The verb ιστημι: the most potent verb in the New Testament

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The verb ιστημι

— The most potent verb in the New Testament —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb ιστημι (histemi) heads a colossal word cluster that is arguably the most dominant of the New Testament (and subsequent theologies). Our verb basically means to stand or set and like our English verb "to stand" it derives from the ancient Proto-Indo-European root sta-, meaning the same. This formidable ancient root left its traces in all Eurasian languages. It gave us the Persian suffix -stan, meaning country (hence Afghanistan, Pakistan, Hindustan, and so on), but also words like constant, destine, establish, history, insist, restore, stance, stage, substance and the important and relevant verb "to understand."

The action of our verb ιστημι (histemi), meaning to stand, is closely related to the action of the verb τιθημι (tithemi), meaning to set, put, place or establish, which in turn is suspected to be the root of the familiar noun θεος (theos), meaning God, and possibly even the noun θεωρια (theoria), meaning sight or thing observed (which occurs in Luke 23:48 and refers to Christ on the cross).

Our Greek verb largely appears in the same contexts as our English equivalents to stand and to set. It mostly describes an existence in, or achieving of, a stable, stationary position although sometimes it emphasizes position and allows the goings on to be quite dynamic (Luke 23:10, John 6:22).

Our verb may describe the existence or achievement of a condition of solidity as opposed to one of fluidity or nebulosity, and thus the "stagnating" of a flow of blood (Luke 8:44), the "formation" of a crowd (Matthew 12:46, 13:2), the "substantiation" of an angel (Acts 11:3), and the "solidity" of an organization (Matthew 12:25-26). Likewise, a person may be fluidic in his wavering but "standing solid" in his certainty, or nebulous in his thoughtlessness but "substantiated" in his focus (Romans 14:4).

Passively, a person might "be apprehended" by an observation or circumstance (Luke 18:11, Acts 2:14), or even "thrust up" out of a group by means of social pressure, like a splinter squeezed out of a thumb (Acts 27:11).

By means of the rare pluperfect — which describes the coming to completion in the past but with effects in the present — John the Baptist, Jesus, Judas Iscariot, Peter and Mary Magdalene are all said to have "become ready" to do something, which emphasizes their formative periods as much as what they ended up doing (John 1:35, 7:37, 18:5, 18:16, 20:11).

The perfect tense describes a present condition or action that started to occur at some time in the past and has since been repeated or continued. Frequently, the employ of this perfect tense rather than the present or aorist tenses makes great differences in what is conveyed. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus doesn't simply state that he stands at the door and knocks, but that he has been standing for an implied long time, or even that his manifestation at and sudden knock on the door is the result of a long process (compare with Luke 2:52 and James 5:9). The Baptist declared, not simply that Jesus was standing among his listeners but that he had been manifesting for an implied long time (John 1:26, also see Revelation 5:6). Similarly, the event usually described as the "ascension of Christ" did not directly precede the disciples staring into heaven, but rather followed it. In other words, they had been staring into the heavens until they saw Jesus ascend (the solution is that although Jesus left their sight, he didn't leave their presence as he is incarnate in his people; Matthew 28:20).

Likewise a statement "might be substantiated" by the confirmation of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16), and what appears to be implied in this verse is the formation of a record of corroboration — a mnemonic record to fall back on in case the discussion escalates and it becomes unclear who said what to whom and in what way.

In Romans 3:31, Paul makes the astoundingly advanced observation that God's natural law is consensual rather than coercive. That is to say: subjects are not shoehorned into a restrictive law, but law describes the actions of the subjects when these subjects are not thwarted (science, after all, is not the pursuit of truth but the pursuit of convention). When the subjects are not free but coerced, the law that governs them is not righteous and not from God (Romans 10:3).

In Acts 5:20 our verb describes how an aspiring speaker somehow draws attention to himself and gets set up amidst a circle of listeners. In Acts 25:18 a team of accusers gets set up to prosecute Paul, and in Acts 7:60 Stephen asks the Lord to not substantiate the sin of his molesters, and remember that at this point the Lord was already incarnate in his people.

These nuances are important because they explain the core mechanism of our verb: a "standing" refers not so much to an absolute presence but rather to a collectively confirmed phenomenon (Matthew 2:9). It's precisely that element of collective realization that sits in our verb's curious application in Matthew 26:15, where the chief priests agreed with Judas Iscariot about his wage of thirty pieces of silver. Something similar (but in a good way) appears to be implied in Mark 9:1. And in Acts 1:23, the eleven collectively forwarded Joseph and Matthias for candidature. Something similar (but in a bad way) occurs in Acts 6:13.

Standing requires a solid ground, which associates our verb to dry land, which in turn associates it to certainty or consensus, rather than to sea, which represents uncertainty (Luke 5:2, 8:44, 21:36, John 20:19, Romans 5:2; see for the metaphor Matthew 14:26-31). Likewise, satan never stood in truth because truth was not in him (John 8:44). And just like he once established dry land out of the seas, the Creator has set a day in which he will judge the world (judgment day is not a mere check on a calendar; Acts 17:31).

The verb ιστημι (histemi), meaning to stand is used 154 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • Together with the preposition αντι (anti), meaning over or against: the verb ανθιστημι (antisthemi), meaning to stand against, to withstand; to keep standing despite opposing forces, to resist. This verb is used 14 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon in a repetitive sense: the verb ανιστημι (anistemi), meaning to stand again, that is to say: to stand after sitting (Matthew 9:9), lying asleep (Mark 1:35) or lying dead; to rise or arise (Matthew 12:41, 17:9). In the classics this verb was also used to describe the recovery from an illness, or the rising of a river's water level. It was also used to describe a getting aroused or excited, mostly of human collectives, sometimes with the effect of mass-migration.
    Still, our verb mostly described an essential change of the quality or condition of an otherwise stationary item (usually from horizontal to vertical, from weakly slumped to vigorously standing). Much less represented by our Greek verb is what our English verbs "to raise" and "to rise" do reflect, namely a change in elevation of an otherwise unaltered item (say, a can of beans that goes from the bottom shelf to the top one). Also, in certain contexts our English translations are prone to reflect a passive voice — he was raised — but our Greek verb never occurs in the passive voice and is always active: he rose. This demonstrates again that our verb merely describes the bare fact of the change in condition of the subject, and not the cause of it or the reasons why.
    This very important verb is used 112 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
    • The noun αναστασις (anastasis; hence the graceful name Anastasia), which describes the principle of the verb and hence means "a [continuous] rise." This noun may describe the principle of all events associated to any of the contexts of the verb: a rising (from illness, from sleep, of a river), an erecting (of a statue), a migration (of an excited people), but it appears to have mostly served to denote a proverbial natural principle that could not really be observed and thus had to either be believed or disbelieved to exist: "The Rise". This principle was publicly discussed and debated long before the physical resurrection of Jesus (Mark 12:18-25), and the celebrated resurrection of Jesus appears to have been a local manifestation of this global principle.
      Since Jesus was the Word in the flesh (John 1:14) and the Word drives the whole of the natural universe (Colossians 1:16-17), it's pretty clear that this global principle — of which Jesus' resurrection was the in-the-flesh version — is what's commonly known as evolution: the rise of complexity from the singularity to the initiation of life, its much discussed evolution and finally the rise of humankind and the great city of New Jerusalem at the end of it all (Revelation 21:2). The story of the "rise" of Jesus Christ from the earth, and his subsequent "ascension" into heaven is of course the same story as the rise of life and then of mind.
      Evolution is also not as arbitrary as many think, or merely driven by chance, but heads toward what Chaos Theory calls an attractor. God is often portrayed as the long-ago Creator of the universe, but he is of course as much the far-ahead Attractor of evolution, and the in-between Maintainer of the whole thing by means of his natural law (Romans 1:20).
      Jesus didn't merely resurrect as a one-off miracle, but embodies the perpetual Rise as much as the eternal Word. In more modern terms: Jesus personifies the whole process of natural evolution as well as all natural law (John 11:25).
      Note that Paul's reference to the Rise in Acts 23:6 also refers to the creation of the Roman Empire, as it was originally celebrated to have risen from the dead (the death of the Republic). Many of the titles that Paul ascribed to Jesus — King of kings, Savior of the World, Son of the Divine — were in fact hijacked titles of Emperor Augustus. The problem of the Empire was that it had in fact resurrected the hated Monarchy, and part of the reason why Paul made it all the way to the Emperor in Rome was that people hoped that Paul's gospel could also liberate the world from imperial tyranny, which by that time was considered a cure worse than the initial disease.
      This awesome noun occurs 42 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
    • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out: the verb εξανιστεμι (exanistemi), meaning to rise up out. This verb appears to describe an asymmetric hard fork: speciation in which a small group breaches from a much larger mother population that stays largely the same (Acts 15:5). Since the act of "erecting" has an obvious physical application, this verb obviously also serves to convey ejaculation (Mark 12:19, Luke 20:28). This verb is used only these three times, and from it in turn derives:
      • The noun εξαναστασις (exanastasis), denoting a minority rise out the large community with whom this minority previously shared its identity (Philippians 3:11 only).
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon in a proximate sense: the verb επανιστημι (epanistemi), meaning to rise upon. In the classics this word described the eruption of boils on one's skin, and that's the sense in which this word is to be understood: not as a confrontation of one group against an equal other, but the rising up of one trouble-making group on the surface of a larger community (Matthew 10:21 and Mark 13:12 only).
  • Together with the preposition απο (apo), mostly meaning from: the verb αφιστημι (aphistemi) meaning to abandon a standing, to depart or move away or be moved away from standing somewhere, to digress. This verb is used 15 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • The noun αποστασια (apostasia; hence our English word apostasy), meaning a departing, whether in a positive or negative sense. Despite this word's later popularity, in the New Testament it occurs only in Acts 21:21 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The latter use of this word has always been believed to describe a "falling away" from the eternally correct formal church, but it may very well denote a massive escape from the clutches of corporate misinformation, because of which the proverbial "son of perdition" will be unmasked, if not caught with his proverbial pants down (Isaiah 14:16).
    • The noun αποστασιον (apostasion), meaning "departure-thing," technically in the same broad sense as the previous noun, but specifically used to denote a formal declaration of independence or proof of divorce (Matthew 5:31, 19:7 and Mark 10:4 only).
  • Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διιστημι (diistemi), meaning to stand through(out), or to be divided over equal spaces or blocks. This verb describes a standing at spaced intervals — the genitive participle means "of being of spaced intervals" which means "after an interval" — and thus takes on the meaning of to stand separately (from each other). In the classics this verb was used to describe to divide mathematically into fractions, to stand apart or divided during a conflict or to depart in each one's own direction after the conflict. In the New Testament this verb is used in Luke 22:59, 24:51 and Acts 27:28 only. The first and the last obviously describe a dotted line of interrupted continuity. The middle occurrence speaks of Jesus' ascension. Traditionally this has been interpreted to mean that Jesus separated from the disciples, but our verb appears to suggest that Jesus' ascension coincided with the disciples standing at spaced intervals. Although Jesus left our sight (Acts 1:9) he didn't leave our presence (Matthew 28:20) and he is incarnate in his people. The Body of Christ is a group of people who are as synchronous as the body cells of an organism, affluent with this organism's blood (Revelation 7:14) and alive with its spirit (Acts 2). From this verb in turn comes:
    • The noun διαστημα (diastema), meaning interval (Acts 5:7 only). Below we'll discuss the somewhat similar noun σταδιον (stadion), which was a unit of distance.
  • Together with the common preposition εν (en), meaning in: the verb ενιστημι (enistemi), literally meaning to put or place in, but in practice indicating the commencement of something (like a situation or condition) or entering into something (like a job or function). This word has no real English equivalent. In Greek grammar it denoted the present and present perfect tenses, so our verb also has the meaning of "to be now" and the participle may mean "the present [situation]." This verb is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out: the verb εξιστημι (existemi), literally meaning to out-stand, to place out or rather: to displace. This verb curiously became our English verb to exist (via Latin, in the sense of to come out, to become visible; on a par with the German entstehen and the Dutch ontstaan), but in classical Greek it meant to withdraw from, retire from, abandon or depart from (goods, opinions, one's nature, and so on). It particularly denoted taking leave of one's normal mental equilibrium; to be utterly amazed, astonished or even out of one's mind. Wisdom studies take a student all over the place and being astonished was so common in the Jewish world that it pretty much came with the job description (hence Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed). In other words, it's not clear precisely what sort of scene Mark 3:20-21 describes but it may have involved scores of overwhelmed men running dripping naked through the street yelling "eureka, eureka!" (in the words of the immortal Sol Robeson).
    Our verb is used 17 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
    • The familiar noun εκστασις (ekstasis; hence our English noun ecstasy), literally meaning displacement, and in particularly a departure from one's normal state of sane alertness. This word only describes the departure but not the reason for or effect of it. In may describe great astonishment (Mark 5:42) but also an all-consuming but controlled attention to something pondered (Acts 10:10, 22:17). This noun is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • Again together with the preposition επι (epi) meaning on or upon: the verb επισταμαι (epistamai), literally meaning to stand upon but in a figurative sense (see for the more literal version of this verb the next one). In practice this verb means to stand close to or upon a certain intellectual matter or topic, to understand (or rather to overstand), to master. It is used 14 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • The substantially used adjective επιστημων (epistemon), meaning an understanding [person], a master. In the classics this word mostly denotes a person well-versed in certain literature or science and was probably used as an epithet. In the New Testament it occurs only once, in James 3:13.
  • Once more together with the preposition επι (epi) meaning on or upon: the verb εφιστημι (ephistemi), meaning to stand upon. This verb is similar to verb επισταμαι (epistamai; see above) but describes a more literal and spatially standing or being positioned upon or close to (Luke 4:39). The use in verses like Luke 20:1 implies that the priests and scribes didn't suddenly march in but were rather standing close to Jesus, paying attention. Frequently, this verb describes how an angel enters one's field of awareness (see our article on the noun αγγελος, aggelos, meaning angel). This verb is used 21 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • The noun επιστατης (epistates), which denotes someone set, placed or standing close to someone else. In the classics this could be anyone from some micro-managing commander to a beggar whimpering about misplaced lunch money. It often denoted a director of some event, the supervisor of a team of workers, the driver of a chariot and even the president of a board or keeper of records in the treasury. It is used 7 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, only in Luke and always in the vocative and applying to Jesus. In that sense, it literally means Close One and (apparently deliberately) brings to mind texts like Deuteronomy 30:11-14 and of course Luke 17:21.
    • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb κατεφιστημι (katephistemi), meaning to stand against or to stand toward some specific objective. This curious verb appears to be an invention of the Lucan author (it occurs in Acts 18:12 only), and although an action of rushing to the scene may be implied, this verb predominantly describes the rather stationarily counter-determination of the Jews in their intentions with Paul.
    • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συνεφιστημι (sunephistemi), meaning to jointly stand close. This verb occurs in the classics to describe the setting of a cluster of guards somewhere, but it also occurs to describe a joint management or directing of subjects. In the New Testament it's used only once, in Acts 16:22, where it describes the actions of a crowd as one. As with the previous verbs, although motion is implied, this verb merely describes the stationary attitude of the crowd.
  • Together with the preposition υπο (hupo), meaning under, beneath or through: the verb υπιστημι (upistemi), literally meaning to under-stand; to set or place under, spoken in terms of locality (to be one thing with another thing on top), authority (to be obedient), obligation (to be bound by duty, honor, promise, fear, hope, and so on), and even vocation (to undertake an office). This verb is not used in the New Testament but from it comes:
    • The noun υποστασις (hupostasis), meaning literally an under-standing: a confidently standing or being in place under the impression of some conviction, obligation, authority or calling. This noun occurs 5 times, see full concordance, most notably in Hebrews 1:3, where the Son is equated with the χαρακτηρ (charakter) of the υποστασις (hupostasis) of God. See our article on the adjective σοφος (sophos), meaning wise, for a quick review on how perfect obedience can go hand in hand with perfect autonomy (also see Philippians 2:5-11). And see our article on the noun ελευθερια (eleutheria), meaning freedom, to see how perfect compliance to law can bring about complete freedom.
  • Again together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καθιστημι (kathistemi), meaning to set or place down or toward some specific objective or function; to deploy, employ or apply. It's used 21 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • Together with the common prefix of negation α (a): the adjective ακαταστατος (akatastatos), meaning unemployed or unapplied. It's similar to but broader than the adjective αργος (argos), which means jobless. Our adjective ακαταστατος (akatastatos) describes the absence of any kind of practical application or investment: completely useless, totally inapplicable. It occurs in James 1:8 only, and from it in turn derives:
      • The wonderfully insightful noun ακαταστασια (akatastasia), which describes a situation or condition that lacks purpose or objective: the kind of social chaos in which many individual efforts cancel each other out and which results in nothing but a waste of energy. Our English word pandemonium literally means "place of all demons," and before the mediaeval church connected the word δαιμων (daimon) to the devil, it was a fundamental concept of polytheistic worldviews, namely the idea that natural forces are their own thing and act at their merry will, and without a common purpose. The monotheistic Hebrew worldview rejected the idea of individual natural forces (compare Romans 1:20 to Deuteronomy 6:4) and held that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). In other words: the word pandemonium is a pretty close synonym of our noun ακαταστασια (akatastasia). It is used 5 times; see full concordance.
    • Again together with the preposition αντι (anti), meaning over or against: the verb αντικαθιστημι (antikathistemi), meaning to replace, substitute, establish a counterpart. This word is common in the classics but occurs in the New Testament only in Hebrews 12:4. Traditional translations usually refer to the curious idea that resistance causes bleeding (perhaps from abrasive metal fetters or scouring ropes with which one is tied) but this verse rather refers to what John mentions: "there are three that bear witness in earth: the spirit, the water and the blood, and these three agree in one" (1 John 5:8). In slightly more modern terms: the material world, the biological world and mankind's mental world are self-similar and originate and evolve according to the same natural laws, and thus show similar patterns. The author of Hebrews notes that his audience has not wholly replaced blood (for spirit), and is probably still a bit beastly here and there (see Jude 1:10).
    • Again together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from: the verb αποκαθιστημι (apokathistemi), which describes a purposeful standing from a previous condition. In short: to restore, to bring back a purposeful condition that once existed but was lost. This wonderful verb occurs 8 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
      • The noun αποκαταστασις (apokatastasis), meaning restoration (Acts 3:21 only).
    • The noun καταστημα (katastema), meaning a placing for a specific reason, an application, a use or usefulness, or even more general: a condition or state (Titus 2:3 only).
  • Together with the preposition μετα (meta), usually meaning with or among: the verb μεθιστημι (methistemi), literally meaning to stand in the middle of, but often used to describe getting there, namely upon being extracted from a previous company getting inserted into a new one. In short: to translocate, to remove, to redirect. This verb is used 5 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παριστημι (paristemi), meaning to stand near or beside, sometimes in a literal sense but mostly in the sense of to actively support or to stand by ready to jump to supportive action. Note that our verb does not express physical action (an approaching) but a static standing. Any implied movement expresses an increase of the intensity of the support.
    In the classics our verb may describe a companion physically standing at one's side in a debate or brawl, or expressing a thought that is rather close to one's own. It may be used to describe the act of comparing one thing to another (by placing them closely side-by-side). It may describe a poet's flowery approximations, a superfluous furnishment to something more practical, or even the imminence of impending events.
    Relating to one's mental constitution, our verb may describe an inspiration that emerges on the periphery of one's active consciousness. It may describe a yielding into a state of calm submission, or conversely, a swinging out of one's mental center (not unlike the verb εξιστημι, existemi, see above).
    In the New Testament, our verb frequently speaks of a physical standing by or be readied to serve or join some action (Matthew 26:53, Acts 23:24, 2 Timothy 2:15). In Mark 4:29, the perfect of this verb is used to express the gradual "rise" of the crop and the now readiness of the harvest. Similarly, the perfect participle is often used to describe the trickling in of an increasing group of bystanders whose attitudes are implied to congrue (those having come to stand by in agreement: Mark 14:69, Luke 19:24, Acts 23:2). The perfect tense also implies that the centurion "having stood by" had been watching Christ die for hours (Mark 15:39, also see Luke 1:19)
    But mostly our verb describes the assuming or maintaining of a position of alliance, in order to demonstrate or act out of true allegiance, concern or consanguinity (Acts 4:26, 12:1, Romans 16:2, Colossians 1:22). Often the two coincide and the author expresses both physical and mental support (John 19:26; note how the perfect tense implies not a momentary but an ongoing habitual support).
    Twice our verb is combined with the verb ζαω (zao), meaning living, and suggests providing life support (Acts 1:3, 9:41). In Acts 24:13 our verb is used to describe how certain accusations couldn't be made to "stick" to Paul. And the latter uses this verb to describe how righteousness and unrighteousness are not static states but rather like the familiar two fighting dogs: the one who wins is the one you feed (Romans 6:12-23).
    In Acts 23:33 Paul is "stood near" the governor, not to be tried (that happened later) but rather as part of a whole explanatory presentation that also included a letter. In Romans 14:10 Paul is not saying that we are destined to end up shivering in front of Jesus' stern judgment seat, but rather that humanity's intra-connectedness will allow for a convention with which humanity will be able to precisely understand the world (see 1 Corinthians 6:2).
    In Acts 27:24, an angel of the Lord deploys this word in a similar fashion. Tradition usually interprets his assertion to mean that Paul had to stand near to Caesar in order to be heard, examined or yelled at, but our specific verb rather suggests that God sent Paul to Caesar to stand by him; to help him understand things. The gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with a religion, but speaks of the ultimate authority of natural law (Colossians 1:16-17). The effect of the gospel is natural progress (see αναστασις, anastasis, or "evolution," discussed above) and a spectrum-wide liberation both on a personal and a societal level. Everybody in the empire knew that Nero had more screws loose than a bag of nails, and his mad antics were destabilizing the empire and would ultimately trigger a terrible civil war in Rome and the Great Jewish Revolt in Judea. It's impossible to estimate whether Paul had a soothing effect on Nero personally, but Paul's presence in Rome has certainly changed the rest of the world for ever (see our article on Nicopolis).
    In Luke 2:22, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Jerusalem to "stand him by" the Lord, which obviously does not speak of an approach in a spatial sense (the Creator has no location) but in a cooperative sense (see 1 Samuel 1:22). Although the Creator is not within creation, he is present at every point of creation just like the third dimension of a cube is not part of but present at every point of each of its two dimensional sides. For all practical purposes, the Creator is always everywhere and his ways and character are clearly visible by anyone with eyes in their head (Romans 1:20). But the obviousness of the presence of the Lord has always depended on mankind's intra-connectedness and level of convention. Very early humans knew the Lord personally just as much as any of us do today, but the invention of the noun greatly helped us to formally define the Lord (see our article on the noun ονομα, onoma, meaning name or noun). Even greater levels of convention were reached with the invention of script (see the verb γραφω, grapho, meaning to write), which let us receive the written Word. Later still, this Word could be physically embodied in Jesus of Nazareth and the Word (Logos) could walk among us. The printing press allowed everyone to own and read books (John 21:25), and in our modern times, the Internet and finally blockchain technology will usher in the great age of peace of which the prophets told (Isaiah 40:5).
    The action of our verb is of the same intent as the adjective αγιος (agios), meaning holy. This verb is used 41 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but, curiously, has no derivatives.
  • Together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the verb περιιστημι (periistemi), meaning to stand around, by or aloof from. It's used 4 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning before or in front of: the verb προιστημι (proistemi), meaning to for-stand, to stand in front of. It may be used to describe a safe-guarding screen, but when it applies to people it mostly implies protection and shielding, and in that sense: governing. Note that when the Word of God began to engage humanity in verbal dialogue, his first command was to have no fear, and listed the summary of his actions as being a shield (Genesis 15:1). This awesome verb is used 8 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
    • The noun προστατις (prostatis), literally meaning for-stander or protector. In the classics this word is often used to describe some dignitary's outward pomp and appearance, but in his Life of Romulus, Plutarch used this word to interpret the Latin word patronus, or fatherliness (hence our English verb "to patronize"), and explained these words to refer to Romulus' conviction that the most powerful men of society should care for the lowly, and that the lowly should not fear the men in charge. This noun occurs only in Romans 16:2, where Paul applies it — with his signature sense of satire and literary slapstick — to sister Phoebe, whom he places smack in the same town as where Plutarch lived. Plutarch lived from 46 to 120 AD and rose to literary stardom after Paul vanished from the records, but he obviously worked from older sources, which were most likely also known to Paul.
  • Together with the superlative of προ (pro), meaning first, namely adjective πρωτος (protos), meaning very first: the noun πρωτοστατης (protostates), which describes someone who stands first, either the man who simply stands first in line, or the instigator or ringleader of some uprising. This adjective seems to differ only slightly from the noun προστατις (prostatis), meaning protector (see above), but the difference between προ (pro) and πρωτος (protos) emphasizes the difference between protecting and being primary (in order or in rank). In Greek society, military commanders were sometimes referred to by this word. In the New Testament this word occurs only once, in Acts 24:5, where it applies to Paul as the supposed commander of the sect of the Nazarenes (which, obviously, had no commanders).
  • The noun σταδιον (stadion), which is a measure of distance (in intent not unlike the noun διαστεμα, diastema, meaning interval; see above). In Latin and thus English this word described originally the length of a race course, and later the arena itself (hence the word stadium). Measures weren't really standardized back then, and the practical length of a Greek stadion depended largely upon the viewer's estimate and good humor. That usually resulted in a distance of roughly 180 meters (give or take 20), but it should be remembered that the ancients hadn't standardized their measures not because they didn't know how to do it but because their usage of units didn't require mathematical accuracy. In other words: there was no practical use for a standardized length called stadion, and a stadion was simply the length of a good sprint.
    The phrase "from 1600 stadia" (Revelation 14:20) describes an area covered by an army of 1600 men doing a short dash. The Revelator's reference to 1,600 dashing horsemen is a rather obvious reference to the disastrous battle of Tigranocerta (69 BC), the victory of which allowed Rome to destroy the precious millennia old civilizations of Anatolia (modern Turkey) and ultimately march on to Judea and do the same there (from 63 BC on).
    Note that while animals like horses are excellent sprinters, humans are built for long distance duration running — hence our celebrated buttocks, which are unique in the animal kingdom. Hence also Forrest Gump and his million dollar wound (and perhaps Seth, the son of Adam, whose name means Buttocks).
    A human will lose from a horse when the two compete at sprinting, but when after a day of trotting a horse (or lieutenant Dan) collapses from exhaustion, a healthy human will wave daftly and keep merrily going. That's how our early ancestors were able to bring down big game, and since Paul lived in a world in which a proper running technique could still mean the difference between life and death, Paul also knew the real reason why humans should celebrate their buttocks.
    In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul does not promote the mad competition we moderns have managed to get ourselves into, and from which only one bloody winner emerges amidst a carnage of losers, but rather an understanding of how you can win a race and how you will lose. Winning is done by being in an excellent condition and running controlled for a very long time, preferably as part of a team. Losing is done by running like a bullet fired from a gun.
    Our noun σταδιον (stadion) occurs 6 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun σταμνος (stamnos), which in theory would describe any agent or instrument for standing (hence the German word Stamm, meaning tree-trunk, tribe or verbal root, and our English word "stamina") but rather specifically a big earthen jar for the racking of wine — that is: to store wine in such a way that dead yeast can settle and be separated; this to prevent it from contaminating the wine. This word could also describe other kinds of jars, or even a box to collect money in, but the main idea is that of some kind of container that has to stand still for a long time for whatever reason. In the New Testament it only occurs in Hebrews 9:4, where it describes the preservative jar of Manna in the ark.
  • The noun στασις (stasis; hence our English "stasis"), meaning a stance; the form, place, nature or method in which standing is done. It often describes the standing of a stone or the erection of a statue, but also the still-standing of something that might otherwise move (staring eyes, a bracing boxer, an unwavering philosopher). It may denote a spot where one is expected to halt, or even a fixed relative place in a military formation which as a whole might run across a field.
    In the New Testament this word mostly means "uprising" in the social sense, and describes the formation of a deviant opinion or position. The formation of a formal standpoint that deviates from what the rest has been saying could of course be very helpful (Exodus 23:2) and the very tabernacle came about from just such an endeavor (Hebrews 9:8). But under Roman (or any parasitic) occupation, people's joint attitude could either lead to social docility or a massive revolt, and anything in the middle was largely a waste of energy and resulted mostly in the crucifixion of the initiators. Whether Barabbas was a pro-revolt insurrectionist or a volatile Scripture theorist isn't known, but he was incarcerated on account of an associated murder (Mark 15:7).
    The message of Paul and Barnabas was of course one of cooperative resistance, and what the main attitude was that they disturbed with it is also not known — whether insurrectionistic and about to burst into a full-fledged revolt, or purely Roman and loving it (Acts 15:2). Our noun is used 9 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • Again together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the noun συστασιαστης (sustasiastes), meaning joint-uprising. In theory this word could describe any collective uprising or erecting, but in the New Testament it denotes a fellow insurrectionist, and is applied to Barabbas and company (Mark 15:7 only). The "joint-uprising" of course ultimately resulted in the Great Jewish Revolt and the subsequent wholesale annihilation of the Jewish world. Modern Jewry and Christianity are really two minor survivors of a much larger Roman-Judaic world (read our article on the name Dalmanutha for more).
    • Together with the adverb διχα (dicha), meaning "in two" or "divided in half": the noun διχοστασια (dichostasia), meaning division (Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 3:3 and Galatians 5:20 only).
  • The noun στατηρ (stater), meaning standard, and particularly any standard coin made from whatever material (gold, silver or electrum, a natural mix of gold and silver). It occurs in Matthew 17:27 only. Even though the stater was the proverbial standard coin, it came in different variations. The Athenian silver stater was equal to four δραχμη (drachme), which appears to have been the one that Peter found in the mouth of the fish. Read our article on the name Lydia for a quick look at the effects of the invention of coin money.
  • The enormously important noun σταυρος (stauros), meaning a stand or stander, and particularly the kind upon which people were publicly hanged. This word is often translated with "cross," which is rather unfortunate because it makes it seem as if some sort of crossing is emphasized. Instead, the stauros could be of any size or shape, but was specifically designed to display victims and keep them alive and in brutal agony for days. A stauros was not an instrument of execution, as is often supposed, but an instrument of determent. It was specifically designed, not to kill people (there were more efficient means to do that) but to fill observers with fear and disgust, and drain them from any further wish to rebel or revolt.
    This public display of rejected elements was a common affair in the old world (Esther 2:23) and even commanded in the Torah (Deuteronomy 21:22), but the virtue of it was of course completely negated by the vice of whoever decided what's wanted and what not. Despite the myth of their benevolence, imperial Rome was a satanic cesspit; a death factory of an unimaginable scale. The city of Rome was a gluttonous man-eater that needed a steady stream of fresh human flesh to maintain itself. Millions of slaves were routinely worked to death to keep up with its insane building program. Rome's army spread across Europe like a spider that liquefied the hearts of its victims and sucked the revenues to its own capital. Abroad, Rome not only slaughtered vast numbers of individuals, it also annihilated entire cultures and millennia old wisdom traditions.
    In order to disintegrate people's collective identities and curb any further resistance, the Roman military specifically targeted priestly elites, burned libraries and desecrated temples of national deities by means of sophisticated semi-respectful rituals — which is why the Jewish' empty temple frustrated them so much; you can't humiliate a national totem if there is none. To the Romans, the Jews became known as "atheists," or the "godless," which was "a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned," according to Cassius Dio (Hist.67.14).
    Rome spread a culture of mad fear that spread like a fungus and thrived on ignorance, compliance and lethargy. The only difference between Adolf Hitler and emperor Augustus was that Augustus managed to beat his adversaries. The rest was the same. The imperial hell that he created was identical to the mechanical society of grids and hierarchies that Adolf had in mind, and even after Rome formally split and finally fell, the spirit of Rome lived on and reincarnated in the mediaeval "Holy" Roman Empire, Nazi Germany and modern capitalism (Revelation 13).
    The Roman way was a societal disease, a phage that destroyed humanity's precious diversity and turned it into putrid slime. It affected everybody it came in contact with, and both from outside the empire and from within, a broad spectrum of efforts was mounted to rid the world of it. Today we speak of the Servile Revolt, the Great Illyrian Revolt or the Great Jewish Revolt but the word revolt in this context means to feverishly trying to rid your national body of a deadly parasitic infection similar to leprosy or the bubonic plague. The senators who killed Julius Caesar (the father of the empire) called themselves the Liberators, and their passion was widely shared. Even the proverbial bad guy Pontius Pilate may actually have been one.
    Rome subdued the world in stages. After a nation's intellectual heart was liquidated and removed, the remaining masses were anaesthetized with entertainment, booze and luxury. The brave Roman historian Tacitus wrote contritely: "Because they didn't know better, they called it "civilization" when it was pars servitutis ('part of their enslavement')" (Agr.1.21). The resistance nevertheless continued and while some misguided zealots resorted to violence and were no better than the Romans themselves, the Roman population was largely so dumb that they couldn't even imagine anymore why anybody would want to oppose them, speak bad of them or even subject them to terrorist attacks.
    Step two was to flog half to death anything uppity and nail what was left to anything vertical.
    The Romans called it supplicium servile or literally "under-folding of slaves," and those eponymous humiliated and subdued slaves were not the ones hanging from the stauros but rather those facing them. Death occurred not only on the cross but also beneath it, to the people staring in horror and disbelief. This secondary death was actually the primary one and the ultimate purpose of the stauros. The secondary death was the death of people's autonomy, will and dignity but it left their beastly bodies alive to perform work in Rome's vast slavery mill. It's the most disgusting form of viral oppression ever suffered by humankind.
    If all else failed and riley populations kept provoking the deployment of Rome's costly military apparatus, the Romans would resort to genocide, which they did all the time. Suddenly their presence in a land would turn from an itchy sting to systematic, inescapable death. Entire civic populations were caught, herded into concentration camps and, over the casual course of days or weeks, slaughtered or hung to slowly die on stauroi. Over the centuries, millions upon millions of men, women and children were exterminated; slowly tortured to death by the Roman phage.
    The Roman phage can't be cured by the same sort of violence by which it propagates — terrorism always triggers counter-terrorism and counter-counter-terrorism until all parties have succumbed to wholesale exhaustion. Instead, the cure for the Roman phage is identical to the cure of any such infection: namely an immune system that is recognized and maintained by every individual cell of the organism at the core level. The only way out is via teaching our children about what is right and what is wrong. Our species had to suffer the Roman phage for two-thousand years so that today every human individual may personally and privately be able to recognize the first signs of tyranny, batten down and raise the alarm.
    The Roman phage literally causes social insanity (hence the story of Legion). Rome's most indignatory assault was on mankind's painstakingly developed wisdom, with which our kind approached the very throne of the Creator (compare Psalm 12:6, Luke 2:52 and Colossians 2:3). But as every school child knows: wisdom can flower like a forest or retract to a single kernel as small as a barely visible seed. Wisdom is alive and not manufactured. It's neither accumulative nor inherently incomplete and certainly not depending on human effort. Instead, wisdom is always fully complete and whole; it varies widely in the volume of its applications but is always the same in its core essence. It never goes away and will always come back. Even in the most arid deserts, wisdom can shoot up and become a shivering brush in bloom within a generation. That's how God created the universe.
    Read for more on pars servitutis our articles on the name Dalmanutha and the verb αμαρτανω (hamartano), meaning to err. For more on supplicium servile see our article on Pilate. For a lengthy look at the literary function of Jesus' crucifixion and Roman brutality, see our article on Mary. And for more on the Latin word crux, and the familiar main symbol of Christianity, see the paragraph "The accidental cross" in our article on the verb πιστευω (pisteuo), meaning to have faith.
    This noun occurs 28 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
    • The verb σταυροω (stauroo), meaning to hang on public display until death. The literal application of this verb isn't complicated, but the figurative use may be a bit elusive, because how does one "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24, also see 6:14). The solution lies in understanding that public hanging was not about killing people but about a public display of unwanted elements. Publishing one's errors along with one's victories is precisely what science is based on, and as long as an honest investigation resulted in the final verdict, the scientific community appreciates a disproven hypothesis as much as a proven one.
      The Jews who cried "crucify him" weren't concerned about Jesus but about Judea, which had to be cleansed from anything that could provoke the satanic wrath of Rome (John 19:15). We moderns are so used to keeping up appearances that we are more scared of being found out about than about the intensely corroding consequences of hiding our errors and weaknesses. But if we truly want to break with bad behaviors, we don't suppress and deny them, but confess them freely (James 5:16). When we thus put our failings on public display, all helpful and loving people around us can help us keep them there and watch them slowly wither. Satan thrives in crypts but dies in the open. Likewise, the truth cannot be known if secrets are harbored (John 8:44). Shame is death (Genesis 3:7, Hebrews 12:2).
      This verb is used 46 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
      • Again together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon in a repetitive sense: the verb ανασταυροω (anastauroo), meaning to put on public display again, to re-crucify (Hebrews 6:6 only).
      • Again together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συσταυροω (sustauroo), meaning to jointly put on public display; to put on public display together. This verb is used 5 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun στηθος (stethos), which most translators insist has to do with the chest (hence our English word stethoscope). It literally means "the upright part" or "the standing part" and would hence refer to the upper body of the erect creature that man is. But in the classics our word also refers to the chests of four-footed animals, and where the related word στερνον (sternon) typically denotes the breastbone, our word στηθος (stethos) could also describe the ball of one's foot or hand, and even a tumorous swelling or bulbous hill. Homer used this word very often as synonym of the emotional heart — see our article on the word καρδια, kardia, meaning heart — but always used this word's plural form ("the stander uppers"). This means that while our word literally describes the upright part(s) of a person, and hence often refers to a person's upper body, it rather obviously also refers to a man's scrotum, and particularly his erect penis.
    The ancients seated the emotions and instincts in one's lower belly, and spirituality and reason in one's upper chest. The lower belly is intrinsically selfish but the desire to procreate forces one to reflect on the other. The sex drive of even the most brutish mammalian male forces him to contemplate the mysteries of a female's desire and demands, and since spirituality begins where the self ends, the sex drive is the foundation of all reason.
    In ancient times people had a completely different sense of propriety, and a man touching another man's penis did not have the suggestive meaning it might have today. The Hebrew noun ירך (yarek), describes the body part of Abraham upon which Eliezer placed his hand when swearing his loyalty (Genesis 24:9). This noun does not refer to the euphemistic "thigh" but rather to what moderns refer to as "private parts," and what the ancients associated with one's most intimate resolve and intent — hence circumcision was done both to one's penis and to one's heart (see our article on the verb περιτεμνω, peritemno, to circumcise).
    In Greco-Roman times it had become of great importance to Jews that they kept themselves separate from non-Jews, and the only way to tell the difference was to inspect each other's penis, which subsequently appears to have happened on a massive scale. Paul even personally circumcised Timothy for that same reason (Acts 16:3).
    All this indicates that upset people would not merely beat their chests but rather also their private parts (Luke 18:13), which in turn suggests that we are most probably dealing with idiom rather than with a literal deed. Although in our modern age private parts have attracted the scorn of morons, someone who is headstrong is still called a dick, and someone who's short of stamina is said to lack balls. When we bust someone's balls we apply a counter force to someone's resolve, and all this indicates that the link between a man's will and his glockenspiel is still well within range of natural association.
    The disciple whom Jesus loved, famously leaned upon Jesus' stethos (John 21:20, but note that John 13:23 uses κολπος, kolpos, lap or genitals), which may indeed simply indicate that he (the grammar implies a masculine disciple) was lying on his back with his head in Jesus' lap. But it may also be a colloquial expression that describes the disciple's devotion to the resolve of Jesus (rather like Eliezer's devotion to Abraham's). But most blatant, of course, is the obvious reference to Genesis 32:24-32, where Jacob became Israel after the angel had stricken him on the ירך (yarek), because of which Jacob-now-Israel came to lean on his ירך (yarek), or rather his resolve (32:31).
    The dietary rule described in 32:32 is of course not a dietary rule (or else it would have showed up somewhere in Judaism's vast library of dietary rules; it doesn't) but a reference to one's choice of sustenance. Quite similar to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil — which was a delight to the eyes and desiring to make wise before the fall; Genesis 3:6 — so does Israel know that although a man's will may be a very helpful and joyous thing, humanity's ultimate fate does not come about because of the will of man (John 1:13) but rather because of natural law (that is the Word of God; Colossians 1:16-17).
    This amazing noun is used 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
  • The verb στηκω (steko, related to our English word stick), which appears to be a slangy corruption of the perfect tense of our parent verb ιστημι (histemi), namely εστηκα (hesteka), meaning to have been standing for a while. It emphasizes a repeated or sustained act of standing, and occurs 8 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb στηριζω (sterizo), meaning to cause to stand: to fix, set fast, support or stabilize. In the classics this verb may be used for any kind of fixing, supporting or attaching but in the New Testament this verb only describes the quality of an unwavering mind or a closely knit community: to resolve, focus, align or (e)stablish. It occurs 13 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:
    • Again together with the common prefix of negation α (a): the adjective αστηρικτος (asteriktos), meaning unstable (2 Peter 2:14 and 3:16 only). Note the curious and accidental similarity with the noun αστερισκος (asteriskos), little star (hence our modern word asterisk), which Greek grammarians used to mark certain passages in texts.
    • Again together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon in a proximate sense: the verb επιστηριζω (episterizo), meaning to stablish on, to set stable on: to provide with support or foundation. In our modern world, the act of giving support usually doesn't amount to more than some flattery and best wishes, but this Greek verb implies the exchange of actual material for foundation: knowledge and information. This verb is used 4 times; see full concordance.
    • The noun στηριγμος (sterigmos), meaning support, foundation (2 Peter 3:17 only).
  • The noun στοα (stoa), meaning standing place. This word describes a roofed colonnade or patio, partly because of its inevitable pillars or standers that carried the roof, but also because that's where teachers stood and taught their students. The five stoai of Bethesda (John 5:2) and the one of Solomon (John 10:23) obviously also refer to teachings or formal systems of thought (see Acts 3:11 and 5:12). Read our article on the name Stoics (see the link below) for a closer look at this word. It's used 4 times; see full concordance.
  • Once more together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συνιστημι (sunistemi; or slightly varying spellings), literally meaning to jointly stand or stand together (Luke 9:32), but in the implied sense of being in a league, association or cooperation. When used actively, this verb means to introduce or (re)commend in order to form or provoke an alliance or cooperative association. Since this verb only expresses a joint standing, this verb could also be used negatively, to describe opposite parties meeting in battle. A variant derivative of this word that's not used in the New Testament, namely συστημα (sustema), meaning "a whole compounded of several part or members" became our English word "system." Most strikingly, this verb describes how through natural law all things associate (Colossians 1:17), whereas the grammar of this verse simultaneously allows the vast insight that natural law is manifested through the association of all things (also see 2 Peter 3:5). Our verb is used 16 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
    • The adjective συστατικος (sustatikos), meaning causing to stand jointly: introductory or commendatory (2 Corinthians 3:1 only)


The adjective στερεος (stereos), means stable, firm or solid, and probably derives from the complicated verb στερεω (stereo). In contexts this verb may appear to describe a condition of deprivation (hence our English word sterile), but in fact it negates a wavering or digression, which is why our modern word stereo is not the opposite of mono but rather an equivalent of the term "high fidelity." All these words belong to a cluster of words that all have to do with being stiff or congealed, which makes some linguists suspect that Proto-Indo-European had a root ster-, meaning stiff — hence words like starch, stare, stark, start and even cholesterol, torpedo and torpor. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but we suspect that this hypothetical root ster- is nothing but a budding twig of the sta- root and more specifically an offshoot of our verb ιστημι (histemi), meaning to stand, and a close sibling of the secondary verb στηριζω (sterizo), meaning to cause to stand.

The verb στερεω (stereo) does not occur in the Bible but the adjective στερεος (stereos), meaning solid or firm (the opposite of liquid), does. It occurs 4 times, to be precise; see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:

  • The adjective στειρος (steiros), which most translators inaccurately interpret as barren. This word describes any situation that doesn't change (Galatians 4:27) but specifically a woman's failure to change from girl to fruitful woman; a woman's standing still in girl mode. The reason for this stagnation, however, is not given. It may indeed be due to a woman's infertility but just as much to her husband shooting blanks. Since pregnancy is the only proof that intercourse had indeed been performed, a state of childlessness implied a loveless (or intercourseless) marital union, which in turn implied that the wife had disrespected or otherwise managed to alienate the husband (hence Michal's curse; 2 Samuel 6:23). Our adjective is used 4 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
  • The verb στερεοω (stereo), meaning to make fixed or solid as opposed to fluidic (Acts 3:7, 3:16 and 16:5 only). From this word in turn derive:
    • Again together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from or out of: the verb αποστερεω (apostereo), meaning to move from a fixed position or solid condition; to liquefy. In contexts this verb describes to take from its proper or consensual place, to purloin, or to depart from an agreed on deal, to defraud someone. In Mark 10:19 this verb represents the Hebrew verbs חמד (hamad) and אוה ('wh), meaning to desire or covet, as famously used in Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21 ("Thou shalt not ... "). In 1 Corinthians 6:7 Paul proposes that it is better to "go out of your own way" than to sue somebody in court. In 1 Corinthians 7:5 he doesn't speak of intercourse but of authority within a marital union. It's fine for a partner to take control of a situation when that person has an established advantage over the other (someone who knows how to weave gets to say-so how the weaving is going to be done), but the core nature of the union must always be an equal association of autonomous partners. Anything other than that will lead to some form of tyranny, which is satanic. This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance.
    • The noun στερεωμα (stereoma), meaning a firmness or solidity (Colossians 2:5 only).

Associated Biblical names