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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/ph/ph-r-et-n.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The difficult noun φρην (phren) describes a faculty of the mind, and specifically the imagined partition between the fluidic world of one's emotions and the dry land of one's words and rational thoughts — and rational thoughts are thoughts in words: deliberate, logical and constructive thoughts. Since one's emotions were considered seated in the belly (κοιλια, koilia), and the ratio in the chest or heart (καρδια, kardia), our noun φρην (phren) corresponds to the midriff. In the Greek classics this word occurs only once in singular and elsewhere (including the New Testament) always in plural, which indicates that it not so much emphasizes the mere existence of the midriff but rather its perpetual reciprocating motion.

The act of contracting the midriff pushes the bowls down and expands the chest cavity, and we breathe in. The opposite is achieved by relaxing the midriff, which allows the bowls and abdominal muscles to push it back up again. And this is a big deal because the Greek word for inhaling gave us the word for soul, namely ψυχη (psuche), while the word for exhaling gave us the word for spirit, namely πνευμα (pneuma). And that means that our noun φρην (phren) is a very important word indeed.

Emotions are grouped together with the senses, and we share all these with the animals, who, like humans, have emotional cores and mouths to absorb raw food and the senses to absorb raw data; all to feed the emotional self. Despite popular contentions to the contrary, all animals have awareness and a sense of symbolism or else a male fruit fly wouldn't mate with a female fruit fly. All animals are vocal and all have vocal symbols (proto-words) between them, but only humans are truly verbal and create their very world, their human beehive, their human anthill from words.

In English we speak of language fluidity, being fluent in a language, which is surprisingly spot on. All speech is fluent, but established words (as found in dictionaries) and definitions (as found in encyclopedias) are solids. Humans are defined as creatures that live in vast rational superstructures constructed from established words, formalized thought, standards, norms and all that. These human symbols are the bricks from which we build the world in which we live, and that's much less of a metaphor than it seems.

Our human world is nearly entirely synthetic. Nearly all the physical items and tangible materials you see around you were manufactured, and their manufacturing came as a result of many scientists and technicians trying to find ways to respond to the collective needs of the people, as expressed by their writers and poets, who in turn worked hard to capture the emotions that subliminally drove society and cast them into terms, phrases and figures of speech, which in turn congealed by the forces of the market until they became so established that they could be counted on and built upon and evoked by generations of builders to come. Not merely the speech with which we describe and experience our world, not merely the norms, styles and beliefs upon which we form our tribes, but also the literal bricks, cement and concrete, the steel, the plastic, the touch-screens and the satellites of our world were once mere void and formless desires that were hoisted up, cast into words, transacted and exchanged and finally materialized as constituents of our much better world.

Emotions are private and unique per person and relate to the soul, whereas the ratio is collective and the same for everybody and relates to the spirit. Language can only exist when everybody uses the same words and rules of grammar, which makes language entirely spiritual. But one's unique sentiments, even when their expression employs words, are soulical (and yes, that's a word). Science is the pursuit of consensus (and no, not the pursuit of "truth"), which makes it spiritual. Art is the pursuit of uniqueness, which makes it soulical.

Both soul (emotions, art, the self) and spirit (ratio, science, the collective) each have their own function, realm and governance, and although they support and feed each other, their separation must be guaranteed lest madness ensues. Madness ensues when an artistically conceived notion (true for me, fun for me, I am the center of the universe) is mistakenly considered to be scientific (true for everybody, fun for everybody, everybody sees me as the center of the universe and nothing else matters). The opposite, however is widely considered supremely virtuous: when we can derive our private identity wholly from whatever is true for everybody, when the self dies and is sown and bears fruit in the field of collectivity (John 12:24), when the walls of the self fall and the prisoners are released, when the cover of the pit is removed and the contents are released, when the dead rise, when the demons flee.

The relativity (that is: the how, the why and the effects of their relation) of the emotions and the ratio is arguably one of the most widely discussed topics in all of world literature and shows up literally everywhere, from Samson and Delilah and Elijah and the widow to Romeo and Juliet, Gatsby and Daisy, and even Star Trek's navigational array and cleverly named warp core and warp coils.

Although there is rarely a paint-by-number correlation, and these stories rarely review this über-narrative by its absolute extremes (discrete ratio versus discrete emotions) but rather often intermediate phases and half-way stations (ratio reflecting on feelings, and passion responding to law), these stories invariably not only discuss the proper division between soul and spirit but also their troubled communication and the ultimate objective of their seamless merger. And whether this inevitable merger results in death and wholesale destruction or else life and eternal glory depends largely on the quality and efficiency of their communication whilst still apart and courting. And that brings the focus back to our important word φρην (phren), which governs that courtship.

The ratio is solar (ηλιος, helios) and the emotions are lunar (σεληνη, selene), and their relativity is terrestrial (γη, ge). Earth in turn is heir to life, from its humble but Paradisical beginnings to the emergence of single-cellular collectivity, then multicellular intelligence, then society and finally an entire global population of souls both wholly united under the sun and wholly free under the moon.

That is, of course, if humanity will have been able to properly bridge the two realms, and the solar ratio has not only found the entrance to the lunar underworld, but actually gained access to it and found a way to retrieve its waters and bring it up to irrigate the fields. And all this without descending into madness, being blown to smithereens, being devoured by whatever lord of hell, or dying slowly but surely on a cross. And if these things are inevitable, then at least followed by the reassembly of his parts (as told in Egypt), being vomited back up by the beast (that's the Jonah variant), or resurrecting upon Passover.

In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake famously declared: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite". The Hebrew word for "door" is דלה (dala), which derives from the verb דלל (dalal), to hang, and relates to the noun דלי (deli), meaning bucket (hence the name Delilah; Samson means Solar-Man). In the Bible, the ratio and the emotions meet consistently at a well, and their point of intersection is consistently depicted as an iteration of the meta-narrative of the Woman At The Well, which runs from the patriarchal Rachel and Rebekah to the unnamed Samaritan lady whom Jesus encountered at Sychar (John 4:5).

It's officially a mystery where our noun φρην (phren) comes from (hence the curiously misnamed field of phrenology) but that's possibly also because the experts look for roots that have to do with either emotions or thought, whereas our word doesn't relate to either but to the transition between them. Since words are the bricks with which we moderns construct the buildings of our world, and our emotions are the proverbial "waters under the earth", here at Abarim Publications we surmise that our word shares its root with the noun φρεαρ (phrear), which describes a well and particularly an artificial well or cistern (see below).

Hence, we further propose that our noun φρην (phren) stems from a long lost verb φρεω (phreo), which described precisely the kind of transition that is achieved when drawing water from a subterranean reservoir and hoisting it up to the surface to be consumed. This verb is not present in the extant Greeks texts we have, but it does survive in the well-attested verbs διαφρεω (diaphreo), to let or bring through (hence our word diaphragm), εισφρεω (eisphreo), to let or bring in, and εκφρεω (ekphreo), to let or bring out.

Our noun φρην (phren) speaks of the membrane that keeps our emotions separate from our ratio, but which also supplies our rational faculties with a semi-constant stream of emotional water, to make mud, to make the bricks that are our words. Our noun φρην (phren) or rather its plural form φρηνες (phrenes) speaks of the word-making facility of our mind, which draws formless mass from our emotional core (which is private), casts it into a mold (which is cultural), and dries it in the sun of reason (which is collective). The brick that comes out may be a single word or an entire thematic paragraph, and is thus closely related to the Logos, or Word of God, which becomes an active character in the Bible in Genesis 15:1 in the ringing phrase: "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you" (perhaps, dare we say, like a ring of bricks around a well?).

The plural dative form of our noun is φρεσι (phresi), which in older texts is spelled as φρασι (phrasi), which obviously relates to the noun φρασις (phrasis), meaning speech, from which we get our word "phrase", and the verb φραζω (phrazo), to explain (see below).

A properly functioning φρην (phren) results in proper mental breathing, which in turn results in proper and precise speech. Proper speech may range from a pinpoint whisper to thundering rhetoric, and from a concise declaration of facts to an eloquently adorned presentation, but the effect of proper speech is always a building that supports its own weight, that remains standing after the builders have left, and may serve as an abode for generations to come. Proper speech does not contain muddy vocables (ehm, dum-dee-dum, tralala) or liquid vocal outburst (MUWAAAAH! OOOOYOYOYOY!). Particularly in children and less mature adults this membrane called φρην (phren) tends to be rather leaky, and the bucket with which the waters are drawn is often not big enough to contain the flow that comes howling out. When we sleep, this membrane is rolled up like a scroll, and our emotional and rational selves merge into the state we call dreams. This is why dreams are often speechless and only very rarely contain text.

In the Bible this membrane is depicted in the broadly attested meta-narrative that runs from the second-day firmament (Genesis 1:6) to the curtain between the emotional holy and the rational holy-of-holies (Matthew 27:51).

Our noun occurs a mere one time in the New Testament, namely in 1 Corinthians 14:20, but from it stems a stately array of derivations:

  • Together with the common particle of negation α (a), meaning not: the adjective αφρων (aphron), being without a phren, without verbal discipline, without the acquired faculty to cast emotions into words. People described with this adjective are not necessarily foolish or uninformed but rather crude and volatile. They don't control their sentiments, get angry and blurt out whatever bubbles up without subtlety, restraint or sophistication. This word is not without similarities to the English noun aphasia, which describes a loss or impairment of the faculty of speech, but due to damage or disease. Our adjective αφρων (aphron) applies to a healthy person but with an immature sense of language. It's used 11 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the adjective ομος (homos), same or of the same kind: the adjective ομοφρων (homophron), having the same mental ratio of words to feelings as the others do, so that when one gets upset, the others do too, and when one speaks calmly, so does the rest (1 Peter 3:8 only). In moderns terms we would probably call this synchronicity; see for the opposite, the verb φρεναπαταω (phrenapatao) below.
  • Together with the otherwise unused adjective σωος (so'os), meaning whole or sound (see the verb σωζω, sozo, to save): the adjective σωφρων (sophron), meaning of sound phren: having an intact membrane that keeps emotions properly separate from the ratio, and a properly functioning faculty to cast emotions into words. This word is used 4 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
    • The verb σωφρονεω (sophroneo), meaning to have an intact membrane that keeps emotions separate from the ratio, and a properly functioning faculty to cast emotions into words. This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance.
    • The verb σωφρονιζω (sophronizo), meaning to restore or perfect the membrane that keeps emotions separate from the ratio, and a properly functioning faculty to cast emotions into words (Titus 2:4 only). From this verb in turn comes:
      • The noun σωφρονισμος (sophronismos), which describes the state of having a perfected membrane that keeps emotions separate from the ratio, and a properly functioning faculty to cast emotions into words (2 Timothy 1:7 only).
    • The adverb σωφρονως (sophronos), meaning with an intact membrane that keeps emotions separate from the ratio, and a properly functioning faculty to cast emotions into words (Titus 2:12 only).
    • The noun σωφροσυνη (sophrosune), which describes a stable mental state contingent on an intact membrane that keeps emotions separate from the ratio, and a properly functioning faculty to cast emotions into words (Acts 26:25, 1 Timothy 2:9 and 2:15 only).
  • Together with the verb απαταω (apatao), to be irregular or deceitful: the verb φρεναπαταω (phrenapatao), to bring people's phrens out of synchronicity (away from the state described by the adjective ομοφρων, homophron, see above). This verb is used in Galatians 6:3 only, where it describes a man who manages to confuse his own phren. From this verb in turn derives:
    • The noun φρεναπατης (phrenapates), which describes an agent of the previous: someone who disturbs and desynchronizes people's properly functioning phrens (Titus 1:10 only).
  • The verb φρονεω (phroneo) literally means to use the phren, which comes physically down to breathing and mentally to meditating or considering and casting emotions into words: to verbalize. It's what one does at a well: one lowers a bucket down into the natural recesses of one's subconscious (which includes input by the senses), in order to find something to hoist up and put into words (or paint, or musical notes) and thus to offer it to the collective market to install it into the vast collections of buildings we call human consciousness. Note that when we are able to verbalize (to cast into words) the character and concerns of others, we will verbally express the character and concerns of Christ Jesus, as if we were Christ Jesus talking about himself (2 Philippians 2:5). This important verb is used 29 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταφρονεω (kataphroneo), which literally means to lower the midriff, and thus to breathe in, and thus be emotionally reactive to. In Matthew 18:10 Jesus warns to not react emotionally to whatever children do or say. In Matthew 6:24 this verb occurs juxtaposed with the verb αντεχω (antecho), to hold onto or to make order in opposition of chaos, which suggests that our verb καταφρονεω (kataphroneo) describes the opposite of accepting something as brick for building. Since the intake of food is associated with chewing and breaking down, and all sensory data streams are selectively prescreened, this verb appears to reflect the contemplator's intention to break things further down. This obviously ties into the core idea of the verb σχιζω (schizo), to split or divide, and Paul's instruction to "examine everything carefully, and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Our verb καταφρονεω (kataphroneo) is used 9 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
      • The noun καταφρονητης (kataphronetes), which describes someone who lowers the midriff, who reacts emotionally or who wants to chew some more on what he bit off (Acts 13:41 only).
    • Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παραφρονεω (paraphroneo), meaning to be nearly-verbal or para-verbal or para-fluent (like a beginning typist who still has to search for every letter), to be almost able to precisely express in words but, like a child, continuously searching and reaching for the right ones; to be engaged in a lot of beastly huffing and puffing but not exactly achieving verbal lift-off. This verb is used in 2 Corinthians 11:23 only, but from it derives:
      • The noun παραφρονια (paraphronia), which describes the condition of being almost verbal or para-verbalism: being a clever animal but incapable of navigating the real estate of common human rationality (2 Peter 2:16 only).
    • Together with the preposition περι (peri), meaning around or about: the verb περιφρονεω (periphroneo), meaning to compass in thought, to speculate about, to mentally run circles or build verbal walls around someone or some theory (Titus 2:15 only).
    • Together with the preposition υπερ (huper), meaning over or beyond: the verb υπερφονεω (huperphoneo), meaning to build high verbal towers, to go into (too) great detail, to consider higher than the rest. In the Greek classics this verb was also used to mean to look from on high down, to overlook. In the New Testament this verb is used in Romans 12:3 only, in a rather ambiguous context, but possibly in the sense of to overthink, to spend too much time thinking about oneself. This word is similar to the next:
    • Together with the adjective υψηλος (hupselos), meaning high: the verb υψηλοφρονεω (hupselophroneo), meaning to consider things from a perceived elevation (Romans 11:20 and 1 Timothy 6:17 only). The opposite of this verb is to get down to an appropriate level and then consider it. Since υψηλος (hupselos) relates to υπερ (huper), this word and the previous relate.
    • Together with the adjective φιλος (philos), friendly: the adjective φιλοφρον (philophron), meaning considering friendly, or meditating upon someone with a desire to truly know them (1 Peter 3:8 only). From this adjective comes:
      • The adverb φιλοφρονως (philophronos), meaning friendly or courteously (Acts 28:7 only).
    • The verb φροντιζω (phrontizo) means to consciously consider, to reflect upon or formulate thoughts about (Titus 3:8 only). This verb actually derives from the unused adjective φροντις (phrontis), care, thought, attention, which in turn comes from our parent verb φρονεω (phroneo), to use one's φρην (phren), or mental midriff.
    • The noun φρονεμα (phronema), meaning a verbalization: an instant or the effect of the action of the verb: a verbally presented consideration (irrespective of this being internally constructed or actually vocalized), a meditation put into words (whether quiet or declared). This noun is used 4 times; see full concordance.
    • The noun φρονεσις (phronesis), meaning a verbalizing: the action, result or process of the verb: a verbal considering, a meditating in words (Luke 1:17 and Ephesians 1:8 only).
    • The adjective φρονιμος (phronimos), meaning prone to verbalize, not prone to blabber but prone to cast feelings very precisely into words, definitions, schemas and types, to serve as the building elements of much larger constructions. In Matthew 25:1-13 this word is consistently juxtaposed with μωρος (moros), from which we get the ever useful noun "moron". This adjective is used 14 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
      • The adverb φρονιμως (phronimos), meaning verbalizingly, considerately, with considerable thought (Luke 16:8 only).

The noun φρεαρ (phrear) describes a manmade well or cistern, or perhaps more precise: the upper parts of it that sits atop the ground, the circular mantel of bricks, usually with a roof over the actual mouth and a bucket hanging from a rope. If wells and springs are natural formations, then the φρεαρ (phrear) is its artificial counterpart. The Hebrew equivalent of this word, namely עין ('ayin), both means well or fountain and eye, which indicates that the ancients understood that light comes from one's surroundings and enters the eye like water that comes up from a well and becomes incorporated into the dry land of one's mind. That means that the "lamp" that is one's eye shines inwardly into the mind, not outwardly into the surroundings (also see the verb נהר, nahar, meaning to flow, which is used to describe both the flowing of water in a river and light from a lamp; meaning that the ancients had a sense of what later would be called Relativity Theory).

As we describe above, here at Abarim Publications we suspect that the Biblical phenomenon of the man-made well relates to an artificial means to access the emotional depth of the human mind. The most obvious manifestation of this well is the Logos, of which any kind of writing system and thus any kind of writing may be a tributary (2 Timothy 3:16). All modern text derives from the alphabet, which was completed in the days of David (see our article on the name YHWH). What particular well the patriarchs dug isn't specifically given (Genesis 26:18), but it probably has to do with the concept of artificial selection that is also the foundation of all language and all science (Genesis 30:32, John 4:6).

Whatever mechanism is responsible for the frequent invasion of our rational selves by wild emotions, and how to control it if that were possible, in the Bible it's often reviewed in terms of the meta-narrative of The Woman At The Well (from Rachel to the Samaritan woman Jesus met). Joseph and Jeremiah went down the well, but came back out. So did Daniel, and he found lions there. At Bethesda the waters of the deep were stirred by a descending angel. John the Revelator saw locusts ascending, and they had hair like women and teeth like lions (Revelation 9:1-2).

The noun φρεαρ (phrear) — and we propose the noun φρην (phren) as well — stems from an ancient Proto-Indo-European root "brehwr", meaning well or source, and to boil or be hot. In Latin this root became the familiar verb ferveo, to boil or be hot, hence our English words fervent and fervor. The same root gave us the English verbs to burn and to brew.

In the New Testament, our noun φρεαρ (phrear), well or cistern, occurs 7 times; see full concordance.


The verb φραζω (phrazo) means to put to words, to verbalize, to explain (Matthew 13:36 and 15:15 only). The New Testament is filled with explaining but this verb is used only twice, which indicates that it describes not a general form of explaining but rather more specifically: to translate a series of verbal images into verbal prose. Our verb obviously relates to the unused noun φρασις (phrasis), meaning speech, from which also stems the English word "phrase". Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that these words in turn stem from φρασι (phrasi), the older spelling of φρεσι (phresi), the dative plural of φρην (phren), the figurative mental midriff that keeps the emotions separate from the ratio, and which supplies the mind's word-forming faculty with emotional water (see the discussion above).


The verb φρασσω (phrasso) means to enclose with a fence or wall, and although experts report difficulty in explaining the origins of this verb, here at Abarim Publications we're confident it fits right into the cluster presented on this page. Our verb tells of the building of a circular wall around a well and relates to the nouns φρεαρ (phrear), well of cistern, φρασις (phrasis), speech, and ultimately φρην (phren), midriff. It occurs in Romans 3:19, 2 Corinthians 11:10 and Hebrews 11:33 only, consistently in the pseudo-figurative sense of curtailing speech and the muzzling of lions.


The verb φρουρεω (phroureo) means to keep guard or keep in check, which is not unlike the verb φρασσω (phrasso) and rather similar in form to the noun φρεαρ (phrear), the brick enclosure of a well. This verb is used 4 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.


The verb φρυασσω (phruasso) means to overflow or boil over: to make vocal noise that does not consist of words (Acts 4:25 only). In our modern world this verb describes immature or uncivilized behavior, but in an evolutionary sense, it marks a step up from having no speech whatsoever and a beginning of modulating vocal patterns that would eventually congeal into real words. This verb is clearly related to the noun φρεαρ (phrear), well, which in turn has a strong patriarchal association to it. The name of both the brother and grandfather of Abraham is Nahor, which means to snort vigorously.