Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb κελευω (keleuo) means to urge, bid, exhort or drive on. In modern translations of the New Testament our verb is often translated with "to command", but that may not be wholly correct, or at least somewhat misaligned. In the Greek classics, our verb mostly expresses bidding, urging or impelling outside of a military context or authoritative chain of command, meaning that, generally, the person who does the urging does so my merit of his own convictions rather than some formal platform of authority, and out of genuine and personal concern for the people addressed (or the situation they are in) rather than some grander political or strategic scheme.
In the traditional society of New Testament times, the community's governing elders were actually the fathers, grandfathers, uncles and great-uncles of most members of the community: men who were themselves heavily invested and thus intimately involved in the community they governed. Their instructions, therefore, had very little in common with the law-based "commands" of some formal magistrate, and the community's response to those instructions, in turn, had nothing to do with being law-abiding citizens, but were rather associated with the desire to serve and bond with one's family, and thus with genuine concern, peer pressure, honor, allegiance and brotherly love.
When empires forced communities to dissolve their natural authoritative structures and accept a synthetic governing apparatus of strangers, the verbs that described how true tribal fathers had always directed the tribe's people began to be applied to the formal governance of strangers. It would take a substantial while for the vernacular to develop that would allow a people to specifically describe how a civil servant would accept orders from higher-uppers he was not related to, and pass them on to lower-downers he was even less related to.
Paul wrote that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12), which (contrary to popular myth) has nothing to do with angels and such, and everything with the vast chains of command that stretch from the flesh and blood civil servant we meet at public institutions (city halls, police stations), up through to the legions of supervisors, committees and boards, all the way to the ministerial and senatorial grandmasters of our governmental machine, who have neither contact with nor understanding of the people they manage. On our evolutionary journey from natural but local governments by a community's genuine elders to the global government of the righteous New Jerusalem, there sits a transitional period in which bands of men are able to cast a dragnet around the entire world and drain it of its resources. These men are doomed, of course, but while it lasts it hurts.
It's officially a mystery where our verb κελευω (keleuo) came from, but one could be forgiven to think of the verb καλεω (kaleo), to call, which in turn derives from the ancient Proto-Indo-European root "gal-", to call or scream, from which also came our English verb to call.
As it does in the Greek classics, our verb in the New Testament does not so much convey the formal "commands" of a person in some governmental position, but rather the spontaneous "calling out" of an alpha for the rest of those present to do something. Not per formal decree but in the drunken spur of the moment, Herod "called out" for John's head (Matthew 14:9). When Jesus "called out" for the multitudes to sit, he didn't "command" like a general would his legions but like the head of a family would his tribe (Matthew 14:19). He likewise didn't "command" Peter to come across the water but "called out" for him to do so (Matthew 14:28). When the fictional king demanded payment of outstanding debts, he "called out" for the one who couldn't pay to be sold into slavery (Matthew 18:25). Since the law of commerce was already in place, the king did not "command" it but rather called for the law to be applied.
Our verb κελευω (keleuo) is used 27 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it comes:
- The noun κελευσμα (keleusma), which describes a call or shout, and particularly a shout whose purpose it is to urge the addressed into natural action. In the classics this word often takes on the meaning of a single shouted command — of a driver to his horses, a hunter to his hounds, a captain to his troops — but not one that conveys carefully worded information by a commander from the rear, but rather a non-verbal vocalization in the heat of some exchange, exclaimed by someone up front. In the New Testament, this noun occurs in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 only.