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

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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun στρατος (stratos) describes a layer in a command structure, and specifically the layer at the bottom, where all the heavy lifting is one: the Mannschaft, the crew, the troops, the forces. It's the source of English words like to stratify, stratum, sternum, strategy, and the few "strato-" words in English (like stratosphere), and shares its Proto-Indo-European root — namely "ster-", meaning to spread — with words like structure (and instruct, obstruct and construct), street and even perestroika (= re-structuring).

Our noun στρατος (stratos) is a common word for army, or rather the troops of the army, the host, and is as such not without relations to the verb τασσω (tasso), to order or command, and thus the Hebrew verb צבא (saba'), from which comes the familiar theonym Sabaoth. But our word may also be used to describe the civilian masses, and is on occasion thus used as synonym of λαος (laos) and δημος (demos).

Our noun στρατος (stratos) is not used independently in the New Testament but it does play a part in the following derivations and compounds:

  • The verb στρατευομαι (strateuomai), meaning to be within the bottom layer of a command structure and getting deployed along with it: to be enlisted, to do soldiering, to go to war, to be on campaign. This verb doesn't simply mean to fight but rather to fight within a larger structure of command: to join the ranks and either jointly pursue a common objective or jointly follow orders that trickle down from high-command way above.
    Until the final century of the Roman republic, the Roman army was an old-school militia, which consisted of land-owning citizens, who provided their own weapons and fought at their own expense and thus would think twice before going into war. After the Marian reforms (by Gaius Marius, in 107 BCE), the Republic welcomed anybody to be a soldier, supplied weapons and uniforms and paid wages. Since any product demands a market, the mercenaries would think twice before passing on an opportunity to pick a fight. Half a century later, the Republic had destabilized, the generals had become rich and insolent, and starting with general Pompey began to walk all over the senate. That was stopped by Julius Caesar, a competing general at the time, who marched his legion onto Rome to oust Pompey, therewith effectively ending the Republic. Rome was born again as an Empire, with Caesar's adopted son Octavian as its first emperor. Both men were deified, which introduced to the world the resounding titles of Savior of the World, King of Kings and Son of God; all Roman imperial titles that were later reappropriated by Paul to explain how power really works and were it actually came from.
    Followers of Christ, whether single or joined, don't take their orders from anyone but Christ. Followers of Christ partake in the kingdom like the old-school citizens of the Roman republic. They're not hired goons who take their orders from the highest bidder but are sovereign co-rulers. Followers of Christ have skin in the game. They contemplate and converse, are calm and wise, and avoid any kind of military engagement quite literally at all cost. In 1 Corinthians 9:7, Paul rhetorically asks: who goes soldiering on his own expense? The obvious answer: conscientious land-owning citizens of a Republic, and certainly not the hired mercenaries of some hideous empire. Likewise in 2 Corinthians 10:3 he states: although we walk around in an animal body, we don't go out soldiering like beasts.
    Our verb is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • Together with the preposition αντι (anti), meaning counter, or in place of: the verb αντιστρατευομαι (antistrateuomai), meaning to war against, to join many men of a similar social and economic background and march in an organized and orderly manner upon a common enemy (Romans 7:23 only).
    • The noun στρατεια (strateia), broadly describing an act of war: a stint within an organized militia, an expedition, a campaign, but also money levied to pay for it all, military discipline or military appointment (2 Corinthians 10:4 and 1 Timothy 1:18 only).
    • The noun στρατευμα (strateuma), broadly describing a military unit, either a contingent of soldiers or the campaign they're on. It's used 8 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the verb αγω (ago), to lead: the noun στρατεγος (strategos), meaning army-leader (the source of our word "strategy"). This noun στρατεγος (strategos) was an official mid-level military title in Athens and Rome; comparable to our word "captain". It's used 10 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
  • The noun στρατια (stratia), which is a feminine form of στρατος (stratos) of unclear distinction. In the Greek classics this noun is rarer than its male counterpart but mostly used as synonyms of στρατος (stratos), army, or even στρατεια (strateia), expedition. The distinction between masculine and feminine words in Greek isn't very clear but in Hebrew, masculinity usually points toward individuality (which is why God, being one, is masculine and thus groom or father), whereas femininity usually conveys collectivity (which is why peoples are feminine and thus bride or mother). That suggests that our word στρατια (stratia) may emphasize an army's internal stratification, or even describe a collective or (con)federation of independent military units under one supreme command. In the New Testament, our word στρατια (stratia) is used in Luke 2:13 and Acts 7:42 only, both times in reference to a singular heavenly troop (albeit angelic and stellar). Heavenly high command has of course very little in common with human emperors and Führers, as heavenly high command issues what we moderns call natural law, which can't be ignored or disobeyed. From this noun in turn derive:
    • The noun στρατιωτης (stratiotes), which describes a soldier, or rather one element of a στρατια (stratia). Note that our English word soldier comes from the Latin solidus, meaning whole or undivided (hence also our words solid, solder and solidarity), which was the name of a Roman coin. This suggests that what we call a soldier is essentially a mercenary who fights for coin. But it also suggests that a soldier is the indivisible atom of the larger beast that is the army, which is also the essential meaning of our noun στρατιωτης (stratiotes): a unit of a στρατια (stratia), not necessarily a man of war or even a military man, but indeed an atom of a larger Body with a singular mind and identity (2 Timothy 2:3). This noun is used 26 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
      • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the noun συστρατιωτης (sustratiotes), meaning fellow soldier (Philippians 2:25 and Philemon 1:2 only).
    • Together with the otherwise unused noun πεδον (pedon), ground or base, from πους (pous), foot: the noun στρατοπεδον (stratopedon), meaning military base or military camp ground (Luke 21:20 only). From this noun in turn comes:
      • Together with the verb αρχω (archo), to rule over: the noun στρατοπεδαρχης (stratopedarches), meaning camp commander (Acts 28:16 only).
  • Together with the verb λεγω (lego), to speak or proclaim: the verb στρατολογεω (stratologeo), which denotes the enlisting of men in an army; to draft. It occurs only as a participle: a drafter, or one who drafts (2 Timothy 2:4 only).

The verb στρωννυμι (stronnumi) — also spelled στρωννυω (stronnuo), στορνυω (stornuo), στορνυμι (stornumi), and several other ways — means to strew or spread. It stems from the same PIE root "ster-", meaning to spread, as the above.

In the classics, besides any general spreading or strewing, this verb often described the spreading of a blanket or coat over a horse or donkey or bed or other piece of furniture (and hence it could mean: make ready with table cloths and bench-cushions: Mark 14:15). On occasion it described paving a road (and note that in the Hebrew mind, one paved one's streets with proverbially worthless stuff: tasteless salt, Matthew 5:13, or gold in a post-gold economy, Revelation 21:21). Figuratively, our verb could describe calming someone down, or leveling uppity heads and dispersing their owners.

This verb is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταστρωννυμι (katastronnumi), meaning to spread down (1 Corinthians 10:5 only). This verb plays with the idea that societal strength comes from accumulations of pooled resources, which in the Bible are commonly metaphorized as hills and mountains (see our articles on הר, har and ορος, oros, both meaning mountain). Our verb καταστρωννυμι (katastronnumi) speaks of the opposite of being a mountain, which is being spread so thin that one's society is like a thin layer of dust.
  • Together with the noun λιθος (lithos), stone: the adjective λιθοστρωτος (lithostrotos), meaning stone-strewn (John 19:13 only).
  • Together with the preposition υπο (hupo) meaning under: the verb υποστρωννυω (hupostronnuo), meaning to spread under (Luke 19:36 only).

The noun στρηνος (strenos) means "broad living". It occurs less than a dozen times in all the extant Greek classics, including the New Testament, is commonly translated with insolence, arrogance or wantonness (Revelation 18:3 only). It stems from an adjective στρηνης (strenes), meaning harsh or piercing, specifically of sounds (hence our English words stern and strenuous), which in turn relates to στερεος (stereos), firm or solid (hence the English words stereo and sterile, and of course the noun σταυρος, stauros, which describes the instrument upon which Jesus was crucified). Like all of the above, these words ultimately stem from the PIE root "ster-", meaning to spread. That suggests that our rather specific noun στρηνος (strenos) specifically describes the broadening of one's base of support, or more precise: one's confidence in the security derived from the broad portfolio of pies one's groping fingers have found to pierce. From this noun come:

  • The verb στρηνιαω (streniao), meaning to live broadly, to live in arrogant confidence in one's broad array of securities (Revelation 18:7 and 18:9 only). From this verb in turn comes:
    • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταστρηνιαω (katastreniao), meaning to diminish someone by broadening one's own interests, to compete someone out of the broad-living game, to spread one's attentions too thin because of irrelevant preoccupations (1 Timothy 5:11 only).

The noun στρουθιον (strouthion) describes any unremarkable little bird. This noun is a diminutive of στρουθος (stroutos), which mostly described the sparrow but curiously also came to describe the ostrich (the proverbially silly flightless bird: Job 39:13-17, Lamentations 4:3). It was also used to refer to a kind of flat fish, a kind of plant and even a lewd lecher. Experts declare the pedigree of this word utterly obscure, but here at Abarim Publications we surmise that it too has to do with the greater PIE root "ster-", meaning to spread or spread thin — perhaps not as a full-blood descendant but then as an adopted term that assumed form and meaning from the verbal family that took it in.

The curiosity of a word that describes both a common sparrow and an ostrich also demonstrates that our word probably did not so much refer to a specific species, but rather the shared quality of showing up alone (suggesting that the fish, the plant and the lewd sniffler were also typically lone operators). The proverbial opposite of the spread-out or spread-thin bird might be considered the bird called περιστερα (peristera), dove, which was a creature so abundantly common that it served as the poor man's sacrifice (Leviticus 5:7, 12:8). The proper etymology of this word is also missing in action, but it obviously reminds of the word περι (peri), which means "about" and applies to things that occur proverbially all over, and are thus frugal and inexpensive (which in turn reminds of the verb στρωννυμι, stronnumi, to strew, we discuss above).

Greek uses the diminutive form not only to describe a small version of a larger original, but often also to describe an isolated one of creatures that usually shows up in much greater numbers (like αρνιον, arnion, lost little lamb, from αρην, aren, lamb, or θυγατριον, thugatrion, sole little daughter, from θυγατηρ, thugater, daughter).

Since sparrows commonly show up in vast multitudes, a single one was considered a proverbial trifle: preparing one would cost more energy than you would get from eating it. Sparrows appear to also have been proverbially boring: they're not particularly pretty and they don't sing. This unlike starlings, which in Greek are called ψαρ (psar), a word reportedly from the vast PIE root "sper-" from which (rather confusingly) comes our English word sparrow. Here at Abarim Publications we privately suspect that this PIE root "sper-" actually in turn stems from the Hebrew word שפר (shapar), to be pleasing or colorful.

That suggests that our diminutive στρουθιον (strouthion), "thin-ling", pretty much described anything boring, ugly, flat and flightless, useless and poorly mannered that had also managed to get separated from its own friends and family. One wasn't even worth the smallest coin available (ασσαριον, assarion), so a single one στρουθιον (strouthion) couldn't even be properly sold. Whoever wanted one for whatever obscure reason (because who would want a sparrow?), had to buy two.

Our noun στρουθιον (strouthion), "thin-ling", is used 4 times; see full concordance.