Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb πειρω (peiro) means to pierce, and in the Greek classics it's mostly used to describe skewering slabs of meat with iron spikes in order to roast them over a fire. On occasion this verb describes the piercing of a ship's hull through the seas, and in his Iliad, Homer spoke of Peleus who wielded a staff pierced with golden nails (Il.1.246), a huge cup pierced with gold studs (11.633), and Aphrodite, whose heart was pierced with grief upon the death of her son Aeneas (5.399). These themes are rather obviously also discussed in the Bible (Isaiah 53:5, Matthew 26:27, Luke 2:35, John 20:25), and may actually ultimately derive from much older material. Like Jacob, Aeneas was specifically struck on the socket of the thigh (compare Il.5.305 with Genesis 32:25, but see our article on the noun στηθος, stethos).
The verb πειρω (peiro) isn't used in the New Testament but it still left quite a mark. It ultimately stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root — namely poro-, meaning passage — from whence English gets words like pore and porous. This root in turn is part of a super-cluster of per- words that have to do with to lead or pass — hence words like deport, farewell, ferry and even Führer and the name Euphrates. The Greek verb φερω (phero), hence words like port and portable, is also part of this cluster.
Derivatives of our verb πειρω (peiro) are:
The noun πειρα (peira) literally means a piercing or probing and described a sharp point (that pierces) but came to be used to describe a trial or probe (in the sense of a test or experiment). It derives from the verb πειρω (peiro), to pierce, which in turn stems from the broad Proto-Indo-European root "per", meaning around (hence the familiar refix περι, peri), forward or through. This latter nuance conveys an element of trial or even risk: hence also the Latin verb experior, to experience.
- Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective απειρος (apeiros), literally meaning without probing features: without skills or wisdom. This word is used in Hebrews 5:13 only, where it describes a skill-less or toothless child (see our article on the Hebrew word שן, shen, tooth).
- The verb πειραζω (peirazo), meaning to pierce, probe, try, and thus to tempt. Though often uncomfortable, this verb forms one of the main attributes of the scientific method, namely that of an experimental examination of any proposed hypothesis. Contrary to popular perception, certainty is achieved only when the experiment disproves a hypothesis (which is then known to be false) because the agreement between an experiment and a hypothesis does not guarantee that a subsequent, perhaps more precise experiment will still prove the hypothesis wrong. This means that Truth can never be proven and is destined to always be tested, which in turn explains how this verb yielded one of the epithets of the devil, namely the Temper or Prober (Matthew 4:3; the same form is used in Matthew 22:35 for a scientific "prober"). A continuous probing of all statements is essential to science and obviously not what makes the devil evil, but perhaps a certain level of recognition should allow a person of insight the courage to bridge any remaining uncertainty and embrace what might follow when universal truth is accepted without reserves (Zechariah 12:10, John 19:37). This verb is used 38 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- Again together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective απειραστος (apeirastos), meaning unpierceable or un-probeable. This difficult word occurs in James 1:13 only, where it is often interpreted to describe how God cannot be tempted by the bad, but more precise would be that God cannot be probed by the bad, which in turn has led some to believe that God cannot experience the bad and is thus ignorant of it. The solution to the many paradoxes this line of reasoning is heir to comes with the understanding of monotheism. The devil is not God's polar opposite, just like darkness is not the opposite of light but rather the absence of it. God, of course, cannot be absent anywhere but humans can either act divinely (i.e. enlightened and lovingly) or un-divinely (ignorant and hateful). Still, since there is only light and the absence of light but not the presence of some substance called darkness, God is the one who brings about good and evil: Isaiah 45:7.
- Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the verb εκπειραζω (ekpeirazo), literally meaning to out-pierce. This curious verb isn't used in the classics, which makes it difficult to estimate what exactly the authors had in mind with it. But judging from its association with serpents (1 Corinthians 10:9) it seems that this verb describes a hunter poking a stick into a snake's lair to pry it out (see our article on the name India). This same verb is used in the Greek translations of the famous prohibition on tempting God, which hence doesn't so much speak of a scientific examination of the Creator (since even the Spirit does that; 1 Corinthians 2:10) but rather on trying to find ways to poke God into fury, or perhaps more accurately: assuming that God is a Being who hides in holes and comes darting out when sufficiently provoked, so that the talented God-whisperer can scoop Him up, take Him out and put Him on display. This verb is used 4 times; see full concordance.
- The noun πειρασμος (peirasmos), meaning a test, probing or examination. This word features in all the famous temptation-contexts, from "lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13) to the merciful delay of the "hour of temptation" (Revelation 3:10). In the middle ages, certain primitives tried to explain these contexts with the assumption that the Creator had strewn the world with goodies to see which weaklings would go for them, but that's obviously not how the Creator works. Instead, our word describes the same kind of scrutiny that science deploys to test all of its hypotheses, to see which fail (and thus provide certainty and are thus certainly rejected) and which don't (which thus are lined up for even more scrutiny and even stricter tests). Instead, our word is much rather like an audit from the IRS, which is mostly dreaded by people who are too poor to live honest, like single mothers who routinely have to choose between paying tax or paying rent. People who have enough to make ends meet don't dread an audit. And the more money people have, the more lawyers they can afford and the less tax they end up paying. Audits are only dreaded by the poor, and in the righteousness arena this includes all of us: Romans 3:23. This noun is used 21 times; see full concordance.
- The verb πειραω (peirao) also means to pierce, and differs from πειραζω (peirazo) in that the latter technically describes a whole lot of piercings whereas the former technically only describes one. This subtle difference in Greek yields a larger difference in English, as the latter tends to describe a continuous or perpetual subjection to probing, whereas our verb πειραω (peirao) describes a single or isolated instance of it. Hence in English it means to try but in the sense of "to try to find a way to" or "to examine how to" (Acts 9:26, 26:21 and Hebrews 4:15 only). The Jews who were trying to kill Paul were lawyers, not riotous buffoons, and their attempt to kill Paul had to do with finding the right Roman laws to apply (Acts 26:21).
Again from our verb πειρω (peiro) comes the noun πορος (poros), which, like its parent verb, also doesn't occur in the New Testament. It describes any kind of hole or passage. In Greek literature this word mostly described waterways, and particularly the narrowest points of rivers and ocean passages or straights, and it subsequently also came to refer to the place to cross them, including the ferries or bridges with which to do so, or even journeys taken by boat through passages.
Frequently our word referred to bodily orifices or passages, from the tiniest pores (same word) in one's skin to any hole from mouth to anus including the womb and urinal tract. It also referred to assumed passage ways between the sensory organs and the heart (or brain).
In a slightly more figurative sense our noun referred to the means to accomplish or achieve an objective, to complete a journey or pull off a heist or other contrivance. In plural it served to describe a general "ways and means" (that is: the socio-economic equilibrium of the person discussed) or the assessable income of an estate.
In their signature illustrative zeal, the Greeks personified the broad concept of πορος (poros) in a male deity called Poros, the patron of resourcefulness and expediency. Once, while drunk on Aphrodite's birthday, Poros was seduced by Penia, the personification of poverty and need, and from their union sprang Eros, whose celebrated interest in bodily orifices appears to have originated in the understanding that wealth comes from exchange, which in turn comes from neighborly love. This is significant because all following words derive from our noun πορος (poros), meaning passage:
The noun εμπορος (emporos) consists of the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on, at or by, and the noun πορος (poros) meaning passage (see above). It has nothing to do with the familiar word empire, which comes from the Latin verb impero, to command, and the noun imperium, a command.
Our noun εμπορος (emporos) describes someone who goes through passages: a traveler or trafficker. When mankind gave up the nomadic life and settled down in cities, societies tended to be mostly static and mostly centered on a singular storage of common wealth. These storages later became temples — see our article on the noun ναος (naos), meaning temple.
Although life in the protecting cities was grand compared to living out in the field, ancient stories must have told of a time before time, when a vast humanity was spread out over all the earth and walked around with the beasts and interacted like a living blanket, a blanket which for some reason had torn into many separated patches. A few brave adventurers set out with a selection of their good to offer; to restore the torn human blanket and stitch the patches of human life together with the threads of their trade routes and the needles of their caravans.
Their primary mode of transport was of course the camel — the Hebrew for camel is גמל, gamal, from the verb גמל, gamal, meaning to invest — and when Jesus spoke of rich men and camels that go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), he wasn't going out on a metaphorical limb but submitted that the purpose of international trade was not the acquisition of more wealth but rather the exchange and mixture of goods and ideas (Matthew 13:45). Likewise salvation is not a private thing and depends not on one's personal acquisition of all the right answers and behaviors (or else rich people, who have time to study and ponder, would have a serious advantage over poor people, who have to slave all day), but rather the investment of one's God's-given talents in the earth (Matthew 25:14-30, John 12:24).
When international trade began to boom, camels made way for ships. The Greek word for ship is ναυς (naus), and its similarity to ναος (naos), meaning temple, is no coincidence. God brought Abraham to Canaan and Canaan means trade. That is no coincidence either. Read our article on the name Abraham for a closer look at how important international trade was to humanity's cultural evolution.
The noun εμπορος (emporos), means long-distant wholesale merchant who would travel between cities to buy from and sell to local retailers known as καπηλος (kapelos). Our noun occurs 5 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
- The noun εμπορια (emporia), which describes the act of trading between wholesale and retail merchants (Matthew 22:5 only).
- The noun εμποριον (emporion), which describes the place of trading between wholesale and retail merchants: the high-end of the commercial market place (John 2:16 only). Note that a physical market place was a much broader affair that merely a place of buying and selling — see our article on the noun αγορα (agora), meaning market place.
Jesus became so upset with the traders in the temple, not because they were trading (because that's the whole idea of life) but because trade must serve (Genesis 9:25-27) to exchange social energy between producers and consumers (in simple compliance with the second law of thermodynamics). When trade becomes disconnected from the individual producers and consumers and becomes its own thing, prices will necessarily inflate and social energy will flow from the creators of wealth onto storers of wealth. In those stagnant storages, wealth will be inert and the land will famish. Fortunately for the land, the universe has a safety mechanism which moderns call Hawking Radiation. This mechanism makes it impossible for any concentration of energy to live forever. No matter how great a tomb one builds for oneself, eventually all accrued wealth will find its way back into the liquid economy.
Thanks to blockchain technology, the late 2010's and early 2020's will see a modern application of Jesus' famous tantrum, namely mankind's spontaneous but calm and controlled dismantling of Wall Street and the banking sector.
Also derived from the noun πορος (poros), meaning passage, is the verb πορευομαι (poreuomai), meaning to do a passage; to traverse or to travel. It's a fairly common verb of motion that emphasizes a relatively longer, sometimes international journey, and usually with the implied or stated intent of some kind of trade or exchange (John 16:7). This is also the verb used in statements that deal with one's "walk" of life (Luke 1:6, 17:19, Acts 9:31, 14:6, Jude 1:18).
Note that this verb is most often used in the passive voice (but deponent, which means that translators commonly interpret it as if active), which may indicate that long distance travel was originally seen as something that happened to the traveler rather than something the traveler did. All this in turn suggests that trade-travel may indeed have been named after the invention of drilling a hole in a sharp pin, and was indeed most naturally associated with sowing patches of cloth together into one multifarious garment — hence rather obvious Joseph's varicolored tunic, but less obvious the cloths in which Jesus was laid (Luke 2:7). Likewise, Jesus' statement about sowing a new patch on an old garment may not so much discuss the finer points of tailory but rather why novel and thus volatile communities don't fare well in traditional markets (Matthew 9:16).
This verb is used 154 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διαπορευομαι (diaporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel through. This verb is used 5 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition εις (eis) meaning in or to: the verb εισπορευομαι (eisporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel into. This verb usually simply describes a journey into a certain town or place, but also describes the passing of food into one's belly (Matthew 15:17), and the observation of events into one's mind (Mark 4:19). Note that both of these applications don't simply describe a mere translocation but rather transformation or even the prelude to digestion, which is the extraction of nutrients from a larger agent. This is of course precisely what trade is based on, and also why a church should not be about one guy standing on a stage preaching but about all people trading (Acts 3:2). This verb also explains Jesus' otherwise enigmatic wish to have his flesh eaten (Matthew 26:26-28).
Note that this verb forms a coalition with the next, which describes the final end of digestion. This verb is used 17 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εκπορευομαι (ekporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel out from. Besides a simple passing out of a village, this verb also describes the secretive part of digestion. Food (or information) is taken in, dissected and harvested for nutrients. Whatever is left is joined with wastes and passed on out. This primarily suggests that both money and expressions such as speech are forms of excrement (Matthew 15:18, Mark 7:20-7-23, Ephesians 4:29). And it secondarily suggests that excrement could be deadly when misapplied but very beneficial when cast upon an acre. That means that both the love of money and rote learning — that is learning statements by heart or the literal absorption of obviously allegorical texts — equal eating feces. Both speech and money are meant to be fertilizers, and if they are not fertilizing they are crap. Note that flies go crazy about a fresh steamy flop, and the word for fly is זבב (zebub), from whence comes the name Beelzebub.
The story of the stone that the builders rejected and which got thrown out with the wastes ties into the digestive nature of international trade (Matthew 21:42), and so do the streams of living water that come from one's inside (John 7:38). After all, "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34) and see our article on the word καρδια (kardia), meaning heart for the link with digestion. Likewise, Jesus didn't "declare all foods clean," as most translations bashfully suggest, but our autonomous digestion system bypasses all our attempts to control everything, and calmly separates the useful or "clean" elements from the useless or "unclean" ones.
Also note that there is no inherent foul smell to excrement. Our modern abhorrence of all things flatulent is conditioned (which is why babies don't mind poop) and stems from the middle ages, when people finally figured out that drinking from the same water in which one deposited one's dumps would lead to horrendous and deadly diseases. The Jews were far more advanced in matters of hygiene than any European until the early 20th century, but the idea that one system would have higher and lower parts (unter- and über-, if you will) has always remained foreign to them. In other words: where a European will take what he likes and scorn or destroy what he doesn't, a Jew may engage a merchant and obtain the things he personally likes while also realizing that the wares he doesn't choose might be appreciated by someone else. The Jew would also know that the money he gave to the merchant would return to where the merchant came from, turn into more of the wares that the Jew likes, and if the Jew had treated the merchant with respect, the latter and the wares would return for more business.
This verb is used 33 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on, at: the verb ενπορευομαι (emporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel in. This verb does not describe an entering into something from outside, but rather a traveling around wholly within something. As such it may be used as synonym for the actual digestion, as well as conducting wholesale trade on a local scale: to turn over (James 4:13 and 2 Peter 2:3 only).
- Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επιπορευομαι (epiporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel upon, to arrive (Luke 8:4 only).
- Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παραπορευομαι (paraporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel near or by. This verb occurs 5 times; see full concordance.
- The noun πορεια (poreia), meaning a passing, a traversing (Luke 13:22 and James 1:11 only). The Lucan reference speaks of "passage-making," which literally implies "hole-making." In other words: Jesus wasn't merely hiking toward Jerusalem, he was making sowing needles (see Matthew 28:19). The reference in James paints the picture of a rich man being passed through the digestive tract of humanity. Human economy works like any natural system, and any concentration of energy must eventually dissipate.
- Together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning before: the verb προπορευομαι (proporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel ahead of (Luke 1:76 and Acts 7:40 only).
- Together with the prefix προς (pros), which describes a motion toward: the verb προσπορευομαι (prosporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel toward someone or something (Mark 10:35 only).
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συμπορευομαι (sumporeuomai), meaning to pass or travel jointly. This verb is used 4 times; see full concordance.