Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb τασσω (tasso) means to order and speaks of authority and methodology, but when the New Testament was first translated, people thought much more in terms of formal authority and command structures than we do today, which presently necessitates careful reconsiderations of the familiar Biblical statements that are driven by this verb.
Here at Abarim Publications we have found ourselves with a preference for to "organize" or "direct" rather than "order" or "command" as translations of this verb. The difference between these two poles is that a failure to follow "commands" of a higher officer would lead to punishment and anger, whereas a failure to follow "directions" from a wiser person would lead to accidents and sorrow. The Bible rarely insists on blind obedience and rather derives authority from empathy and wisdom. Since the Bible is much more interested in wisdom than in politics, so are we.
Our verb is surprisingly consistent with our English verb to order, in that it may be used with the sense of to organize items and to direct people. Unfortunately, in our modern world positions of authority were often secured for political reasons rather than on the merit of knowledge of the matters at hand, which has resulted in an undeserved association of the act of careful ordering with the act of wild commandeering. When we moderns read about someone "ordering" someone else to go somewhere (Acts 15:2), we might be prone to think of a brutish commander who barks his unwilling subjects into submission, whereas our verb τασσω (tasso) would rather be preluded by a careful examination of facts and conditions, and ultimately describe a calculated placement or transplacement that would better all elements involved.
Both senses, organize and command, imply a certain authority of the one who does the ordering. Only someone who knows the proper places or relationships between elements can actually order them (as someone without that knowledge would only create a detailed mess of things). And only a person with either a natural or formal authority can order a subordinate to do something. When a person of authority orders a subordinate to do something, that subordinate will operate within the proper place assigned to him by the one who has ordered him.
Our verb covers the entire span between the beginning of the ordering to the final establishment of it, which implies that to some lesser informed observers, a command by someone whose scope encompasses all may seem counterproductive or even ineffective. And this in turn implies that deceivers of an utmost depravity may assume a synthetic air of mastery and shoot blanks at a chaos that refuses to yield while their idle declarations of invisible betterment are rewarded by the fools they so dazzle.
Not surprisingly, in the classics our verb is predominantly used in military contexts, and is as such not unlike the Hebrew verb צבא (saba'), from which comes the familiar theonym Sabaoth. Our English words "tact," "tactics" and "tactile" derive from this Greek verb.
In the classics our verb is used to mean to arrange and direct troops and ships into battle formations, to place soldiers at posts or stations (or against enemies), to appoint people specified ranks or to assign them any kind of service whether military or civilian. From the latter usage came the meaning of "ordering" someone to do something or go somewhere. Rules and taxes could be ordered, i.e. commanded, laid down, and punishments could be ordered, i.e. imposed. Lifeless items could be ordered, i.e. placed in a proper sequence or arrangement. Clergy could be ordered, i.e. ordained into their office.
Our base verb occurs a mere 8 times in the New Testament; see full concordance, but it serves as core of a considerable list of derivations (some of which use the alternate spelling of ταττω, tatto):
- Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon or in this case an emphatic: the verb ανατασσομαι (anatassomai), to thoroughly order, to carefully organize (Luke 1:1 only).
- Together with the preposition αντι (anti), meaning over or against: the verb αντιτασσω (antitasso), to organize against, to array in opposition. Unlike spontaneous objections, this verb emphasizes a planned and collected opposition. It's used 5 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition απο (apo), meaning from: the verb αποτασσω (apotasso), to organize or direct to go out of some place, to leave in a planned and orderly fashion (rather than make a run for it or leave on a whim). This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective ατακτος (ataktos), meaning without plan, without order, without direction. It occurs only in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, used substantially to describe the disordered or disorderly, which appears to cover both people whose private and public affairs are in disorder, whose inner thoughts and treatment of others are improper or without consistency. From this adjective come:
- Together with the preposition δια (dia) meaning through or throughout: the verb διατασσω (diatasso), which also occurs as διαταττω (diatatto), meaning to penetrate-and-arrange. This importantly nuanced verb deals with a multiple of items that someone arranges by figuratively or literally "stepping into" the cluster and organizing it from the inside out, or at least from a vantage point of deep familiarity. This is the verb with which Jesus "dia-directed" his disciples (Matthew 11:1), with which he "dia-directed" the mobbing bystanders into giving Jairus' daughter something to eat (Luke 8:55), and with which God dia-directed the Israelites by being in their midst (Acts 7:44). This graceful verb is used 16 times; see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The noun διαταγη (diatage), meaning a command or direction, and particularly a through-and-through command or one that interrupts the goings on (Acts 7:53 and Romans 13:2 only).
- The noun διαταγμα (diatagma) describes the thing so directed, the situation that has been through-and-through directed into order (Hebrews 11:23 only).
- Together with the preposition επι (epi) meaning on or upon: the verb επιδιατασσομαι (epidiatassomai), meaning to additionally arrange through-and-through, either to add more ordered stuff to the existing order or to order to existing stuff to an even deeper degree. This verb occurs in Galatians 3:15 only.
- Again together with the preposition επι (epi) meaning on or upon: the verb επιτασσω (epitasso), meaning to place upon, to additionally direct (Mark 6:27), to take or place in control over, to overrule (Mark 1:27, 9:25, Luke 8:25), to manage a very large group (Mark 6:39) or broad undertaking (Luke 14:22). This versatile verb occurs 10 times; see full concordance, and from it derives:
- The noun επιταγη (epitage), which describes a broad directorate or overarching authority (Romans 16:26), particularly an authority given by a higher authority (1 Corinthians 7:6). In this latter verse, Paul uses our noun juxtaposed with συγγνωμη (suggnome), meaning "from a shared knowledge," which indicates that our noun επιταγη (epitage) speaks of authority from knowledge that only Paul has. It's used 7 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition προς (pros) meaning toward: the verb προστασσω (prostasso), meaning to direct toward, to arrange people or a situation in such a way that people begin to move toward another place or situation. This verb is used 8 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συντασσω (suntasso), to direct together, to arrange together or to have been ordered or directed collectively (Matthew 26:19 and 27:10 only).
- The noun ταγμα (tagma), which denotes anything arranged or ordered, such as a military unit, school of thought or society at large (1 Corinthians 15:23 only).
- The adjective τακτος (taktos), meaning ordered, prescribed, organized, directed (Acts 12:21 only).
- The noun ταξις (taxis), which describes an instance of the verb: an arrangement, a setting, an appointment, a direction, a proper ordering. This noun is used 10 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition υπο (hupo) meaning under, beneath or through: the verb υποτασσω (hupotasso), meaning to direct or arrange beneath or below: to subordinate, to subdue, to subject.
Note that this verb does not simply speak of commanding "lower" entities to do one's bidding, but rather gathering "receptive" entities within relative positions to each other in which they all may flourish, like chicks under the wing (Luke 2:51). Because the Bible applies this verb mostly in connection to God's natural law, a "subjection" is like the "subjection" to the rules of a game, in that it results in liberty rather than restriction (Romans 8:7). The seventy returned excited that daimons were subjected to them (Luke 10:17), not because they could now exorcize the lands in spectacular spiritual pyrotechnics, but rather because daimons are notoriously difficult to get a hold of and now finally responded to their guidance (the name Beelzebub means Lord of the Flies, and flies, as you will have observed, are unable to acknowledge central rule, or to respond to verbal commands or helpful gesticulation). This verb is used 40 times; see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Again together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective ανυποτακτος (anupotaktos), meaning without being subordinated, not subjected, without adhering to direction. When this word is used in the context of knowledge of, and thus compliance with, and thus subjection to natural law, this adjective describes the unfortunate captivity that ignorant people suffer. People who live in "subjection" to the laws of nature, soar freely through the realms. This adjective is used 4 times; see full concordance.
- The noun υποταγη (hupotage), meaning submission, subordination. When this noun describes "submission" to natural law, it is obviously synonymous with freedom. It's used 4 times; see full concordance