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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/s/s-k-e-l-l-om.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb σκελλω (skello) means to dry up or parch, and appears to be part of the Proto-Indo-European root "(s)kelh-", to dry out, parch or wither, from which, curiously, also come the English words shoal and shallow, presumably because when a river or swamp dries up it gets shallow.

Our word σκελλω (skello) is mostly negative, and emphasizes dead things or things that should be wet and aren't. Drying up and hardening is of course also a quality of bricks: the elements from which the privileged few may build their buildings, and the rest of us have to suffer for (Genesis 11:3, Exodus 1:14; the noun לבנה, lebenah, means brick, hence the name Laban). In that sense, bricks are rather like (arbitrary) norms, fashions and even legislation and bureaucracies that protect the powerful and keep the rest of us from true progress and ultimately freedom (ελευθερια, eleutheria, freedom-by-law).

More recognizable descendants of our verb σκελλω (skello) are the English words sclerosis and skeleton, which comes from the adjective σκελετος (skeletos), dried up, denoting a mummy. The word for dry or withered used in the New Testament is ξηρος (xeros), and our adjective σκελετος (skeletos) does not occur. But it was adopted into Latin as sceletus — initially describing an eviscerated carcass and only later specifically a skeleton — where it obviously served the natural association of skeletons with all things ominous and evil, via words like the verb scelero, to pollute or profane, and the adjective scelerus, wicked, abominable; all nevertheless derived from our PIE root "(s)kelh-".

The Latin association of our root with all things twisted and crooked, plus the fact that our verb σκελλω (skello) is relatively rare in the classics, suggests that our verb doesn't merely mean to dry up, but rather signifies a particular effect of drying up. Judging from the derivatives and their contexts, this particular effect appears to have to do with bending or curving due to dryness — which puts it in proximity of the names Luz and Lud, as well as the adjective κυλλος (kullos), bent or deformed (see our article on the noun σειρα, seira, cord, for more possibly related words plus or minus the leading sigma).

For a look at the cognitive equivalent of the hydrological cycle (to which dryness and subsequent crookedness obviously relate), see our article on the noun νεφελη (nephele), cloud. Our verb σκελλω (skello) does not occur independently in the New Testament, but from it derive:

  • The noun σκελος (skelos), meaning leg (from hip to foot). It's not clear whether this noun derived from our verb σκελλω (skello) or independently from the PIE root (the word for knee, namely γωνια, gonia, means bend) but in the classics, our noun σκελος (skelos) could also denote the Long Walls that the Greeks built between major cities and their ports (Athens and Piraeus, Megara and Nisaea, Corinth and Lechaeum). In the New Testament, our word occurs in John 19:31, 19:32 and 19:33 only, speaking of "legs" being broken, in which case our word obviously refers to the bones in the leg. In the classics our word is never used to mean bone rather than leg, but the overlap also exists in German (Bein) and Dutch (been); both words meaning both bone and leg. The common Greek term for bone is οστεον (osteon).
  • The adjective σκληρος (skleros), meaning dried up and crooked due to dryness, hard and inflexible. This adjective is used 5 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:
    • Together with the noun καρδια (kardia), heart: the adjective σκληροκαρδια (sklerokardia), meaning heart-dryness or heart-hardness (Matthew 19:8, Mark 10:5 and 16:14 only). This term transcribes the Hebrew idea of being "hard of heart" (Joshua 11:20), which combines the verb חזק (hazaq), to become firm, with the noun לב (leb), heart. See our article on the noun ירך (yarek), genitals.
    • The noun σκληροτης (sklerotes), meaning hardness, dryness, inflexible crookedness (Romans 2:5 only).
    • Together with the noun τραχηλος (trachelos), neck: the adjective σκληροτραχηλος (sklerotrachelos), meaning stiff-necked, to be stubborn and unmannered (Acts 7:51 only). This word transcribes the Hebrew idea of being "stiff-necked" (Deuteronomy 31:27), which combines the verb קשה (qasha), to be hard, and the verb ערף ('arap), to drip. See our aforementioned article on the noun ירך (yarek), genitals.
    • The verb σκληρυνω (skleruno), meaning to make hard, dry or bent from dryness. This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance. See our aforementioned article on the noun ירך (yarek), genitals.
  • The adjective σκολιος (skolios), meaning winding, dry-curved, or like aimlessness solidified. In the New Testament, it's used 4 times; see full concordance. In the classics, our word often described the winding of a river (whose course is determined by its dry banks), and from there it came to denote anything curved or winding (as opposed to things that zip straight to where they will eventually end up, like an arrow). Metaphorically, this word could denote crooked or unjust people, but with an emphasis of their winding ways having slowly been captured over time, until the river of their minds came to sit deep in the winding abyss they carved for themselves and couldn't flow elsewhere even if it had wanted to.
    As we point out in our article on the earlier mentioned noun σειρα (seira), cord or rope, the familiar noun κολοσσος (kolossos), which denoted a kind of forbidding or restricting statue, may have had something to do (whether technically, etymologically or only associatively) with our adjective σκολιος (skolios), and ultimately refers to any kind of social norm that solidified out of the fluency of humanity's broader economy, and now sits there, immovable and stern, in everybody's way. Our adjective σκολιος (skolios) features in the famous term "crooked generation" (Acts 2:40) and the promise that the "crooked" will be made ευθυς (euthus), straight (Luke 3:5).

The noun σκολοψ (skolops) describes anything pointed. It's not clear where this noun comes from, whether it's a spawn from the PIE root "(s)kelh-" we discuss above, or even whether it's actually Indo-European rather than, say, Semitic (as one may volunteer: noun סכל, sakal, means fool; verb סקל, saqal means stone to death; שכל, shakal means to be bereaved or childless, שקל, shaqal means weight and שקל, sheqel means shekel).

Our noun occurs in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 12:7 only, where Paul famously complaints about having the sensation of a figurative "thorn" in his flesh, and appears to paraphrase Numbers 33:55, "But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns (צן, sen) in your sides (צד, sad). They will give you trouble in the land where you will live."

In the Greek classics, our word could refer to anything pointy (a fishing hook, a medical instrument), but predominantly described the pale or stake upon which convicts were executed. Such a stake was commonly driven through one's lower cavity, which means that Paul wasn't speaking of a teasing thorn lodged under his skin but rather a stake rammed up his rectum. This in turn brings the σκολοψ (skolops) in close proximity to the σταυρος (stauros), stand or stander, upon which Jesus was executed. Note Paul's double and emphatic use of the verb υπεραιρω (huperairo), to lift above, which also points toward this sort of execution (John 12:32).


The noun σκωληξ (skolex) means worm or maggot. This word too stems from the PIE root "(s)kelh-", which means that it describes worms and maggots for their wriggling and curling. In the classics, albeit very rarely, our word could describe heaving bulges (of corn, or a sea wave). In the New Testament, our word occurs only in the haunting phrase "where their worm is not remembered and the fire not dampened" (Mark 9:44, 9:46 and 9:48 only). From this word comes:

  • Together with the verb βιβρωσκω (bibrosko), to consume and digest: the adjective σκωληκοβρωτος (skolekobrotos), meaning worm-eaten, or rather: turned to worm-poop (Acts 12:23 only).