Death and tax and evil in the New Testament

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/t/t-e-l-o-sfin.html

Death and taxes and evil

— in the New Testament —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun τελος (telos) describes the completion of a cycle or procedure that exists within a larger operation. It does not denote the ending or coming to a halt of a procedure, but rather a transcendence of a cyclic procedure, which in turn allows a complete review of, control over and utilization of the whole cyclic procedure, while this procedure itself still continues beneath. Our word subsequently also describes the harvest or rather the monetary yield or revenue extracted from any cyclic process. The ancients realized that proceeds don't merely relate to the value of the product but rather to the value of the whole cycle of production, as well as the investment of that yield into a subsequent process.

In the classics our word very often refers to a position of authority or the due response of subjects to authority, most specifically to the paying of tax. The derived word τελωνης (telones), means "full cycle guy" or "tax-collector," which serves in the New Testament as demonic agent of evil. See below for a discussion of this word.

Our noun τελος (telos) refers not to any point in the process but rather to either a transcending of the whole of the process or else the substance that rises from the whole of the process like water vapor from a lake. Cycles don't end, of course, which is why they're cycles, so with the "end of a cycle" we refer to the boundary of the effects of one. This also helps to understand the familiar term "end of time," which does not refer to a point in time but rather to realms beyond time. Time has to do with data retention in matter, and particularly differentiation or successive changes therein. The human mind is likewise designed to retain data, and the joining of minds by means of convention (agreement in expression) is an entity quite alike time. Life emerged when material molecules began to store energy in chemical bonds (rather than heat). Speech and ultimately the whole of mankind's wisdom is likewise based on a transcension that relates to the basic fabric of mentality the way life relates to spacetime.

The bottom line is that our word τελος (telos) does not emphasize the sudden termination of a process, but rather the yield of the process, and not merely the static existence of this yield but rather as the first step of a whole new cyclic process. Our word means "end" as much as "beginning" and represents a threshold of transition between two progressive realms.

The New Testament promotes the view that humanity's continued quest for convention — using ever more carefully honed expressions to ever more precisely convey stuff we agree on; see our articles on ονομα, onoma, meaning noun or name, and γραφω, grapho, meaning to write — is a continued cycle just like our monetary economy or the hydrological cycle are. The promise is that this cycle has a yield that surpasses it as much as the love of Christ surpasses all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hidden in him (Ephesians 3:19, Colossians 2:3). This proverbial Yield is of course talked about all over the New Testament, but possibly most spectacularly as people collecting into clouds to meet the Lord in the sky (1 Thessalonians 4:17, Hebrews 12:1), and of course the city of New Jerusalem as it comes from these same heavens (Revelation 21:2).

Our word τελος (telos) speaks of a whole of a cycle, any cycle big or small, necessarily viewed from a dimension other than those in which the cycle exists. It therefore reflexes distance or distantiation, which is why there is also the familiar word τηλε (tele; see below), meaning at a distance or far off. These words stem from the Proto-Indo-European root kwel-, of which some linguists insist there are two: kwel- (1) having to do with going around, hence also words like κυκλος, (kuklos), meaning circle, and kwel- (2), the root of the many "paleo-" and "tele-" words.

Here at Abarim Publications we don't see the need to assume two separate roots. The ancients obviously realized that one cannot recognize any process as being cyclic (and in any closed system, all processes are), when one is not standing above the process in order to see the whole thing. Consequently, when one recognizes the cycle or the whole of some process, one stands above it. This explains the connection between our noun τελος (telos) and derived words like εντελλομαι (entellomai), meaning to command: one can only be a commander of a whole process when one stands above the process and is therefore able to review the process in its entirety.

Our noun occurs a modest 41 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it stem the following important derivations:


The noun τελωνης (telones) is the word for tax-collector, or more precise: the person who showed up at the harvest time to levy state tax (consisting of land, income and poll tax). The harvest time is often considered the "end" of the agricultural year, but anybody with some sense realized that the cycle had no end and the tax-collector took his cut of the proceeds of the entire cycle.

Paying standard taxes to fund future public works was of course an enormously important social achievement, which is traditionally ascribed to the confluence of the ancient Abrahamic and Melchizedekian schools (Genesis 10:20, Hebrews 7:5). But the Romans used taxation as a means to subdue and control the peoples they had conquered. Their greatest threat was the free exchange of ideas, and in order to keep people docile they needed them scared, ignorant, primitive and at home. To this end they invented the demonic system of levying taxes on all production and transfer of goods and service, which made travel and trade a nightmare. Note that Abraham was not only celebrated as the patriarch of all true believers but also of international trade — read our article on that name for the details. By deliberately thwarting retail and petty trade, the Romans also thwarted the common dialogue that is crucial to a healthy society, which in turn led to a kind of national lymphedema (see our article on the noun δουλος, doulos, meaning servant).

To make matters worse, the Roman equestrian order sold the rights to levy tax to an unholy hierarchy of local intermediaries, who all skimmed off the top and increased the people's burden to breaking point. The working class was left with barely anything and all the nation's wealth was siphoned off to rulers and their insane building programs.

The Greek word for evil is πονος (ponos), which comes from the verb πενομαι (penomai), meaning to toil or labor, which comes down to having to do activities out of need rather than because your heart inspires you. Upon the fall of man, God cursed mankind with death, but what commentators often forget to mention is that having to toil and do things out of necessity rather than passion is the precursor of death. The essence of evil is the limitation of freedom, whereas freedom is the ultimate divine state — the word Christ implies personal sovereignty, and the word antichrist implies the opposite.

By the time of Jesus, the templar enterprise was a covert tax cartel ran by Annas and his sons, and the famous Jewish Revolt that ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD was essentially a tax revolt. Even today, most cries for regional independence ultimately boil down to a people's God-given prerogative to determine for themselves where the fruit of their labor should be invested.

Our noun τελωνης (telones) literally means "full cycle guy" and is used 22 times; see full concordance. From it in turn come:


Together with the prefix αρχι (archi-), meaning chief (or ancient), our noun τελωνης (telones), meaning tax-collector, forms the noun αρχιτελωνης (architelones), meaning chief tax-collector. This word occurs only in Luke 19:2, where it applies to Zaccheus of Jericho, who was quite possibly the most hated man in town.

As mentioned above, in Greek there is a clear connection between the noun πονος (ponos), meaning evil, and the verb πενομαι (penomai), meaning to be forced to do stuff you wouldn't have volunteered for, or to have your freedom limited. With that in mind, our word for "arch-tax-collector" would surely have reminded the gospel's original audience of what John the Revelator calls the "Serpent of Old" (Revelation 12:9), and although tithing was considered a divinely ordered and reasonable collective contribution to public works, corrupt tax-collectors were subsequently considered agents of evil and the human equivalents of demons and fallen angels.


The noun τελωνιον (telonion), literally meaning "yield house" denotes a local custom's tax check-point. The Romans were burrowing parasites who infested and diseased the entire known world and were widely hated, even by their own citizens and leaders — for a closer look at this, read our article on Pilate, whose primary job was to govern Judea's tax revenues.

The peoples the Romans conquered were not just raped and looted once but shackled for sustained exploitation, and the Romans had a whole spectrum of ways to subdue and exploit. One of them was by dulling the sensibilities of key locals by means of luxuries and entertainment, which in fact was "part of their enslavement" (in the words of Tacitus; Agricola.1.21). Another one was to glaze over their signature "religious tolerance" with obligatory emperor worship. The Jews worshipped only the Creator and obeyed only his natural law, and would rather die than submit to some silly human contraption. The Romans needed the Jews alive and well enough to pay their taxes, so the Romans solved the Jewish problem by inventing a special atheism-tax — the Jewish temple was famously void of an effigy, so the Romans dubbed them atheists (see Cassius Dio Hist.67.14; later, atheism became a crime punishable by death). Roman tax policies ultimately triggered the Jewish Revolt, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which in turn brought Caesar Vespasian to issue (you guessed it) a special empire-wide taxation of Jews (fiscus Iudaicus), which went to the Temple of Jupiter in Rome.

The Roman tax system had three main functions: (1) to fund Rome's perpetual party, (2) to curb the economic autonomy of enslaved peoples, and (3) to demobilize people. Rome is famous for its roads but these roads were for the army to run across and not for ordinary folks to get around. Rome was not interested in the free exchange of ideas (of which Abraham was the arch-father, see our article on that name for more on this) because individual freedom was precisely the opposite of Rome's core principle of massive servitude. People who ponder will inevitably reach the conclusion that freedom is everybody's birthright, and any sort of congregation of these freedom seekers was one small step away from a full-fledged revolt. Today the gospel is mostly viewed as a theological manifest but all texts that comprise the New Testament quite clearly originated in a widely spread non-violent resistance movement against Roman rule. Rome's persecution of Jews and early Christians had nothing to do with a theological conflict, as many think, but a sociological conflict. Rome feared statements like "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives" (Luke 4:18) as a dagger to its heart.

Instead of simply taxing people once a year and getting it over with, the Romans set up custom offices all over the empire, and levied tax on all imports and exports, on everything that was bought and sold, tax to use roads, tax to cross bridges, tax to enter towns (even tax for being orphan, widow, unmarried or childless). The actual amounts that had to be paid weren't all that bad (tax higher than 5% was rare except for land) but a traveling merchant had to unpack everything he carried for inspection at every check point. That slowed him down considerable, and surely exasperated shrinkage (i.e. wares getting damaged or "falling off the wagon"). This strongly discouraged local retail and the exchange of goods, which is the foundation of a healthily diverse society and the engine behind all competition and technological growth.

The traveling merchant also had to hand over all his documents for inspection. Anything reeking after high treason (any sort of anti-Roman sentiments) would be confiscated and get the bearer crucified. This is why we can be sure that the texts of the New Testament are all heavily coded and not at all about what they seem to be about — see our article on Onesimus for a closer look at this.

Our noun τελωνιον (telonion) occurs in Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 only, where it describes the place where Jesus found tax-collector Matthew of Alphaeus.

Other derivations

Other derivations of the noun τελος (telos), which describes the completion of a cycle or procedure:

  • Together with the common preposition εν (en), meaning in: the above mentioned verb εντελλομαι (entellomai), which literally describes entering a group from a position outside the group, with the implied intention to direct the whole process of the group. This verb is often translated with "to command" but in the old world commanding was much more common than the rarity of this verb suggests. In the classics this verb is also used to mean "to invest with legal authority" and that explains the difference. Our verb does not simply mean "do as you're told" but speaks of the kind of directional governance that DNA does, or any kind of righteous ruler: by means of a completely embedded code that is freely and enthusiastically followed by all constituents. The Lord doesn't "command" to love your neighbor just like he doesn't "command" gravity to keep planets together. The Lord's directives are natural law; it's how things work. Our verb is used 17 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
    • The noun εντολευς (entoleus), meaning an agent or representative; a carrier of a sub-set of the instructions upon which the larger operation runs. This word is not used in the New Testament but it explains the following:
    • The noun ενταλμα (entalma), meaning an instruction in the sense of the mandate rendered to or assumed by an agent; a directorate (see the previous word). This word occurs in Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7 and Colossians 2:22 only, and applies only to human directives that masquerade as divine directives: religious directives.
    • The noun εντολη (entole), meaning a directive or instruction in the sense of one discrete line of code. Since no line of code ever comes without context, this word most often occurs in plural form. It's used 71 times in the New Testament; see full concordance
      It needs to be remembered that where folks with a Roman Imperial inclination believe that the world would be well if only everybody would do as they were told, folks who lean more to the Way as told by Christ believe that God's natural Law is designed to liberate people. Seeking natural law and obeying natural law doesn't lead to slavery or submission but to science and technology, to prosperity, health, safety and wealth.
      The Hebrew word that's usually translated with commandment is דבר (dabar), which actually means "word." It's the operative part of the familiar term "Word of God," which in Greek is Logos and which became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). The Word of God does not consist of a set of commandments to control a bunch of puppets, but is the repository of all treasures of wisdom and knowledge concerning nature (compare Colossians 2:3 with Romans 1:20 and John 21:25; also see 1 Kings 4:33).
      As noted above, the Greek word for evil is πονος (ponos), which comes from the verb πενομαι (penomai), meaning to toil or labor (with which God cursed mankind; Genesis 3:17). There's nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty, but having your creative liberties infringed and being forced to perform work according to the inert ideas of some boss is inaugurated death. Forced labor, or work you do out of necessity rather than conviction, is the first stage of the great curse of mortality. The word evil means restriction, which comes from people forcing others to do things they wouldn't have volunteered for. God's instructions, on the other hand, add up to truth, which sets people free (John 8:32). Or as Paul said: "It's for Freedom that Christ has set us Free" (Galatians 5:1).
  • Together with the verb λυω (luo), meaning to loose or unbind: the verb λυσιτελεω (lusiteleo), which describes the severing of a yield from the process that produces it; to extract value from a production cycle, and thus simply: to profit, or to be profitable (Luke 17:2 only).
  • Together with the adjective ολος (olos), meaning whole: the adjective ολοτελης (holoteles), meaning total completion (1 Thessalonians 5:23 only).
  • Together with the adjective πας (pas), meaning all or whole: the adjective παντελης (panteles), which appears to refer to a collection of infinities. As Georg Cantor surmised, infinity comes in different sizes and multiple infinite sets may occur within a finite but larger parent set. Somewhat less poetic: our adjective means totally, in all ways and forms. It is used in Luke 13:11 and Hebrews 7:25 only.
  • Together with the adjective πολυς (polus), meaning much or many: the adjective πολυτελης (poluteles), which refers to the completion and yield of a great number of separate production cycles, and implies dearness and the investment of much work and care. It occurs in Mark 14:3, 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:4 only.
  • The adjective τελειος (teleios), meaning brought to its full completion and ready to yield the produce. Figuratively this word is often used to mean spotless or without blemish, fully grown (of animals), but also fully constituted or validated. On occasion it refers to marriage, which of course also describes the start of a whole new cycle of adulthood that follows the full completion of one's youth.
    To Greek mathematics this word described numbers that were equal to the sum of their divisors (28 = 14 + 7 + 4 + 2 + 1), which seems to suggest that the ancients hinted at a numerical realm beyond the familiar number sequence, of which these "perfect" numbers were the mere gateways.
    In the New Testament this word is used 19 times, see full concordance, possibly most strikingly in Jesus' injunction to be "perfect" since our heavenly Father is "perfect" (Matthew 5:48). This has very little to do with having super-human powers or being the sweetest person your church has ever seen, but rather with being complete, that is: with no piece missing or without any bit of you being at odds with any other bit of you. When Jesus speaks of faith like a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20) he doesn't speak of size but of wholeness. A whole seed has the entire tree inside of it, but half a seed is as dead as half a tree. Life exists only upon a complete code, and when the code is complete, its expression can grow all over the place. When the expression of our faith in God doesn't grow but stays frozen in the same old religious dogmas, you might as well believe in the Loch Ness monster because the effect is the same: you've died and now you're just in everybody's way.
    From this exiting word in turn stem:
    • The noun τελειοτης (teleiotes), meaning full completeness or perfectness (Colossians 3:14 and Hebrews 6:1 only).
    • The verb τελειοω (teleioo), meaning to be endowed with, or to incur, the quality described by the parent adjective τελειος (teleios): to be or make fully complete or whole; without internal contradictions or pieces missing. This verb is used 24 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
      • The noun τελειωσις (teleiosis), which describes the act of the parent verb: a fully completing (of, say, a building or statue), an execution (of, say, instructions or some legal document). This fairly common word could be used to refer to the attainment of adult manhood or marriage. It was also the word for saturation-point. In the New Testament it occurs in Luke 1:45 and Hebrews 7:11 only.
      • The noun τελειωτης (teleiotes), which describes a doer of the parent verb: a full completer, finisher, perfecter (Hebrews 12:2 only).
    • The adverb τελειως (teleios), meaning perfectly, completely, or somewhat more elaborate: with unwavering focus and undivided intent (1 Peter 1:13 only).
  • Together with the verb φερω (phero), meaning to bring or carry: the verb τελεσφορεω (telesphoreo), meaning to bring about completion or a full end (Luke 8:14 only).
  • The verb τελεω (teleo), which is the primary verb associated with our noun τελος (telos). It subsequently means to transcend a cycle or procedure that exists within a larger operation: from completing a tax-paying procedure and subsequently enjoy what you paid for (Matthew 17:24) to completing a tour of cities and subsequently go on to do other things (Matthew 10:23) or completing and thus superseding events described beforehand (Luke 18:31). Our verb is used 26 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
    • Together with the preposition απο (apo), mostly meaning from: the verb αποτελεω (apoteleo), which means the same as the parent verb but with the added nuance of consequence: to complete due to, or to perfect out of. In the classics this verb is used to describe the paying of a due rent, or the making something out of something else (like bread from dough). It may denote the drawing of a conclusion from mystical signs, and it may even denote a perfect-making by removing something like a blemish or obstacle. In the New Testament it is used only once, in James 1:15, where it governs the bringing about of death from lust via sin.
    • Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διατελεω (diateleo), which appears to emphasize a nuance of continuation: to keep on completing. This curious verb is used only once, in Acts 27:33, where it occurs in the negative: you continue to absolutely use nothing for yourselves.
    • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εκτελεω (ekteleo), meaning to complete out of in the sense of to work something out (Luke 14:29 and 14:30 only).
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi) meaning on or upon: the verb επιτελεω (epiteleo), meaning to complete upon, to subsequently complete; to achieve completion after first doing something else or after some prior event. This verb is used 11 times; see full concordance.
    • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συντελεω (sunteleo), meaning to complete jointly (with other people) or to complete a bunch of things simultaneously. This verb is used 7 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
      • The noun συντελεια (sunteleia), meaning a joint completion, culmination of completenesses, or a culmination into a joint completeness. This noun occurs 6 times; see full concordance.
    • The noun τελευτη (teleute), meaning conclusion, or rather to become a legacy. It's used only once, in Matthew 2:15, where it describes the "conclusion" of Herod. This doesn't only imply the death of Herod but rather the conclusion and succession of him as figurehead of a political era. From this noun in turn comes:
      • The verb τελευταω (teleutao), meaning to complete one phase and pass over into the next. In the classics this verb is used somewhat broader than in the New Testament, because in the latter our verb only refers to people's personal lives, deaths and afterlives. Still, the nuance of this verb, which is used only 12 times, see full concordance, lies not in the physical dying or even on the being removed from the society one was part of (that's covered by αποθνησκω, apothnesko, which occurs 111 times), but rather one's legacy, which remains on earth as something that the survivors may use and invest.
        The Bible is not a modern novel and the heroes of the Bible all represent schools of thought and levels of wisdom, whose legacies continue to inspire long after the school itself stopped to develop (Matthew 22:32, Acts 2:29, Jude 1:9). In antiquity people didn't write stories the way we known them, and literature was a form of information technology into which vast amounts of data were compressed by means of fractals and broken symmetries. Likewise the whole Word of God can be compressed into "treat others the way you want to be treated" (Matthew 7:12) but unfolded this same Word is bigger than the storage capacity of the entire world (John 21:25).
        Extreme versions of capitalistic Christendom sometimes imagine that people who can afford to purchase all the right books and give generously to all the right charities and behave in all the right ways will go straight to heaven, to get still more of the good stuff, whereas the poor slobs they have exploited (because that's were excessive private wealth comes from) and who couldn't afford to get properly informed, who occasionally had to resort to theft to feed their children, who may even have taken comfort in booze and the liberally rendering of profanities upon the powers that be, those people will go straight to hell, to get some more of the bad stuff. The gospel of Jesus Christ, of course, tells exactly the opposite. The Christian afterlife of harps and grapes in the cloudy heavens is wildly pagan — Zoroastrian, to be precise, which Abraham left behind so ostensibly but which somehow managed to creep back into Christian mythology. The Bible, instead, speaks of an earthly resurrection and a final judgment in which not the soul (whatever that might be imagined to be) but rather the legacy of a person's earthly life is weighed and assessed according to its usefulness in bringing about the New Jerusalem (see 1 Corinthians 3:14-15). The New Jerusalem, in case you are wondering, in turn is a really real and tangible human community upon this earthly earth of ours that a lot of people today are working very hard on to restore.
        Our verb describes the human equivalent of what happens to a seed or ovum that has grown into maturity and then bursts out of the economy it was part of, to instigate a whole new cycle of existence (John 12:24). English words that describe seed dispersal all end on "-chory" (autochory is dispersal with a plant's own means; allochory uses external means, such as animals). It has no proper equivalent in English, so perhaps the verb to mnemochorize could be added to the English dictionary. The Greek word for tomb as used lavishly in the New Testament is the noun μνημειον (mnemeion), which stems from the familiar verb μναομαι (mnaomai), meaning to remember or recollect.

The adverb τηλε (tele) means at a distance or far off. It's the root of many English "tele"-words such as television, telescope, telegram, and even the many "paleo"- words such as paleoanthropology and paleobiology and so on. It's been proposed that our adverb derives from a wholly separate Proto-Indo-European root kwel-, identical to the one that gave us words like κυκλος, (kuklos), meaning circle, and τελος (telos), meaning end of a cycle (see above), but here at Abarim Publications we guess that the ancients realized that circles and cycles can only be recognized as such when the whole of it can be observed, and that happens only at considerable distance.

Our adverb does not occur independently in the New Testament, but from it derive:

  • The adverb τηλαυγως (telaugos), which stems from the adjective τηλαυγης (telauges), which in turn consists of our adverb τηλε (tele), meaning at a distance, and the noun αυγη (auge), meaning brightness or splendor (hence the name Augustus). This word was often used to describe how far the light of celestial objects carried, implying their great influence. This word is used only once in the New Testament, in Mark 8:25, where it clearly means "extremely brightly" or "with transfinite brightness" but as pun an obvious wink to emperor Augustus and his idiotic empire. It's clear that Jesus healed this man not only of physical blindness, and his urge that the man shouldn't go into towns and broadcast his newly found "extreme clarity" obviously ties into the non-aggressive sort of resistance Jesus personified.
  • The demonstrative correlative pronoun τηλικουτος (telikoutos), meaning "of such an age" or "so old". It's a stronger version of the much rarer τηλικος (telikos), which in turn has to do with the adjective τλικος (tlikos), meaning of the same age. All these words are our adverb τηλε (tele), meaning at a distance or far off, suffixed with -κος (-kos), meaning "characteristic of" or "pertaining to." This pronoun is used 4 times; see full concordance. See our article on triplets such as ηλικος  πελικος  τελικος (elikos, pelikos, telikos) for more.