Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb στεφω (stepho) means to put round, mostly of celebratory laurels, wreaths and crowns around a celebrant's head (rather than atop the head, as intuition would dictate). This verb isn't used in the New Testament but is quite common in the classics. It's the popular element of the circular process in which the king governs the people and the people crown the king, corresponding to the final five of the Ten Commandments — of which the first five deal with God (Exodus 20:1-12), and are summed up by "love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind and soul" (Matthew 22:37), and the final five deal with society (Exodus 20:13-17), and are summed up by "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). (And both are summed up by the unified Golden Rule: "Treat others the way you want to be treated"; Matthew 7:12 — see for a more detailed look at this our article on the verb πασχω, pascho, to experience)
In western traditions, crowns have always had a very strong relation to the sun, and ultimately reflect the legislative prerogative of a central ruler. The ancients obviously understood that although the substance of life is light, its nature is that of complexity, and a society's legal code was purposed to guarantee just that: societal complexity. When God created Adam, he first created the fundamental dust of the earth, brought that dust together into a vitally complex composition, released into the composition the breath of life and Adam became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Later, God proclaimed the seed of Abraham to be similar to the fundamental dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16, see Galatians 3:7), brought that seed together into a vitally complex composition, released into the composition the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), and it thus became the living Church.
The ancients understood that light and life are self-similar, and that society's legal code is purposed to prepare society for a societal soul: a life beyond life, an after-life or a next-level-life. From the detailed description of the Law in the Ark in the tabernacle at the heart of the people, it is clear that the ancients also understood that a living cell reacts both to its central DNA and its environment, whereupon its DNA adapts to better govern the cell, in order to manipulate the environment. That means that the ancients understood that life's governing codes and the realm which it animates, gravitate toward a state of synchronicity, or the over-arching oneness that underpins all creation's dynamic reality. That Oneness of All Things, of course, is the only God (Deuteronomy 6:4), who is explained by the Word (Hebrews 1:3), who is the DNA of all reality (Colossians 1:15-17) and is wholly summed up by the Golden Rule (John 1:1-4).
Our verb στεφω (stepho) is not used in the New Testament but from it come the following important derivations:
- The noun στεμμα (stemma), meaning literally "a surrounding" or "a coronation". This word commonly described a wreath or garland, particularly one used in a devotional, sacrificial and honorary contexts. In the New Testament it occurs in Acts 14:13 only.
- The noun στεφανος (stephanos) meaning literally "that which surrounds"; a corona, like the sun's corona, a phenomenon from which all ornamental and royal crowns derive — this Latin word corona (from which comes the English word crown) is itself a transliteration of the Greek adjective κορωνος (koronos), meaning curved or bent, rather than surrounding (so it's not really a proper equivalent). The otherwise inexplicable name of the father of Zeus, namely Κρονος (Kronos) looks like a synthetic hybrid of the words χρονος (chronos), time, and κορωνος (koronos), curved, and quite literally means Spacetime, in a relativity sort of way. The word κορωνος (koronos) does not occur in the New Testament. The noun στεφανος (stephanos) is used 18 times, see full concordance, not counting the identical name Stephanos (or Steven) and the nearly identical name Stephanas. The Hebrew word for crown is עטרה (atarah), from the verb עטר ('atar), to surround.
Societies began to crown their kings when they began to understand how the sun stood at the heart of the solar system (Aristarchus' heliocentric model is the first known, but obviously based on much older traditions) and gave life, and particularly organizational complexity to previously inanimate matter. The crown's predecessor, namely the διαδημα (diadema) or diadem, was more obviously associated to law-giving, an attribute ascribed to the crowned, or diademed, couple Isis and Osiris.
In the classics, our noun would occasionally describe something surrounding other than a crown: a wall around a city or a circle of children. But mostly it described crowns and wreaths — often ones that were worn by celebrants, victors or royals, and sometimes wreaths that were hung on doors or walls. Since the crown signified the wearer's victory and sovereignty, everyone who is in Christ, is an ελευθερος (eleutheros), a sovereign and thus an Anointed One — a משיח (mashiah) or χριστος (christos) — in the old tradition(s) and a Crowned One (στεφανος, stephanos) in the new one(s). But it's the sovereignty that counts, not the symbol or ritual that marks it. From this noun in turn derives:
- The verb στεφανοω (stephanoo), to wreathe or endow with a corona of any kind (2 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 2:7 and 2:9 only). In the classics this verb is either used in the active voice, in which case it means to crown or wreathe, or in the passive voice, in which case it describes a much broader surrounding or enveloping: of an island enveloped by the sea, constellations enveloped by the heavens, a dance floor enveloped by dancers, Zeus enveloped by a cloud (νεφελη, nephele). The passive use in 2 Timothy 2:5 not merely speaks of receiving a victor's crown but rather of being enveloped by crowds of adoring fans. Both in Hesiod (Sh.204) and Homer (Il.11.36), this verb is associated with ornamentations on a shield, which seems significant since the Word strongly associates with clouds and identifies himself as a shield (Genesis 15:1), and shields were regularly anointed (Isaiah 21:5). In Hebrew, this verb reminds of the verb לוה (lawa), from which come the noun ליה (loya), wreath, and the name Levi (Moses and Aaron were Levites, and since both Elizabeth and Mary of Nazareth were too, so were John the Baptist and Jesus).