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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/m/m-o-i-ch-o-sfin.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The challenging noun μοιχος (moichos), commonly translated as adulterer (from the Latin ad, to, and alterare, to alter or make other), broadly describes a disloyal and exploitational person, mostly in a sexual sense, and always men (the feminine versions, μοιχας, moichas and μοιχη, moiche, do not occur in the New Testament, but see the noun μοιχαλις, moichalis, below).

Our noun μοιχος (moichos) is somewhat similar to the more familiar noun πορνος (pornos), which describes a commercial sex-trafficker, except that a μοιχος (moichos) has extramarital sex typically for other reasons than money, and typically to the detriment of everyone involved. And the keyword is extramarital (rather than sex): a μοιχος (moichos) is a man who has intercourse without committing to any consequences, and does so out of selfish pursuits rather than concern for the one he is having intercourse with, her father or husband, and ultimately society at large.

Since in antiquity, sexual relations were indicative of authoritative relations — the doer (husband, landlord) owned the done (wife, slave), or rented her from her owner — the dalliances of a μοιχος (moichos) disturbed the commercial and political order of things, rather than ruffle any sexual propriety feathers, which were pretty much non-existent in the classical world.

A girl was always someone's property (but note Mark 10:12), and having a go at one without properly reimbursing her owner (father, husband, master) was a violation of the broader commercial covenant of society, of which marriage (i.e. the transfer of ownership of a girl from father to husband) was an important element. The severity of the subsequent punishment varied per culture: in the Greco-Roman world, one might get one's head shaven as timely token of one's flaky nature. To Jews, adultery נאף (na'ap) was forbidden by one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14), and both the man and the woman were to be executed (Leviticus 20:10). In our more elaborate article on the associated verb זנה (zanah), to fornicate, we observe: "It may take a moment of reflection, but it should be noted that in the New Testament, the male equivalent of being a harlot was being a tax collector (Matthew 21:31-32)."

Our noun μοιχος (moichos) expressed a broadly societal rather than mere sexual infidelity. It's not clear where it came from. Anatole Bailly (Dictionnaire grec-francais, 1935) refers to the noun ομιχλη (homichle), mist or fog, from the Proto-Indo-European root "hmigleh-", mist or cloud. Emile Boisacq (Dictionnaire etymologique de la langua grecque) and Liddell and Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon), on the other hand, refer to the verb ομειχω (omeicho), to urinate (Boisacq actually lists ομιχειν, omichein, the alternatively spelled infinitive form; L&S list verbs by their first person singular). This latter verb derives from the PIE root "hmeyg-", to urinate (hence too the Latin mictus, and the Germanic mest, manure).

Modern intuition may dictate that a μοιχος (moichos) was thus someone who went around pissing on social convention, but that's too great a leap. All this plays at least two millennia prior to the advent of germ theory, and micturition wasn't considered a particularly offensive act. In the old world, urine was routinely collected from public urinals, to turn into cleaning products and chemicals that helped the tanning industry. Instead, it seems much more likely that the act of urinating (of men) was considered akin the act of ejaculating, and that a μοιχος (moichos) was someone who generously lavished acres he hadn't plowed and fields he didn't own (Matthew 25:24).

The more familiar noun ουρον (ouron), urine, comes from the PIE root "hwers-", meaning to rain or drip, from which also (probably) comes the noun ουρανος (ouranos), heaven, and the familiar name Uranus (Ουρανος, Ouranos), belonging to the god of the sky (Father Sky, husband of Mother Earth, Gaia, parents of the first generation of Titans; see our article on Hellas for more of this — for Tolkien's Souron, see our article on σειρα, seira, cord). That strongly suggests that a μοιχος (moichos) wasn't merely someone who sought to satisfy his sexual desires, but rather someone who generated offspring left and right, without considering the burden of actually raising his children — which is a burden that would befall society, either in raising the bastards or else suffering the consequences of their lack of discipline in their own maturity.

The familiar Hebrew word Torah literally means instructions, and is associated with raising societal infants (people ignorant of societal codes) into societal adults (people fluent in law so as to achieve the societal equivalent of the freedom-of-speech that comes from mastery of the laws of language: see ελευθερια, eleutheria, freedom-by-law). Our word Torah comes from the verb ירה (yareh), which describes the unified effect of a great many little jabs and pricks: a great many introductions, corrections, stimulations. This same verb may describe a massive wave of arrows being shot widely at some enemy army, or it may describe broad sweeps of clouds that release their many rain drops over vast swaths of land. One particular agent noun (i.e. one who does the verb) of this verb is מורה (moreh), which means both rain and teacher.

A good teacher will teach his students natural law, so that they too may achieve the freedom of mastery. A false teacher will teach his students his own glorious greatness, so that they will admire him and his crafty wisdom. A good teacher loves God, and teaches God's law by rubbing his own interests and passions out of the way. A false teacher loves himself and teaches whatever might spawn admiration in his unwitting pupils.

A false teacher is not only someone who tries to inject "false seeds" (i.e. real seeds but seeds of worthless weed in a field plowed to receive nutritious grain), but also someone who aims to sow his seed into soil he doesn't own or has labored over, to the understandable chagrin of the rightful owner of the field, who has plowed the field to produce grain, according to his intentions and broader economical contracts.

Note that the masculine name Adam derives from the feminine noun אדמה (adama), arable field. In an agricultural society, the whole of society is vigilant that no small plot of land would be infested by weeds, which in turn would mature and waft their own seed onto the neighboring fields. That meant that society would not allow an owner of a field to neglect his field for many years (far beyond Jubilee), and let it get overgrown by wild plants and thorns and thistles.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Hebrew verb to urinate, namely שתן (satan), is suspiciously similar to the familiar pseudo-name שטן (satan), or satan (and see the noun κερασ, keras, horn, for a possible explanation of how satan got his horns in popular depictions).

The Biblical instructions for the building of latrines (Deuteronomy 23:12-13) occurs smack in the middle of what's commonly called the "Laws of Acceptance into the Assembly". With these laws, the Hebrews were taught that the societal freedom that marks the New Jerusalem is one of mastery of, and thus perfect harmony with, God's Law. And this freedom comes about, not by journeying linearly through deserts onto some distant destination of bliss, but simply by moving around in very broad circles, whilst simultaneously, slowly but surely, removing the filth from the people's midst and burying it and never dig it back up again (Micah 7:19, Malachi 3:3, Hebrews 10:17).

Our noun μοιχος (moichos), exploitational man, occurs 4 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives:

  • The noun μοιχαλις (moichalis), which appears to describe an adulteress (a female adulterer), but that is problematic since our parent noun doesn't simply denote someone engaged in sexual infidelity but rather a typically masculine sowing where one hasn't plowed (see the verb μοιχευω, moicheuo, below). Moreover, our noun doesn't appear in the classical record until New Testament times, and it's utterly unclear how it was formed. The suffix -λις (-lis) is not at all common to Greek, and its plural -ιδες "-ides" points to a singular -ιδος (-idos), which all rather feel more Latin than Greek. Mixing words and suffixes from different languages has never been uncommon (think, for instance, of Computerchen, German for little computer), and the common Latin suffix "-alis" describes relation to the parent noun, which would render our noun μοιχαλις (moichalis) the meaning of "one who accommodates adulterers" or an "exploitatory woman" (a woman who seeks to be exploited). The "-ides" may even point to the Greek suffix -ιδης (-ides), meaning "son of", which would make our noun μοιχαλιδος (moichalidos) a generation of "sons of she who accommodates adulterers" (Matthew 12:39, 16:4; see Ezekiel 16:32, Hosea 3:1 and of course Revelation 17:1-2). Our noun is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb μοιχαω (moichao) meaning to be a μοιχος (moichos), to commit adultery, to sow seeds into a field one neither owns nor has labored for. Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus considered the accommodation of adultery an actual act of adultery (Matthew 5:32), which appears to refer to the rules of proper field-maintenance we discuss above. This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb μοιχευω (moicheuo), which is often used as synonym of the previous (to commit adultery), but which crucially differs in that μοιχαω (moichao), plainly means to be a μοιχος (moichos), whereas our verb μοιχευω (moicheuo) is denominative and expresses having, inviting or accommodating the qualities of a μοιχαω (moichao). It rather means to tempt into adultery, to plan adultery or to accommodate adultery. Hence, the commandment "don't commit adultery" said with the first verb simply means "don't be an adulterer (guys)", but said with the second verb it rather means "don't suggest or invite adultery" (men their own adultery and women the men's). The woman who was arrested "at the very act of adultery" (John 8:4) was not arrested while having illicit intercourse, but was seen by the arrester's own eyes (!) that she appeared to solicit adultery (by him). Jesus responded by writing with his finger in the soil, which was a rather enigmatic exercise, but he would do something very similar just before he healed the man blind from birth (compare John 8:8 to 9:6). This strongly suggests that in the previous chapter he didn't so much rescue some naively smiling woman from being lynched, but much rather healed some judgmental man from being blind (Matthew 7:2, Romans 2:1).
    This verb is used 14 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
    • The noun μοιχεια (mocheia), not simply meaning adultery, but rather also the solicitation, invitation, suggestion and accommodation of it. This word is used 4 times; see full concordance.