only).
(1) There are two identical nouns ακρις (akris) in Greek, and one of them derives from our noun ακη (ake), meaning point, and ultimately the PIE root "hek-", sharp or pointed. That noun ακρις (akris) means hill-top or mountain peak — hence the familiar term ακροπολις (akropolis), Acropolis, meaning city on the hill top (and see Matthew 5:14 for an obvious reference to the Acropolis). This noun ακρις (akris) is not used in the New Testament (as far as we can tell, since it's identical to the next).
(2) The other noun ακρις (akris) means locust, and that's rather puzzling, since there is nothing particular hill-toppy about locusts. Linguists assume that our word was imported into Greek, but whatever its original might have been, once released into the Greek language basin it gravitated toward the word for hill-top — perhaps because of the locust's signature triangular legs, perhaps because they had once been grouped together with ants who live in mounds, or else perhaps because a swarm of them might have resembled a cloud of arrows, shot from a distant army of archers, and descending from the sky without will or aim. Revelation 9:3 speaks of locusts like scorpions, and the word for scorpion, namely σκορπιος (skorpios), obviously resembles the verb σκορπιζω (skorpizo), to scatter or disperse. Psalm 18:14 reads how YHWH "shot his arrows and scattered the enemies."
Our noun ακρις (akris), locust, may also have formed due to its proximity to the adjective ακριβης (akribes), meaning accurate or precise (see below), not suggesting that locusts were known for their accuracy but rather for their own stubborn and unyielding conviction of this.
Locusts are normally solitary creatures, but when conditions are right, they take to the skies and form vast swarms. They can't aim their flight and require the wind to carry them, and wherever they land they eat everything. Locusts are a natural scourge and have been known to ruin entire worlds.
Throughout the Bible, the locust serves as metaphor for a familiar human phenomenon: the accidentally collective movement of people who have nothing to do with each other, but were lifted up by similar circumstances in the world at large, and drift by forces beyond themselves en-masse onto other people's lands, which they subsequently devastate (Judges 6:1-6). Locusts are the Bible's proverbial opportunists. They have no leader or even a shared interest and can't be averted or reasoned with (Proverbs 30:27). Unlike bees and ants, locusts are not a "smart swarm" and they alight upon their prey like mindless apex-predator zombie.
The palatial world of the late Bronze Age came to a halt when political unrest and environmental calamities gave rise to vast people movements: the notorious Sea People, who had never existed as such but suddenly arose without leaders to appeal to or headquarters to sack, and flooded the lands of the eastern Mediterranean and toppled the human world's great centers of civilization one by one. For centuries after, kings and emperors shivered at the memory of such mindless human swarms. Egypt suffered their share of them (Exodus 10:4-15), Israel feared them (Deuteronomy 28:42), and the prophet Joel famously saw them in a vision (Joel 1:4). John the Revelator saw locusts rise on the smoke from the abyss — human locusts of a whole new order (here at Abarim Publications we suspect that John may have foreseen the Internet, which is not so outlandish since the Internet is really a logical extension of script and the systematic postal service, which was invented in Persia; see our lengthy article on Apollyon).
It's unclear from which language our noun ακρις (akris) came. But since the Greek alphabet is an adaptation of the Hebrew one, the chances are excellent that the alphabet came to Greece along with a slew of handy words to jump-start the Greek sense of abstractions. The verb כרר (karar) describes a circular motion, and particularly a repeated circular motion (swarms of locusts appear periodically). Noun מכורה (mekurah) describes the contracting of nomadic social groups into a defining shared cultural identity. This verb may even have yielded the name Crete, giving a whole new meaning to the word "cretan" and of course the proverb "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12).
The actual Hebrew word for locusts is ארבה ('arbeh), and derives from the verb רבב (rabab), to be great or become many. This verb was also used to describe a great many arrows being fired off (which in turn may have resembled a descending swarm of locusts), and yielded the familiar noun ραββι (rabbi), great one (which helps to explain the disproportionally many archers and heroes named Archer in Hollywood movies). Strikingly, the noun ארבה ('arbeh), meaning locust, is spelled identical to the nouns ארבה ('orba), meaning ambush or trickery, and ארבה ('aruba), which describes a window or sluice through which smoke may escape a kitchen, both from the verb ארב ('arab), to suddenly emerge out of a safe place, mostly in order to execute an attack.
In our article on the name Agabus, we argue that the noun חגב (hagab), or grasshopper, relates to the locust in the same way that the Nethinim (or the laity temple servants) relate to the Cohanim (the formal priests).
The noun ακρις (akris), locust, is used 4 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
The adjective ακριβης (akribes) means pin-point, exact, accurate, sharp and precise, and although some experts have expressed doubt whether it truly derives from our PIE root "hek-", sharp or pointed, few Greek speaker would have considered it an issue. Whether accidental or not, it fits right in.
Accuracy and pin-point precision are of course lofty qualities and were long regarded as ideals of reason and logic. That is, until people figured out that since all scope is limited, the perspective of any single individual must always be unique (like a mental equivalent of the Exclusion Principle described by Wolfgang Pauli) and thus incomplete, and his opinions therefore skewed and biased. Any one person always requires the gentle opposition of everybody else to have a chance on any kind of accuracy.
Since Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem (1931), humanity has known that any formal system must always remain incomplete. And since Edward Lorenz' failing weather predictor (1960), humanity has known that it's impossible to pin-point the initial conditions of any complex process, which means that any predictions tend to get less accurate very quickly (hence the fascinating field of Chaos Theory).
The scientific method itself is based on the principle of falsifiability, meaning that the purpose of a scientific hypothesis is to be disproven rather than proven — hence science always proves false and never true (there's no such thing as scientifically proven true; only scientifically proven false). That means that anything left standing (what scientists work with, or hold possibly-not-false for now) has a big bull's eye painted on it, and scientists continuously try to break it.
Science, in effect, is like looking for gold: you separate ore from regular rock, and then you smash, break and smelt the crap out of the ore until you are left with something that won't break or react to anything. That kind of scientific gold is extremely rare in our scientific world, and arguably non-existent. Folks who go around claiming they got some, are most likely full of slag.
It is wonderfully beneficial to be right about something, but people who most often claim to be are most often locked in the throes of the Dunning Kruger effect (understanding so little that one doesn't even realize how ignorant one is). And so experts in all kinds of fields are over-shouted by hordes of influencers and commentators, who base their angry positions on someone else's five minute YouTube clip.
When data is incomplete, and it always is, certainty is futile, and a very bad sign in any consultant. Most people that are very sure of themselves have collected an incomplete set of data and connected arbitrary dots into a not-existent phantasm (look at the text on this page: roughly every eleventh letter is an "e", and an illiterate observer will readily conclude that the English language is really all about the "e"). Most people with a Ph.D. are not tethered to a particular opinion, are very careful with venting their certainties and are openly eager to see them shattered.
We have a word for truth (namely "truth"), but we don't have truth (meaning in a formal sense; we don't have the formula). But in order to know what we're talking about, let's say that Truth is "that" which everybody will ultimately wholeheartedly agree on. That means that Truth is a quality that only reveals itself in dialogue: as long as there is opposition (or no conversation), truth is not achieved. Truth is manifested in social and intellectual harmony, which is why science is not about knowing all the right stuff, but about partaking in an investigative, self-correcting network. Science is a beast with a million eyes, that now sees dimly but someday perfectly (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). That is why law (or more general: algorithmic thought) is highly beneficial but doesn't make perfect (Hebrews 7:19). Only love fulfills the law (Romans 13:8).
Truth, whatever the formula might someday turn out to be, begins in the acknowledgement of (1) one's own inevitable incompleteness and thus inaccuracy, and (2) one's absolute need to partake in a collective, and respectfully review other people's positions (Proverbs 6:6, Ephesians 4:1-6).
Likewise, one's "following Christ" or "walk with Christ" has nothing to do with religious convictions, creeds or statements of faith, and everything with one's dedication to the Body of Christ (John 17:21-24, 1 Corinthians 12:27).
In Christ are "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3), and God's Divine Nature can be "clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (Romans 1:20). This is why through Isaiah, YHWH promises that someday "before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear" (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).
The whole idea behind the Body of Christ is the same as that of science, namely that members link their own limited insights into a kind of spiritual Dyson sphere around the Logos (see our article on the noun φατνη, phatne, manger). And that literally starts with understanding one's own incompleteness (hence the name Enosh, of the son of Seth).
Language could not have arisen without Theory of Mind, and that too starts with understanding that others complete us — which is why animals don't ask questions, because they can't imagine that someone else has a different perspective on the world and might even know something that they don't (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10).
Our adjective ακριβης (akribes), accurate or precise, is not used in the New Testament, but from it derive:
- The noun ακριβεια (akribeia), meaning exactness, accuracy, precision. This word occurs in Acts 22:3 only, where it applies to the law, which, although itself perfect and spiritual, cannot make perfect, because it is private and personal. God is perfect, and God is love, which is a social thing. Accuracy is certainly a virtue, but we are to imitate God (Matthew 5:48), and not the law.
- The adjective ακριβεστατος (akribestatos), meaning most precise of most accurate. This word occurs in Acts 26:5 only, where it is descriptive of the sect of the Pharisees (who were thus also most loveless). This word is the superlative of our parent adjective ακριβης (akribes), accurate or precise.
- The adverbially used adjective ακριβεστερον (akribesteron), meaning more precisely or more accurately. This word is the comparative of our parent adjective ακριβης (akribes), accurate or precise. It occurs 4 times; see full concordance.
- The verb ακριβοω (akriboo), meaning to do, make, inquire or investigate precisely or accurately (Matthew 2:7 and 2:16 only).
- The adverb ακριβως (akribos), meaning precisely or accurately. This adverb is used 5 times; see full concordance. Note how in Acts 18:25, Apollos fervently and "accurately" teaches about the Lord, while knowing only of John's baptism, upon which Priscilla and Aquila instruct him "more accurately", and probably with a bit more love and less fervent facts.
The adjective οξυς (oxus) means sharp and derives from the same Proto-Indo-European root "hek-", meaning sharp or pointed, as the above. In the classics this adjective applied to various metal weapons, but also to mountain peaks, a sharp or piercing light (i.e. the sun), or a sharp sound or a sharp taste. This word could also apply to a sharp or keen human mind, a sharply felt emotion (grief), sharp eyes or keen attention, or even a sharply contested philosophical position, and thus a sharp and quickly provoked anger.
Our word could also describe sharp speed (i.e. being fast), or a pressing matter (a sharp crisis). Adverbially used, this word mostly describes haste. A "sharp" sword or sickle is not merely statically sharp but rather whooshes quickly to and fro. This word occurs 8 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
- The noun οξος (oxos), which literally describes a sharp thing or substance (or a swift thing or substance). In practice, this word was mostly applied to describe sour and very low quality wine: fermented grape juice diluted with water. Our word described the proverbial cheap stuff, as opposed to the fine stuff that was only brought out on special occasions.
This οξος (oxos) was literally more common than water, since water could become diseased but the little alcohol present in οξος (oxos) kept it sterile. Since Roman generals didn't want their troops to drink from ditches and stagnant puddles, barrels of this stuff were ubiquitous in military camps. In the Septuagint, this word translates the noun חמץ (homes), vinegar, from the verb חמץ (hamas I), to leaven. Note that this word reminds of the wholly unrelated name Ωξος (Oxos), of the Oxus river (the Amy Darya).
In the New Testament, this word occurs 7 times, see full concordance, all in reference to the vinegar that Jesus was given to drink on the cross (after Psalm 69:21). In the Sanhedrin tractate of the Talmud (folio 43a), Rabbi Hiyya ben Ashi considers that the general public should bring the necessary attributes to a public execution (because someone shouldn't be forced to bring his own sword to his own beheading). Hence he concludes that, since Proverbs 31:6 reads: "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter," this wine too should come from the common funds.
The Roman soldiers had mocked Jesus' royalty. He was executed like a slave and was made to drink the common slob. But note that the New Testament was likewise written in Koine or vulgar Greek.