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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/ps/ps-a-om.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb ψαω (psao) means to touch lightly, to rub, polish or wipe and particularly to crumble away and thus to vanish or disappear. It's unclear where this verb comes from, but it's rumored that it's not even Indo-European, and that brings it into proximity of the Semitic stock (see our articles on the name Hellas and the nouns κολοσσος, kolossos and χαλκος, chalkos, copper, for more Greek words of likely Semitic origin). A Hebrew verb that immediately jumps to mind is פסס (pasas), meaning to spread out (specifically of skin diseases such as leprosy); noun פס (pas) denotes the flat of the hand or foot, and identical verb פסס (pasas II) means to disappear or vanish.

Our verb ψαω (psao) appears to have to do with breaking some solid thing into smaller and smaller bits, until the bits are so small that they again form a continuum, but a fluidic or even ethereal one. As such, it tells of a condition that exists beyond the numerable (αριθμος, arithmos, means number) and nameable (ονομα, onoma, means name or noun), namely the condition of being innumerable (Genesis 15:5, Revelation 7:9) and unnameable (compare Genesis 1:19-20 with Revelation 2:17; also compare Genesis 4:26 with Judges 13:18). Also note the striking similarities between the process described by our verb ψαω (psao) and the Hebrew verb ירה (yara), from which comes the familiar word Torah.

Our verb ψαω (psao), to atomize into a continuum, isn't used independently in the New Testament, but from it come the following important derivations:

  • The verb ψαλλω (psallo), meaning to gently strum or pluck strings with one's fingers rather than with a plectrum. There's no consensus on whether this verb indeed derives from our root verb ψαω (psao), but if it doesn't, there's no convincing alternative available. And if it does, it would fit right in: not only are strings touched lightly (at least before the advent of heavy metal), but the result is a continuous flow or melody rather than a series of separate notes. In the classics, this verb is mostly used to describe the playing on stringed instruments, but it is also used to describe an arrow sent twanging from the bow (and again note the parallel in ירה, yara). Later, this verb began to be used to describe the making of music to sing to, and ultimately as a synonym for to sing. In the Septuagint it was used as synonym for the verb זמר (zamar), to sing or praise or to play music to sing to. The verb זמר (zamar) also means to prune, which is striking because our two English words choir and garden share their root with the Greek verb χαιρω (chairo), meaning to rejoice. Other verbs for to sing are υμνεω (humneo), hence the noun υμνος (humnos), hymn, and αδω (ado), hence the noun ωδη (ode), song (or ode). In the New Testament our verb ψαλλω (psallo) is used 5 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
    • The familiar noun ψαλμος (psalmos), which literally means a touching (or an atomizing into a continuum), and whose meaning evolved to include a song sung accompanied with stringed instruments: a psalm, which is therefore not simply a song, but rather a group-song, a song to be sung by a collective. A psalm is an exercise in social harmonics and synchronicity rather than someone's individual vocal, musical or literary talent. It corresponds with the Hebrew noun מזמור (mizmor), from the verb זמר (zamar) mentioned above. Our noun ψαλμος (psalmos), group-song is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb ψηλαφαω (pselaphao), meaning to feel, touch or stroke, or to feel for, or grope around to find something (the proverbial endeavor of the blind). In the classics this verb could also describe a medical examination, or generally any kind of systematic examination. It's used 4 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun ψηφος (psephos), which describes a small rounded pebble. It's generally assumed that the pebble was named such because it was smooth to the touch, but here at Abarim Publications we assume that it goes quite a stretch beyond that. The ψηφος (psephos) was not just any old pebble but a specific tool used in the voting process (a white pebble for yea; a black one for nay), the radical new invention that circumvented both the will of one tyrant and the chaos of many screaming petitioners. The invention of the voting process was such a big deal that many in the old world applauded it at length (see our article on παρθενος, parthenos, virgin). The voting process produces a singular expression of will from a large host of separate minds, like a song sung by a choir, very much in tune with our parent verb ψαω (psao).
    A second important use of the ψηφος (psephos) was in the abacus — whose name probably came from the Hebrew noun אבק ('abaq), dust or turn to dust; not unlike our parent verb, and also see the noun κονια (konia), dust — which was a calculating tool with which merchants could keep track of complex transactions. As we discus in our aforementioned article on the noun αριθμος (arithmos), number, prior to the introduction of Arabic numerals, numbers were words, which made calculating very difficult. The abacus largely solved that deficiency. Our noun ψηφος (psephos), meaning pebble, occurs in Acts 26:10 and Revelation 2:17 only, both times obviously as function of the voting process, or at least that of the consolidation of public opinion. From this word in turn derives:
    • The verb ψηφιζω (psephizo) meaning to account for, to use pebbles or to establish by means of pebbles: either to establish by popular vote or else by means of a complex calculation that involves large quantities and many operations (Luke 14:28 and Revelation 13:18 only). Note that these words tie into the crucial difference between the operating principles of the Body of Christ and that of any organization based on human authority. The Body of Christ is a perfect republic, which exists in a state of ελευθερια (eleutheria), or governed and lawful freedom (as opposed to anarchistic or animalistic freedom or freedom based on ignorance). In Christ, everybody is sovereign (Exodus 19:6, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28), and everyone's sovereignty is based on their own informed wisdom and maturity (Colossians 2:3). Ultimately, the Body of Christ is based on everybody's understanding of natural law, and natural law is the only legal law in the universe. And just like one single set of DNA allows for many different cell types (muscles, nerves, white blood cells, acid producing stomach cells; all legitimate manifestations of the very same genetic code), so natural law allows a great spread of diversity, within which one single mind exists. The voting process allows large groups to explore the group's collective preferences, and the unified voice of the Body of Christ speaks with the voice of the Creator (1 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 1:3, Revelation 14:1-5). The difficult concept of "truth" (John 14:6) in turn has nothing to do with scientific theories or philosophical dogma, but rather with that on which we can ultimately all agree (and "all" means including all scientific theorists, dogmatic philosophers, artists, musicians, voters, channel switchers, right-swipers: all flesh and all tongues, Luke 3:6, Philippians 2:11). Truth is something that is slowly recognized by a gradually strengthening band of seers (Luke 1:80, 2:40, 2:52), whose opponents get rarer with every generation (and whose complete recognition will occur upon a sudden phase transition, like water slowly cooling down and then suddenly all together turning to solid ice). Truth is that which will ultimately have no opposition; that which we will all vote for, he who we will all vocalize. From this verb in turn derive:
      • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with, and the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down or down upon: the verb συγκαταψηφιζω (sugkatapsephizo), to have one's inclusion collectively accounted for (Acts 1:26 only). This verb is somewhat similar to καταριθμεω (katarithmeo), meaning to number among (Acts 1:17), except that the core action of our verb συγκαταψηφιζω (sugkatapsephizo) has to do with public preference and the majority vote.
      • Again together with συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συμψηφιζω (sumpsephizo), meaning to lump-sum calculate or establish by collective popular vote (Acts 19:19 only).
  • The noun ψιχιον (psichion), a small bit (Matthew 15:27, Mark 7:28 and Luke 16:21 only). This noun is a diminutive form of the fairly common (but unused in the New Testament) noun ψιξ (psix), a crumb or bit. This diminutive, however, occurs only in the New Testament, possibly in a parallel to the familiar statement that even the tiniest seed may contain an entire ecosystem, as long as it is complete and whole. Note the playful similarity with the familiar noun ψυχη (psuche), meaning mind.
  • The noun ψωμιον (psomion), meaning a small bit [of bread or flesh]. This word too is a diminutive, namely of the otherwise unused noun ψωμος (psomos), morsel (a chunk of bread) or gobbet (a chunk of raw meat). From the use of it, it appears that this word had come to mean something like a snack. It's used 4 times in three verses in one single scene (John 13:26-30); see full concordance.
  • The verb ψωχω (psocho), meaning to rub bits out of, particularly of kernels of grain out of ears (Luke 6:1 only). Again, note the striking similarity with the otherwise unrelated noun ψυχη (psuche), meaning mind.