Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun κοσμος (kosmos) means order. It probably stems from the verb κομεω (komeo), meaning to take care of or to tend, but apparently mostly in the sense of guiding young or untrained things to a properly behaving adult state. On rare occasions, the form κομεω (komeo) shows up as variant of the verb κοσμαω (kosmao), which means "to let hair grow long." In the classics this verb occurs much more frequently than one would expect in texts that don't necessarily tell of a tribe of hairstylists, which is because this verb also carries many a metaphor — to stick a feather in one's hair, to let one's hair down, to flaunt one's wicked do — or tells of plants and trees that wave in the breeze or grow into fruit-bearing maturity.
When we westerners hear the word "cosmos" we think of space, but that's because Pythagoras and later philosophers used our word to describe the universe as an orderly affair rather than a messy joint ran by whimsical deities. This was of course highly advanced, but what is not often recognized is that Pythagoras' choice of word implies that he imaged an evolving universe rather than a stead state one.
In the universe entropy must always increase, which is why straight lines never stay straight for long and every neat pile of whatever will inevitably turn into a floating cloud of chaotic dust. The Creator created hyper-complex rainforests, vast systems of unpredictable stormy weather and the Second Law of Thermodynamics and deemed that good (Genesis 1:4, 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21, 1:25) and some of it even very good (1:31). Mankind came along and for some bizarre reason began to favor static straight lines and flat surfaces over the dynamic world of eternal change that God had taken such a shine to.
Rich people discovered that they could get richer by enslaving people who didn't think so. And that's how modern governments were invented. They set themselves in palaces and surrounded themselves with police and military, and proceeded to extract all natural energy from society and transmute that into things like infinity pools and Maseratis. That went a whole lot better if they knew where everybody was, which led to censuses (απογραφη, apograph), last names, addresses, postal codes — in short, societies that were organized like legions: people forced to stand still in rows and tiers whilst taking their instructions from a single boss, who is boss not because he is better at anything but because he was made boss by a bigger boss.
This idea of order is wonderful for the happy few who sit atop the heap, but not so for the heap. In the past it was often thought that natural evolution requires nothing but fortunate typo's and lots of time to progress, but today we know that diversity is the key. The more diverse a set is, the wider the span between the elements, and thus the more varied the combined result, which leads to a more diverse set of next generation sets. In order for humanity to go anywhere, all human individuals need to be free to do whatever they want — and 'all' means 'all'; your freedom can't limit someone else's freedom.
The order that's ordained by God (Isaiah 28:10) is one in which every human being is a christos or anointed king; sovereign, autonomous, wholly free and thus wholly responsible for their own actions. Any sort of tyranny that limits the freedom of people is precisely the opposite: antichristos, which is doomed to be ended by the very laws upon which the entire universe operates (Revelation 20:10).
In the classics the word κοσμος (kosmos) describes the anti-natural "order" of straight lines and straight angles and obedience to bosses rather than natural law. It doubled in the sense of meaning properly, orderly and being on one's best behavior — and note that social norms are mostly rather arbitrary, and in fact elaborations of uniforms, emblems and secret handshakes: ways to tell kin from others. Good behavior is the prime directive of Fascism, and Fascism was of course perfected by Imperial Rome, which is why the Romans (and its many emulators such as the Nazis) hated the Jews who refused to fall in.
Since our word κοσμος (kosmos) mostly describes anti-natural governmental structures and social norms, it also denoted fashion and apparel, particularly of women. It thus came to imply a sense of accessory, which in turn allowed it to describe "ornaments" of speech such as epithets, praise and honors, but always in the sense of propriety and good form. Our word came to be used as synonym for the constitution of the proverbial military kingdom of Sparta, and also became the title of the chief magistrate of Crete (which may help to explain Paul's famous reflection on Cretans: Titus 1:10-16).
There are a few words for "world" used in the New Testament: the noun γη (ge) means earth or land, and οικουμενη (oikoumene) the inhabited "housed" land. Our word κοσμος (kosmos) means world-order and describes mostly the governed world under a Fascist regime. That is the world that might be gained for the loss of one's soul (that would describe wannabe emperors; Matthew 16:26), the world in which Christ was to come (John 1:9, 6:14, 1 John 4:9), the world he overcame (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4), the world he came to save (John 12:47), the world he illuminates (John 9:5), and the world into which he sends his people (Mark 16:15).
Contrary to common perception, the Bible is not simply a story of good versus evil. Everything that exists, exists because it was created by God, and that includes the world-order (Acts 17:24, John 1:10) and all its evils (Isaiah 45:5-7; also see John 19:11, Romans 13:1, Genesis 7:3 and 1 Samuel 16:14).
Our noun occurs 187 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives:
- The verb κοσμεω (kosmeo), meaning to be orderly, fittingly, adorned in a good sense or worldly in a bad sense, depending on the context. It needs to be remembered that even though totalitarianism and tyranny was the proverbial antichrist, the nature of Christ is to live lovingly among tyrants and slaves alike (John 3:16-17), and try to save as many as possible, preferably without getting killed. If standing in the occasional line will keep you from getting crucified, then stand in line and preserve your precious human life.
The noun παρθενος (parthenos) means "virgin" but also denoted Greek's novel city-republic (read our article on Mary). The story of the "ten virgins" who arose and "put in order" their lamps (Matthew 25:7) is of course also a commentary on how the most successful Hellenic governments took proper care of their wisdom elite. A similar double meaning is presented in 1 Peter 3:5, but concerning classical chiefdoms and monarchies. Likewise, the expelled evil spirit who returned with seven vile buddies, also provides a commentary on how not to rid your society of unwanted elements (Matthew 12:44, Luke 11:25. To illustrate this: the porn-industry the way we know it didn't exist until in 1857 queen Victoria's government came up with the Obscene Publications Act to ban trade in obscenities. More recently: the freezing of WikiLeaks' bank accounts forced it to accept Bitcoin, which propelled the currency onto its celebrated rise). In Matthew 23:29, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of "putting in order" the tombs of the righteous, which probably meant they made tourist attractions out of the legacies of successful thinkers of antiquity.
In Titus 2:10, Paul hopes that the teachings of the Lord might "put order" into all things, and John the Revelator saw the New Jerusalem "put in order" like a bride (Revelation 21:2).
This verb is used 10 times in the New Testament, see full concordance.
- The adjective κοσμικος (kosmikos), meaning orderly or worldly in the sense of pertaining to or being of or situated within the world-order. This word occurs only twice. In Titus 2:12 Paul speaks of "world-orderly aspirations," which might have something to do with those hard-to-suppress considerations of violent totalitarianism which are sometimes provoked in the meekest of us. In Hebrews 9:1 our adjective modifies another adjective, namely αγιον (agion), which is the neutral form of αγιος (agios), meaning "holy," and the common word for "holy place" or tabernacle/temple. One of the main functions of the tabernacle was to have Israel organize around it and in response to it.
- The adjective κοσμιος (kosmios), meaning orderly or worldly in the sense of sharing the qualities of the world-order. Paul is the only New Testament author who uses this word, twice, in rapid succession. In 1 Timothy 2:9 he urges women to not be kosmios in respect of their coiffure, but in 1 Timothy 3:2 he insists that it behooves the male overseer to indeed be kosmios. He probably did not mean that overseers should wear ribbons in their hair, but he surely also didn't mean that they should be like the Romans. Paul probably meant that overseers should make an effort to blend into society, no matter how much they loathed its rigidity and lifelessness. Paul himself was so good at playing the blending-in game that he managed to gain personal access to the emperor himself (who, it should be clear, presided over 60 million evenly uppity subjects and had better things to do than to entertain charmless contraries).
- Together with the verb κρατεω (krateo), meaning to hold on or hold in one's power: the noun κοσμοκρατωρ (kosmokrator), meaning world-order holder or world-order controller. This noun occurs in Greek literature as epithet of world-ruling deities, but in New Testament times it denoted the (deified) Roman emperor (Ephesians 6:12 only).