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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/p/p-r-a-s-s-om.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The curious and versatile verb πρασσω (prasso), also known as πραττω (pratto), means to incur, or more general: to do, in the sense of to effect, or bring or cause to be brought about by doing something else first. It is deployed broadly to link an object to a subject with a verb that reveals very little about the precise nature of the action, except that it has some direct consequence or result, whether good or bad (but usually bad). Or as Paul writes: everybody will be physically recompensed, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). And in Romans 9:11 he speaks of the unproduced which of yet have not incurred either good or bad — and this may be about unborn children and their potential virtues and vices, but it may also be about business ventures which are still on the drawing board and have neither produced profits or losses.

In one of his rare usages of our verb, John, recording the words of Jesus, is less ambiguous and uses the similarly versatile but more neutral verb ποιεω (poieo), to do or make, to describe the "doing" of good, but our verb πρασσω (prasso) to describe the incurring of the foul, which indeed suggests that the really bad stuff follows mere-debt-incurring deeds (John 5:29). Likewise, when Paul famously complaints that he incurs what he doesn't want and doesn't do what he wants, he uses ποιεω (poieo) for doing the good, and our verb πρασσω (prasso) for doing the bad (Romans 7:15, 7:19).

But contrarily, in their letter to Antioch, the elders of Jerusalem use the felicitous phrase eu prazete, which means "good things you will incur" (Acts 15:29). And in 1 Corinthians 9:17, Paul speaks of rewards incurred for deeds done willingly.

In Luke 19:23, our verb is used in a financial context that seems to speak of interest on a deposit but really doesn't. In Roman times, banks (which were housed in the city's most formidable buildings, namely the temples) did not pay interest on deposits but served the depositors solely as safe-keepers of their movable wealth. But since banks back then were indeed involved in foreign exchange and probably also a daring progenitor of fractional reserve banking, banks (that is: temples) certainly raked in a lot of money, which in turn they lent out to businessmen who sought to finance their ventures. For this lending out of monies, the banks charged interest, and so the "certain nobleman" whose story Jesus tells, is not a depositor but rather a bank, which explains him handing out bags of money left and right. The "interest" this bank made on the original money was not simply more money but rather debt, which is leverage and thus power, a very desirable commodity indeed.

In Acts 19:19 our verb is used in the phrase "circle-workings of doings", which is commonly understood to pertain to magicians but which rather may have something to do with financial bookkeeping and the evils of compound interest, which brought more men to ruin than the House of the Rising Sun, so to speak. Likewise, in Luke 3:13, John the Baptist instructs the tax-collectors to not do more than the directed, which obviously points at a rampant custom of overcharging, possible on the basis of compound interest.

Our verb describes the doing of deeds that are consequentially punishable (Luke 23:41), grievous (2 Corinthians 12:21), damaging due to ignorance (Acts 3:17). In Acts 26:9, Paul speaks of deeds contrary to the name of Jesus the Nazarene, which suggests that these deeds were not mere acts of violence but rather incurred debts or "negative value" within society. Paul appears to be speaking about negative propaganda.

Our verb πρασσω (prasso) is used nearly solely by Paul and Luke, and Luke of course wrote Paul's biography. This suggest that our verb might have been favored in certain areas of expertise (specifically financial and economic expertise), which in turn suggests that Paul and Luke came from a similar intellectual background, and were not merely interested in Jewish theology and speculative philosophy but also quite so in real-world statecraft and monetary theory.

Our verb is used 38 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • The noun πραγμα (pragma), meaning a doing in the sense of a business deal: a deed that incurs a debt, a real-world act that provokes a real-world reaction. This word is the source of our English noun "practice", which opposes "theory", and the adjective "pragmatic", which originally described someone's business savviness but later came to denote practical considerations in contrast to theoretical or idealistic ones. Thus our noun πραγμα (pragma) also serves to demonstrate that the gospel of Jesus Christ, indeed the entire New Testament, is far less a theoretical or theological treatise but much rather concerned with real-world affairs, with science and statecraft, and with technological and financial wisdom (Hebrews 11:1). Remember that Abraham was not only the proverbial father of all believers but also the patriarch of international trade. Human wisdom, including science and art, could flourish only because humans traded and formed a global network. Without this global network of trade there would have been no global network of knowledge. Our noun is used 11 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
    • The verb πραγματευομαι (pragmateuomai), meaning to do business, that is to incur debt and increase value on production. This verb is used in Luke 19:13 only, but from it in turn derive:
      • Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διαπραγματευομαι (diapragmateuomai), meaning to thoroughly do business, to exists commercially, to be involved in a complex web of business interactions in which debts are incurred and values are added left and right. This verb occurs in Luke 19:15 only, where it obviously not suggests that the servants had conducted one or two clever trades but rather that they had developed flourishing long-term commercial careers.
      • The noun πραγματεια (pragmateia), meaning a business transaction (2 Timothy 2:4 only).
  • The noun πρακτορ (praktor), which describes a doer of the parent verb: someone who reacts upon a debt incurred: a tax or debt collector, a person who would go around collecting moneys that people owed to either the government or else business partners. Even back then, suppliers were so savvy as to allow their customers to run up a tab simply because the act of paying for one's consumptions tended to stifle the joy, and transactions limited by a person's appetites tended to continue much longer than those bound by the contents of his purse. Or in other words: people tend to spend money for which they have already sweated far less enthusiastically than money for which they will sweat tomorrow. The πρακτορ (praktor) was a man who made sure they did (Luke 12:58 only).
  • The noun πραξις (praxis), meaning a practice, an instance of the parent verb: an actual act that actually incurs a physical reaction, as opposed to something theoretical or merely proposed. The mere existence of words like this seems to facetiously address the prolificacy of the wisdom-trade in Greco-Roman times. In Matthew 16:27, our word is used to indicate that heavenly rewards will be dispensed not so much for the loftiest theologies and best intentions, but rather for the things that have actually, tangibly been done. It's used 6 times; see full concordance.