Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb θελω (thelo) means to want: having a desire for something and intending or setting out to get it. It occurs 210 times in the New Testament without much mystery, see full concordance.
Sometimes a technically correct translation makes for a rather twisted impression in English — particularly when this verb occurs in the imperfect: "not he was wanting" where in English it would read "he wasn't planning on it" (Matthew 18:30, John 7:1). In the optative mood, and particularly the third person singular, this verb may be used to ask the meaning of something just said by someone (Acts 2:12, 17:18, 17:20).
Note that most wanting requires a vivid imagination. One has to be able to imagine a situation that doesn't exist in order for to want it. A fly that's trapped behind a window doesn't really "want" something; it merely does what it always does, and the window prevents what normally occurs to occur, except that the fly doesn't really know what is normal and what not. Unlike animals, humans can utilize their knack for conceptual reasoning (see our article on ονομα, onoma, meaning name or noun), to essentially create an imagined universe in one's head for one to navigate. The imagined behavior is copied in the real world, and that brings about the situation wanted.
The "will of God" (Mark 3:35, John 4:34, Romans 15:32, 1 Peter 4:2), by which our whole universe came to pass, may seem like a whole other thing but it really works upon the same principles, particularly because the "Word of God" by which the whole thing exists (Colossians 1:16-17) existed before the universe did (John 1:1). Better yet, since the character and nature of the Creator can be clearly seen through what has been made (Romans 1:20), the will of the Creator is also manifest in created nature.
Without jumping too far overboard, the universe obviously evolves but obviously not by accident but toward what Chaos Theory calls an attractor and what John the Revelator called the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). Popular science may tell us that the universe doesn't "want" anything because it's nothing but a senseless clockwork that buzzes aimlessly like a fly behind a window. But the Bible appears to suggest that the universe is much rather a thing that is propelled from one end by God's creative force, pulled forth from the other end by the attractor that is what God imagined the end should look like and which is programmed into its very nature, and governed during its trek by the delta of natural law that is its anointed king (Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 5:7).
From this verb derive:
- Together with the noun θρησκεια (threskeia), meaning worship: the noun εθελοθρησκεια (ethelothreskeia), meaning voluntary worship, or worship that comes from one's intimate desire rather than peer pressure or someone's command (Colossians 2:23 only).
- The noun θελημα (thelema), meaning the result of will; will in the sense of that what one wants, or what one gets as a result of one's wanting. It occurs 64 times, see full concordance, most strikingly in 1 Peter 3:17 where the author asks whether the will [thelema] of God wills [thelo].
- The noun θελησις (thelesis), meaning the act of will; will in the sense of the doing one's wanting (Hebrews 2:4 only).