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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/s/s-k-et-n-et.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun σκηνη (skene) means cover, housing or dwelling — or rather more precise: the physical or material manifestation (i.e. shadow), container or receptacle of any kind of chemical or social process — and came to specifically denote a theater or covered stage. It comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "skehh-", which means shadow or shade (see the noun σκια, skia, below), from which also came the Latin scaena, theater, stage or scene, and hence our English word scene, both in the sense of an event played out on a covered stage, but also an event covered by a single unifying story arch.

Our noun σκηνη (skene) is feminine, and tends to denote structures in the social continuum, whereas its neuter equivalent, namely σκηνος (skenos, see below) as well as the related term σκιναρ (skinar; not used in the New Testament), came to specifically denote the individual human body (particularly a dead human body). This in turn is often explained by forwarding the idea that the ancients regarded the body as "tent" in which the living soul dwelled, but the Bible does not support such bipartite or tripartite (body, soul and spirit) models of the human creature. Instead, the Bible sees the human individual as point of dynamic intersection between several discrete continuums: like a tornado that has a stormy air-component and an earthly dust-component, which both never stopped being part of the larger atmosphere and the larger planet (see our article on καθαρος, katharos, pure or clean, or the verb τεμνω, temno, to cut or cleave, for more on this).

The purpose of any tent is its goings-on inside it, and unlike the chicken and the egg, these internal goings-on always come first. Only when these initial tentless goings-on wax beyond a certain point, they'll come up with a way to wrap its processes in some kind of tent-like enclosure. The making of this sort of housing is the result of activities that had been going on long before the first parts of the housing were manifested. The tabernacle that Moses built, likewise, was not at all meant to house the hitherto homeless YHWH, but began to result from the activities of YHWH that had been going on since before there were humans.

Just like Adam was created first and then transported into the garden of Eden, or the people of Israel emerged long before they moved into their country, or the Body of Christ emerges long before the New Jerusalem does, so "soul" emerged on the earth long before there were living bodies. How to imagine all this isn't clear (although the theory of panspermia may prove inspirational), but see our article on the noun ιχθυς (ichtus) for some tips.

As we point out in our article on the noun φονος (phonos), a murder or slaying: "Life, like electricity, it not a substance but an effect of which light is the substance. Life is essentially a network of electromagnetic contributions of organic and inorganic compounds, and is all about the ability of placing participants in their best-performing order."

And in our article on the verb αμαρτανω (hamartano), to miss a target: "Living things are able to absorb light, convert it into a chemical equivalent and store it for later use. When inanimate things absorb light they heat up and radiate it out again without being able to hold on to it. Living things grow, whereas inanimate things heat up, and darkness is not the opposite of light but the absence of it. Light comes before all things and holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). Darkness is emptiness, vacancy and death, whereas light is fullness, application and life. Wisdom, peace and life are all manifestations of light, and are manifestations of the joining of things by a substance. Wisdom, peace and life are buildings. And they take time to be built."

Said otherwise, if the soul is like water, then the body is like foam on the water; foam that emerges because of the turbulence of the water and which never existed apart from the water. The water exists apart from the foam but the foam never exists apart from the water. Children might act out a fictional play on a street corner, but no theater was ever erected without a troop of actors itching to get in. Our noun σκηνη (skene) not merely describes the innate housing of some process but also demonstrates the level of maturity of that process: the level at which it starts to produce its house.

Should the building fail, the process should be perfectly capable of continuing, albeit in a more primitive form. When the process itself stops, however, the building falls empty and will quickly disintegrate. This means that the process keeps its own housing together, rather than the other way around. But it also means that one single human body is not the only tent humanity occupies: the entirety of our culture, and our cities, are also such tents. And just like vulnerable tent-villages evolved into great walled cities first and then a whole trading peaceful world, so our billowing and wind-swept institutions will inevitably evolve into a permanent world at eternal peace.

Our noun σκηνη (skene) denotes any kind of physical or material manifestation (i.e. shadow) of any kind of chemical or social process (or school of thought, or "body" of followers: Matthew 17:4). Its Hebrew counterpart is the verb סכך (sakak), from which comes the name Succoth, and the noun סכה (sukka), booth, as used in the legislation concerning the Feast Of Booths (Leviticus 23:41-42, Deuteronomy 16:13).

Our noun σκηνη (skene) is used 20 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it come:

  • Together with the verb πηγνυμι (pegnumi), to fix or fasten: the noun σκηνοπηγια (skenopegia), meaning dwelling- or shelter-fixing, specifically used to describe the Feast of Booths (John 7:2 only).
  • Together with the verb ποιεω (poieo), meaning to do or bring about: the noun σκηνοποιος (skenopoios), meaning shelter-maker (Acts 18:3 only). It's commonly supposed that Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were makers of actual tents (also to demonstrate how virtuously industrious they were) but this noun is very rare in the Greek classics and rather tends to refer to the manufacture of stage props. The Lukan author of Acts mentions that Paul was of the same trade as Aquila and Priscilla, and since Paul was not a craftsman but had always been a zealous academic, here at Abarim Publications we suspect that our noun may have been a generic term, on a par with our modern terms market-maker or lobbyist, and may have related to the spread of literacy and theatrical arts (and perhaps secondarily the paper industry; see βιβλος, biblos) rather than the tent-making business.

The noun σκηνος (skenos) means dwelling or cover — or rather the physical or material manifestation (i.e. shadow) of any kind of chemical or social process — but as we mention above, where the much more common feminine variant σκηνη (skene) tends to denote structures in the social continuum (many human individuals who form one social "body"), our neuter form σκηνος (sketnos) tends to denote an individual tent, hut or body. It's used in 2 Corinthians 5:1 and 5:4 only, and from it come:

  • The verb σκηνοω (skenoo), meaning to set up one's dwelling, which may literally speak of pitching one's mobile abode, but obviously also of establishing one's "body"; one's physical body (sustained by food and water) and one's mind (sustained by knowledge and social interactions). This verb is used 5 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επισκηνοω (episkenoo), meaning to be quartered in (to set up one's tent in a specific location). It's used in 2 Corinthians 12:9 only, as an obvious wordplay on Christ being the foundation of all human existence (Matthew 7:24, 1 Corinthians 3:11).
    • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb κατασκηνοω (kataskenoo), meaning to encamp or lay down one's housing, or rather the physical manifestation of one's activities (mostly of birds their nests). This verb is used 4 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
      • The noun κατασκηνωσις (kataskenosis), which describes the act of laying down one's physical manifestation (Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58 only, again of birds their nests).
    • The noun σκηνωμα (skenoma), meaning a physical manifestation of one's actions (Acts 7:46, 2 Peter 1:13 and 1:14 only).

From the same Proto-Indo-European root as the above, the noun σκια (skia) means shadow, which is a darkened area caused by an object's blocking of light. The light source, the object and the shadow are all in line, with the object in between the light source and the shadow. That means that the human body — the σκηνος (skenos), see above — is the shadow, the human mind the object and the Logos the light source.

Our noun σκια (skia) is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it derives the verb σκιαζω (skiazo), to be shadow-like or darken (or to manifest in a body; see above). This verb is not used by itself in the New Testament but from it come:

  • Together with the preposition απο (apo), mostly meaning from: the noun αποσκιασμα (aposkiasma), which describes something coming from being shadow-like; something unclear, deceitful or shadowy. This word occurs in the New Testament in James 1:17 only, in the curious phrase "aposkiasma of a turning". It's not clear what this term means but since it augments the term "father of lights" (obviously a playful wink to stars; also see James 1:11), as well as the noun παραλλαγη (parallage), a known astronomical term meaning change or overlap, our term "aposkiasma of a turning" may possibly refer to some astronomical phenomenon (perhaps something like a sundial). Alternatively, our term may refer to astronomy (or rather astrology) as the proverbial "method of darkened counsel" (Job 38:2).
  • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επισκιαζω (episkiazo), meaning to cast a shadow upon, or to overshadow (or bring together in a body: compare Genesis 1:2 to Luke 1:35 and Genesis 2:7 to Acts 2:4). This verb is used 5 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb κατασκιαζω (kataskizao), to cast a shadow down upon (Hebrews 9:5 only).