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

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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary

ειμι I

The fascinatingly irregular verb ειμι (eimi) means to be. It expresses the mere fact of existence without adding a clause of condition (as does the verb υπαρχω, huparcho, to be because of) or the specific emergence or development of existence (as does γινομαι, ginomai, to begin to be). Still, it should be noted that Greek's vast pallet of grammatical tricks is able to have our verb reflect pretty much any sense or form or process pertaining to being and becoming.

A second verb ειμι (eimi), which is spelled identical and perhaps pronounced slightly different, means to come (see below). This second verb is relatively rare in the classics (there are much more common verbs that mean to come) and stems from a very minor Proto-Indo-European verb "heyti", to go (or so it is assumed). Our primary verb ειμι (eimi), to be, comes from the widely attested PIE verb "hesmi" (hence also the English "I am" and the Latin sum), which ultimately stems from the vast PIE root "hes-", to be, which has left traces all over the Indo-European language basin (in English: absent, be, essence, interest, ontology, possible, power, sin, sooth, and more).

Still, even in Indo-European languages, the divide between being and coming may not be all that wide, and one may wonder if, to a creative Koine speaker, our second verb ειμι (eimi) didn't so much describe a mere coming or going but rather a motion that was essential in describing the nature of a thing — moving is being; rather alike the Hebrew verb היה (haya), which means "to be doing something that defines the doer".

Our primary verb ειμι (eimi), to be, is used in the Greek classics in quite the same way as our English equivalent ("to be"), although it frequently carries an additional reference to defining behavior. Our verb's Hebrew counterpart, the verb היה (haya), is almost solely used to express defining behavior — that is to say, when in Hebrew a 'dog is outside', it is not simply existing but actively playing out behavior from which we may recognize the dog to be a dog. In Greek, the added clause of defining behavior might be implied by the context ("in the beginning the Word was", John 1:1; by your will they are, Revelation 4:11).

Probably in this same way are we to understand Jesus' enigmatic statement in John 9:5, where the particle of conjecture οταν (hotan) is coupled with the subjunctive form of the first person single of our verb ειμι (eimi), namely ω (oi), meaning "if I were" (instead of "I am"). With this Jesus is probably not saying that "if only he were to be" in the world he would be the light of it, but rather "when he would do [those things only he does]" in the world, he is its light.

This verb's participle, in its many forms, describes literally "a being" or "something that is", and this can cover anything from a person to an animal to some situation or an abstract mode of thought.

Our verb is used a whopping 2504 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and comes with the following derivations:

  • Together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from: the verb απειμι (apeimi), meaning to be absent. Note that this verb is identical to απειμι (apeimi), to go away from, mentioned below. Our verb απειμι (apeimi), to be absent, occurs 7 times; see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
  • Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on, at: the verb ενειμι (eneimi), describing inclusion among a given set: to be within. This verb is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out: the verb εξεστι (exesti), literally meaning "out of the things that exist". It expresses a being incorporated in some social code of conduct, an idea or behavior being possible, allowable or acceptable in a moral or ethical sense, or a kind of conduct generally found and allowed in society (Matthew 14:4, Acts 16:21, 2 Corinthians 12:4). It that sense it parallels the statement in English of something "being proper", and in the negative, this verb would parallel the English prohibitory expression "that's not done". Translations often use words like "lawful" to interpret this verb but that's a touch too strong. Our verb expresses not formal stipulations but rather informal ones, those that are enforced by peer pressure and normative social influence (while keeping in mind that formal law indeed derives from social norms). This verb is used 32 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
    • The noun εξουσια (exousia), meaning authority and denoting the allowableness of doing something or the faculty or liberty to do it (Matthew 9:8, Mark 3:15, Acts 1:7). It needs to be remembered that there is nothing arbitrary about social laws, as these are part of God's natural creation and are designed to have society operate at peak efficiency (with ultimate freedom of the individual; the New Jerusalem is like a beehive which comes from everybody being able to follow their own hearts; Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:15). Like the very Word of God, these social rules need to be distilled over time (Psalm 12:6, Matthew 28:18), and people with insight have consensual authority over people who don't. Formal authority comes from that (Luke 23:7, Romans 13:1, but see Colossians 2:15), and a just ruler differs from an unjust one by his following or pursuing God's laws instead of his own. This noun is used 103 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
      • The verb εξουσιαζω (exousiazo), meaning to have or exercise authority. This verb is used 4 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
        • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from or down upon: the verb κατεξουσιαζω (katexousiazo), meaning to over-curtail one's subjects; to be authoritarian (Matthew 20:25 and Mark 10:42 only).
  • The adverb οντως (ontos), meaning truly or really, which derives from the present participle of our parent verb (namely ων, on, "being"; see this participle in action in for instance Matthew 1:19). This adverb is used 10 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun ουσια (ousia), literally meaning "being" in the sense of substance, particularly the properties that "are to someone" and which hence define that someone: that which is one's own, one's essence or true nature (Luke 15:12 and 15:13 only). This word derives from ουσα, ousa, the feminine version of the masculine ων, on, the participle mentioned directly above, meaning "being". From our noun ουσια (ousia) in turn derives:
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi) meaning on or upon and in this case indicating repetition: the adjective επιουσιος (epiousios), literally describing a "continued being". This curious word appears to be an invention of the evangelists, or perhaps Jesus himself, as it occurs in Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3 only and nowhere else in extant Greek literature. And since it occurs smack in the middle of the Lord's Prayer ("give us this day our epiousion bread"), scores of commentators have taken to explain it. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but we would guess that Jesus indeed prayed for everybody's daily food, but in such wording that in certain ears it also referred to the Showbread of the Tabernacle — called להם הפנים (lehem hapanim). The Bible is an emergent product of a so-called human "smart swarm" (what a beehive or an anthill is to an individual bee or ant, so the Bible is to any one human: it vastly exceeds the intellectual capacities of any one of us), and the tabernacle is obviously based on a single living cell (with the Ark representing the genetic nucleus; see our article on the familiar noun κοσμος, kosmos), which probably relates the Showbread to the cell's mitochondrion (see our article on endosymbiotic eukaryosynthesis). Also note the similarity between our adjective επιουσιος (epiousios) and the noun επιουσα (epiousa) we discuss further below.
  • Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παρειμι (pareimi), meaning to be nearby or to come near or close, often in a temporal sense rather than a spatial. This verb is used 24 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:
    • The important noun παρουσια (parousia), meaning a near presence, or a coming or an arrival. It's used to describe the physical nearness of a human person (Philippians 2:12) and for the mundane arrival of travelers (1 Corinthians 16:17, Philippians 1:26) but more significantly also for the "coming" of the Lord (Matthew 24:39, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:19). Over the centuries this Parousia of Christ has been pondered exhaustively, to the wildest imageries and procedures, but here at Abarim Publications we suspect the "coming of the Lord on the clouds" (1 Thessalonians 4:17) to not have to do with him coming from outer space and landing on suspended water vapor in earth's atmosphere, but rather of a gradual nearing of the insights and co-operations of people groups (clouds) that will at some point reach a critical mass, which in turn will result in a world-wide lights-on moment at which everybody on earth will finally and at once understand what the gospel has been about for all those years (see the obvious parallel with Hebrews 12:1). This noun is used 24 times; see full concordance.
    • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συμπαρειμι (sumpareimi), meaning to be present with (Acts 25:24 only).
  • Also together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συνειμι (suneimi), meaning to be together with (Luke 9:18 and Acts 22:11 only).
ειμι II

As noted above, the verb ειμι (eimi), to come or go, is identical to ειμι (eimi), to be. In the Greek classics, this verb is not exactly rare but relatively uncommon; a much more common verb is ερχομαι (erchomai), to go. Experts consider these two verbs ειμι (eimi) to stem from separate Proto-Indo-European roots, but a common speaker of Koine Greek may have assumed that being equals coming (also since being is becoming), and that these verbs in essence express the same action.

The formation of the Greek language was heavily influenced by the language of Greece's Phoenician trading partners (see our article on the many Hebrew roots of Greek) and Hebrew is much rather based on movement than on static appearance — in Hebrew something is what is does, rather than what it looks like: something is like a lion when it acts like one, not when it looks like one (see our article on the verb we mention above, היה, haya, to be).

In testimony of its uncommonness, our verb ειμι (eimi), to come or go, does not appear independently in the New Testament (against 2504 occurrences of ειμι, eimi, to be). But from ειμι (eimi), to come, derive:

  • Again together with the preposition απο (apo), mostly meaning from: the verb απειμι (apeimi), mostly meaning to go away from. In the classics, this verb is also used to mean to return (i.e. to go home, away from public areas), or to recede (of a flooded river back into its normal banks). Our verb occurs in Acts 17:10 only, evidently with the latter sense in mind (although a motion away from the Jews is implied). Note that this verb is identical to the verb απειμι (apeimi), to be absent, mentioned above.
  • Together with the preposition εις (eis) meaning in, to or toward: the verb εισειμι (eiseimi), meaning to go in. This verb commonly describes entering a space, including someone's space, in which case it means to go toward. This verb occurs 4 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εξειμι (exeimi), to go out, either out of a place or out of someone's presence. This verb is used 4 times; see full concordance.
  • Again with the prefix επι (epi), meaning on or upon and in this case indicative of repetition: the participle επιουσα (epiousa), meaning the following (as in: the following day or night). This word is obviously very similar to the adjective επιουσιος (epiousios), continued being, we discuss above. Our participle επιουσα (epiousa) is used 5 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συνειμι (suneimi), to come together, to convene (Luke 8:4 only).