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.
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 (2 Corinthians 12:7; the word used here is σκολοψ, skolops).
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: