Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: λιμην

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/l/l-i-m-et-n.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun λιμην (limen) means harbor, haven or port. It stems from the Proto-Indo-European noun leymo, meaning lake, which in turn comes from the root "ley-", meaning to flow, pour or stream, plus the suffix "-ma", which indicates agency.

In Greek, our word comes with an emphasis on safety and shelter (instead of, say, commerce). In Homer's Odyssey, for instance, occurs the phrase λιμενες θαλασσης (limenes thalasses), literally meaning "harbor from the sea" but by implication "shelter from the sea", or more precise: "an escape from violent ruin by the sea". As such, our word is used metaphorically in the sense of haven, retreat, refuge or even simply a (safe) gathering place.

Hence our word is used in phrases like "a haven of friendship", "a haven from ills", even the "harbor of Hades". Some ancient writers used the noun λιμην (limen) as synonym for αγορα (agora), denoting a place of assembly or market. Sophocles even spoke of the "bounteous harbor" that suited Oedipus both as child and as father, and with which he doubtlessly meant his mother's embrace or even womb.

Our word is used only twice in the narrative of the New Testament, namely in Acts 27:12, where the harbor of Fair Havens (in Greek: Kaloi Limenes, see Acts 12:8) is said to be not suited for wintering and the one in Phoenix is considered as an alternative.


The noun λιμνη (limne) means lake, a large inland body of water, and is obviously related to the above. It technically derives from the verb λειβω (leibo), to pour or pour forth, from the same PIE root as the name λιψ (lips) for the southwestern wind. It seems reasonable to assume that the Latin verb libo, to pour (hence the English to libate) also relates to our verb, or at least was treated as such by ancient poets.

The "lake" of fire that Revelation speaks of is obviously a metaphor (since a lake consists of water, not fire), and many have wondered what it might be a metaphor of. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but if we were to guess we would guess that the fire (and see our article on πυρ, pur, fire) is rather a mental thing, having to do with how the reasonable mind derives energy from observations, and transforms it into knowledge, in somewhat the same way that bees make honey from nectar.

A signature quality of a lake is that it is landlocked, so whatever resides in a lake is no longer part of the global sea (even though the water evaporates or flows out in rivers, and is replenished by rivers flowing in). Land in the Bible is a metaphor for certainty and the known (certainty is the mind's footing; hence Peter's plunge: Matthew 14:30), and water represents the unknown and thus uncertainty.

That means that satan and friends will be made to reside in a tiny pool of uncertainty, which is locked in by certainty. The fire indicates that a lot of mental energy will still be spent on that lake, but since the world will wholly rest on vast swathes of certainty, the uncertainty will probably be regarded as entertaining (and satan like some snarling beast in a cage in a zoo), but will pose no threat to anyone.

Our noun is used 11 times; see full concordance.


The verb αλειφω (aleipho) means to pour, and stems either from the same PIE root as the above, or else shares another, similar root with the Latin verb libo, to pour, we mention above.

Our verb αλειφω (aleipho) means to pour, but specifically of oil (even though our word does not mention oil, in all extant contexts oil is what's poured). Greek society embraced every occasion to pour olive oil onto people, but the reasons for this appears to have escaped us moderns. Inscriptions in gyms told visitors how appropriate and necessary a good oil-rub was, but not why. Wounded and sick people got lavishly ointed, possibly in an attempt to balance the bodily humors. Honored guests got a stern swig poured onto their heads, and nobody seemed to have minded, or wondered why having a wet and sticky head for the rest of the evening was indicative of one's eminence.

Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either but since the Greek alphabet is an adaptation of the Hebrew one, and many key words of the Semitic wisdom tradition were imported along with the alphabet (see our articles on the names Colossae and Hellas), it wouldn't be off-brand to expect that the alphabet plus key words were also accompanied by certain key rituals. One such a ritual was the anointing of anyone who had no earthly superior. In the Hebrew world that would be every king, prophet and high priest — someone like that would hence be known as Messiah, from the verb משח (mashah), to anoint, or in Greek as Christ, from the verb χριω (chrio), to anoint.

Lacking the sense to differentiate between someone who truly has no earthly superior and someone to merely butter up, the Greeks may have begun to pour oil on all their favorite athletes and their most honored guests. Perhaps a link was made between Christ and the art of healing, which would explain the daubing of the sick.

It appears to us here at Abarim Publications that the Greeks may have started to douse themselves with oil out of religious motivations. A not dissimilar thing has occurred in modern times when enthusiasts took notice of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus, and decided that being "born again" was contingent on one's own will, and a condition that could be self-declared in a bout of pious spontaneity (whereas others noted that any sort of birth is preceded by a lengthy gestation period, following a steamy encounter of at least two parents — nobody who is born, is born because they themselves decided to be). In the Bible, salvation is always a collective thing, whereas damnation may be a private and personal thing.

Likewise, many people go around calling themselves Christian because they "follow Christ," apparently not realizing that one follows Christ into Christ and is thus a Christ (an anointed, a sovereign) in the larger Body of Christ (a republic of sovereigns, see Exodus 19:6, Romans 8:17, 1 Corinthians 3:9), whereas a Christian is One Under The Anointed, and is thus not a sovereign but works as a servant for the sovereign. That sounds really helpful, but Jesus Christ died for his people not so that they could continue to be the help, but rather so that they could be co-heirs and co-rulers with him. It's harrowingly ungrateful to continue going around referring to oneself as the help, while the war has been won at great cost and the slaves were freed to great cheer (1 Corinthians 15:24).

Our verb αλειφω (aleipho), to oil, is used 9 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:

  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the verb εξαλειφω (exaleipho), to rub away, to erase by rubbing olive oil onto something. It's used 5 times; see full concordance.

The noun λιμος (limos) means hunger or famine. It's of unknown etymology, but its form clearly matches the above. This in turn suggests that, regardless of our noun's technical heritage, to a creative Koine author, our noun would compare an empty stomach to an empty harbor, and ships coming in like food to a nation (see ναυς, naus, ship, ναος, naos, temple, and κυβερναω, kubernao, to steer a ship).

Our noun is used 12 times; see full concordance. In Matthew 24:7 and Luke 21:11 it appears in tandem with λοιμος (loimos), see next.


The noun λοιμος (loimos) means plague or pestilence (Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11 and Acts 24:5 only), and both in the New Testament and in the classics occurs often in a proverbial tandem with λιμος (limos), see above. Like λιμος (limos), our noun is of unknown and unclear etymology, and an association with the aforementioned PIE verb meaning to flow or pour seems anti-intuitive, until we realize that our English word herpes comes from the verb ερπω (herpo), to creep or progress slowly (and relates to the Latin verb serpo, to creep, from which we get our English word serpent).

The comparable noun λοιγος (loigos) isn't used in the New Testament but means ruin or destruction. The variant λοιγιος (loigios), meaning deadly or pestilence, was an epithet of Mars. These words are also of unknown etymology, but obviously resemble the important noun λογος (logos), meaning Word (as in "Word of God"). This latter noun is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew noun דבר (dabar); hence the equivalent name Dabar for the Greek name Logos. The parent verb of this Hebrew noun is דבר (dabar), meaning to formalize (to put into words). Another noun derived from that same verb is דבר (deber), meaning pestilence. This is probably not a coincidence.


The noun λυμη (lume) describes an outrageous treatment, a maltreatment which results in personal damage. It too is of unclear origin but is thought to share a root with the noun λιμος (limos), famine or starvation (see above), which in turn relates to λοιμος (loimos), meaning plague.

Note the curious similarity with the Latin noun lumen, light, from the root lux (hence the name Luke), from the adjective λευκος (leukos), to be white, which is the synonym of the Hebrew לבן (laban), to be white, which was the signature color of leprosy (Leviticus 13:3, Numbers 12:10).

Our noun λυμη (lume) does not occur in the New Testament, but from it derives:

  • The verb λυμαινομαι (lumainomai), meaning to treat outrageously, to ruin violently (Acts 8:3 only). An identical verb means to clean from dirt (physical and moral), and stems from the noun λυμα (luma), water used in washing, from the PIE root "lew-", dirt or mud.

Associated Biblical names