Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb ασπαζομαι (aspazomia) means to greet or salute warmly. It's not clear where this word comes from but some creative scholars see relations with the verb σπαω (spao), meaning to draw (see below).
Contexts in the classics suggest that our verb could describe anything from exuberance expressed at a distance to a physical embrace and exchange of kisses. Our verb ασπαζομαι (aspazomia) is used 60 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives:
- The noun ασπασμος (aspasmos), meaning a greeting, a salutation. It's used 10 times; see full concordance.
The verb σπαω (spao) means to draw in the sense of to pull close. Its future form is σπασω (spaso; I will draw), its aorist form is εσπασα (espasa; I drew) and there is even a pseudo-passive form σπασομαι (spasomai; I'm drawn to); all of which suggests that this verb is the root of the verb ασπαζομαι (aspazomia), meaning to warmly greet (see above).
The epic poet Homer used our verb σπαω (spao) often to describe the drawing of swords from their scabbards, but this comes with the obvious implication of actually doing so in order to approach a threat or target. It's also used to describe rending flesh from bones or confiscating and carrying off war booty. But mostly our verb is used to describe the pulling of something toward one's person. It's used to describe the sucking in of one's breath but also pulling in the reigns of one's horse and even the deriving of one's origin.
- Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon: the verb ανασπαω (anaspao), meaning to draw or pull again or directly following some other event (Luke 14:5 and Acts 11:10 only).
- Together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from: the verb αποσπαω (apospao), meaning to draw from, withdraw or separate from. This verb occurs 4 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through: the verb διασπαω (diaspao), meaning to draw through or to rip a tear through the middle of something: to tear to pieces (Mark 5:4 and Acts 23:10 only). In the classics this verb mostly described a violent rending to pieces of something, but it was also used in a military sense of separating one group of soldiers from the rest in a controlled way.
- Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επισπαω (epispao), meaning to draw upon. This verb is used in the New Testament only in 1 Corinthians 7:18, where it describes some sort of action in response to having been circumcised (see our article on the verb περιτεμνω, peritemno, to circumcise). It's been suggested that this describes a skin-stretching technique to restore something of a foreskin, but there's very little evidence for that. In the Roman world the widely dispersed Jews suffered all sorts of special attention (some positive perks but mostly very negative) and the only real way to tell whether someone was one was to check for circumcision. This obviously caused theologians to investigate whether it was possible to be a Jew inwardly but not outwardly (or even whether the physical manifestation of the Abrahamic sign may have been sorely misinterpreted; see Joshua 5:2), which in turn led to theologies such as that of Paul which dictated that circumcision has nothing to do with theology and has no bearing on anything theological (Romans 2:25, Galatians 5:6).
In the classics our verb simply means to draw very close, to draw until the drawn touches the drawer, and thus to draw tight of things like laces and straps. It's used figuratively to describe cause and effect, allusion or provocation. And it's also used to describe the calling back to duty of folks who had been given furlough. Most specifically, our verb may be used in the sense of to overturn. There even was a saying "to overturn the apple-cart," which appears to have described a revolutionary challenge to some long held order.
The sole Biblical use of our verb may not so much describe anything done to one's physical member but rather refer to a principled rejection of all recognizable, outward signs of Jewish, or even any religious or cultural polarization. The gospel of Jesus Christ deals with the whole of created reality and obviously rises above all nationalities, religions and philosophical leanings. But Paul goes beyond a simple transcendence and even removes the need to be affected by cultural divisions. In order to prevent the gospel of Jesus Christ deteriorating into yet another religion (which it ultimately has, obviously) Paul urged people to remain in whatever religion they came from but to see those religions for the cultural quirks they are, rather than having anything to do with the one and only true method to get to God. Peace with God comes with peace with all people, and all their bells and whistles.
- Together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the verb περισπαω (perispao), meaning to draw around. In the classics this verb mostly described to draw off from around, to strip off or even to divert away or rather to rob clean. In the Bible it occurs only in Luke 10:40, where the passive voice describes the condition of Martha of Bethany. She was so driven to serve that her attentions were drawn all over the place, rather than to one particular focal point.