Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb χραω (chrao) essentially means to endow or furnish with something, to lend or allow the use of. The most interesting difference between the act of giving and the act of lending is that the lent item was supposed to be returned or replaced.
All sorts of things could be lent, including hands ("to lend a hand" is a Greek expression) but also one's freedom in the case of formal manumission. A slave whose freedom was "lent" wasn't simply released but was rather expected to return a valuable contribution to society as free man. The use of an item might mean its undoing (take food, for instance), in which case the item was expected to be replaced by something of equal value. In other words, this verb describes the fundamental principle of economy: the lateral exchange of goods and services based on trust — and trust in this case refers to a consensual delay in reimbursement of commodities rendered: credit.
This curious verb was also used to mean to declare or proclaim, but that of gods in their authority to bring about reality at their command, which in turn implies that although reality is ours to enjoy, we got it on loan from the gods. The New Testament obviously rejects polytheism but still maintains the link between real things and divine declarations; most famously in the Logos, the reality carrying Word of God (Colossians 1:16), but also in statements such as "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4). That we got the whole shebang merely on loan is demonstrated by assertions such as: "the earth is the Lord's, and all it contains" (Psalm 24:1, 1 Corinthians 10:26).
The importance of basic economy in Biblical theology is often underestimated, but words like καρπος (karpos), meaning fruit, and δωρον (doron), meaning offering, rather emphasize the cycle of investment and return instead of a one-way cash flow. Without writing there would be no Scriptures, without language there would be no writing, without convention there would be no language, and without trade there would be no convention. To many religious people, Abraham is the "father of all believers," but translated to a more practically true statement, he is the father of global exchange. The Hebrew word גמל (gamal) from which we get our English word camel, comes from the verb גמל (gamal), meaning to invest.
In our article on the World-Mind Hypothesis we argue that life may have arisen because natural law allows the universe to take out an entropy credit. Or said simpler: even though entropy must always increase within the boundaries of a closed system, the universe may allow a decrease in entropy (the formation of DNA) because in the course of time, life would return a vast increase in entropy and thus pay the bill with interest.
The active form of our verb χραω (chrao) is used only once in the Bible, namely in Luke 11:5, where it describes the "lending" of three loaves of bread, or rather: the exchange of three breads for an undetermined future reciprocatory good or service. Much more important, however, is the middle form of our verb:
The much more common middle form χραομαι (chraomai) generally means the same as its parent verb χραω (chrao), namely to allow the use of something with the proviso that the thing comes back or is replaced: to lend, loan, borrow or trade for a future reciprocal.
The middle form is passive in form but active in meaning, and in Greek this middle form often assumes meaning beyond that of the parent, and our verb χραομαι (chraomai) rather emphasizes desire for a transaction over the transaction itself. Hence it mostly means to want or need, and thus also to lack or pine for. In perfect tenses, our verb may even recollect a period of need with the fond realization that this period is over as the need was met, the item was acquired or the desire was fulfilled. Thus our verb may be used to mean to gladly have or to finally enjoy.
Often our verb simply means to use, but mostly in the sense of to utilize: to treat, handle or use with deliberate aim for result. It may also express to experience or be subjected to certain external events or conditions (seen as the decrees of gods, as discussed above).
Our verb is used a mere 11 times, see full concordance, but from it stem the following important derivatives:
- Together with the prefix ευ (eu), meaning good: the adjective ευχρηστος (euchrestos), literally meaning good-useful or useful for good, which comes down to very useful, or very much wanted (2 Timothy 2:21, 4:11 and Philemon 1:11 only). See the word χρεστος (chrestos) below.
- Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down: the verb καταχραομαι (katachraomai), meaning to down-use: to abuse or misuse (1 Corinthians 7:31 and 9:18 only).
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together: the verb συγχραομαι (sugchraomai), meaning to jointly use or simply to deal with each other (John 4:9 only).
- The noun χρημα (chrema), which describes anything useful or wanted. In the Greek classics this word is used as general as the word "thing" with the distinction of it being a thing that's used for something, or a thing that's demanded (in a supply-and-demand sense). As such it would mostly describe a product, commodity or service or even an affair, deed or account. Since in Greek times money still had intrinsic value (coins were bits of precious metal and were precisely as valuable as bullion), money too was known as χρημα (chrema). But our noun also came to be used to express riches in general (rather like our English: "he's got money" means that he has a lot of it), and from there it began to denote a proverbial lot of anything: oodles, a bunch, a heap, a whole lotta (locusts, for instance), and could ultimately even be used to express physical size (a huge boar) or anything beyond extraordinary (very clever, fiendish, impressive, and so on).
Our modern world is mostly capitalistic of religion, but Jesus states with calm clarity that chrema and the Kingdom of God don't go together (Mark 10:23-24). Capitalistic Christians will gratefully confess how Jesus has blessed them with their wealth, but this is of course insidious nonsense since it implies that he cursed the poor slaving slob next door. The truth about riches is very simple: one becomes rich when one takes more than one gives. One becomes poor when one gives more than one takes. Having an abundance while folks around you suffer want is not from Jesus but from satan, who is a murderer at heart (John 8:44).
The worst investment anybody can possibly make is in private wealth. The best investment one can make is in social wealth. Atoms which invest energy in themselves will ultimately collide and obliterate, but atoms that invest in social bonds form molecules and finally life. Life forms that invest in themselves become solitary giants, but social bonding yields much greater colonies. Private wealth must be guarded by mercenaries and armor, but social wealth can't be stolen. The New Jerusalem is a hub of social wealth, and privately rich people have no access to it.
Our noun is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
- Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the adverb παραχρημα (parachrema), meaning at the very moment, right away, immediately. How an adverb that expresses expedience managed to grow out of words for riches and proximity isn't wholly clear, but perhaps it originally expressed the phase right before a commercial market explodes. This adverb is used 19 times; see full concordance.
- The verb χρηματιζω (chrematizo), meaning to "en-value", to call something or someone by its perceived value, to imbue something with one's appreciation and thus giving it value, to appraise, or to negotiate so as to reach a balance between cost and price (or assumption and scant access to facts, as appears to be the case in Acts 11:26). In the classics this verb was also often used to describe verbal congress between man and gods or a general exchange of information, which is of course the working principle of all wisdom tradition. Strikingly, the use of this particular verb indicates that instead of simply command them, the Lord negotiated with, or imbued with appreciation, the Magi (Matthew 2:12), righteous Simeon (Luke 2:25), Cornelius (Acts 10:22), Moses (Hebrews 8:5), and Noah (Hebrews 11:7). Our verb is used 9 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- The noun χρηματισμος (chrematismos), which describes an item of negotiatory exchange: a negotiation, an audience, an ordinance, an oracular response or even a money making. It's used in Romans 11:4 only.
- The adjective χρησιμος (chresimos), meaning useful (2 Timothy 2:14 only).
- The noun χρησις (chresis), meaning usage; the act or manner of exchange or dealings with (Romans 1:26 and 1:27 only).
- The adjective χρεστος (chrestos), meaning useful in the sense of employable, tradable or investable. In Greek pagan theology this word was applied to the propitious generosity of deities. Pre-Christian scribes used the abbreviation χρ or ☧ to mark passages in texts that were particularly useful, which helped the confusion with the noun χριστος (christos), meaning anointed, from the verb χριω (chrio), to anoint.
The distinctive quality of Jesus of Nazareth in the scholarly sense was that his followers didn't stick to one established dogmatic spectrum but rather examined all things and kept what was good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). When Constantine turned Jesus' scientific method into yet another incarnation of the Roman imperial religion, Jesus the blue-collar τεκτων (tekton) became Jesus the meta-Emperor and the world-wide harvest of whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, anything of excellence and anything worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8) was abandoned in favor of the established dogmatic spectrum of the Roman church. It plunged the world into 1,500 years of intellectual darkness from which we are just now awakening.
Our adjective χρεστος (chrestos) is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
- Together with the preposition α (a), meaning not: the adjective αχρηστος (achrestos), meaning not useful or useless (Philemon 1:11 only).
- The curious verb χρηστευομαι (chresteuomai). This verb appears to be a Pauline invention as it occurs in 1 Corinthians 13:4 only. It's commonly said to mean to be kind, but here as Abarim Publications we would suggest that it most literally refers to the act of declaring useful. In other words: in the Body of Christ nobody is useless because αγαπη (agape) scribbles χρεστος (chrestos) in everybody's margin!
- Together with the verb λεγω (lego), meaning to speak or verbally convey a message: the noun χρεστολογια (chrestologia), meaning to speak-for-gain, a sales pitch (Romans 16:18 only).
- The noun χρηστοτης (chrestotes), meaning both inherent usefulness and the tendency to see usefulness in others. This delightful word is used 10 times; see full concordance.
The noun χρεια (chreia) is clearly from the same stock as the previous words. It means need, necessity or want and may thus refer to poverty, but also to conquest (or rather the demand-part of the supply-and-demand process) both in a commercial and military sense. Our noun derives from the parent noun χρεος (chreos), which refers to "that which one must pay": an obligation or debt, with the implication that previous actions or misfortune have brought this debt about. Some creative Greek poets used this parent word to describe trade and business in general, or even a standard of fashion one self-conscious snob ought to adhere to.
Our noun χρεια (chreia) often refers to the general concept of need: the conscious or unconscious desire for something essential, something without which one doesn't function optimally. Need might be a passive state one is in, but it can also be the active engine of people's movements, wars and revolutions. The Greeks realized that "need is the mother of invention" but also that poorly managed need leads to poverty and war, whereas properly funneled need might lead to booming business, technological progress and peace and prosperity for all.
Since a thing needed is a thing employed, in the Greek classics our noun was used to simply mean "use" or "employ" or "service." A needful thing is a thing that is of service, and vice versa, a useful thing is a needful thing. The same goes for people and social services, which gave our word a ring of intimacy: a useful person is probably a person one feels tender about, and a person to whom one's attentions incline with favor is most surely of substantial usefulness (albeit perhaps solely emotionally).
Our noun occurs 49 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Again together with the preposition α (a), meaning not: the adjective αχρειος (achreios) meaning useless, unprofitable or unfit to serve. Used adverbially, this adjective shows up in the classics describing a looking about helplessly or not knowing what to do next, or expressing the askance momentum of a feigned or inappropriate laugh. This adjective shows up only twice in the New Testament, namely in Matthew 25:30 and Luke 17:10, but it should be remembered that this word does not indicate an active maliciousness, but rather a superfluousness: the useless servant might be an otherwise jolly good chap but he'll be rejected the way Eskimos reject sun screen, simply because the skill he has invested in has no application in the New Jerusalem (perhaps he's a highly trained arms dealer, or someone who knows how to extract wealth from an already starving population; perhaps he's an alchemist or knows all Star Trek characters by heart and in alphabetical order — all great stuff but simply not needed in the world to come).
- The verb χρη (chre), which is an impersonal verb that relates to propriety: it should, it ought to be, proper decorum requires it to be so (James 3:10 only).
- The verb χρηζω (chrezo), meaning to have need [of]; this verb triggers the genitive. It is used 5 times; see full concordance.
Also deriving from the parent noun of χρεια (chreia), namely χρεος (chreos), meaning obligation or debt: