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

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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The important noun εργον (ergon) means work in the sense of job or task (hence ultimately our English word "energy"; see below). It's the parent noun of the verb εργαζομαι (ergazomai), meaning to perform a job or task (see below), but is itself a derivation of the verb εργω (ergo), meaning to labor. The difference is that the original verb describes a doing that occurs in an uncultivated landscape (Genesis 3:17-19), whereas the younger verb describes the performance of a process that arose from an already established larger economy.

This ur-verb εργω (ergo), meaning to labor in the wild, was already obsolete at the beginning of recorded Greek history, but it related to the verb ερδω (erdo), which was also an ancient verb that meant a more general to do; to undertake any action for whatever reason (which in the New Testament is mostly described with the verb ποιεω, poieo). All these words stem from the hugely old Proto-Indo-European root werg-, meaning to do, from which also derive our English word "work" but also words like allergy, boulevard, lethargy, liturgy, metallurgy, surgeon and even organ (that with which one works) and thus organism and related terms.

A second (equally ancient) verb of the form εργω (ergo) means to shut in, up or out; to enclose. Why it is thought that these verbs are separate and not the same isn't clear to us here at Abarim Publications, because the beginning of agriculture is marked precisely by the act of isolating patches of earth to turn them into enclosed acres, pastures, pens and ultimately towns and cities (see the name Succoth, and a related issue with the verb χαιρω, chairo, meaning to rejoice or enclose). This second verb is also not used in the New Testament, but the ancient act of isolating for the purpose of protecting and cultivating sits of course at the very heart of the ideas of holiness and the natures of both Israel and of the church (Isaiah 5:1-7, John 15:19, Romans 11:17-24).

In the New Testament our noun εργον (ergon) is used often as a near synonym of the much rarer nouns ποιημα (poiema) and ποιησις (poiesis), meaning "a doing" and "a thing done" (from the earlier mentioned verb ποιεω, poieo, to do), but the pervasiveness of the noun εργον (ergon), demonstrates that the Greeks saw most activities and goings on as part of the existing economy (as a reaction to previously done jobs) rather than something original (a reaction to something natural). That same distinction befalls the works or activities of Christ (Matthew 11:2, also see 5:16 and John 3:19) which are deeds and activities that are part of an already existing economy rather than deeds and activities that are foreign, invasive and thus ultimately disruptive. Likewise the works or activities of God (John 5:20) and those of his people (6:28) are deeds that continue, and of course improve, the present state of affairs rather than make something new out of nothing.

Nature is rigged in such a way that any "tree" will be cherished and cultivated for eons but if it won't produce the desired fruits, the entire tree will be uprooted and destroyed (Matthew 3:10) — which is what happened to the dinosaurs, Maya, Scythians; all of them. It hasn't been always clear what fruits the universe is looking for, but since a century or two scientists realize that the universe is programmed to grow as homogeneous as possible, and loving refer to this natural law as the second law of thermodynamics. Twenty-five centuries prior, the prophet Isaiah said it like this: "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain" (40:4; and for the specialists: if life counts as transfinite entropy, then the universe might prefer life over heat death).

The bottom line is that if any economy (call it one tower) does not diversify (become many little towers), the consistency of its members will deteriorate until they and their entire economy collapses. Today it's out of vogue to say that mankind is the crown of creation (many people still insist that evolution is a big random accident) but humans are much more diverse than any animal and with their language they are capable of far greater oneness. Ultimate diversity (everyone their own tower) and thus oneness among humans will be achieved when none of us is restricted in any way and all of us are autonomous. The Bible calls this personal autonomy a being anointed; Christ in Greek and Messiah in Hebrew.

From the parent verb εργω (ergo) also derives:

  • Together with the adjective κακος (kakos), meaning bad: the adjective κακουργος (kakourgos), meaning bad-worker; someone who engages in activities that work against the formation or maintenance of a civilized state — which essentially comes down to high treason (and in Roman society, a charge of high treason could be earned by not worshipping state deities or helping an escaped slave). This noun is used 4 times; see full concordance.

Our noun εργον (ergon), meaning work, is used 174 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • Together with the noun αμπελος (ampelos), meaning vine: the noun αμπελουργος (ampelourgos), meaning vine-worker; someone who cultivates and tends vines (Luke 13:7 only).
  • Together with the preposition α (a), meaning without: the adjective αργος (argos), meaning unemployed, idle, ineffective, not responsive or not receptive to social energy. The immediate result of αργος (argos) is the absence of change and the ultimate result the absence of fruit. Note that Argos is a dominant name in Greek mythology (it sometimes covers all of Greece), but this name probably has to do with an ancient word for white (related to αργυρος, arguros, meaning silver). But since deep antiquity, Argos has also been thought to mean plain or field in a pre-Hellenic language (says Strabo in his Geography). All this suggests that Argos may have referred to a very old, naturally occurring human society. The Bible refers to this unsustainable primeval plain as the land of Shinar (Genesis 11:2). Our adjective αργος (argos) occurs 8 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • The verb αργεω (argeo), meaning to be unemployed, to be idle. This word occurs in 2 Peter 2:3 only, but from it derives:
      • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταργεω (katargeo), meaning to render idle, to cause to be without effect. This word is frequently applied to the effect that the law has on the righteous, namely none. The law only has an effect when a transgression is made, but is without effect when no transgression is made. The law itself, however, never goes away or loses any of its innate authority and power. By being righteous, we embody the law (Romans 3:31). This verb is used 27 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the noun γη (ge) means earth: the noun γεωργος (georgos), meaning farmer; see our article on the word γη (ge) for a closer look at this noun and its derivatives. It's used 19 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • The verb γεωργεω (georgeo), meaning to farm (Hebrews 6:7 only).
    • The noun γεωργιον (georgion), meaning a farm (1 Corinthians 3:9 only).
  • Together with the noun δημος (demos), meaning country or people: the adjective δημιουργος (demiourgos), meaning a "worker from the people" or craftsman; see our article on the word δημος (demos) for a closer look at this word. It occurs in Hebrews 11:10 only.
  • Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in: the adjective ενεργης (energes), meaning in-working; being internally active, having an effect from within. In the classics this word commonly referred to effective medicines. It's used in 1 Corinthians 16:9, Philemon 1:6 and Hebrews 4:12 only, and from it derives:
    • The noun ενεργεια (energeia; hence our English word "energy"), meaning an in-working: progressive action or activeness performed within the subject, usually of medicine or perhaps cosmic or divine forces. In grammar, this verb denoted the active voice (whereas παθος, pathos, denoted the passive voice), and in rhetoric it described a distinctive vigor of style. Note that our derived word "energy" commonly describes the intrinsic power stored within an active carrier, whereas our word ενεργεια (energeia) rather describes the power of a carrier active within a receiver. This awesome noun is used 8 times; see full concordance.
    • The verb ενεργεω (energeo), meaning to in-work; to work internally. This amazing verb marks the core difference between the gospel message and most pagan and classical Christian theologies. The latter will insist that the human individual is designed to quietly obey masters, whereas the former maintains that the individual is designed to be free and wholly autonomous powered by God (Matthew 23:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:24, Galatians 5:1). Pagans keep blathering about mythological superheroes who will someday show up out of nowhere and save the hapless human race, but the gospel of Jesus Christ assures that the Kingdom of God is within us (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Luke 17:21) and that we do not pertain to but partake in the anointing (1 John 2:20-27) and are designed not to be slaves but brothers and friends (Matthew 12:50, John 15:15), to be a multitude of christs, all co-heirs with Jesus of Nazareth (Romans 8:17) and even colleagues of God (1 Corinthians 3:9). This amazing verb occurs 21 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
      • The noun ενεργημα (energema), meaning an in-working, an internal working. This noun reflects the action of the verb and occurs in 1 Corinthians 12:6 and 12:10 only. Being able to work on someone's inside is of course a huge deal and only very few among us are able to do it. It requires a rare combination of the gift of putting oneself in second place, and the gift of truthfully recognizing how someone else's inside is wired by the ever inventive Creator. Many who claim this gift are in fact gripped by the delusion of self-super-importance and the conviction that everybody should be like them. It's easy to tell the difference. The first one says little but quickly unclogs your pipes and lets your soul take deep breaths without any trouble. The latter talks a lot and leaves you heaving and itchy all over.
  • The verb εργαζομαι (ergazomai), meaning to perform a job or task: to work within an economy, whether to work in an agricultural enterprise (Matthew 21:28), trade (25:16), a craft (Acts 18:3), or be engaged in other activities (Luke 13:14). Since pretty much everything we do counts to some degree as a work relative to the greater economy we are part of, this verb is often used as near synonym of the verb ποιεω (poieo), meaning to do: hence to "work" miracles (John 6:30), rites (1 Corinthians 9:13), or really any constructive deed (Matthew 26:10, Romans 13:10, Galatians 6:10). This verb is used 39 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:
    • The noun εργασια (ergasia), meaning economic engagement; a working, practice, effort, business. This noun is used a mere 6 times; see full concordance.
    • The noun εργατης (ergates), meaning a worker with the same broad spectrum of application as the parent verb; not simply a hired slob but anyone who does anything within a cultivated social structure. This word occurs 16 times; see full concordance.
    • Again together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb κατεργαζομαι (katergazomai), literally meaning to work down but used in the sense of to work out, to accomplish or effectuate, to bring about either by deliberate effort or side-effect. This verb is used 24 times; see full concordance.
    • Together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the verb περιεργαζομαι (periergazomai), meaning to circle-work; to go around in circles, to work around or about, to be everywhere but achieve little. This word occurs only in 2 Thessalonians 3:11, but also see the similar adjective περιεργος, periergos, below.
    • Together with the preposition προς (pros), which describes a motion toward: the verb προσεργαζομαι (prosergazomai), which describes a working toward something: to return on investment (Luke 19:16 only).
  • Together with the adverb ευ (eu), meaning good: the noun ευεργετης (euergetes) , meaning a good-doer; someone who does good, a benefactor. This word occurs only once, in Luke 22:25, and even though this is a relatively common word, it was also an honorary title of Hellenistic royals — starting with Archelaus I of Macedonia (5th c. BC) and including Egyptian Ptolemies, at least one Seleucid and several monarchs of kingdoms of Anatolia (modern Turkey). From this laden noun come:
    • The noun ευεργεσια (euergesia), meaning either a good deed or a benefit. This word occurs only in Acts 4:9 and 1 Timothy 6:2, clearly carrying the double charge: both literal and applying to the ruling elite.
    • The verb ευεργετεω (euergeteo), meaning to do good. This word occurs in Acts 10:38 only, where it is ostentatiously applied to Jesus of Nazareth. It should be noted that the familiar titles Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and Savior of the World were originally applied to Caesar Augustus as part of Roman Imperial Theology. Paul's flagrant application of these titles to Jesus of Nazareth were not only meant as absolutes, but also as commentaries on the lack of validity and even counter-effectiveness of Roman rule on the greater stage of humanity's natural evolution.
  • Together with either a noun derived from λαος (laos), meaning people, or the adverb λεως (leos), meaning entirely or wholly (or both; follow the link to laos for a much broader discussion of this cluster of related words): the noun λειτουργος (leitourgos), meaning people-worker. This noun occurs 5 times in the New Testament, see full concordance. From it in turn derive:
    • The verb λειτουργεω (leitourgeo), meaning to work as a civil servant (Acts 13:2, Romans 15:27 and Hebrews 10:11 only).
    • The noun λειτουργια (leitourgia), meaning a public office or public service. This noun is used 6 times, see full concordance.
    • The adjective λειτουργικος (leitourgikos), meaning people-serving. This adjective occurs only once, in Hebrews 1:14.
  • Together with the adjective πας (pas), meaning all or whole: the adjective πανουργος (panourgos), meaning all-doing. In the classics this word often has a negative connotation (perhaps comparable to our adjectives cunning and crafty) but not necessarily so. It's also used to simply mean capable or willing to do anything, versatile. This adjective occurs only once, in 2 Corinthians 12:16, but from it stems:
    • The verb πανουργεω (panourgeo), meaning to be all-doing. This verb isn't used in the New Testament, but from it in turn comes the noun πανουργια (panourgia), meaning shrewdness, cunning. This noun occurs 5 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the adjective περιεργος (periergos), meaning circle-working, going around in circles, wasting everybody's energy; see the verb περιεργαζομαι (periergazomai), meaning to circle-work, above. This adjective occurs in Acts 19:19 and 1 Timothy 5:13 only.
  • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the adjective συνεργος (sunergos), meaning pertaining to cooperation (hence our English word "synergy"). In the classics this common Greek word is most often used as a substantive meaning co-worker or colleague, or even someone who performs the same craft or trade but not necessarily in the same company. In the New Testament this word only appears as substantive and indeed always means colleague. It's used 13 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • The verb συνεργεω (sunergeo), meaning to work together; to work at the same trade or craft or to work together toward a common objective or because of a shared reason. This verb is used 5 times; see full concordance.

Associated Biblical names