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

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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb σκεπτομαι (skeptomai) originally meant to physically look about carefully or even spy, and was later used to describe the predominantly mental exercise of reviewing, examining or considering. This verb is part of the enormous Proto-Indo-European root "spek-", meaning to examine or look at (for some reason, the Greek branch experienced metathesis and became "skep-"), from which English got words like skeptic (via Greek, and via Latin:) aspect, conspicuous, despise, expect, inspect, perspective, respect, scope, species, spectacle, spectacular, spectate, spectrum, speculate, spice, spy, suspect and of course bishop and episcopal (see below).

The adjective σκεπτικος (skeptikos) means thoughtful or signified by careful consideration and reflection. This word in plural, Σκεπτικοι (Skeptikoi) denoted the Skeptics, philosophers who developed their initially healthy reservations regarding any received wisdom into a dead-end rejection of all certainties. Skepticism arose simultaneously in Greece and India (whose thinkers are known to have been communicating) in an obvious reaction to increasing literacy and society-wide reflections on time-honored traditions relative to rampant innovations in all imaginable fields and disciplines. Since Skeptics generally claimed that knowledge is impossible (nothing can be known and thus explained and thus argued), whereas classical Judaism explicitly venerated knowledge and information technology (see our article on YHWH), and Christianity held that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3), formal Skepticism died a wet-fart death in the early Christian era (from the 4th century up).

Skepticism rose again somewhat in every century since the 15th, but was faithfully sabered down by opposing greats, from Descartes to Hume. Strikingly though, the great art of Science adopted a form of skepticism as its falsifiability clause (you can only pose hypotheses that can be proven wrong when wrong; a hypothesis that can't be disproven cannot be scientifically considered), and even today, science abhors beliefs and certainties, and will always attempt to blow holes into any "graven image" that slithers one's way. However, our modern world is based firmly on information technology, which was once deified by the ancient Hebrews, and today demonstrates with heaving pragmatism that even though "knowledge" implies human consciousness and experience and is ultimately and admittedly too shaky a ground to place much weight on, "information" opposes entropy in every measurable way and can be harvested, stored and retrieved by means of proper technology.

That said, neither the verb σκεπτομαι (skeptomai), to carefully consider, nor the adjective σκεπτικος (skeptikos), skeptical or thoughtful, are used in the New Testament, but from them derive the following:

  • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon in a proximate sense (i.e. extremely close): the verb επισκεπτομαι (episkeptomai), meaning to consider closely, mostly in the sense of to look after, to see to, to tend and take very good care of. In the classics this verb, and its various tenses, blends together with the verb επισκοπεω (episkopeo), which could also describe a doctor (or deity) visiting a patient, to be someone's healer (see below). In Matthew 25:43 this verb describes "visiting" someone in prison, which obviously does not tell of keeping someone mere company but rather of closely examining the prisoner's situation and ultimately considering his defense: to be someone's lawyer or even redeemer (see Luke 1:68). Our verb επισκεπτομαι (episkeptomai) is used 11 times; see full concordance in the New Testament.
  • The noun σκοπος (skopos), which is either a person who carefully watches, or else a thing carefully looked at. In the classics, our noun may describe a watcher or look-out, or a scout or spy. Or it may denote a mark upon one fixes the eye; an objective, intention or aim. In the New Testament, this noun occurs in Philippians 3:14 only, but from it derive:
    • Again together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or extremely close: the noun επισκοπος (episkopos), meaning overseer. In the classics this noun was used to describe guardians, tutors, scouts or inspectors — official supervisors sent by Athens into neighboring states. The identical adjective επισκοπος (episkopos) means mark-hitting or successful. This adjective is not used in the New Testament and the noun occurs 5 times: see full concordance. An overseer in the Biblical sense is obviously not someone who subdues the masses and guarantees their obedience to the higher uppers, but rather someone who battles precisely that, who instructs the people of God in the fine art of freedom-by-law (ελευθερια, eleutheria), and prevents anyone from subjecting them to a yoke of slavery and bondage. A Biblical overseer is someone who is successful in maintaining the freedom people have in Christ, their respect for wisdom, their subsequent responsibility and the mastery of their own fate, while preventing them from succumbing to the lures of religion and every sort of dogmatic orthodoxy, superstition, personality cults and other such sickly intellectual laziness. The following derivative makes obvious that a true επισκοπος (episkopos) is someone who oversees his own people; people with whose fate and freedoms he himself is intimately connected:
      • Together with the adjective αλλοτριος (allotrios), meaning belonging to another: the comical noun αλλοτριοεπισκοπος (allotrioepiskopos), meaning an overseer of someone else's affairs; someone occupied with things that are none of his business, or dedicated to rendering liberty to someone else's properties (1 Peter 4:15 only; but see Philippians 2:4).
    • The verb σκοπεω (skopeo), meaning to carefully look at or see to, and hence to carefully regard, consider or contemplate. It's used 6 times, see full concordance, and from it derives:
      • Yet again together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or very close: the verb επισκοπεω (episkopeo), meaning to closely consider, to intimately oversee (Hebrews 12:15 and 1 Peter 5:2 only). In the classics this verb was also used to describe a doctor visiting or closely examining a patient. From this verb in turn comes:
        • The noun επισκοπη (episkope), meaning a careful consideration or close examination, which may either denote a visitation (of a doctor or deity), or the office of an επισκοπος (episkopos), or overseer (see above). This word ties into the notion that Christ in incarnate in his people: the Body of Christ consisted of one man when Jesus walked the earth, and that same Body now consists of many humans whose single and unifying soul is the Holy Spirit. The job of the Body of Christ is the same as it has always been: to feed the lambs, heal the sick and make disciples out of the nations. Or said otherwise: to serve the people who are not part of the Body of Christ but are part of the body under Christ (see our article on Christianity). There are, after all, three groups of people: those who are in Christ, those who are under Christ and those who are nowhere near Christ and are in the outer darkness. In templar terms: the first group (Christ) occupies the sanctuary plus the inner or priestly court, but ventures out into the outer court to teach and guide folks toward the gate to the inner court; the second group (Christianity) occupies the outer court or court of the gentiles, and the third group is entirely outside of the templar complex, with the animals. Our noun επισκοπη (episkope) is used 4 times; see full concordance.
      • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb κατασκοπεω (kataskopeo), to view very closely but with negative connotation: to closely look down upon, to examine disdainfully, to spy out (Galatians 2:4 only). From this word comes:
        • The noun κατασκοπος (kataskopos), a spy or a close examiner of something that is (actually or merely considered) beneath or subjected to the examiner (Hebrews 11:31 only).