Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun αργυρος (arguros) means silver and in Greco-Roman times was used as synonym for money, even though physical coins could also be made from gold (χρυσος, chrusos) or bronze (χαλκος, chalkos). It comes from the adjective αργος (argos), which means white or glittering, which is turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "herg-", meaning white, from which we get the Latin verb arguo, to make clear, and thus English words like argue, argument and declare.
In Homer, our adjective αργος (argos) is applied to geese, oxen and dogs, who were not only proverbially white but also proverbially swift-footed — the familiar Homeric idea of being swift-footed is described by several different compounds involving the noun πους (pous), foot, one of which uses our adjective αργος (argos). This suggests that to the ancients, our word αργος (argos) represented a dynamic kind of whiteness, of animals darting about, or their feet rapidly pacing. And that means that silver wasn't named after its metallic color, but rather after its velocity — today it's commonly understood that wealth comes not from the mere presence of money but rather the "velocity of money", which is an economic term that describes how many times per day the same dollar bill changes hands, and which yields a measurement of the health, wealth and complexity of the economy.
The adjective αργος (argos) is also familiar as the name Argos, which belonged to a famous builder of "ships" — the noun ναυς (naus), ship, and ναος (naos), temple (or central bank and central hub of wisdom), both stem from the verb ναιω (naio), to overflow. Argos' most famous ship, the Argo, belonged to Jason and the Argonauts, who were a band of archetypal heroes who went around the known world learning from and spreading civilization (a similar motivation underpins the Odyssey, see Od.1.3), whilst hunting for the Golden Fleece. Apparently, it's a huge mystery what the Golden Fleece might have symbolized, but see our articles on the noun κεφαλη (kephale), meaning head, and the verb αρνεομαι (arneomai), meaning to deny or reject (and the semi-related noun αρνιον, arnion, meaning lamb), for some pointers.
Up to the 15th century BC (roughly around the time Israel moved to Goshen), silver was more precious than gold. When metallurgic techniques were improved, silver became more available and gold became more precious. By the time of Moses, silver had become the "middle" of the three precious metals (Exodus 25:3). Beside gold, silver and bronze, people in antiquity knew about mercury, tin, lead and iron; seven metals in all.
The Bible compares silver to speech, or the verbal economy in which the ore of human reason is purified and smithed into verbal forms — ονομα (onoma) means name or noun; see Genesis 2:19-20 — that can serve as currency in an economy of information (Psalm 12:6). Gold represents the eternal truths that don't change or corrode (Luke 16:17, Revelation 3:18). And bronze has to do with intuition and prophesy (the Hebrew word for bronze, namely נחש, nahash, is the same as that for to divine or to enchant, as well as that for snake).
Curiously enough, an identical but unrelated adjective αργος (argos), combines the preposition α (a), meaning without, with the noun εργον (ergon), meaning work, and means unemployed, idle, ineffective, not responsive or not receptive to social energy, which at first glance seems to be pretty much the opposite of αργυρος (arguros), meaning silver, but at second thought is quite similar. The monetary economy is literally the antithesis of the tangible economy, because for every exchange of an actual good or service, a monetary equivalent exchanges in the opposite direction. Money isn't made from real human activity, but extracted from it like poison from a recovering snake-bitten person. Vast sums of money extracted from an economy and put away in a vault demonstrates the health of that economy, and if a foolish ruler or some Robin Hood type were to be generous and dump all the extracted money back into the economy, the economy would surely collapse like matter and anti-matter meeting.
Money is like the training wheels of a child who learns how to ride her bike: only when she has learned how to stay balanced, the wheels may come off. Likewise, only when humanity has learned how to keep the economy going without money, money can be allowed to lose its value. If it happens before the economy has matured, the human world will collapse. The Hebrew word for silver, namely כסף (kesep), comes from the verb כסף (kasap), which means to desire (Psalm 17:12), long for (Job 14:15, Psalm 84:4), or even to feel shame (Zephaniah 2:1). In our article on that Hebrew word we discuss how this verb actually means to reflect, and how it ties into the Great Command and the nature of Christ.
People who do what they can and share what they have, are driven by αγαπη (agape), love, which is not a mushy feeling but a formative economic force strongly dependent on wisdom (because people who simply give everything away without wisdom soon go broke and become a drain on society themselves, and that's not love, that's laziness). But people who only do what they are paid to do, and only part with something if they can sell it, those people are driven by money-love (φιλαργυρια, philarguria, see below): not love for money but love of money, an economy of interaction based solely on monetary recompense rather than soulful and compassionate humanity.
Our noun αργυρος (arguros), silver or money, is used a mere 5 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but from it come:
- The adjective αργυρεος (argureos), meaning silver in the sense of made of silver (Acts 19:24, 2 Timothy 2:20 and Revelation 9:20 only). Note that widely venerated texts like the Nicaean Creed and the Heidelberg Catechism (and pretty much all other manifestos, methodologies and Statements of Faith) are "idols made from silver" (Exodus 20:23).
- The diminutive αργυριον (argurion), meaning silverling, a monetary unit made from silver: both the actual coin but also the abstract unit of account. It's a word like nickel (the coin which was named after its subsidiary material nickel) or perhaps rather more like the Dutch guilder and the Polish złoty, which, like their Greek counterpart χρυσιον (chrusion), "goldling", were named after the Dutch and Polish words for gold. Rather strikingly, all throughout literature, sunlight is commonly understood to be golden, whereas starlight is thought of as silver. The familiar term Pound Sterling takes its name from the coin called sterling, a silver penny whose name probably came from the term "star-ling". Our noun αργυριον (argurion) is used 20 times; see full concordance
- Together with the verb κοπτω (kopto), meaning to strike: the noun αργυροκοπος (argurokopos), which describes a silver-craftsman or someone who carved glyptic or nummary objects: a coin-maker or minter (Acts 19:24 only).
- Together with the familiar noun φιλος (philos), love, beloved or friend of: the adjective φιλαργυρος (philarguros), meaning money-loving (Luke 16:14 and 2 Timothy 3:2 only). As we describe above, this word doesn't merely describe affection for money, but rather a sense of economy derived from monetary reimbursements rather than neighborly love and generosity. From this adjective come:
- Together with the aforementioned particle of negation α (a), meaning not: the adjective αφιλαργυρος (aphilarguros), meaning not money-loving (1 Timothy 3:3 and Hebrews 13:5 only).
- The noun φιλαργυρια (philarguria), meaning money-love. This difficult word occurs only in the familiar statement that money-love is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). This is often explained to be about the love for money, but an obsession with money isn't more or less detrimental than any obsession with anything at all. Instead, this word speaks of the most fundamental principle that governs, motivates and supports human interactions. In an economy based on αγαπη (agape), people will contribute their resources to open source projects without considering some linear or direct reward, but instead benefit from living in a vibrant and wealthy economy (the biosphere is such an economy). In an economy based on φιλαργυρια (philarguria), people only act when they can charge a direct benefactor of that action, or only part with goods when they get a monetary equivalent in return for them. That kind of economy inevitably spawns all manner of slavery and oppression, and is ultimately as unstable as a clay statue left out in the weather. Modern humanity has barely survived its recent descent into hyper-capitalization (in which everything has a price and nothing moves without the right amount of money going in the opposite direction) but has now definitely punctured the ice and is gasping for breath through the open-source model and an growing range of ways to collaborate and contribute and be supported and tipped voluntarily by consumers (readers, users, viewers like you). Now with the rise of blockchain technology, the future seems brighter than ever.