Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The amazing noun σημειον (semeion) means mark, sign or token. It's the extended version of the noun σημα (sema) — hence our English word "semantic", which originally denoted a relevance to signs in general but became applied in particular to the meaning or connotations of words. Our noun σημειον (semeion) refers to a meaningful sign or symbol, and often occurs in conjunction with the noun τερας (teras), meaning sign in the sense of an attention grabber; a wonder.
Our Greek word σημειον (semeion) stems from an ancient Proto-Indo-European root dheie-, meaning to see or look, from which also stems the familiar noun Chan (in English mostly spelled Zen), which is the name of a form of Buddhism. Chan or Zen Buddhism originated in China in the first quarter of the first millennium but was a continuation of Indian Buddhism which had started in the fifth century BC, roughly around the time when the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile. There was and remained a strong cultural economic interaction between India and Persia and later the Greeks and the Roman Empire. Classical writers have recorded several instances Indo-Roman interactions, and around the time of Jesus, Indian Buddhists both toured China and visited the imperial courts in Rome.
In the Greek classics our word σημειον (semeion) could describe anything from a marker on a border, grave or monument to a signaling flag in battle, a figurehead on shields, even a password or secret handshake and all that. In logic our word denoted a "sign" such as an example, demonstration or other such proof, and the Stoics and Epicureans used this word to describe the observable as opposed to the unobservable but deductible (the same division is made in Hebrews 11:1). The medical profession used our word to describe representative symptoms of a certain disease. Mathematics used our word as synonym for στιγμα (stigma), or point (in the mathematical sense).
The shorter version of our word, σημα (sema), in particular was also used in the sense of a "sign from heaven" or omen or sign of portent. In that sense our word was specifically associated with the star Sirius, and while the names Simon and Simeon formally come from the Hebrew verb שמע (shama'), meaning to hear or obey, any speaker of Greek would have surely caught the association with our noun σημα (sema) and its associate noun σημειον (simeion; see below). Sirius has been known as the Dog-star since antiquity. The Hebrew word for dog is כלב (keleb), hence the name Caleb, which belonged to the friend of Joshua. The name Joshua, of course, is the Hebrew version of the Greek name Jesus. That's all a bit beyond common coincidence.
Also note that the familiar ☧ mark consists of the letters Χ (chi) and Ρ (rho). The term ΧΡ is short for χρηστος (chrestos), meaning pleasant or profitable. By the time of Constantine, this mark was used by scholars, who wrote it in the margins of texts to mark a passage they found striking. All this may have influenced the transition between the Way of Jesus Christ (the non-religious search for global convention based on natural law) as it existed in the first century, and the imperial Christianity that emerged in the fourth.
The short version of our word, σημα (sema), isn't used independently in the New Testament but does show up in a small list of compounds (see below). The longer version σημειον (semeion) is used 77 times; see full concordance.
The latter comes with only one true derivation, namely the verb σημειοω (semeioo), meaning to mark, to endow with a mark, sign, token or flag; to give a signal or to interpret something as a sign. In the New Testament this word occurs only once, namely in 2 Thessalonians 3:14.
As mentioned above, the noun σημα (sema) is the shorter version of the noun σημειον (semeion), meaning mark or marker, flag, token or sign. This shorter version isn't used independently in the New Testament but from it come the following derivations:
- Together with the particle of negation α (a): the adjective ασημος (asemos), meaning unmarked or unremarkable (Acts 21:39 only).
- Together with the preposition επι (epi) meaning on or upon: the adjective επισημος (episemos), meaning "distinguished by a placed-on mark." This adjective is used only in Matthew 27:16 and Romans 16:7 but the idea of this word — the deliberate marking of an item as proof of ownership, dedication or origin — occurs all over the Bible, from the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15) to the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16). Persons described by this word are wholly dedicated and single-focused. Also note that in Biblical times, coins were worth their weight in bullion, and the Lydian invention of the coin (a unit of silver or gold, but with a picture stamped on it) marked the beginning of the modern economy of imaginary wealth and virtual slavery. The famous elephant denarius of Julius Caesar represented the wealth Caesar had forcibly extracted from the Celts, and was instrumental in bringing down the Roman republic and ushering in the demonic Roman Empire (for more on this, see our article on the Battle of Philippi). When Jesus famously ordered to "render onto Caesar what belongs to Caesar", he wasn't talking about value of the coin but about its mark (Luke 20:24).
- Together with the prefix ευ (eu), meaning good: the adjective ευσημος (eusemos), meaning well-marked, that is: interpreted properly or of recognized value. This word occurs in 1 Corinthians 14:9 only.
- Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or on the side: the adjective παρασημος (parasemos), literally: side-marked. Commentators commonly tend to interpret this word's only occurrence in the New Testament (namely in Acts 28:11, where it describes a ship's signature mark) to simply mean "marked on the side". In the classics, however, this word invariably means "marked amiss" or "interpreted incorrectly". It's the word for counterfeited money or misappropriated goods, and would the author have wanted to merely note the marking of Paul's ship, he would probably have used επισημος (episemos; see above).
- The verb σημαινω (semaino), meaning to mark, signal or point out (or demonstrate, proof, appropriate, declare, et cetera). This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the noun συσσημον (sussemon), which describes a formal sign or token; not some original or unique mark but a standard token that has been previously agreed upon: a symbol or signal (Mark 14:44 only).