Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The familiar adjective μικρος (mikros) means small, little or short (hence the many English "micro-" words like microscope and microphone) and is often used to mean "least" as juxtaposed with μεγας (megas), meaning great(er) or large (Matthew 13:32, Acts 8:10, Hebrews 8:11), but surprisingly not with the adjective μακρος (makros), meaning long or distant. In fact, the similarity between the words μικρος (mikros) and μακρος (makros) is probably accidental and not due to etymological kinship (even though the etymology of μικρος, mikros, is formally unclear).
Our adjective μικρος (mikros) is frequently used substantially to mean "little ones" (Matthew 11:11) or a "little while" (Matthew 26:73). And its neutral form, μικρον (mikron), even serves as the epithet of James Mikron, who had some unclear but defining relationship with one of the Mary's under the cross (Mark 15:40).
In our world where bigger is better, it may take a trick or two to comprehend that size does not matter but rather fundamental constitution. As Jesus explained, a tiny seed that is complete and alive has all its future generations in it and may yield life in abundance forever, whereas the greatest palace made from the most formidable rocks will yield nothing but ultimately turn to dust (Mark 4:31). Ultimately, the familiar term "great and small" may not indeed describe "better and no-so-much", but rather "already-done-forming and poised-to-yield-unimaginable-wonders" (Luke 9:48).
Altogether our word is used 46 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
The adjective ελασσων (elasson) or ελαττων (elatton) means smaller or less and is the comparative of μικρος (mikros), meaning small or little. It stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root "hleng-" as our English word light. It's used 4 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
- The verb ελαττονεω (elattoneo), meaning to make less. This rare verb appears only in the Septuagint and New Testament and differs from the following one, apparently, in that it describes a downshift in social status, namely a dipping below a required minimum, and thus a becoming receptive of the predicate "needy-slash-wanting". It occurs in 2 Corinthians 8:15 only, which quotes Exodus 16:18, which uses the verb חסר (hasar), to lack or decrease, from which comes the name Hasrah (2 Chronicles 34:22), the "keeper of the wardrobe", which is of course also significant in light of the curious declaration of Acts 7:58.
- The verb ελαττοω (elattoo), meaning to make less, to diminish in status, quality, number, and so on. It's a fairly common verb in the classics. In the New Testament it occurs in John 3:30, Hebrews 2:7 and 2:9 only. The latter instance quotes Psalm 8:5, which uses the aforementioned verb חסר (hasar), to lack, and whose difficult declaration is about mankind's equality with the deity. This is, of course, a touchy subject (Genesis 3:5) but not at all void of real promise (compare Philippians 2:6 with John 14:12, and Revelation 19:7 with Leviticus 18:23 relative to Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10).
The adjective ελαχιστος (elachistos), meaning smallest or least. It's the superlative of μικρος (mikros), meaning small or little, and stems from the same PIE root as ελασσων (elasson), smaller or less. It's used 13 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
- The wonderfully convoluted adjective ελαχιστοτερος (elachistoteros), which consists of the superlative ελαχιστος (elachistos), least, with the comparative suffix -ερος (-eros), more or more than. It means smaller than smallest or less than least, which ties into the principle of transfinity (beyond infinity) we discuss in our article on χρως (chros), skin. Our adjective ελαχιστοτερος (elachistoteros) occurs in Ephesians 3:8 only, where Paul applies it to himself with a kind of double-pun, as the name Paul means Little.