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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/e/e-n-n-e-a.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The word εννεα (ennea) means nine. It looks like a combination of εν (en), meaning in, on, at, and νεος (neos), meaning new or young, and so would literally mean "into/onto the new", perhaps indicating that nine is one step up from οκτω (okto), eight, or rather double-four (all one's fingers), and the final step before δεκα (deka), ten, which demonstrates completion of any set (hence the proverbial ten commandments, Abraham's ten camels, and so on).

For whatever reason, in Indo-European cultures the number nine has great significance: India's traditions speak of nine Navaratna, China's of nine forms of the dragon, Egypt has its Ennead (group of nine deities) and Greece its nine Muses, Norse mythology spoke of Nine Worlds, and Medieval Europe of Nine Worthies, which probably inspired Hugues de Payens to start the Knights Templar originally with eight fellows. Even Tolkien lists nine virtuous Fellows and nine vicious Kings of Men. Late Bronze Age Egyptian scribes reported that their world collapsed due to nine roving Sea Peoples, which are possibly the same as Pharaoh Merneptah's confederated foe called the "Nine Bows" (mentioned in the Great Karnak inscription).

John Lennon's controversial masterpiece was named Revolution 9, while according to Dante, hell has nine circles. Also according to Dante, heaven has nine spheres, whereas in Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the gifts of the spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — nine in all.

Our word εννεα (ennea) derives from the broadly attested Proto-Indo-European word "hnewn", from which English gets the word nine. This word indeed looks like it might have to do with the PIE adjective "newos", meaning new, but whether this is technically so, or was even considered as so (and for reasons that were broadly understood), by the ancient speakers of these languages, isn't clear. The prefix εν (en) is very common, and makes many words look alike: εννεος (enneos) means flabbergasted (see below), εννευω (enneuo) means to say something with a nod (see below), εννοια (ennoia) describes an in-mind thing (a thought, an idea), εννομος (ennomos) means legal, εννυχον (ennuchon) means nocturnal, and so on.

Our numeral εννεα (ennea), nine, is used 5 times, see full concordance, and from it come:

  • The adjective εννατος (ennatos), the ordinal ninth. It's used 10 times, see full concordance, and with the exception of Revelation 21:20, consistently together with ωρα (hora), hour, to indicate the ninth hour, or about 3 pm.
  • The cardinal number εννενηκοντα (ennenekonta), ninety. This word is used 4 times; see full concordance.
Greek numerals from one to ten

The adjective εννεος (enneos) means flabbergasted, and appears to be an invention of the Lukan author of Acts. It occurs in Acts 9:7 only and nowhere else in Greek literature, although it's clearly based on the word ενεος (eneos), meaning dumb or speechless (or stupid), which the Septuagint uses in Isaiah 56:10: "Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep."

Some commentators have proposed that Luke made a spelling error, but that's unlikely seeing the editorial liberties early copyists enjoyed (it would have been caught, by Luke himself, his first proofreaders, his original audience, his secondary copyists and his broader audience). It's much more likely that Luke deployed his literary expertise and created a whole new word, which still had an obvious meaning:

Paul's companions stood there, gaping at something utterly marvelous and never before seen; something for which there were no words, that warped their senses and left them a shake short of a Happy Meal. The scene brings to mind Luke's story of the ten lepers, of which all were cured but only one, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus. He then asked: "Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17).


The verb νευω (neoo) means to incline or assent (to assume some bodily posture in order to signal or indicate). It stems from a Proto-Indo-European root "new-" meaning to nod or assent, from which Latin gets a handful of verbs containing the element nuo, all to do with bending, inclining and nodding. In German, this PIE verb became neudaz, to desire, aspire to, and hence to drive, urge of strive for (hence the English verb to need). All this suggests a strong link (albeit merely associative and probably not etymologically) to the PIE word newos, new, the Latin novus and the Greek νεος (neos), new — and note that ναος (naos) means temple, whereas εννεα (ennea) means nine (see above).

Our verb occurs in John 13:24 and Acts 24:10 only, but from it come:

  • Together with the preposition δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διανευω (dianeuo), meaning to gesture continuously or persistently or exclusively (Luke 1:22 only).
  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εκνευω (ekneuo), meaning to shake or shrug off (John 5:13 only).
  • Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, at, on: the verb εννευω (enneuo), to declare something in signs, to express in gestures (Luke 1:62 only). Note that this verb is rather similar to the adjective εννεος (enneos), speechless, and the word εννεα (ennea), nine (see above). In the story of man's information technology (which is the story the Bible tells; see our article on YHWH), perhaps the number ten expressed the whole complete set of abilities and skills that added up to a functioning language, and the number nine represented a developmental stage just shy of that, when words had not been formed yet and early humans still largely depended on universally accepted gestures (also see our article on the noun νεφελη, nephele, cloud).
  • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επινευω (epineuo), meaning to nod upon, to nod with consent or confirmation (Acts 18:20 only).
  • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb κατανευω (kataneuo), meaning to gesture down to someone. This verb has very broad applications, from nodding in assent, to nodding disdainfully to a lower positioned person, to lowering oneself in front of a higher person. This verb is used in Luke 5:7 only, where it describes the wild gesturing of sinking sailors "way down" to their colleagues in the other boat.
  • The verb νυσταζω (nustazo), to nod off, to be half-asleep, to doze (Matthew 25:5 and 2 Peter 2:3 only).