Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb πασχω (pascho) means to experience in the sense of to have things happen to you. It's the root of our word "passive", which, among other things, describes one of two "voices" in which a statement can be constructed: i.e. "Bob calls Alice" is active, whereas "Bob is called (by Alice)" is passive. In the latter case, Bob is minding his own business until he is interrupted. When that happens, Bob's mind will process his experience and develop feelings about it. Then, finally, Bob might choose to abandon the path he was on altogether and engage in an action that he wouldn't have if he hadn't been interrupted (Bob might run toward Alice, of perhaps away from her).
Our verb πασχω (pascho) only describes the very first section of the scene painted above: solely the fact that something happens to the passive subject, and not whether this happening is pleasant and positive or not, or what might come next. Since humanity has always excelled in causing bad things to happen to the fellow man, our verb is slightly associated with the negative, but whether the statement "Bob experiences Alice" heralds bad times for Bob is ultimately a matter that our verb does not address.
The importance of all this is that the familiar phrase "the Passion of the Christ" makes use of this verb, and despite its consistent erroneous translation, it does not mean "the suffering of the Christ" but rather "the experiencing of the Christ" or "the things that happened to the Christ". This may seem confusing, so a brief meditation on the basic definitions of Biblical key characters is in order:
God is the Oneness of All Things
In the olden days, people considered the forces of nature (wind, rain, fire, time, rivers, trees) and those of society (war, peace, love, wealth, fun) to be separate and independent entities, which ultimately were personified as independent deities who did independent things according to their own wily natures and good or bad humors. The revolutionary novelty of monotheism (which may actually have been a revival of something we'd forgotten) was the understanding that observable reality neither comprises, nor is governed by, independently operating entities, but rather by the interconnectedness of all things, including all living things and all minds (Deuteronomy 6:4). Modern physics holds this view, as it maintains that all forms of matter, all material forces and thus all action, are unifiable and are governed by a slew of preservation laws that all derive from the core idea that all is one. So far, science has not been able to unify quantum mechanics with gravity, which together with life, represent the three great realms of observable reality that are believed to stem from the same singularity and are believed to be governed by the same single natural law, some day to be known as the Theory of Everything.
The oneness of all things, living and non-living, has of course nothing to do with any of the perceived separate forces, but since mankind's novel and hip understanding of this oneness had to have some semblance with the old model (for the sake of debate with less illuminated neighbors), the oneness was called God (theos, or elohim used as a singular word) the way the old individual forces had been dubbed gods (theoi or elohim as a plural word). For precisely the same reason, Bitcoin got its name to explain what it was, while it obviously had as much in common with a nickel as God does with the gods. This is apparently very complicated for the few remaining critics who still imagine that the God of the Bible has anything to do with Zeus or Viracocha, and should be discussed in much the same piously religious terms. He doesn't. Let it go. Move on.
The God of the Bible has nothing to do with any of the old religious models, but is the oneness of all things, which causes the existence of all things, which governs all activities of all things, and is the ultimate extent to which all things can evolve, which is into oneness. This means that God is not only Aristotle's Prime Mover — whose unified identity relates to the consequent formation of material objects and their eternal dispersal — but also the Final Attractor — whose unified identity relates to the subsequent formation of reasonable beings and their eternal convergence. God is not only the Creator but also the Attractor, and our reality moves away from the creation event as much as toward the conclusion event. This is why God is an emotional "He" rather than a mechanical "It" (and he's a "He" rather than a "She" because in Hebrew, individuality is masculine whereas collectivity is feminine, which is why peoples are feminine, or "mothers").
And to be entirely crystal clear: God is not "all things" but the "oneness of all things". The oneness of all things is more fundamental than all things, which is why it precedes creation (and since time is a function of the universe instead of vice versa, we're projecting our verbal inflections upon an axis of complexity, not of time), and thus originates in the deity, who is one. And this means that the oneness of all things is the same as the oneness of the Creator (Romans 1:20). There is no difference. God is the oneness of all things, including living things, including intelligent things, in which case the oneness is called love, which is why God is love (1 John 4:8).
The oneness of all things precedes all things, but the working together of all things follows all things (things need to be there before they can start working together). The effect of the Holy Spirit upon creation, or the function of the Holy Spirit in regards to creation, is to generate social synchronicity — see our article on ζυγος (zugos), yoke. The Holy Spirit unifies but not by mushing all things together but by bringing all things into a harmonious resonance with each other. This is why there are molecules and languages and such.
The Word of God explains the Oneness of All Things
The parameters of all things (all shapes and ranges of behaviors) are summed up by what the Bible calls the Word of God, which is still the same thing as the oneness of God and the oneness of all things. Thus this Word precedes all things, and is thus divine (which means not created along with the observable universe but preceding the observable universe). And since God is one, the Word cannot be a part of God (God has no parts; he's one), and so the Word is One with God, is God, is with God, is before all things, determines all things, governs all things and hold all things together. Fortunately, to any child who's been brought up with the Bible, this is all very rudimentary and basic (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17, Romans 8:28), so this is where it finally gets a little more complicated:
The Word of God has obviously been around forever, but the Word has been known only since there were people whose brain activity rose above the attention for bananas, mates and supremacy (the Word of God is introduced as an autonomous character in the Bible in Genesis 15:1). Once humans realized that things happened for reasons (that is: when humanity became intellectually aware of natural causality), humanity began to search for that reason, to learn it and so to master its world.
At first the Word of God (the reason why things happen and the way how they happen) was only "felt" intuitively, simply because there was no language to express it in. The problem with gut-feelings is that it can't be taught, and people without that gut-feeling, or people with a different feeling, based on fear, say, or anger, could not partake in the great search for reason and really only clouded it. This is why folks kept stubbornly building ships from wood, even though it had been known since Archimedes that metal ships would float just as well. It's also why until about a century ago, people kept dying from broad dynasties of pathogens while the benefits of hygiene had been known since deep antiquity. And its why tyrants up to Hitler have sought to eradicate minorities, while it has always been known that humanity exists as function of diversity (Genesis 22:18, Exodus 12:38, Matthew 24:31).
This is why the very few truly wise members of the human race developed language and finally script, so that people could formalize the Word of God and teach it so that everybody could understand it. With script, the brittle dependence on the gut feelings of the few true visionaries could be strongly augmented by a much broader debate and solid scientific understanding of our world. The particular contribution of Hebrew scribes to the formation of the modern alphabet is vowel notation. To note vowels, they used the already existing letters י (yod), ה (he), and ו (waw), which combined into their name for the alphabet, and which ultimately became the Name of God: see our article on יהוה or YHWH for more on this.
The literary function of Jesus of Nazareth is to embody the formalization of the eternal Word of God. This is why it was said of the child Jesus that he "continued to grow, and became strong, increasing in wisdom" (Luke 2:40), and that he "kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (2:52).
The Christ formalizes the Word of God
Jesus of Nazareth is a literary character, whose function is to embody the emergence, growth, function and effects of formal (i.e. debatable, non-gut-feeling) knowledge of natural causality among humanity: the Word of God in human flesh. Humanity invented script basically for bookkeeping, and only later began to use script as tool for probing the mechanisms of nature (and later still to mimic human speech; it had never done that). This started in all earnestness with the great democratic experiment for which Athens would be the poster child but which emerged all over the ancient world in the time of Isaiah (8th century BC).
This is the reason why Isaiah exclaimed that the Virgin would be with child (7:14) upon whose shoulders would be the government (9:6). This Virgin, or Παρθενος (Parthenos) in Greek, was the nickname of Athens, and was as unmistakable as the modern nickname Big Apple is to modern New York. Up until roughly emperor Constantine, nobody misunderstood either Isaiah 7:14 or Matthew 1:23; it referred specifically to Athens and generally to a humanity not under forcible central rule but united only by freedom (Song of Solomon 2:4, Galatians 5:1). And sure enough, our Western word is still largely guarded by the principles first wrought during the golden age of Greek democracy.
All elements of the entire Bible can be summed up by the Ten Commandments, which aren't merely the ten most important ones but the ten from which all other rules and interactions derive. These ten come in two sets of five, and these two sets in turn can be compressed into two general statements, namely (1) love YHWH with all your heart, strength and soul, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
But even these two most fundamental principles can be further compressed into one statement, namely: Treat others the way you want to be treated. This final statement is the most potent statement mankind has ever come up with, as it describes everything: from the knowledge of both the self and of others, to the nature of desire, and even the reason of existence, because if this rule sums up one's entire desire and yet there are no others, this rule can only be obeyed by first creating others.
This so-called Golden Rule sums up the entire Word (Matthew 7:12), is thus divine, and describes all natural oneness, from the atomic level up to the unified mind of man.
And it describes that the most intimate nature of divine oneness is to call forth otherness, which it thus unites. And this is the basic principle of dimensional generation (and a generated dimension is an emanation from every point of the parent dimension, not in the direction of that parent dimension). Creation and Creator relate interdimensionally, which is why creation didn't happen at some point in time but time happened at some point in creation. It also means that God is present, aware and emotionally involved with creation at every spatial and temporal point of creation, and can be consciously and intimately contacted at its every point (Psalm 145:18, Acts 17:27, James 4:8).
So far, modern scientists don't appear to be able to tap into the physical effects of all this, let alone derive technologies from it, but it seems clear that the ancients did. Both the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah had obvious technological aspects, albeit of unclear purpose (Leviticus 24:2, 1 Kings 8:10-11).
The Passion of the Christ
Every single human identity derives from the broader shared humanity. Our celebrated individual consciousness largely derives from the words in which we think, and these words only exist because they exist in the minds of many. These words didn't suddenly pop into existence ex nihilo but were honed, over time, by the expressions of the experiences, sentiments, feelings of properness, preferences, judgments and rejections of many users of that language from which we so gratefully subsume our individual identities. Or in the words of David: "The words of YHWH are pure words, as silver refined in a furnace on the earth, refined 'seven' times" (Psalm 12:6).
A person's worldview depends greatly on whether this person is a lofty ruler or a lowly serf, but fortunately for everybody, the dynasties of poverty and richness tends to alternate. If the family of Alice ruled the family of Bob for a thousand years or so, then pretty much inevitably something will go wrong (a famine, say, or plague) because of which the Alices can't afford to keep paying their army, which consists predominantly of Bobs. Hence the Bobs end up with control of all military power while the political superstructure of Alice disintegrates. The Alices, in turn, have no idea how to live without being served, and all of this ensures that within a single generation after a societal collapse, the control over society shifts from one tribe to another, and rulers become servants and servants rulers (Matthew 20:16).
That in turn means that the whole of human experience, whose formalization Jesus embodies and from which every individual derives their identity, is built by rich and poor, by rulers and serfs, by the strong and weak. And in our shared stories, even in the very fabric of our words (i.e. the way words themselves relate), we store the information that describes all aspects of humanity: so that rulers may remember what it is like to be ruled, and that the ruled may remember what not to expect from their limited masters.
Over time, and after many iterations of musical chairs, the great game of thrones has taught mankind to be just in both ruling and being ruled. We have learned to resist the temptation to abuse power and exploit our subjects, as well as the temptation to blame our rulers for all that's wrong. We are building our great library of scientific knowledge in the exact same way, by rejecting what's been proven wrong (no matter how enticing) and embracing whatever works.
God governs all. The Word of God gives reason. The formalization of the Word of God explains reason. And the formation of the formalization of the Word of God is achieved by experience in its broadest form. And that's the meaning of our verb.
Our verb πασχω (pascho) is used 42 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The noun παθημα (pathema), meaning experience in the sense of that which is experienced. Like the verb, this noun implies negative experience (suffering), but ultimately is ambiguous about the effects or purpose of the experience and expresses only that something, anything, is experienced. This noun is used 16 times; see full concordance.
- The adjective παθετος (pathetos), meaning experiencing. This word occurs in Acts 26:23 only, where it applies to Christ, the ultimate "experiencer" of everything.
- The noun παθος (pathos), meaning passion in that it describes the result of the action of the verb. This curious noun embodies something of a paradox, since the verb typically expresses passiveness. Our noun thus describes the passive reaction of someone upon passively experiencing something, and that prior to actual bodily movement. It thus expresses consternation if the thing experienced is something that the subject wants to henceforth avoid, or passion, if the thing experienced is something that the subject likes to experience again. Our noun is neither good nor bad and solely describes what happens when someone experiences something new and a course of action begins to emerge in that person's mind. It occurs in Romans 1:26, Colossians 3:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:5 only, and from it in turn derive:
- Together with the adjective ομος (homos), same or of the same kind: the adjective ομοιοπαθης (homoiopathes), meaning similarly-passioned, having similar desires (Acts 14:15 and James 5:17 only).
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), together or with: the adjective συμπαθης (sumpathes), jointly-passionate, having shared desires (1 Peter 3:8 only). This word is the source of our English words "sympathy" and "sympathetic". From it in turn comes:
- The verb συμπαθεω (sumpatheo), to be jointly-passionate, to share one's passions or desires with (Hebrews 4:15 and 10:34 only).
- Together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning before: the verb προπασχω (propascho), meaning to previously experience, to experience earlier (1 Thessalonians 2:2 only).
- Again together with the preposition συν (sun), together or with: the verb συμπασχω (sumpascho), meaning to jointly experience (Romans 8:17 and 1 Corinthians 12:26 only).
The noun πασχα (pascha) means Passover, the feast that celebrates the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, and which in the Christian era became associated with the resurrection of the Christ, celebrated at Easter.
Although the noun πασχα (pascha) looks like it came straight from the verb πασχω (pascho), to experience things (see above), it really doesn't, although the adoption of this word into Greek was probably helped along with its marvelous match to our verb. Technically, the noun πασχα (pascha) is a transliteration of the Hebrew noun פסח (pasah), meaning Passover, but where in Greek (and English) the verbal associations seem obvious, albeit a touch mysterious (a passing over), in Hebrew our noun is a recognized native of a very distinct family of associated words:
The Hebrew verb פסח (pasah) means to have a shortage, and that shortage may lead to: an impaired mobility, an intense desire, or a debilitating indecisiveness. The derived adjective פסח (piseah) is the common word for lame or cripple, which means that every time Jesus heals a lame person in the gospels, there a bit of Passover going on.
The common Hebrew verb that means to be blind is based on a verb that means to have too much (namely skin where it shouldn't be, namely over the eyes). Hence the proverbial duo "the lame and the blind" more generally describes everybody burdened by not having enough of something (lame), and everybody burdened by having too much of something (blind). Since all humans are born lame and most die blind, the verb פסח (pasah) is associated with being child-like and immature, whereas the words that describe blindness are associated with being too mature and cold of heart.
See for a crucial element of the Pascha experience our article on the adjective αζυμος (azumos), meaning unleavened or culturelessness, in which we argue that the Feast of Pascha was essentially a Feast of Experiencing (and Tolerating) Diversity, namely the diversity that is possible when a society is based on the knowledge of God, rather than on fashions and customs (Acts 10:35).
Our noun πασχα (pascha) is used 29 times; see full concordance.
The noun πενθος (penthos) means grief or sorrow: a mourning, especially for the dead, which is a powerless mourning of the hopelessly bereft (rather than, say, an angry or violent grief that stirs to action). In the classics, our noun could also describe a misfortunate event or, in rare occasions, a misfortunate person. Etymologically, this noun is closely related to the noun παθος (pathos), a passion, or the passive reaction of someone upon passively experiencing something (see above). This noun occurs 5 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
- The verb πενθεω (pentheo), meaning to express grief or sorrow: to mourn or bewail, particularly a mourning for persons; a powerless mourning of the hopelessly bereft. This verb is used 10 times, see full concordance, possibly most spectacularly in Matthew 5:4: "Blessed are those who mourn."
The noun πενθερος (pentheros) means father-in-law (John 18:13 only). It stems from the huge and widely attested Proto-Indo-European root "bend-", to bind (hence words like bind, bond, band and bundle). Still, it is striking that in Greek the word for father-in-law (and mother-in-law, see next) settled in a form that much rather reminded of the word πενθος (penthos), mourning, especially for a lost person.
As we discuss more elaborately in our article on γαμος (gamos), marriage, the Indo-Europeans were mostly patrilocal, which meant that young brides would leave their parents' house and move in with the family of their husbands. Early Hebrews, to the contrary, were matrilocal, which meant that their young husbands would leave their parents' place and move in with their bride's family (Genesis 2:24). In a patrilocal society, the men enjoyed support structures of generations of their fathers, brothers, uncles and male cousins, while the women were all first generation immigrants. That meant that patrilocal societies favored competition and warfare abroad, whereas matrilocal societies, which were based on support structures of generations of sisters, aunts and female cousins, favored inclusivity and homely care. Translocated young husbands in a matrilocal society could easily jump on a horse and see how the old folks were doing. Young brides in patrilocal societies not so much. Parents in patrilocal societies pretty much lost their daughters to their war-hungry neighbors (Psalm 45:10).
- The feminine version of the previous, the noun πενθερα (penthera) means mother-in-law. It's used 6 times; see full concordance.