Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun ξυλον (xulon) means "piece of wood" and may denote anything from a tooth pick to the cross of Christ. It stems from the unused verb ξυω (xuo), meaning to scratch, scrape or form by whittling, shaving or grinding, which means that our noun emphasizes the fact that it's worked rather than made of wood. Still, in all surviving Greek records it never denotes anything non-wooden.
In the classics our word may describe any kind of worked wood, from merely chopped firewood to planks in a woodshop, boards and beams stacked at a ship yard, tables, benches, instruments of punishment and retention (gallows, stocks: Acts 16:24), or pegs, levers and spoons patiently whittled into shape. It may denote a club or piece of wood used as a club — in the New Testament it occurs in the proverbial phrase "μαχαιραι (machairai) και (kai) ξυλα (xula)", or "knives and pieces-of-wood" (Matthew 26:47, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:52) — or the item of torturous execution called σταυρος (stauros), or cross (Acts 5:30).
On rare occasions, our noun may even refer to a living tree (or a plant like cotton), albeit one that's destined to be chopped down and worked into pieces, or perhaps has already been chopped down and is now drying out: Luke 23:31 contrasts a "juicy" ξυλον (xulon) to a dry one. And Galatians 3:13 speaks of Jesus hanging from a ξυλον (xulon), which refers to Deuteronomy 21:23, which uses the Hebrew noun עץ ('es), meaning tree mostly as structural support (of a building), but also as living being that produces fruits. Likewise, Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 22:14 and 22:19 speak of the eatable fruit-bearing ξυλον (xulon)-of-life, as opposed to a δενδρον (dendron), which is the more common word for living tree, although the obvious difference between the two is that the latter denotes a natural tree whereas the former denotes a "worked" or domesticated one.
Any kind of writing system (even human speech itself) is of course a typical example of a "worked" or domesticated creature that was patiently cultivated from the natural grunts and cries all humans are born with. Since the Logos — in turn the son of YHWH — has everything to do with information technology, the cultivated tree upon which Jesus came to be publicly displayed is not at all unlike the writing system in which the Word attained its "human" form.
Our noun ξυλον (xulon) is used 20 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives:
- The adjective ξυλινος (xulinos), which is commonly translated as wooden, but which rather means "pertaining to the worked [tree]". In the classics this word may indeed describe a object made of wood, but it may also refer to certain kinds of fruit, wine or oil, which are products of domesticated and cultivated trees rather than wooden things. On rare occasions, our adjective describes a writing pad, which is then assumed to be a wooden writing pad, but here at Abarim Publications we surmise that it rather refers to the signature synthetic nature of any writing system. In the New Testament, this word is used in 2 Timothy 2:20 and Revelation 9:20 only.