Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun οικος (oikos) is usually translated with "house" but although there is no suitable alternative, it's really quite incorrect. Where our English word "house" inevitably brings to mind a domestic building (see οικια, oikia below), the ancient concept of the oikos — or בית (bayit) in Hebrew — existed long before people lived in buildings (Genesis 7:1, Hebrews 11:7, Genesis 14:14).
One important and revealing derivation of our word is the noun οικονομος (oikonomos), from whence comes our word "economy" (see below). Instead of merely some building, our word οικος (oikos) rather describes a centralized realm of economic activity, and can cover a mere family (Mark 7:30, John 7:53) or enterprise (Mark 5:38, Luke 11:17, Acts 10:2) or church (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15) but also a village (Mark 2:1), a whole tribe (Hebrews 8:8) or lineage (Luke 2:4) or even a whole people (Matthew 10:6, Acts 2:36) or country (Acts 7:10). It needs to be emphasized that in the latter senses the word "house" is not used figuratively but that the word οικος (oikos) really means all those things, and one's domestic abode is a mere manifestation of a much broader concept.
The core of any such centralized economic system called οικος (oikos) is the "housefather" — that is πατηρ (pater) in Greek and אב (ab) in Hebrew — and the members of it are called "sons" — in Greek υιος (huios) and in Hebrew בן (ben) — or collectively the "mother" — in Greek μητηρ (meter) and in Hebrew אם ('em).
When the house develops, the ab can be expected to settle in a comfortable central lodging; perhaps a tent first, but soon a brick building, and finally a palace (Matthew 11:8) or temple in which the identity of the house is manifested and which in practice becomes synonymous with the house — which explains why in the classics our word also became used to denote a cave in which someone lived, or a cage for birds, or the perch of objects on display. But the defining characteristic that distinguishes a "house" from a hobby club is that the members of house share all resources. The ab governs the house, and the house trades and interacts with other houses, but once energy or substance enters the house, it's allocated and not traded (albeit per the instructions of the ab).
The "house" is also not a typically human invention but rather the fundamental building block of nature. Its basic shape occurs on every level of complexity:
- Atoms; The material realm consists of objects, which consist of molecules, which consist of atoms. An atom consists of a nucleus which contains the information that determines the qualities of the atom, and a corresponding cloud of electrons that interacts with neighboring atoms.
- Cells; The biosphere consists of colonies, which consists of cells. A (eukaryotic) cell consists of a nucleus which contains the information that determines the qualities of the cell, and a corresponding cellular body that interacts with neighboring cells.
- Consciousnesses; The human world consists of hobby clubs, scientific disciplines, religions, you name it, which ultimately consist of single human minds. One consciousness consists of an aware person (because no, consciousness sits not in your head, your head sits at the center of the bubble you are aware of), which contains the information that determines the qualities of the mind, and a cloud of signals that interact with the neighboring minds.
For a closer look at this, read our riveting article on the Household Set.
Obviously, a consciousness consists of cells, which in turn consists of atoms, so one house (the consciousness) may consist of many houses (the cells), which in turn consists of many houses (the atoms). The "House of God" or the "House of YHWH" as often mentioned in Scriptures (Genesis 28:17, Exodus 23:19, Joshua 6:24, Judges 18:31, Nehemiah 10:35, Psalm 42:4, Hebrews 10:21, 1 Peter 4:17), is not an atomic house but rather one that consists of many smaller ones (John 14:2, Acts 2:46, 1 Peter 2:5). You will know that you are in God's House when you find yourself in a place where all resources are shared (Acts 2:44-45). All other places are hobby clubs.
When many smaller houses form one big one, the big one is often known as the "tower" upon which the smaller houses are centralized. Read our article on the name Magdalene (from the Hebrew word for tower) for more on this.
The origin of our word οικος (oikos) is officially obscure but here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure that it comes from the idea of sameness or at least a resemblance close enough to assure common interests and thus shared risks and resources. On rare occasions the form οικος (oikos) serves in the classics as a variant of εοικα (heoika), which is an adverb of comparison; a very common word meaning "as," which is part of an older dialect and subsequently not used in the New Testament. It derives from an equally common and obsolete verb εικω (eiko), meaning to be like or resemble, which, despite its being old fashioned, is used in James 1:6 and 1:23 (and which is also the source of our English word "icon"). Another word of striking similarity is οικτος (oiktos), meaning compassion (from the Latin for "suffering together").
Our word is used 114 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The adjective οικειος (oikeios), meaning "housely" in the sense of "in/of the house[hold]" or "pertaining to domestic matters." In the classics it's also used in the sense of being "of the [same] house," meaning kin or brotherly "house-mates" (implying a much stronger connection than merely occupying different rooms in the same building). Our adjective is even applied more broadly as synonym for friendly, familiarly or affectionately, or properly, suitable. Lifeless items described by this word are "one's own" or "one's private things" although even whole cities were described by this word. This adjective is used in the New Testament in Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 2:19 and 1 Timothy 5:8 only, and, strikingly, consistently in plural.
- The noun οικετης (oiketes), which denotes a person hired by a house; someone who works in a house but is not born in the house, an employee. It occurs 4 times; see full concordance.
- The verb οικεω (oikeo), meaning to inhabit, to dwell or "to house". This verb does not simply mean "to be in" or "to hang out at some place" but implies adherence to or induction of brotherhood and central direction. It is used 9 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
- Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on, at: the verb ενοικεω (enoikeo), meaning to inhabit, to house in. It occurs 5 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from or down upon: the verb κατοικεω (katoikeo), meaning to settle in or reside; to belong or live in a permanent place, albeit not necessarily in a brick house (Acts 7:2). An opposite of this verb is παροικεω, paroikeo, or to temporarily reside or live as a foreigner; see below. Note that the residing of Christ in people's hearts is described by this verb (Ephesians 3:17). This verb is used 45 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- Again together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on or at: the verb εγκατοικεω (egkatoikeo), meaning to dwell permanently among (2 Peter 2:8 only).
- The noun κατοικησις (katoikesis), meaning a residing or a permanent dwelling (the act of the verb). This word is used in Mark 5:3 only.
- The noun κατοικητηριον (katoiketerion), meaning a residence or permanent dwelling place; corresponding to οικητηριον (oiketrion; see below). This word occurs in Ephesians 2:22 and Revelation 18:2 only.
- The noun κατοικια (katoikia), meaning a residential area or permanent dwelling zone. This word occurs in Acts 17:26 only.
- The noun οικημα (oikema), meaning a housing or quarters. In the classics this versatile word denotes all kinds of special rooms and places from brothels to animal cages, stables, store rooms, workshops, prisons and occasionally even temples. In the New Testament it occurs only once, apparently denoting a prison (Acts 12:7).
- The noun οικητηριον (oiketrion) meaning a dwelling [place], corresponding to κατοικητηριον (katoiketerion), a permanent dwelling [place]; see above. This word occurs in 2 Corinthians 5:2 and Jude 1:6 only, and note the curious connection with the verb επεδυω (ependuo), to clothe, in the former reference.
- The noun οικουμενη (oikoumene), one of the words for "whole world." This word differs from γη (ge), meaning earth, and κοσμος (kosmos), the regulated and ordered world, in that οικουμενη (oikoumene) describes the world's inhabited regions (as opposed to wildernesses). This word started out denoting only the Greek-speaking world (probably because non-Greeks were considered wild beasts), but it quickly came to denote all settled lands in the known world. In Roman times, this word became synonymous with the Emperor, and in post-Biblical Christian times it began to denote the foretold world ruled by the Pantokrator (hence the laden term "ecumenism" and subsequent moniker "ecumaniac"). It occurs 16 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near: the verb παροικεω (paroikeo), meaning to dwell temporally or visit as a foreigner (as opposed to the verb κατοικεω, katoikeo, to reside permanently as one who belongs; see above). This verb occurs in Luke 24:18 and Hebrews 11:9 only, and notice the graceful juxtaposition of both these verbs in the latter reference.
- Together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the verb περιοικεω (periokeo), meaning to dwell or live around (Luke 1:65 only). Also see the noun περιοικος (perioikos), below.
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συνοικεω (sunoikeo), meaning to dwell together with, to cohabit (1 Peter 3:7 only).
- The noun οικια (oikia), meaning house. This word differs from the parent noun in that this one tends to denote more narrowly the building we moderns know as "house", "apartment" or "quarters" if the word describes a part of a building. In Athenian law, the noun οικος (oikos) denoted one's broad estate (all properties and business), whereas the noun οικια (oikia) denoted the building in which one, and one's immediately family, lived. In later texts, such as those of the New Testament, these two words had lost their rigid distinctions and had begun to be used somewhat interchangeably. It occurs 95 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
- Together with the noun δεσποτης (despotes), literally meaning house-master but in a more modern terms a CEO or employer: the noun οικοδεσποτης (oikodespotes), meaning house-house-master: a CEO or employer. This word occurs 12 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
- Together with the otherwise unused verb δεμω (demo) meaning to build (from which also comes the noun δωμα, , meaning building): the verb οικοδομεω (oikodomeo), literally meaning to house-build but used in the more general sense of to build (a house: Luke 6:48; a temple: Mark 14:58; a memorial tomb: Luke 11:47; a church: Matthew 16:18), to erect (a tower: Matthew 21:33) or to unite into a centralized enterprise (1 Corinthians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:11). The participle, meaning "building", occurs a few times as substantive denoting "the folks building" or "the builders" (Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7). This verb occurs 39 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
- Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on, or in this case, again: the verb ανοικοδομεω (anoikodomeo), meaning to rebuild (Acts 15:16 only).
- Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb εποικοδομεω (epoikodemeo), meaning to build upon, to build upon something else (such as a foundation). This verb occurs 8 times; see full concordance.
- The noun οικοδομη (oikodome), a building; the act or process of building, or a thing that has been built. This noun occurs 18 times, and very often in a mental context; see full concordance.
- Again together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: συνοικοδομεω (sunoikodomeo), meaning to build together (Ephesians 2:22 only).
- Together with the verb νεμω (nemo), meaning to deal out or dispense: the noun οικονομος (oikonomos), meaning house-manager. This word is the source of our English word "economy" (demonstrating that this management exceeds that of one building), and note that our English word "lord" is a contraction of hlafweard, which is literally 'loaf' + 'ward(en). This word occurs 10 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- The verb οικονομεω (oikonomeo), meaning to be a house-manager (Luke 16:2 only). From this word itself derives:
- The noun οικονομια (oikonomia), which denotes the office and administration of the house-manager; the broad affairs of the house. This noun is used 9 times, see full concordance, for instance in Ephesians 1:10 where Paul speaks of the "house-management" of the whole of creation in Christ (which readily brings to mind Isaiah 9:6).
- The verb οικονομεω (oikonomeo), meaning to be a house-manager (Luke 16:2 only). From this word itself derives:
- Together with the otherwise unused noun ουρος (ouros), meaning watcher or guardian (possibly to do with ουρα, oura, meaning tail): the noun οικουρος (oikouros), meaning a guardian of the house; someone who stays behind and guards the premise when the rest is out working or trading. In the classics this noun was applied to guard dogs, roosters and even a sacred serpent in the Acropolis. It was also applied contemptuously to a shirk who stayed at home while all others went off to fight some battle. But mostly this word was simply a synonym for housewife or housekeeper. As such is its only occurrence in the New Testament, in Titus 2:5.
- Together with the adjective πας (pas), meaning all or whole: the adverb πανοικι (panoiki), meaning with one's whole house, "whole-housedly" (Acts 16:34 only).
- The noun παροικος (paroikos), meaning a temporary settler or foreign visitor — see the related verb παροικεω (paroikeo) above. This noun is used 4 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
- Again together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the noun περιοικος (perioikos), denoting someone who lives in the immediate vicinity: a neighbor (Luke 1:58 only). Also see the verb περιοικεω (periokeo), above.