Of theories and theaters and the cross of Christ

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/th/th-e-a-o-m-a-i.html

Of theories and theaters

— and the cross of Christ —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


There are two verbs of the form θαομαι (thaomai); one meaning to suckle (milk from the breast) and the other meaning to marvel or wonder. Neither of these verbs occurs in the Bible; for the former the synonym θηλαζω (thelazo) is used, and the latter may not even have existed in Koine Greek since it was wholly overshadowed by its deponent form θεαομαι (theaomai). A verb is deponent when the spelling indicates a passive form but the meaning is rather active. In the case of our verb θεαομαι (theaomai), the form is passive (to be amazed) but this verb's usage usually describes active behavior (to watch, to gaze, to observe, to contemplate).

It's not known where these words come, but experts suspect that they are not Indo-European, which opens wide the door to the Semitic language basin (see our article on the many Hebrew roots of Greek). A root that immediately jumps to mind, albeit somewhat puzzling, is תאם (to'am), meaning twin. But Jesus summed up the entire Law as: "In everything, treat others as you want them to treat you" (Matthew 7:12), which is obviously as reciprocal as equitable, and thus not wholly void of twinness. If this link is warranted — and who is to say what associations a Koine speaker experienced, or a creative poet employed? — our verbs θαομαι (thaomai) would relate to the verb τεμνω (temno), meaning to cut or cleave, and thus the verb περιτεμνω (peritemno), to circumcise.

But even more attractive is the verb טעם (ta'am), meaning to taste or perceive — the familiar word sapiens is the present active participle of the Latin verb sapio, which also means taste or perceive and is thus the exact equivalent of our Hebrew verb. From this verb טעם (ta'am) comes the noun טעם (ta'am), meaning taste (of Manna, which means "what?"; Exodus 16:31), or intelligent discernment (1 Samuel 25:33, Proverbs 11:22, Job 12:20, Psalm 119:66: "Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments").

Note the striking convergence of metaphorical material that relates milk (that which is obtained by suckling) with careful observation and initial contemplation (1 Corinthians 3:2). More advanced wisdom is often compared to honey (hence the "land of milk and honey"; Exodus 3:8), which is produced by bees, whose Hebrew name דבורה (deborah) is the feminine version of the masculine דבר (dabar), or Word, or Logos in Greek. Jesus was the Word-in-the-flesh (John 1:14) and his miraculous death on the cross is the Bible's only directly mentioned "theory" (see below), which is a word that also derives from our verb θαομαι (thaomai). Our verb and its derivations may even relate to the magnificent nouns θεος (theos), meaning God and θεα (thea), meaning goddess.


The deponent verb θεαομαι (theaomai) means to view, observe, regard or survey, that is: to see with deliberate intent and usually obvious effects such as being entertained, shocked, baffled, intrigued, and of course enlightened. This verb emphasizes not the isolated observation of one mere event but rather a whole series of observations that add up to a complete intellectual entity: a whole spectacle, dramatic piece or thesis. This wonderful verb is used 24 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • The familiar noun θεατρον (theatron), from whence comes our English word theatre: an "observatory", a place for viewing plays and performances and such. As in English, this word could be used figuratively, for instance when one deems a certain occasion a spectacle or when folks are acting theatrically (or perhaps were slowly tortured to death in arenas). This word occurs in Acts 19:29, 19:31 and 1 Corinthians 4:9 only, and from it comes:
    • The verb θεατριζω (theatrizo), meaning to theatrise, to act theatrically, either because one is an actor working in a theatre or else because one instigates or partakes in a spontaneous spectacle (Hebrews 10:33 only).
  • The noun θεωρος (theoros), an observant; a spectator and particularly someone who travels deliberately to catch all the latest performances and spectacles; a tourist. This word was also used as a technical term to describe an envoy that was sent by some dignitary to consult an oracle or present an offering; someone who vicariously observed. This noun is not used in the New Testament, but from it derive:
    • The verb θεωρεω (theoreo), meaning to act like a spectator, observant or sight-seer (or to be sent as an envoy or vicarious observer); to observe or consider. By the first century, the Greek world of wisdom differed from its ancient predecessor and its Hebrew counterpart in that it focused largely on speculative and metaphysical matters. Prior to Plato and in Jewish schools, the emphasis lay on practical and observable matters. Still, most wisdom was expressed, conveyed and retained in the form of literary and dramatic presentations, and a theatre was as much a place of diversion as a place of proclamation and absorption. The original function of the ευαγγελιστης (euaggelistes) or "evangelist" was to deliver the latest theories and dramatized exposés from one center of learning to the next. The gospels and epistles that form our modern New Testament are a mere sliver of a much larger economy of writings that circulated the ancient world in heavy rotation.
      This verb is used 57 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
      • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on, upon or again: the verb αναθεωρεω (anatheoreo), meaning to review; to view again or with extra or repeated attention (Acts 17:23 and Hebrews 13:7 only).
      • The familiar noun θεωρια (theoria), meaning a whole, complete sight, spectacle or performance; not a mere glance or quick observation. In the 17th century, this word began to denote the principles or methods of a science or art, which lead to our modern word "theory," which describes a systematic procedure governed by the scientific method: a widely verified but still falsifiable statement that explains past observations and predicts future ones (see Hebrews 11:1).
        In popular use our modern word "theory" is often confused with "hypothesis," but that is not what our Greek word means. Our Greek word θεωρια (theoria) is of course also not the same as the real meaning of our modern word "theory," but it remains striking nevertheless that the only New Testament occurrence of our word describes Christ's magnificent death on the cross (Luke 23:48 only — and remember that in him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge"; Colossians 2:3). Jesus' death on the cross was truly magnificent because contrary to common perception, it wasn't Jesus' execution that killed him (see for the details our article on the verb αποκτεινω, apokteino, meaning to execute).
        Our word θεωρια (theoria) covers all the many different aspects of the singular magnificent event of Jesus' death; an event both so vastly unusual and so brightly crystal clear in essence that the managing centurion (a brutal professional killer, who had doubtlessly overseen many a mass execution; not the sentimental type) was forced to conclude that Jesus was both righteous and the Son of God (Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47).
      • Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παραθεωρεω (paratheoreo), literally meaning to view beside. This verb may either describe the discrimination of one over another, or it describes having a stance that's off the accepted one. Our verb occurs in the New Testament in Acts 6:1 only, in a scene that at first glance appears to discuss waiting tables, but which at second glance clearly discusses the finer points of human intellect (to give a hint: 12 over 7 describes mankind's septilateral formal intelligence that is governed by his duodecimal super-humanity; compare Proverbs 9:1 with Ephesians 3:19 and Revelation 21:12).

Also deriving from the parent verb θαομαι (thaomai), meaning to be amazed: the noun θαυμα (thauma), meaning a wonder (to behold), a marvel, or an astonishment if our word describes a human sentiment rather than the item that evokes it.

In the classics our word was also used as a categorical term that referred to gadgets and devices that were designed to entertain and marvel audiences. When post-Platonic Greek philosophy deviated from Aristotle's scientific method, the many various schools and temples had to advertise their claims to insight by means of clever machines and luring tricks. The first steam engines and magnetic levitations were accomplished as crowd pleasers and money makers. Jesus' famous fury against the Temple's money changers should be viewed relative to the lamentable descent of Greek wisdom into the throes of carnivalesque capitalism.

This noun is used only once in the New Testament, in Revelation 17:6, but from it derive:

  • The verb θαυμαζω (thaumazo), meaning to be "wonderised", to marvel: to be gripped with wonder and astonishment at the view of something wonderful and marvelous. This verb is used a whopping 46 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • The adjective θαυμασιος (thaumasios), meaning marvelous or wonder-inducing. This adjective is used in Matthew 21:15 only, as a substantive: the marvelous things.
    • The adjective θαυμαστος (thaumastos), meaning marvelous or having wonder-inducing qualities. This adjective is used 7 times; see full concordance.

Closely related to the above by idea and possibly even etymologically: the verb τηρεω (tereo) means to heed or watch in the sense of to guard and to keep safe and intact. It appears to derive from the noun τερος (teros), meaning guard or watcher, but this noun is hardly ever used in the classics and not at all in the New Testament, whereas the verb is quite common.

Our verb may be used to describe a literal guarding of something that might escape or get swiped, but it also frequently denotes a mental acuity; a watching out, a taking care, and by extension: a preserving and protecting and even an eagerly expecting of something looked out for. Our verb often specifically refers to a close observance in the scientific sense: an intent observation, a strenuous giving heed to, and the testing of something by trial. The familiar idiom "to keep commandments" doesn't simply mean "do as you're told," but rather: "stand on giants' shoulders (in the Newtonian way), and preserve and continue their work."

Our verb is used 75 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • Together with the preposition δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διατηρεω (diatereo), meaning to thoroughly maintain or preserve (Luke 2:51 and Acts 15:29 only).
  • Again together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the verb παρατηρεω (paratereo), meaning to guard from close by. This verb is used 6 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
    • The noun παρατηρησις (parateresis), meaning close observation or surveillance. This striking noun is used only in Luke 17:20, where Jesus states that the Kingdom doesn't come about because of scientific scrutiny. Scientific scrutiny is nevertheless fiercely important and indicative of a waxing Kingdom, but just like learning doesn't cause a child to grow, so the waxing of the Kingdom is a function of natural evolution (that means it comes from God), and scientific wisdom a symptom of it rather than a cause. In the same train of thought Paul submits that the Kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking (Romans 14:17). Likewise a child does not grow because it eats and drinks, but because growing is part of a child's natural constitution.
  • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συντηρεω (suntereo), meaning to keep together (to keep loose elements together) or to keep jointly (keeping someone with multiple keepers). This verb is used 4 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun τερας (teras), literally meaning a keeper: a sign in the sense of an attention grabber or signifier; a portent or omen. The word for sign in the sense of meaningful symbol is σημειον (semeion). Our word τερας (teras) is used 16 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun τηρησις (teresis), which describes the action of the verb: a keeping, a holding-pen (Acts 4:3, 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 7:19 only).

The noun θαμβος (thambos) means astonishment or amazement. It's generally considered to be related to the other words on this page (perhaps combined with the noun βοη, boe, a loud cry), but how it differs isn't immediately clear. Both times this word occurs in Homer, it describes the reaction of men upon seeing Athena (Il.4.79, Od.3.372). In the New Testament, it occurs in Luke 4:36, 5:9 and Acts 3:10 only. From this word derive:

  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the adjective εκθαμβος (ekthambos), which is essentially an emphasized version of the former: greatly astounded, very amazed (Acts 3:11 only). From this adjective in turn comes:
    • The verb εκθαμβεω (ekthambeo), meaning to greatly astound or much amaze. This verb occurs 4 times, all in Mark; see full concordance.
  • The verb θαμβεω (thambeo), meaning to astound or amaze (Mark 1:27, 10:24 and 10:32 only).