Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The familiar noun μητηρ (meter) means mother, and although both these two words, meter and mother, stem from the same ancient Proto-Indo-European root mater-, meaning mother — hence also words like material and matter, via the Latin materia, stuff of origin, and metro, short for the Greek noun μητροπολις (metropolis), literally meaning mother-city (see below) — the root itself is widely believed to have formed from baby babble (ma-, or more formal, "meh2-", plus a suffix of agency -ter), along with the semantically similar words πατηρ (pater), meaning father, θυγατηρ (thugater), meaning daughter, and the words brother and sister, which have no Greek equivalent.
Still, despite the obvious reality of baby-babble, there are indications that our core word "ma-" nevertheless meant something, and has in fact survived in many unlikely descendants (see for a brief review, below under μετρον, metron).
We moderns reserve the words mother and father for our parents, and any figurative use of these words (fatherland, motherboard) sound rather bombastic and slightly misplaced. But in etymologic reality, the words mother and father have a much wider application and speak of much more than one's biological parents.
From what we can tell from the use of familial terms in ancient languages, these words came to exclusively denote one's biological parents when mankind's natural order collapsed — and mankind's natural order consists of large tribal family groups in which the social collective is the "mother," the domestic economic sphere of the society is the "house," and the ruler (or ruling code) is the "father". This is why Paul calls Jerusalem the mother of all free folk (Galatians 4:26) and Jesus said to not call anyone but God our father (Matthew 23:9).
Mankind's natural nations, or tribes, have been disrupted since the collapse of the Bronze Age — around the time of the Tower of Babel and Abraham; which is why (1) Abraham was called the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4), and John the Revelator proclaimed the New Earth to consist of nations that are healed (Revelation 21:24, 22:2).
A person in whom the rule of the father is expressed, is a "son". This is why Jesus is the Son of God (Hebrews 1:3). The familiar image of Mary holding on to her baby Jesus originated in the depiction of the society of learned men (that's Mary) who slowly but surely received a true understanding of the scientific nature of reality (that's Jesus, or the Word: John 1:1, Luke 2:52, Colossians 2:3). Only later was this marvelous image degenerated into the religious devotional imagery we know today.
The Greek word υιος (huios) means son, but in a legal way and not a biological way. A legal son is someone who is formally accepted as both part of the mother and the father (John 14:20), whereas a νοθος (nothos) is an illegitimate child, either not part of the mother or of the father (or both). But these words have nothing to do with biological descent, and a biological child could be a νοθος (nothos), while an adoptee could be a υιος (huios).
The Hebrew word for mother is אם ('em) and the word for tribe or people is the closely related אמה ('umma). The Hebrew word for son is בן (ben), whereas the verb בנה (bana), means to build and אבן ('eben) means stone. The word בת (bat) means daughter, whereas the word בית (bayit) means house. The Greek word for house is οικος (oikos), from which comes our word "economy."
The noun μητηρ (meter), meaning mother, is used 85 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning without: the adjective αμητωρ (ametor), meaning motherless. This word occurs only once in the New Testament, namely in Hebrews 7:3, where it is applied to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18). Like all characters of the early Old Testament, the latter is of course much rather a school of thought than simply some rogue theological wunderkind, but the author of Hebrews emphasizes that this school of thought arose spontaneously and naturally, not grafted upon an existing tradition or higher authority, but self-forming from people looking at creation and calling upon the Name of the Creator (Genesis 4:26) and those of fellow researchers to compare notes with (which in Melchizedek's case was the house of Abraham). This statement is of course highly relevant, since it emphasizes that the essence of Christ lies not in obedience to a tradition or human authority but in one's personal, natural and unrestricted relationship with the Creator.
- The noun μητρα (metra) meaning "motherhood" or womb (Luke 2:23 and Romans 4:19 only). This word didn't merely denote the body part but rather its function, and was used metaphorically to describe one's origin. It's a synonym for δελφυς (delphus), from which comes the word αδελφος (adelphos), meaning brother. The Latin equivalent of this word is matrix (hence the movie).
- Together with the otherwise unused verb αλοιαω (aloiao), meaning to thresh (threshing is stumping on harvested grain to separate kernels from husks and straw): the noun μητραλωας (metraloas), meaning mother-thresher (1 Timothy 1:9 only). This word is mentioned along with the similar πατραλωας (patraloas), or father-thresher, and although these words were used as synonyms for parricide (the murder of one's parents), the usage of the verb αλοιαω (aloiao) indicates that these words originated in the excessive demands of children from their parents (as hinted at in the parable of the prodigal son; Luke 15:12). Note that the Law of Moses prescribed the death penalty for children who merely cursed their parents (Leviticus 20:9) and the command to honor one's parents is right up there with the prohibition of murder (Exodus 20:12-13).
- Together with the noun πολις (polis), meaning city: the noun μητροπολις (metropolis), literally meaning mother-city, which denotes the principle city of an area. This noun is not used in the majority Textus Receptus (the one we use for our interlinear New Testament) but does occur in certain minority texts of 1 Timothy 6:21 (for instance Stephanus' Textus Receptus). No modern translation incorporates it.
The noun μετρον (metron) means a measure (hence our English word meter), both a thing to measure with (like a gas-meter or a multi-meter), and a unit of length (1 meter = 100 centimeter). Most scholars are confident that our noun μετρον (metron) has nothing to do with the noun μητηρ (meter), mother, we discuss above, and that the latter ultimately derives from a baby-babble root "meh2-", roughly meaning "source", which also gave us the words matter and material, whereas our noun μετρον (metron) comes from root "meh1-", meaning to measure, from which also came our word meal (a measured portion of food) and the word moon, via the Greek word for month: μην (men I). At this point it's probably prudent to briefly reflect on the mechanisms that created language:
Following the herds, very early man roamed the plains in family groups (consisting of one to two dozen individuals), and had very little interaction with neighboring tribes. But when they met one, their natural instinct to imitate (μιμεομαι, mimeomai) the others resulted in a kind of spontaneous and wordless choral singing (see our article on the verb καλεω, kaleo, to call).
So singing, these two tribes reached synchronicity — and subsequently elevated dopamine levels that enticed them to do it again — and the result lodged like a bird-song in both their collective memories, and when these two tribes went each their way, and eventually encountered other tribes, their resulting choral singing began to imitate the previous and so to gravitate toward certain recognizable patterns that nobody had willfully designed but which somehow had always existed deep within all of them (hence also Luke 17:21, and of course the image of Christ coming on the clouds: see νεφελη, nephele, cloud).
The bottom line of all of this is that a baby intuitively says ma-ma to whatever it first bonds with. And that means that the choral singing that arose from deep within the intuitive expressions of very early humans probably also sounded like ma-ma-ma-ma-ma. And that means that the ancient element "meh2-" or "ma-" first expressed a recognition of kinship with another family group, and only then began to denote the maternal parent. That means that the word "mother" primarily means "our kind" and only secondarily refers to the female parent.
The key to all this is that in order to establish kinship, one must first somehow measure oneself (or arrive at some defining standard) and then the other, and compare the two measurements to see if they are alike.
As we note above, the Hebrew noun אם ('em) means mother and the closely related noun אמה ('umma) means tribe or people (and we suggest that the latter came first). But concerning the noun μετρον (metron), meter, the noun אמה ('amma), means cubit, which is the primary Hebrew unit of length, wholly comparable to the meter. It derives from the same root as אם ('em), mother. And that suggests that to the ancients, there was something deeply maternal about measuring things.
The famous empire of the Medes derived its name from the verb מדד (madad), to measure. One of the six Median tribes were the Magi, who would eventually become the first to realize that the Word of God had come into the flesh (Matthew 2:1). All others with the same realization had in some way or form experienced the birth of Christ, but the Magi had observed some stellar phenomenon and "measured" or "calculated" this greatest fact in modern history. When "they saw the child with his mother Mary, they bowed down and worshiped him" (Matthew 2:11).
Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that from the very beginning of sapiens (that is the beginning of speech and thus of abstract reasoning), people have intuitively pursued what Jesus would later called a "birth from above" (John 3:3) or a "birth of the spirit" in addition to one's biological "birth from flesh and blood", which is also a "birth of the soul". In our riveting article on the noun πνευμα (pneuma), spirit, we published a handy table that summarizes the essential differences (and the essential similarities!) between the realms of (a) water and dust, (b) blood, and (c) spirit (after John 3:5-6 and 1 John 5:8). But to summarize our summary:
- The realm of water is the realm of atoms, molecules and photonic energy (see Colossians 1:17).
- The realm of blood is the biosphere, one's body, one's soul (yes, animals have souls; see Genesis 1:30), one's emotions (yep, animals have feelings), one's food intake, one's sex drive, one's own personal survival instinct and hence the desire for one's own personal salvation, or worries about one's own afterlife and final destination. The realm of blood is where all competition takes place, and thus all selfishness and self-centeredness, and where the main principle is survival of the fittest.
- The realm of spirit is the realm of words and formal ideas, and consists of "things" that can only exist in two or more minds (never solely in individual minds, because that's blood). The fabric of spirit is words and the character of spirit is abstract reason (thought about "things" that have no blood-world equivalent: "things" like valor, duty, law, love). Surprisingly perhaps, the blood-world only has a present (all animals live in the now and have little or no accumulated legacy beyond what's stored in their genes), but the spirit world has a past and future. Said otherwise: to dogs, there never was an Elvis. To humans, Elvis has perpetual reality in the past, and in the present in the obviously legacy that still directs modern musicians (something comparable occurs in Matthew 22:32). Soul is many but the spirit is one. Soul is all about the seeking of self; spirit requires the death of self. Hence, love is spirit (John 4:24, 1 Corinthians 13:5, 1 John 4:8), and the realm of spirit is all about survival of the weakest, cooperation, inclusion and symbiosis.
Numbers and mathematics are certainly useful (it helped the Magi find the Christ, so the study of these crafts come highly recommended), but many people today remain convinced that numbers and mathematics will ultimately save us, which essentially confuses the Christ with a number, or the Creator with a creature (Romans 1:25). The Bible obviously disagrees with that position (rather vehemently, actually: see our article on χξς, ch-x-s, or 666). The lure of formal systems based on axioms is formidable, though, even a delight to the eyes and desirous to make wise, which is why we live in a world where even our most cherished beliefs are governed by formal dogmas and statements of faith — which all aim to summarize and paraphrase the Bible.
The Bible, on the other hand, proclaims that you can't summarize the Bible by highlighting certain parts and skipping others (Deuteronomy 4:2, Matthew 5:18, Revelation 22:18-19). You can, however, compress (not condense: compress) the Bible and when all of it is compressed, the result is the Ten Commandments — meaning that all events and statements of the larger Bible somehow derive from the big Ten, and are essentially variations of those Ten or a combination of them.
The Ten are spread out over two tablets, one pertaining to the deity and the other to society (not unlike the particle-wave duality of light and quanta). Compressed even further, the first set becomes: "You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," and the second: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:40).
Compressed even further, these two sets become one, namely as "Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12). This rule is the Word of God as compressed as it goes, as it was before anything else was made to exist, when there was only God and this rule could not be obeyed without there being others (John 1:1-4; see for a closer look at this our article on the verb προσκυνεω, proskuneo, to meet).
The Word of God may be this tiny unified seed ("treat others like you want to be treated"), or it may grow into the Torah (the five books of Moses), or become the entire Tanach (the whole Old Testament), or even the Christian Bible (Old and New Testaments), or expand even further into the whole of the human library (John 21:25, 2 Timothy 3:16). But it will always remain one, and always an expanded version of the singularity from which everything emerged. The Word of God can only be understood when reviewed in its entirety (at whatever level), without rejecting any part of it wherever it may pop up. Any other dogmatic system or statement of faith — anything that is not whole and wholly derived from the entire Word completely — equals a big wet bite from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and additionally violates the First Commandment. Bad idea.
Our noun μετρον (metron) occurs 14 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it come:
- Again together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning without: the adjective αμετρος (ametros), literally meaning without measure (size or number), but in effect also: without cause or source, or without mother (2 Corinthians 10:13 and 10:15 only). Note that Melchizedek was famously without mother (αμητωρ, ametor, see above) and father (Hebrews 7:3), which also means that he hadn't picked up his knowledge from some previous teacher or tradition but had developed it on his own. Jesus, quite to the contrary, had an earthly mother but no earthly father, which appears to suggest that an anointed (i.e. a Christ or a Messiah) gets his instructions both directly from the spiritual deity, and his flesh-and-blood fellow men (which, obviously, again follows the particle-wave duality of the great commandment, which we discuss above).
- The verb μετρεω (metreo), meaning to measure or meter out (to assign a numerical value to something, to cast something in fixed stone, to "catch a cloud and pin it down"). This verb is used 11 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
- Together with the preposition αντι (anti), meaning counter, or in place of: the verb αντιμετρεω (antimetreo), meaning to measure out in turn, to compensate, pay back for, or retaliate (Luke 6:38 only). Note that the word-based counterpart of this number-based verb, namely αντιλεγω (antilego), means to contradict or oppose.
- The noun μετρητης (metretes), literally a measurer (something that measures or keeps records: note that "love does not keep in account a wrong suffered"; 1 Corinthians 13:5). This word would also serve as a unit of volume, and (judging from the Septuagint) was equivalent to the Hebrew bath (1 Kings 18:32, Ezekiel 45:11), which, rather strikingly in our present context, is spelled the same as the word for daughter, namely בת (bat), the feminine version of (actually: derived from a plural of) בן (ben), meaning son. Our noun μετρητης (metretes) is used in John 2:6 only, to describe the contents of the water jars, which Jesus turned into wine at Cana. These jars contained "two or three" of these measures, which rather obviously also refers to the minimum number of witnesses needed to create spiritual reality ("where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be"; Deuteronomy 17:6, Matthew 18:16-20).
- The adjective μετριος (metrios), meaning moderate, with measure, average, proportionate, and so on. This adjective isn't used in the New Testament, but from it derive:
- The adverb μετριως (metrios), meaning moderately or averagely (Acts 20:12 only). From this adverb in turn comes:
- Together with the noun παθος (pathos), an experience: the adjective μετριοπαθης (metriopathes), meaning moderate in [the seeking of] experiences, conservative, reserved. This adjective isn't used in the New Testament, but from it in turn comes the verb μετριοπαθεω (metriopatheo), meaning to act moderately, reservedly or while bearing reasonably with. It's used in Hebrews 5:2 only, with the meaning of to suffer fools (quite comparable to what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:19).
- The adverb μετριως (metrios), meaning moderately or averagely (Acts 20:12 only). From this adverb in turn comes:
- Together with the noun σιτος (sitos), wheat, grain or corn: the noun σιτομετριον (sitometrion), a measured portion of wheat, grain or corn (Luke 12:42 only). An associated verb and noun occur in the Greek classics, but this noun only in the New Testament. Note that our English word 'lord' comes from the antique word hlafweard, which is literally 'loaf' + 'ward(en)', and means 'he who has the say-so over where the provisions go' (see Matthew 24:45).