Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb χαρασσω (charasso) generally means to make pointed or to sharpen, or to scratch or cut into furrows. But it came to denote to engrave or carve with the objective of storing information (i.e. to write; the familiar verb γραφω, grapho, to write, likewise literally means to scratch or graze). As such, our verb is the equivalent of the Hebrew verb חרש (harash I), to engrave (particularly in clay and pottery).
Our verb χαρασσω (charasso) is thought to derive from the Proto-Indo-European root "ger-", to scrape or scratch, which relates to the multiple roots "gher-", from which also comes the Greek verb χαιρω (chairo), meaning to rejoice, and English words like charisma, charity, choir, and even garden. In Job 2:8 a noun meaning pottery shard (or clay tablet) derived from the verb חרש (harash), to engrave, occurs in conjunction with the verb גרד (garad), to scrape or scratch. The form in which this latter verb occurs is actually תגרד (tagred), to scratch oneself. The name Tigris, which belongs to one of the four primordial "rivers" of human civilization, comes from the adjective tigra, meaning sharp or pointed.
The verb χαρασσω (charasso) does not occur independently in the New Testament, but from it come:
- The noun χαραγμα (charagma), which describes an engraving of any kind (any marking, brand, imprint or impression), or an item engraved (like a tablet or a piece of pottery, but also an idol or icon; see the noun εικον, eikon). People probably began to mark things to declare their ownership of them (which is probably how writing began) but marks and symbols quickly evolved to declare the essential character of clans and troops, and the allegiance of the wearer of the mark to that troop. Modern trademarks perfectly combine these two elements, and that is probably the best way to understand this word.
In the classics, our noun could denote an official document (an official engraving of some sort) and thus double as a synonym for decree or directive. It could refer to a coin, as a coin is a unit amount of precious metal with a mark stamped on it — which served both as a mark of genuineness and as propaganda for whoever had minted the coin (also see our article on αργυρος, arguros, silver or money). Rather notably, the bite of a serpent was termed "the serpent's mark", which is not without parallel to Revelation 13:17-18.
Our noun χαραγμα (charagma) is used 8 times, see full concordance, mostly to denote the notorious "mark of the beast", a mysterious marking which nowadays would blend in seamlessly with all the company logos and trademarks that our modern world is flooded with (as was the Greco-Roman world, see Acts 17:23 ). Nowadays, the cross is the trademark of Christianity, which is of course rather sad (Acts 17:29, Galatians 3:28), also because true followers of Jesus strife to not segregate from the world at large but to serve it any which way, and at all cost. True followers of Jesus realize that they're not running a country club but are saving the world, and that the world is either entirely saved or entirely lost.
- The noun χαρακτηρ (charakter) literally means "agent of carving" and originally denoted either an engraving tool or someone who engraved (an artist, coin-minter, scribe). Significantly, the Hebrew equivalent of this "agent of carving" would be מחרשׁה (maharesha), meaning ploughshare (see Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3, Joel 3:10).
Over time, our noun χαρακτηρ (charakter) also began to denote a thing engraved, and particularly one individual mark or "character", whether a single mark branded on a single animal of a larger herd, or a single character in a larger text. This word also came to denote some identifying feature of a person (a dialect, facial feature, particular garb), and, inevitably, the identifying "character" of entire ethnic groups. Later still, our word became synonymous for style, or even type.
Our noun is used in Hebrews 1:3 only, where the Son is called the χαρακτηρ (charakter) of the υποστασις (hupostasis) of the Father, which of course follows what Paul asserts in Romans 1:20, namely that "since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made." See our article on the verb πασχω (pascho) for a quick look at how the Son and the Father relate.
- The noun χαραξ (charax), which hails back to the original meaning of the parent verb, namely that of to make sharp, as it describes any kind of pointy stake, but mostly those from which the Romans made their siege works: palisades. It's used in Luke 19:43 only, in an obvious reference to the impending siege and subsequent fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but also the massive waves of negative propaganda the Jews were to suffer for the two millennia after.
- The noun χαρτης (chartes), literally meaning writing material (2 John 1:12 only). This noun would commonly denote papyrus, which was more commonly known by the noun βιβλος (biblos), apparently after the town from which this material was traded: Gebal. From this Greek word come our English words chart, card and cartel (from the Italian cartello, diminutive of carta, denoting correspondence between warring opponents).