Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: βυθος

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/b/b-u-th-o-sfin.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun βυθος (buthos) means depth or the deep, and particularly of the sea. This noun also occurs alternatively spelled as βυσσος (bussos), but in either form is rare in the classics. In the New Testament, it's used in 2 Corinthians 11:25 only.

It's not at all clear where this word comes from (see a brief discussion below), but apart from pointing literally at any vast body of water, our word is obviously also part of the symbolic structure that applies the hydrological cycle to cognition (see our article on νεφελη, nephele, cloud, for more on this). In that sense, "dry land" is that of which one is certain, and thus upon which one mentally stands — and this includes words that define things so that we can discuss these things with other people.

Dry land is the mental foundation upon which we and our people can jointly stand. The deep, on the other hand, is wordless and thus personal and thus emotive. Feelings are of course wonderful things, but they're always unique to ourselves and our own hearts — which is why the heart is the most deceitful thing (Jeremiah 17:9). Without words, our hearts are hopelessly disconnected from other hearts, and our feelings are ours alone. The magic of words is that words are collective things. Words are definitions that work for everybody, always, no matter how we feel. Because words stay the same, independently of how we feel, we can capture our feelings in words and share them with others. Words are based on rules, and rules are agreements that rise above our own private feelings.

Feelings are lawless, and lawlessness binds people in chains of darkness (Acts 26:29, Ephesians 6:20). Words are lawful, and lawfulness sheds light in the darkness of feelings. Words, like love, binds people in living networks. That is why Jesus is the Word, who fulfills the Law (Matthew 5:17, Romans 13:8). Jesus' enemy is the Man of Lawlessness; the Man of Feelings (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

Since reason is enlightenment and joint reason equals standing on dry land in the bright light of day, the deep is utterly dark and breathless (i.e. spirit-less; see πνευμα, pneuma). When Peter sank away in the sea (Matthew 14:30), he basically became overwhelmed by a wordless and spiritless mass of feelings. Jesus, on the other hand, walked on water, and so mimicked the Holy Spirit in the beginning (Genesis 1:2), and the Ark of Noah upon the Great Flood (Genesis 7:17).

It's important that the reader understands that these are not metaphors but self-similarities. A metaphor compares one thing with another thing, even though the second thing has nothing to do with the first thing. A self-similarity, on the other hand, describes two things that are both integral parts of one and the same dynamic system, and have come into being via the exact same process. The veins of a leaf and the branches of a tree are self-similar; you have one because you have the other. The irregular shape of kernels of sand on the beach is self-similar to the irregular shape of the landmass of a coast on a map; you have one because you have the other.

We modern westerners tend to depict soul and mind as "things" that exist within the body like wine in a glass. The Bible, on the other hand, depicts mind as self-similar to space, particles to words and the continuum of time to the continuum of human experience. To the Bible, the mind is the canopy of veiny leaves that grow from the many branches of the tree that is the body. Said otherwise, mind, like electricity, is an emergent property of matter, that has existed always as an defining part of matter, and may be bundled like gravity, when material structures rise above a critical level of complexity.

To the Bible, words are literally bits of congealed mind, that link together into objects that are thoughts, that stack together into the worlds in which we live. And that is not a metaphor.

It's unclear where our noun βυθος (buthos) comes from, but, as we discuss at length in our article on the name Hellas, the Greek alphabet is an adaptation of the Hebrew one, which was imported into the Greek language basin, probably along with a handy starter kit of abstract terms. A spoken language, namely, tends to emerge around items that can be observed and thus considered and thus named by groups of people. A rock you can point at, and yell at, so as slowly chisel a solid word out of the foggy mists of people's individual perspectives. But things like "love" or "virtue" you can't point at, and so societies without script have terrible trouble to settle on accepted definitions of such things and thus to acknowledge the very existence of such things (and this explains why pre-script societies tie the basic abstractions to gods: so that they can explore their qualities and effects).

Quite a few Hebrew terms were adapted into Greek, along with the alphabet that allowed mass literacy (literacy had always been a priestly prerogative; Exodus 19:6) and that literally formed the later so famous Greek mind. Our noun βυθος (buthos) has no clear Indo-European root and we here at Abarim Publications suspect that it's an adaptation of the second part of the familiar Hebrew term תהו ובהו (tohu wa bohu), meaning void and formless, which occurs most famously in Genesis 1:2 and is repeated in Jeremiah 4:23 only. The noun בהו (bohu), or formless(ness), occurs once on its own in Isaiah 34:11. It denotes both the depth of the sea and the depth of man's pre-word mind (which consists of feelings, mostly; see our article on φρην, phren, midriff, or the partition between words and emotions).

The mental equivalent of the rock-bottom of the sea is rather hard to imagine, but it's where consciousness begins — and consciousness, very roughly put, begins where a living organism begins to react to stimuli from its environment. If those stimuli come from a fellow critter, the two may be said to have "found" each other. At first, perhaps, these two have no idea that they're anywhere near the same, but that understanding begins to grow when they develop eyes to see and ears to hear each other. When their utterances then slowly begin to settle on shared expressions, words, they can start to exchange whole sweeps of their minds and build a single, joint mind: a spirit like an atmosphere around the rocky planet they stand on, of which they are both part and in which they both exist like people living in a collective city.

People like that are "found". People unlike that are "lost" (Matthew 10:6). The Greek word for "lost" comes from the verb απολλυμι (apollumi), hence the name Apollyon, belonging to the angel of the abyss (Revelation 9:11).

From this important noun βυθος (buthos), depth or formlessness, come:

  • The curious noun αβυσσος (abussos), which consists of our noun βυθος (buthos), depth, prefixed with the α (a), which may be emphatic (i.e. "very much") or negating ("not/without"). Our noun αβυσσος (abussos), from which comes the English word abyss, may thus both mean bottomless and depthless, both very deep and utterly flat. As we discuss above, mind, like time, is literally a spatial dimension. Modern information technology has revealed that, sure enough, data is subject to entropy, which makes it as material as sand, and speech as physically real as the photoelectric effect. That said, our word αβυσσος (abussos) serves to describe a place, situation or condition of ultimate disintegration, the very end of form and utter disconnection. In terms of the hot big bang inflation model, the noun βυθος (buthos) would correspond to the Singularity, whereas αβυσσος (abussos) describes Heat Death — the "other" extreme condition of the universe, in which the energy density has dropped to such low levels that all particles have drifted beyond the hope of ever connecting to any other particle. When Heat Death occurs, no structures can exist, and the continuum of spacetime (and mind) has ceased to exist. Heat Death is the end of time. Our grim word is used 9 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb βυθιζω (buthizo), meaning to depth-ize, to enter the depth or to make formless, to dissolve, to relieve of form or connectedness to a greater continuum, to lift from one's context. This verb is used in Luke 5:7 and 1 Timothy 6:9 only. Note the proximity of our verb βυθιζω (buthizo) to the noun απωλεια (apoleia), from the verb απολλυμι (apollumi), in the latter.

The noun βυσσος (bussos) describes a type of costly linen made from flax or cotton (Luke 16:19 and Revelation 18:12 only). Note that linen was woven and thus served as an archetype for technology. Since technology is based on rational lawfulness (the algorithms of science), it is the opposite of the lawlessness of the emotional deep. Our English words text, technology and textile derive from the same root as the noun τεκτων (tekton), which describes Jesus' earthly profession, namely that of assembler or joiner: one who weaves or connects together (Mark 6:3).

Our noun describes a fabric similar to οθονη (othone), also meaning linen. This latter noun is a transliteration of a Hebrew word, and likewise, our noun βυσσος (bussos) comes from the masculine Hebrew noun בוץ (bus), meaning the same (1 Chronicles 15:27, 2 Chronicles 5:12, Esther 1:6, 8:15, Ezekiel 27:16). This word appears to express whiteness and delicateness, as its feminine counterpart ביצה (besa) means egg (Deuteronomy 22:6, Job 39:14, Isaiah 10:14).

In the classics, this noun also frequently appears in the form βυθος (buthos), which is identical to the noun βυθος (buthos), depth (see above). From this noun derives:

  • The adjective βυσσινος (bussinos), meaning made of linen or cotton. In the classics this word is used mostly to describe bandage and mummy wrappings. In the New Testament it obviously refers to an item of luxury, and is used 4 times; see full concordance.

The adjective βαθυς (bathus) also means deep and is also of unclear pedigree. Certain experts have confidently volunteered that this noun βαθυς (bathus), deep, is not related to βυθος (buthos), deep (see above), despite the obvious similarities and the obscurity of either origin. Others propose that, despite their possible divergent origins, the evolution of these words clearly converged so as to result in these similar terms.

There may be a connection between our adjective and the Proto-Indo-European root "dheub-", from which also comes our English word deep. That would connect it to the noun τυφος (tuphos), which hails from this PIE root and means cloud or fog. That would suggest that our adjective βαθυς (bathus) does not describe a clarifying depth but rather an obscuring one. In Greek, depth is closely associated with obscurity. A "deep" well (John 4:11) is a well of which the lower end of the shaft, and the bottom, are invisible.

In the classics, our adjective βαθυς (bathus) could describe the depth of a walled court, the width of a vast coast, or a fall from a high cliff. It could refer to a deep wound, deep sleep or a deep debt. Deepness could be thickness (of mist, or vegetation), copiousness (of money, of rain), or descriptive of ploughed land (rather than shallow rocky soil). And, as in English, deepness could be ascribed to one's wise or profound mind (which is obviously not a clear mind to average observers, but rather an unclear one).

On occasion, our adjective could describe a depth of night, i.e. the lateness of the hour or the un-clarity of some nightly ordeal. In Luke 24:1, our word occurs in a string of words that all serve to indicate the remarkable profundity of the moment (rather than to precisely establish what time it might have been, as some commentators appear to suggest). In Revelation 2:24, our word is used to refer to the "deep [things] of satan," which appears to be a generic term of lost meaning, but possibly similar to the "depths of God" as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 2:10, and probably not unlike our modern word "occult" (which means covered-over, and is similar to the word obscure).

Our adjective is not related to our English word bath, which derives from a PIE word for warmth or heating (rather than immersing or being deep). Also note the accidental similarity between our adjective and the unrelated noun βαθμος (bathmos), meaning a degree or rank, from the verb βαινω (baino) to stand.

Our adjective βαθυς (bathus), deep, is used 4 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • The noun βαθος (bathos), meaning depth or obscurity. This noun occurs 8 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb βαθυνω (bathuno), meaning to deepen, hollow out or dig deep (Luke 6:48 only). This verb could also describe a descending into the obscure depths of some topic: to dig deep into data, to get to the very bedrock bottom of an issue.