Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb αρω (aro) means to fit, join or fasten together, although it isn't really clear that it ever was a verb. It's not used as such in the classics, but there are a handful of words that look like derivations from a verb αρω (aro), including the verb αραρισκω (ararisko), which doubles the root and means the same: to fit, join or fasten. This latter verb is also not used in the New Testament.
Although our mystery verb looks similar to the familiar verb αιρω (airo), to lift up (hence our word air), the two are thought to stem from separate Proto-Indo-European roots. It's commonly assumed that our verb αρω (aro) belongs to the Proto-Indo-European root "her-", also meaning to join or fit together, from which the Latin got the familiar ars, artis, and hence English words like art, artisan, article, and (back to Latin) arma, armorum, tools, weapons, and thus the English words armor, arms and armistice.
Significantly, the same PIE root "her-", to join or fit, also yielded the adverb αρτι (arti), just or exactly, and the verb αρτυω (artuo), to arrange in perfect order. The noun αρτος (artos), which is the common word for bread, may have been imported into Greek, but appears to have been adopted into this word group, for the poets to treat it like a native member.
Here at Abarim Publications we contrarily surmise that the PIE root of our verb may actually be Semitic, and imported into the Hellene language basin along with the alphabet (see our article on the name Hellas for more on this; see κολοσσος, kolossos, for more Greek words of suspected Semitic origin). That would relate our (non-attested) verb αρω (aro) instead to the Hebrew verb ארה ('ara), from which in turn come the nouns ארי ('ari), lion, and אריה ('urya), crib or manger. And there's a fun trick to these words: the word for lion is masculine, and the word for manger is feminine. The feminine noun דברה (deborah) means bee, and its masculine equivalent דבר (dabar) means Word. That means that the image of Samson's bees in the lion (Judges 14:8) is the gender-inverted equivalent of the Word in the crib (Luke 2:7).
Fitting and assembling is of course a huge deal in the Bible, since the outer darkness is one of primitivity, chaos and lawlessness, whereas mankind's slow accustomization to Law — any kind of law, from language standards to legal codes — resulted in more compact and complex societies, then cities, then global trade and the Internet and finally the New Jerusalem at the blazing heart of a much larger world. The New Jerusalem is marked by ελευθερια (eleutheria), or freedom-by-law (comparable to freedom of speech, which is only possible when all speakers submit themselves willingly to the rules that govern their language).
Another Hebrew verb that means to join is לוה (lawa), from which comes the name Levi — and Moses and Aaron, Zacharias and Elizabeth and thus John the Baptist, Mary and thus Jesus, were all Levites (Jesus was a Levite-by-blood and a Jew-by-law because his legal but unrelated father Joseph was from Judah). Another PIE root that means to assemble (or to weave, rather) is "teks-", hence English words like architect, technology, textile and text, and Greek words like the verb τικτω (tikto), to beget, and the noun τεκτων (tekton), assembler, the earthly profession of both Jesus and Joseph (because, no, they weren't carpenters).
As said, the verb αρω (aro), to fit or join together, isn't used in the New Testament (or anywhere else), but from it come:
- The verb αρεσκω (aresko), meaning to be agreeable, to match with someone, to be in harmony with someone — see the related word αρμος (harmos), hence our word harmony, below. This verb does not mean to give pleasure; it does not describe the character of a bottle of fine wine, the smell of vanilla, the taste of sugar, or the gestures of a sexually apt partner, but rather the skillful ability to bring oneself in broad synchronicity with someone else. These skills, in turn, require intimate knowledge of oneself, the other, and the effects one has on the other (whether intended or not). As such, our verb relates both to the verb αγαπαω (agapao), to "love", and to the Golden Rule: "treat others the way you want to be treated" (Matthew 7:12).
The difficult paragraph of Romans 15:1-3 does not speak of pleasing oneself (as most translations appear to suggest), but rather of seeking the agreement of the whole community, rather than the direction of a dominant few and the compliance of the slavish rest. The difference may not be clear to everybody, but a perfect society comes about only when all members can freely contribute, when loud-mouths learn to be quiet and the timid dare to pass on the words that God gave them in their own hearts. A godly leader is not the guy with all the insights to whom all other should listen, but rather the guy who is able to bring even to tiniest voices into hearing (Matthew 23:10, Isaiah 53:7). In Romans 15:3, Paul asserts that Christ did not harmonize everybody for his own sake or glory (see a similar construction in 1 Corinthians 10:33).
Our verb may describe the agreeable behavior of people, but also the agreeable nature of things or even concepts like deals, decisions or proposals (agreements). That this verb ultimately still emphases the harmonious fitting together of multiple players is demonstrated by its use in describing the collective opinion of a ruling party (which may not be directly pleasing to an observer but is indeed achieved by consensus, and will demand the observer's compliance). Our verb may also mean to form a consensus or to exist as the prevailing opinion of people at large (to be a tradition or received wisdom).
In the New Testament our verb occurs frequently in the context of "pleasing" God, which has nothing to do with making God feel good, but rather with being One as God is One (John 17:21-23), by removing all inefficiencies from our interactions and exist in a perfect societal unity. This obviously requires serious language skills, and a legal code that very precisely imitates natural law (that's the Logos). The result of these is the aforementioned state of ελευθερια (eleutheria), or freedom-by-law, which is the very purpose of the gospel (Galatians 5:1). Our verb αρεσκω (aresko), to be in agreement or in synch with, is used 17 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it come:
- Together with the noun ανθρωπος (anthropos), meaning man or mankind: the adjective ανθρωπαρεκος (anthropareskos) meaning seeking to agree with man(kind) as opposed to seeking to agree with God (Ephesians 6:6 and Colossians 3:22 only).
- The noun αρεσκεια (areskeia), meaning harmony: the prolonged state of being agreeing or synchronous (Colossians 1:10 only).
- The adjective αρεστος (arestos), meaning agreeable, the quality of a thing (quality, character, concept, deed, thought, word, and so on) that agrees. This noun is used 4 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the prefix ευ (eu), meaning good: the adjective ευαρεστος (euarestos), meaning well-agreeable, in good synchronicity. This adjective is used 9 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- The noun αρμος (harmos), meaning a joint (Hebrews 4:12 only). In the classics, this word not only denoted an organic joint but any kind of joint in masonry, metal-work or carpentry. From this word comes our English word harmony, which perfectly sums up the essence of this whole word cluster. From this noun comes:
- The verb αρμοζω (harmozo) meaning to join, not by forcibly shoving one into the other, but by training both until a frictionless and mutually beneficent joint has been achieved: to matchmake (2 Corinthians 11:2 only).
- Together with the noun πους (pous), meaning foot: the nominalized adjective ποδηρης (poderes), which describes a garment that reached to one's feet (Revelation 1:13 only). In the classics this word could describe any such robe but specifically the High Priest's one. It also described a man-high shield, a firmly based pillar or even a ship with oars (foot-shaped things that make it go). It also needs to be noted that in Hebrew imagery, the feet constituted one's physical base, whereas one's generational base were one's genitals; see our article on רגל (regel), foot.
The noun αρμα (arma) describes a chariot and most specifically a war-chariot. This word comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root "her-", to join or fit together, as the above and thus relates to words like armor, arms and armistice, but also to words like harmony and art.
This word is used 4 times, see full concordance, three of which occur in the scene of Philip and the Ethiopian treasurer. Of course, this man traveled in a military vehicle because he was transporting valuable goods (it's been often suggested that he had chosen to bring a copy of Isaiah to Candace because that was the largest and thus the most expensive scroll), but Luke's use of our noun αρμα (arma) also implies that the man was not merely casually reading a foreign Scripture, but rather was seated in a carefully assembled understanding of things whilst trying to insert the words of Isaiah somewhere in there.
Luke's report of Philip first joining the man within his chariot, then riding with him, and finally stepping out of it and onto water for baptism, ties into what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it."
And elsewhere he writes: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).
All these things seem to imply that the gospel does not call us to forge great creeds and statements of faith to which we should make all men bow (Exodus 20:4-5), but rather to step into the reality models of any of our neighbors, and walk the proverbial mile with them to see where they encounter problems, to then offer our solutions, should we indeed be blessed to have them.