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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/th/th-e-r-om.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb θερω (thero) means to heat or make warm and is, for obvious reasons, associated both with fire (πυρ, pur) and love (αγαπη, agape), which in Biblical symbolic jargon in turn are associated with light (φαω, phao) and thus wisdom (σοφια, sophia). Also note the striking and noteworthy similarity with the word θηριον (therion), animal.

Our verb θερω (thero) is not used in the Bible, but from it stem the following words:

  • The familiar adjective θερμος (thermos), meaning hot, from which come English words such as thermometer and thermostat. This adjective does not occur independently in the New Testament, but is part of the following compound derivatives:
    • The verb θερμαινω (thermaino), meaning to warm oneself, particularly by a fire. This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance.
    • The noun θερμη (therme), meaning warmth or heat, particularly from a fire (Acts 28:3 only).
  • The noun θερος (theros), literally the "warmth", is the common word for summer (Matthew 24:32, Mark 13:28 and Luke 21:30 only). In the classics this noun also serves to describe the products of the "warmth", which most often are harvested summer fruits but on flowery occasions also the downy beards of hormone-driven youths. Note that the familiar Latin word calor, meaning warmth (hence our English word "calorie"), comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "kele-", which also yields the Sanskrit word carad, meaning harvest. From this noun in turn come:
    • The verb θεριζω (therizo), literally means to "do the warmth thing" and specifically to "summer", or to pass the summer in whatever pleasant way, and even more specifically, to do summer-work such as mowing and harvesting, which places our verb often in juxtaposition with the verb σπειρω (speiro), to sow. Note how the connection between wisdom and harvest is effortlessly clear in Greek. Our verb occurs 21 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
      • The noun θερισμος (therismos), literally "the warmth thing" and the common word for harvest. This noun occurs 13 times; see full concordance.
      • The noun θεριστης (theristes), literally "the doer of the warmth thing" and the common word for harvester or reaper (Matthew 13:30 and 13:39 only).

The noun θεραπων (therapon) means comfort-provider and is the source of our English word therapy and therapeutic. It originally meant attendant or close personal servant, particularly the priestly servant of deities. It's formally unclear where this word comes from but we here at Abarim Publications surmise that it too stems from the root θερω (thero), to heat, and that it originated in the task of keeping a fire (πυρ, pur) going, particularly during the night.

Particularly in pastoral cultures, the fire marked the central spot of society, its safest spot, the spot where it was discussed and from where it was governed. Fire was where meals, pottery and ultimately metal came from, and where non-combustible items were purified. Ultimately, both a society's fire and a person called θεραπων (therapon) essentially removed things that shouldn't be there: space between members of the tribe, dirt in pots and pans, slag in molten metal, infections in bodies, coldness in people's hearts, cataract skins over people's eyes.

Keeping the fire going was obviously one of the tasks of the night watch (Greek: φυλασσω, phulasso; Hebrew שמר, shamar, from which comes the name Samaria and thus the ethnonym Samaritan), and when people moved to cities, their central fires were kept symbolically going within the central temples, which may help to explain why our noun θεραπων (therapon) originally described a priestly attendant.

Whether or not our noun θεραπων (therapon) indeed derives from θερω (thero), the most celebrated personal attendant mentioned in the Bible is Abishag the Shunammite, a girl of dazzling pulchritude, and notice the obvious similarity between the Latin word calor, meaning warmth, and the Greek adjective καλος (kalos), meaning good, godly or beautiful. The servants of king David attracted Abishag specifically to keep their aging monarch warm, since no amount of clothing could achieve that anymore (1 Kings 1:1-4). The initial idea was to have her lie in his bosom, which raises the question of why the whole territory had to be searched for her (in China, for instance, the courtiers thoughtfully bred the Pekinese dog for very similar purposes), and brings the Abishag story in close and deliberate proximity to the search for Esther (Esther 2:2), whose story plays much later but was probably composed or finalized around the same time as Abishag's.

Esther, of course, in turn closely parallels Homer's Helen of Troy, and all of these rather obviously have nothing to do with girls and royal bosoms but rather with wisdom, its traditions and its tools (most notably: paper, pens and the alphabet; the robes that couldn't keep David warm were later put on the colt that delivered Jesus to Jerusalem; Matthew 21:7-8). Abishag the Shunammite appears to have managed to keep her monarch warm but did so without David's ידע (yada'), or in Greek γινωσκω (ginosko), meaning to know, which suggests that Abishag had rather embraced a specialization in fire management.

That Abishag was much more than a mere warm body is demonstrated when Adonijah asks his brother Solomon for her to become his wife, which Solomon perceives as a challenge to his very kingdom (which was of course based on YHWH and thus wisdom) and for which he has Adonijah killed (1 Kings 2:25).

By the time of the New Testament, the word θεραπων (therapon) had given its name to the various sects of the Therapeutae, specifically the Therapeutae of Asclepius (the professional name of doctors and medics in the Greek world; see our articles on Pergamum and Hierapolis) and the Therapeutae of Alexandria, who were a highly disciplined and simple-living Jewish sect. These Jewish Therapeutae, who were described in great and intimate detail by Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, were in many ways similar the Essenes but differed in their desire for wisdom, as the Essenes were decidedly 'anti-intellectual' and more into social discipline and adherence to codes of conduct.

In the first century, our noun θεραπων (therapon) was clearly heavy-laden with meaning, which makes it striking that its sole occurrence in the New Testament applies to Moses (Hebrews 3:5 only). Moses, the author submits, was not a mere servant but a "comfort-provider" who accommodated the waxing and slowly purifying revelation (Psalm 12:6) and made sure it stayed complete and alive so that it could develop into whatever its own nature dictated. God, after all, is all about oneness and completeness, and the ancients seem to have understood that health is all about completeness and balance, whereas disease is all about imbalance and incompleteness. The familiar word שלום (shalom), meaning peace, comes from the verb שלם (shalem), to be complete or to be unbroken, whereas the word רע (ra'), evil or calamity, comes from the verb רעע (ra'a), to crush or break to pieces.

Despite our noun's rarity, it's the source of a few much more common derivatives:

  • The verb θεραπευω (therapeuo), meaning to cure, or rather to remove something that shouldn't be there: skin over eyes, coldness in one's heart, space between neighbors, an infection in one's body or anger in one's mind. Our verb is the opposing twin of the verb ιαομαι (iaomai), which means to heal, or rather to supply something that should be there but isn't: to restore one's strength, set a broken bone, heal a lame person, close a wound, give courage to a failing heart.
    The classical world regarded the medical arts radically different than we do. Even the enlightened few who considered disease to come from natural causes rather than as punishments from gods, still almost never intervened, let alone invaded the body for surgery. Obvious injuries such as wounds and broken bones could be "repaired" but the actual healing was always considered a lengthy and inescapable process of recovering one's mental and physical purity and the balance of one's freely flowing humors. And any organism that is viable has the natural ability to accomplish just that.
    Our English verb to cure comes from the Latin curare, meaning to care for or take care of. Classical medics would only provide a balanced diet and proper shelter so that sufferers could quietly convalesce without having to labor or worry. And that means that when a text speaks of "curing" someone, it certainly does not refer to a snap of the fingers and a sudden magical change, but rather to the provision of rest and the gradual restoration of the patient's natural balance, in digestion and the intake of food as well as thought and observation.
    The radical novelty that the ministry of Jesus introduced was that he was able to provide comfort, and thus a chance to heal, to sufferers whose radical imbalance had otherwise doomed them to a life of perpetual darkness (Matthew 17:16-18). It's this principle of healing rest that prompted Jesus to say, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Or in the words of Isaiah: '"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed"' (Isaiah 40:1-2). Our verb is used 44 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
    • The noun θεραπεια (therapeia), meaning (healing) comfort, service or care. This word occurs 4 times; see full concordance.