Is it all Greek to you? It should be!

A TV advert tells us we don’t need to be posh to be ‘Privileged’, but I say you don’t need to study the whole Greek language (with all its irregular verbs) to appreciate some useful words of New Testament Greek. English is bursting with such words: cosmos, chaos, sandal and so on. You may also know Logos, the Word; Agape, Love; Metanoia, Repentance, not to mention Ichthus, Fish, whose letters stand for Iesous, Christos, Theou (of God), Huios (Son), Soter (Saviour). As I’m not sure which words you’d like to know about, I have taken a few interesting ones from a particular passage: Phil. 2. 1-11.

Verse 1

Paraklesis, from the verb parakaleo, to call to one’s side. The root verb is kaleo, I call. (Call his name Jesus: Mtt. 1.21; call to office, eg. that of Apostle: Rom.1.1; invite to a meal: Mtt. 22.3, Lk. 14.8; summon to a law court, eg. Paul before the Sanhedrin, Act 4.18, etc.) The prefix para means ‘alongside’: Parakletos is the Holy Spirit, Comforter, Advocate (Latin ad-vocatus has exactly the same meaning), called alongside us to plead our case with the Father. Parakaleo may also mean ‘to urge or exhort’. This will be Paul’s meaning here.

Agape. Greek has four words for ‘love’. You can read about them in The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis. Agape is rare in classical literature. The word originally had none of the warmth associated with philia, often translated as ‘friendship’. Agape was ready to have new meaning poured into it: Christian love, not just love for our nearest and dearest, but for all, doing our best by those we don’t like much. Other ‘love’ words expressed emotion; agape has more to do with the will than with the heart, eg. Mtt 5. 43-48: love your enemies.

Koinonia: fellowship, holding things in common, with Christ and with each other, sharing in company with others: Ac. 2.42. (Our word ‘company’, by the way, derives from Latin com-panis, “taking bread together’, table-fellowship), so: ‘the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a koinonia in the blood of Christ? (1 Cor. 10.16).

Verse 2

Chara, joy, from roots charizomai (I please) and chaireo (I rejoice). In Ac. 15.3 the conversion of some Gentiles brought the believers great chara. C. S. Lewis (in Surprised by Joy) defines Joy as the most pleasurable pain we can experience; that of longing for what we have not yet attained, that is, heaven. Joy, he says, is the serious business of heaven.

Verse 3

Eritheia, jealousy, strife, contention; not derived from eris, strife, but from eriouerion, wool! Erithos means spinner or weaver of wool; eritheia was ‘labour for wages’. The word later came to mean ‘work done for what I can get out of it’ and finally ‘selfish ambition’. At Philippi this urge motivated preachers who wanted to show off.

Verse 7

Doulos, slave. Foot washing was work fit for a male slave; serving food was the female slave’s work. (One of the first New Testament Greek passages I ever read at school was the Magnificat, where Mary refers to herself as a doule, or slave-girl.) What interests me more today is the fact that Jesus himself performs both male and female slaves’ jobs.

Verse 8

Hupekoos, obedient, from hupakouo (Latin ob-audio) to hear and obey. (The Greek alphabet has no ‘h’ sound so we indicate this letter by the sign ‘.)

Verse 11

Exomologoumai, I acknowledge, has three sections; the root is log meaning ‘say’; homo, meaning ‘same as’ (homohereloses its ‘h’ since it follows Ex.) Ex usually means ‘out of’; in compound words it takes on the idea of ‘thoroughly’ or ‘altogether’. Omologoumai was translated into Latin as confiteor, I confess/profess/acknowledge. It later came to be used almost exclusively in the sense of confessing sins, rather than in its original sense of acknowledging and witnessing to Christ.

Let’s leave kenosis, self-emptying, until another time: it deserves a page all to itself.

Brenda Stephenson

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Last revised 30th December 2005