Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb κεντεω (kenteo) means to prick, goad or spur on. In the classics this verb was used to describe any pricking, including the pricking of a porcupine and the stinging of bees and wasps. But, crucially, this said something about the subsequent dynamic reaction of the person who was stung much rather than the static point of whatever was pricking. Our verb describes a prodding into action. Note that the familiar term κενταυρος (kentauros), centaur, probably also derives from this verb (plus ταυρος, tauros, bull).
The origin of this verb is unclear and it may not even be Indo-European. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, of course, but if we were to guess, we would guess that our verb may have something to do with the Semitic word קנה (qana), reed, spear-shaft or goad, and was imported into the Greek language basin along with the Hebrew alphabet.
But whatever our verb's true pedigree, it's not used in the New Testament. From this verb, however, come the following important derivations:
- The noun κεντρον (kentron), which describes anything that pricks, pokes, punctures, goads or spurs on. It does not describe anything statically pointy, that would be covered by the noun ακανθα (akantha), thorn or prick, but rather whatever prods into subsequent action. When Paul asks, "Death, where is your sting" (1 Corinthians 15:55), he does not inquire about a static pang felt by mortals, but rather the dynamic spurring on of people who aim to avoid their own mortality (by having kids, by insisting on some legacy) and that of their loved ones (by favoring them over others, and seeking their advantage over the demise of their lesser neighbors). The Hebrew word for goad or cattle prod is למד (lamed), which is also the name of the letter ל (le), which also serves as prefix meaning onto or toward. This important noun is used 4 times in the New Testament, see full concordance.
- The verb κεντριζω (kentrizo), meaning to stimulate, to prick into action. This verb isn't used independently in the New Testament but from it comes:
- Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on, at: the verb εγκεντριζω (egkentrizo), which means to stimulate by insertion. This specialized botanical verb described the grafting in of a foreign branch upon an existing trunk, by making a puncture in the latter and inserting the former. This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the verb εκκεντεω (ekkenteo), meaning to expel by means of puncturing, to poke at until it leaves (or dies). This verb is used in John 19:37 and Revelation 1:7 only.
The noun κεντυριων (kenturion), meaning hundred-man or captain of a hundred men, is the Greek transliteration of the Latin word centurio, from centum, meaning a hundred.
This noun obviously has formally nothing to do with the verb κεντεω (kenteo), to prick, or the noun κενταυρος (kentauros), piercing bull (Exodus 21:28), but to any creative Greek speaker, a Roman centurion was a kind of half-man-half-beast whose job was to spur on his men and his subjects while he was at it.