Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The adjective ασθενης (asthenes) means without strength, and is the source of our English medical term "asthenia" (a sickly lack of strength, or weakness as symptom of disease). In Greek, our word comes from the combination of the familiar particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without, and the otherwise unused noun σθενος (stenos), meaning strength. This noun is of unclear origin.
The noun σθενος (stenos) either describes a static strength, in which case it describes the rigidity of one's skeleton, or it describes an active strength, in which case it describes the ability of one's muscles to convert stored reserves into useable energy, and concentrate and apply it. When our word describes not a physical but a mental attribute, it refers in its static sense to one's will (and thus desire), and in the dynamic sense to one's comprehension, intelligence and rational operating principles.
As we discuss at length in our article on the verb περιτεμνω (peritemno), to circumcise, to the Hebrews, the mind and the body were the same thing, or two sides of the same coin, and an obvious condition in one equaled a perhaps less obvious but equivalent condition in the other. This means that when our word occurs in the New Testament, it does not specifically describe either a physical or a mental weakness but rather both.
In our article on the noun ירך (yarek), meaning genitalia, we argue that the obvious difference between the male and female genitalia is the same as that between extrovert and introvert desire. Since strength is not in itself a positive thing (1 Corinthians 12:22), in 1 Peter 3:7, wives are called "the strengthless" or literally "the impotent". This certainly does not imply that they are the lesser of the two, but rather emphasizes the anatomic inability for women to demonstrate their desire by means of a visible erection, and thus their plight of having to resort to (how shall we put it?) less direct solicitations (Judges 16:16). The comment urges people who are by their nature accustomed to a direct approach, to be sensitive to people who are not, without embracing the illusion that either of these two natures might in some way be inferior, and the other superior, but instead search for ways to relate in ways that pleases both.
Our noun occurs 25 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The noun ασθενεια (astheneia), meaning weakness, or rather the absence of strength: impotence or infirmity. Note that darkness is not the opposite of light but the absence of it. Likewise, foolishness is not the opposite of wisdom but the absence of it. All this ties into the idea of the familiar Hebrew word for peace, namely שלום (shalom), which derives from the verb שלם (shalem), to be whole or complete. As we point out in our article on the noun θεραπων (therapon) — from which we get our English words therapy and therapeutic — physicians in the classical world didn't really treat their patients but rather provided the patient rest to recover on their own. The rest that Jesus famously offered (Matthew 11:28, also see Genesis 5:29 and Hebrews 3:11) has to do with completion, health and thus strength. This noun is used 24 times; see full concordance.
- The verb ασθενεω (astheneo), meaning to be without strength, to be impotent or infirm, and by implication to be incomplete. This verb is used 36 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- The noun ασθενημα (asthenema), which describes the result of being without strength: a case of weakness or impotence (Romans 15:1 only).