Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb κτεινω (kteino) means to kill or slay but the view on life and thus death and thus killing of the ancients significantly differed from that of ours. To us moderns, life is mostly a private and personal thing and by extension a thing that is governed by chemical processes within our private bodies. That's probably why many of us believe that they have a private soul that is as individual as they themselves imagine to be (the Bible, on the other hand speaks of the, singular, soul of life in which all creatures partake; see Genesis 1:30, just like there is only one Logos in which all humans partake; see John 1:1).
Life to the ancients was much more a collective thing, and all the elements that constituted a single person — from the words he spoke to the clothes he wore, the business he conducted, the art he marveled at, even the gods he believed in — were all produced by the intimate interactions of countless people for many generations. That's why ancient works of art rarely come with the signature of the one creating artist, because no one single artist ever produced anything wholly original by himself.
Our verb κτεινω (kteino), most literally speaks of excommunication; a severance from the society that gives identity to all its people. This is precisely what makes the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden so horrendous because with their expulsion, their dying started (see our article on the verb πενομαι, penomai, for more on this). In the fullness of Christ, all people are reconnected to the Living Internet that humanity is designed to be (John 17:11), and all nations will be logged back onto the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2).
In the classics our verb κτεινω (kteino) occurs both independently and prefixed with all the usual prefixes (apo-, epi-, kata-, sun-, pro-, and so on), and many of these compound words also occur connected to the verb βαλλω (ballo), meaning to throw or cast, and are used as synonyms or euphemisms of their kteino-counterparts. In the New Testament our verb κτεινω (kteino) is not used independently and only shows up in the following compounds:
- Together with the familiar noun ανθρωπος (anthropos), meaning man in the sense of mankind: the noun ανθροποκτονος (anthropoktonos) meaning manslayer or rather human-slayer (John 8:44 and 1 John 3:15 only).
- Together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from or out of: the verb αποκτεινω (apokteino), which describes the formal and procedural act of knocking someone off: to "remove" someone by decision. It emphasizes the act of severance from the life-giving society (rather than some act of clinical "dead-making") and is as such also used as a legal term referring to the declaration of the death penalty: to condemn to death, rather than to actually kill.
Our verb does not describe the act of making someone dead, but rather the act of lining someone up for an imminent death. This may seem like a superfluous distinction but it has colossal theological implications. Death may occur at the end of our lives but we were condemned to death at the beginning of it (Matthew 10:28, see Ephesians 2:1). That means that when someone undergoes this verb (is condemned to death), this person may actually go on living for some time, albeit considerably stigmatized and probably imprisoned or carrying a cross down the streets.
Since the centrality of the death of Jesus is surpassed only by his resurrection, it should be strongly emphasized that the Romans did not kill Jesus; they only condemned him to death. Of course Jesus died on the cross, but his death was not the result of his execution. Again: Jesus did die on the cross but he didn't die from his execution. We know this because crucifixion was specifically designed to have people suffer for days and Jesus was dead after only a few hours (Mark 15:44, John 19:33). Death by crucifixion occurs by asphyxiation, and since Jesus died upon uttering a loud cry (Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46), he didn't die from asphyxiation.
Instead, when he decided that it was the proper time for him to die, Jesus himself willingly gave up his own spirit. He died deliberately and because he chose to, not because someone or something made him to. Or as he himself said: "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down my life so that I may take it up again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).
The centurion who most likely had seen countless people die on crosses watched Jesus die — too early, with a loud cry and for no other reason than his own resolve and mastery over his own life — was so astonished that he began to praise God and witness of Jesus as God's Son (Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47).
This verb αποκτεινω (apokteino) is used 76 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.