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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/ch/ch-a-l-a-om.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb χαλαω (chalao) means to lower, relax or release in a controlled way: to allow something to move according to its own natural energy but always guided by intelligent governance. This curiously specialized verb mostly tells of heavy things that are suspended from ropes that are held by humans, who slowly lower the thing down some hole, along some track, and for some deliberated reason. But it may also tell of the careful release of energy stored in a bow that's being unstrung, or a frown that's lifted upon consideration, or a heavy door that's opened to the outside world. Our verb may tell of the relaxation of rules and restrictions, of carefully indulging a curious visitor, or even the calculated release of the contents of one's bowels.

The origin of this Greek word is a mystery and it's not even clear whether it's Indo-European or not. But the Greek alphabet was adapted from the Hebrew one, and came with a slew of Hebrew words to jumpstart the Greek vocabulary. Here at Abarim Publications, we suspect that our verb χαλαω (chalao) derived from the root חלל (halal), to pierce, and lowering a heavy thing in a controlled way would certainly be contingent on a mastery of the art of drilling holes.

Because one would not drill a hole in something precious, this verb חלל (halal) could also mean to profane (hence also John 19:37). Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the Hebrews thought of Greek literacy as a profane derivative of their holy original, which in turn would explain their name: Hellas. This is not that farfetched since the Greek dialect in which the New Testament would be written is likewise called Koine, meaning common or profane. But it would also suggest that the Hebrews thought of written Greek not merely as a headlong plunge down, but rather as carefully lowered by a greater intelligence.

Our verb χαλαω (chalao), to carefully lower, is used 7 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • The noun χαλινς (chalinos), which describes a bit or bridle: any sort of device that allows a human to curb and channel the natural energies of any domesticated animal into some kind of service (which the animal may get accustomed to but never understand). In the classics this word was often used to specifically denote a horse's bit (and appeared juxtaposed with the word for reigns), but was just as well employed to describe any kind of contraption that curbed, channeled or restrained: any kind of strap or harness. It was even used to describe a ship's tackle: its set of blocks, pulleys and ropes that controlled the sails and rudders, and with which one handled and controlled the ship. Several writers used this word to refer to metaphysical bridles: rules and regulations to curb men's violence, or skill and expertise to operate some machine. In the New Testament, our noun occurs in James 3:3 and Revelation 14:20 only. From it in turn derives:
    • Together with the verb αγω (ago), meaning to lead or bring along: the verb χαλιναγωγεω (chalinagogeo), meaning to lead by means of a literal or figurative bit (James 1:26 and 3:2 only).

The adjective χωλος (cholos) means lame. It probably derives from the verb χαλαω (chalao), to slacken or loosen, we discussed above.

Lameness is the proverbial counterpart of blindness (see our article on the proverbial lame and blind: עור ופסח, 'iwwer wa piseah), since blindness was considered to be caused by excess (specifically of skin: a cataract, or generally by insensitivity due to wealth, obesity, laziness, and so on), whereas lameness was considered due to a lack of something (specifically of the strength in one's legs, or generally of the ability to assume a different position, to change one's mind: hyper-sensitivity or vulnerability due to poverty, bad health, fear, ignorance, and so on).

Corresponding to these two main forms of infirmity are two verbs of healing: θεραπευω (therapeuo) mostly refers to removal of an excess, insensitivity or coldness, whereas ιαομαι (iaomai) mostly refers to supplying what is lacking, restoring one's inner order, and giving courage and mobility.

Our adjective χωλος (cholos), lame, is used 15 times, mostly substantially, to describe the lame, the people that are lame; see full concordance.


The noun χαλαζα (chalaza) means hail (frozen rain). This word is formally also of unclear pedigree, but a connection to the above would be problematic since hail is dumped in bulk and not typically lowered in some governed way. But then, hail might actually be the bridle that curbs the enthusiasm of men on the ground. Rain never hurt anybody but a hail storm will briefly suspend all goings on.

Still, in the classics our word χαλαζα (chalaza) was also used to describe any kind of pebble-like item, and predominantly any kind of hard, small and spherical growth on animals or humans. Our word may have formed under the influence of the verb χαλαω (chalao), to lower or relax, but from the noun καχληξ (kachlex), meaning pebble, which in turn may have had something to do with the formation of the German Hagel and the English hail.

Our noun χαλαζα (chalaza), hail, occurs 4 times in three verses; see full concordance.


The adjective χαλεπος (chalepos) means difficult, savage or hard to deal with. In the classics, it was used for hardships as diverse as "hard", painful or grievous sentiments, upsetting words, rough terrain or stiff winds, ill-fitting equipment, ill-tempered or irritating neighbors and often harsh, stern and cruel bosses. This adjective too is of unclear origin, but here at Abarim Publications we suspect it may have to do with the Hebrew verb חלף (halap), which describes a swift transition (or stiff wind).

In Arabic — which is a Semitic language, and closely related to Hebrew and Phoenician — this same root resulted in the word Caliph, meaning successor, which even prior to Islam appears to have been a title for important, and doubtlessly strict and hard-to-please royalty.

This adjective occurs in the New Testament in Matthew 8:28 and 2 Timothy 3:1 only. In Matthew, our word describes a quality of two madmen, which is significant because in the first century, Rome occupied two significant port cities in Arabia: Eudaemon (that's ευ, eu, good, plus δαιμων, daimon, "demon") and Leuke Kome (λευκος, leukos, white, κωμη, kome, village).

In 25 BC, an army of 10,000 Roman soldiers had been dispatched with orders to subdue the entire peninsula but their local guides deceived them and they ran out of food and got sick with unfamiliar diseases. In New Testament times, Arabia was held in very high regard and considered the land of the free and home of the brave, which is possibly why Paul went there (Galatians 1:17) or why the two Roman outposts could be equated to two raving madmen.

Arabia wasn't annexed until the early 2nd century. Throughout the first century, Eudaemon and Leuke Kome secured the highly lucrative maritime trade routes to India.