Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun υβρις (hubris) describes violence, and particularly wanton or outrageous violence committed out of pride, passion or pleasure. In English, the word "hubris" describes extreme pride or dangerous overconfidence, but in Greek the emphasis lies on the subsequent outrageous acts rather than the initial outrageous feelings. The closely related word "hybrid", therefore, denotes not simply the offspring of dissimilar parents but rather a violently disharmonic and outrageous monstrosity.
In the classics, our noun υβρις (hubris) may describe outrageous sentiments (lust, greed), a thus generated actual act of violence (a rape, a mugging), but also the victim's consequential rage for having been so violated. In Athens, our word was also used as a proper legal term, and discussed in the "Law Against Outrage".
In the New Testament, our word occurs in Acts 27:10, 27:21 and 2 Corinthians 12:10 only. Rather strikingly, author Luke applies our word to damage suffered by a ship and from a natural storm. This suggests that either our word had radically changed meaning since classical times, or else, Luke wasn't actually speaking about a natural storm and a ship, and used this particular word to illustrate this (and see our article on the name Malta for a closer look at what Luke might have been talking about).
It's entirely unclear where our word may have come from, as it clearly doesn't look very Indo-European. Here at Abarim Publications we suspect our noun is part of a hefty slew of words and terms that were imported into the Greek language basin from Semitic, along with the Hebrew alphabet (see our article on the many Hebrew roots of the Greek language).
The Semitic root that comes to mind is הבר (habar), which is usually said to mean to divide, but actually expresses something far less respectful. The verb occurs in the Bible only in Isaiah 47:13, "...the star-gazers, those that habar the heavens." The prophet continues: "Behold, they [the star-gazers] have become like stubble. Fire burns them. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame" (Isaiah 47:14). And that suggests that the star-gazers weren't simply "dividing" the heavens but were rather messing it up, even violating its eternal truths, out of the primitive pride that had them believe they had it all worked out. The same verb occurs in Arabic, in the sense of to cut meat into large chunks. In Aramaic exists the noun הברה (habara), which describes a confused sound (a disharmonic sound, not being a tune), a disturbing alarm or a reverberating noise.
But whatever the pedigree, from our noun derive:
- The verb υβριζω (hubrizo), to violate with wanton violence, to treat outrageously. This verb is used 5 times; see full concordance. From it in turn come:
- Together with the common preposition εν (en), meaning in: the verb ενυβριζω (enubrizo), meaning to violate-within, to insult so that the recipient becomes inwardly irritated (Hebrews 10:29 only). In one telling instance in the classics, this verb is used in the passive sense to describe irritated ulcers.
- The noun υβριστης (hubristes), which describes someone who routinely engages in the action of the verb: someone who violates his victims with pleasure, or out of some other passion (Romans 1:30 and 1 Timothy 1:13 only). Perhaps in modern texts we would use the word sadist, but this word derives from the name of the 18th century Marquis de Sade, and would perhaps appear somewhat anachronistic in translations of classical texts. Still, there is no better word in English.