Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun πλουτος (ploutos) means wealth or riches and stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root pleu-, meaning to flow, as our English words flow, fleet and fly, and the Latin verb plovere, to rain, hence the French pluie, rain. This indicates that the ancients understood that wealth comes not from the presence of money (money in the pocket) but from the velocity of money (money changing hands), and that the word "wealth" (itself an archaic form of "welfare" or "wellness") describes the health, vibrancy, depth and complexity of organic social networks (real networks, not Facebook).
From our noun πλουτος (ploutos) comes the name Pluto, which belonged to the ruler of Hades, the underworld where the afterlife takes place. Naming the king of the realm of the dead after the vibrancy of society's living network may seem a tad peculiar to modern sentiments, but that's largely because modern sentiments fail to grasp the essence of both wealth and the aforementioned realm.
Wealth is accumulative and self-organizing, quite like a single word and its meaning: a single tangible manifestation of a long stretch of history, like a jewel that represents many eons of natural formation. Every word we speak today in fact represents many centuries of people honing their thoughts. Every literary archetype represents centuries of natural selection of stories by audiences. Our human institutions, likewise, represent eons of social evolution, reconsideration and review. Our economy, our science and technology, our art — our entire way of life represents millions of years of natural evolution and thousands of years of cultural evolution; all very slowly brought about by the continuous hustle and bustle of every day's economy. Light takes times to travel, so when we look at the stars we look into the deep past. But likewise, when we look around in our vastly complex human world we stand eye to eye with the lasting works of our saintly forebears (Romans 2:6-10, 2 Corinthians 3:13-15).
And the key to humanity's vast wealth — and we shall repeat: wealth is the retention of whatever our forebears achieved and subsequent generations decided to preserve and build upon — is of course our ability to vastly increase the efficiency of our societies by retaining our knowledge. Animals don't have that ability, which is why every generation has to start from scratch learning about the world. We humans are able to cast our knowledge into words, then stories orally told and passed on, and finally script, in which mankind could preserve all its knowledge outside fragile human memories (Psalm 16:10), even the stories that some generations forgot and others were able to pick up again (see our articles on YHWH and Logos).
Wealth is a collective quality and not a private quality, and describes neighbors investing in neighbors, rather than hoarders piling on piles (Luke 12:21). Wealth is another word for security, and security's many guises (enough to eat, big enough house, diverse enough entertainment, insurance against calamities, a socially recognized status), is ultimately the thing all of us spend our money on. Security comes from an open economy of service and mutual support (Luke 16:9), not from individual strength (the biggest house, belly or bank account) but from social symbiosis. And that means that our financial economy is precisely the same thing as the biosphere, and wealth (multilateral and recession proof security) comes from the flow of money, which makes the taxation of every transaction possibly the greatest financial crime of our times; it drains our public economy from its liquidity and stifles its natural ecosystem, until most economic energy is in the hands of some very few and the rest of society lives in a financial desert.
The great shame of our time is the slow transformation of the global financial republic of the late 19th century (which derived from a universal gold standard) into the plutocratic tyranny we live in today, in which every breath results in a loss of life, and all activity in further demise. This dreadful situation ultimately resulted from the rise of autonomous treasuries (disconnected from all others and thus from the global standard), which came from nationalism, which came from romanticism, which came from sentimentalism and ultimately the compromise of intellectual rigor. Global financial death began to seep into our world when humanity's time honored wisdom traditions began to be overwhelmed by the demands on the newly lettered masses and first generation readers (the nouveau savant to the nouveau riche), who cried for elves rather than angels and survival of the fittest rather than that of the weak (Deuteronomy 10:18, Isaiah 1:16-23, Ezekiel 16:49, Zechariah 7:10, Malachi 3:5, James 1:27). The upside of all of this, of course, is that the poisonous effect of money forces people to invest in neighborly favors, since no government can tax the credit so obtained.
Wealth equals security, which equals the health of one's social network, which is a primary consequence of the gospel (Ecclesiastes 7:12, Ephesians 4:3). Many early commentators confused the injunction to have all thing in common (Acts 2:44) with a kind of communism and suspension of private property rights, but the Bible obviously considers private property rights the very basis of a healthy and righteous economy (Exodus 20:15-17, Matthew 20:15) but abhors stagnant hoards, since even in nature any large hoard of stagnant energy (from stagnant pools of water to unutilized fat reserves) lead to infestation, rot and cancer.
And that means that when Paul speaks of the πλουτος (ploutos) of usefulness (Romans 2:4) of glory (9:3), of knowledge and wisdom (11:33), of comprehension (Colossians 2:2), of focus (2 Corinthians 8:2), of joy (Ephesians 1:7), or of Christ (Ephesians 3:8), he does not employ our noun in a kind of poetic metaphor but applies it in its most primary and literal meaning: that of social vibrancy rather than private stagnant hoards.
Our noun is used 22 times in the New Testament (see full concordance), and from it derive:
- The adjective πλουσιος (plousios), meaning rich or wealthy. This adjective is almost solely used substantially: a wealthy one. As with the parent noun πλουτος (ploutos), the fundamental difference between virtuous (life-giving) and vicious (death-causing) richness is determined by whether the rich person is rich because he hoards his resources for himself (Matthew 19:23-24, Luke 6:24, 18:23) or because he invests them in his neighbors (Matthew 27:57, Luke 19:2-10). Our adjective is used 28 times (see full concordance) and from it in turn comes:
- The adverb πλουσιως (plousios), meaning richly; in a virtuous way when deriving from the vibrancy and complexity of one's social network, and in a vicious way when deriving from one's private hoard. It's used 4 times; see full concordance.
- The verb πλουτεω (plouteo), meaning to be or become wealthy or rich: virtuous when it denotes depth of social networks and vicious when it denotes one's private hoard. It's used 12 times; see full concordance.
- The verb πλουτιζω (ploutize), meaning to enrich or make rich (1 Corinthians 1:5, 2 Corinthians 6:10 and 9:11 only).