Harry Whittaker
Word Studies



Normally this word described one speaking an uncomprehended language: “I am debtor both to the Greeks (those speaking Greek, the universal language of the Roman empire), and to the Barbarians” (Rom 1:14). Similarly Paul refers to the one who speaks with tongues as sounding like a “barbarian” (1Co 14:11).

Hence also his insistence that “there is neither Greek nor Jew...Barbarian, Scythian...” (Col 3:11). The distinction here is between those in the empire who still kept their own tongue (as in Acts 14:11), and those who were outside the boundaries of the empire.

This may be the meaning behind the application of “barbarian” to the people of Malta (Acts 28:2,4). They spoke a Phoenician dialect.

The only occurrence of this word in LXX raises a smile (Psa 114:1). It is applied to Egypt! — a people of a strange tongue, or a people who were uncivilised? Considering that Egypt had the oldest civilisation in the world, it looks as though the Seventy, busy translating in Egypt, were getting in a neat back-hander!

Beat, strike

There are three words to consider here.

Tupto is the normal word to describe raining blows on someone. Its meaning is perfectly straightforward.

Dero means primarily “to flay” — it is connected with derma, skin, whence dermatitis. Hence it is used in LXX for the flaying of sacrifices: Lev 1:6; 2Ch 29:34; 35:11. But just like the semi-colloquial English word “tan” it has taken on the more general idea of “beating”. Cp also the English phrase: “give him a hiding” .

Rhabdizo means “to beat with a rod (rhabdos)”. Hence LXX usage is for the practice of threshing, which was often done with a flail or rod: Rth 2:17; Jdg 6:11. This word is used of the beating meted out to Paul and Silas at Philippi (Acts 16:22). But Paul’s allusion to this uses the word dero.

The only other example is 2Co 11:25: “Thrice was I beaten with rods.” The only one of these three traceable in the record is the one at Philippi.


This word neuo and its various compounds all involve the same notion, of a motion of the head in some way or other.

When Paul appeared before Felix, the governor “gave him the nod” that he could now go ahead with his defense (Acts 24:10).

Somewhat similarly, at the Last Supper, Peter by the slightest movement of his head was able to urge John to make quiet enquiry from Jesus who the traitor was (John 13:24).

The LXX passages indicate the same idea of “turning to one side”, though not necessarily a motion of the head; eg “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids incline to right things” (Prov 4:25; the AV is different). In the LXX the “wanton eyes” of the daughters of Zion are “slanted, beckoning” (Isa 3:16).

Kataneuo comes in Luk 5:7 only, to describe the gesture by which Simon Peter and his colleagues signalled for help with their super-catch. They couldn’t beckon in any other way because both hands were fully occupied in coping with the nets; but why didn’t Peter shout?

Similarly, dianeuo describes the gesture by which the deaf and dumb Zacharias sought to tell the people in the temple court of his astonishing experience. If he still had the censer in his hand, he would be more likely to signal to them by dramatic head movements (Luk 1:22).

It is not inappropriate to consider also here the solitary use of ekneuo in John 5:13. This variation means, literally, to slant the head so as to avoid a blow. It is, of course, used figuratively in this instance. After healing the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus knew that excitement and official antagonism were sure to follow, so he “conveyed himself away”, dodging the attack which was sure to come. However, thanks to the man’s disloyalty (v 15), the evasion proved only temporary.


The OT has an extremely common preposition for “before”, liphnei, which is, literally, “before the face of”. The NT has two equivalents of this — emprosthen and katenopion (which is, literally, “right in the eye of”).

This latter word is used only of divine scrutiny, by the Father or the Son. It comes in Jude’s doxology (v 24) to “him who is able to present us faultless before the presence of his glory” (a terrific idea). Paul similarly speaks of saints in Christ being “unreprovable in his sight” (Col 1:22), “without blame before him” (Eph 1:4). In all these places there is the notion of being subject to scrutiny and yet without shame.

Paul also uses this word to add emphasis to the intensity of declarations as to the sincerity which motivated his preaching: “in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2Co 2:17; 12:19).

The use of emprosthen is very similar. There are a few occurrences of outstanding interest

When Jesus was hypocritically invited to a sabbath meal at the home of a Pharisee (Luk 14:1,2), there was a dropsical man set deliberately, straight in front of him at the meal table, so that the problem of “to heal or not to heal” was inescapable.

Matthew is careful to record that Jesus “was transfigured before them (the three apostles)” (17:2), thus apparently insisting that the change was witnessed by the apostles; it did not happen whilst the disciples were asleep.

There was a special bite about the Lord’s description of Pharisee hypocrisy, when he said: “Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces” (Mat 23:13).

The very existence of a difficulty in Mat 5:16 is often overlooked: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works...” Here emprosthen tends to make even more acute the problem of reconciling these words with the equally familiar: “Do not your alms before men” (6:1,2: emprosthen again). It is the context of 5:16 which resolves the “contradiction”. There, the context (vv 13-15) carries a series of allusions to the temple, and in particular to the candlestick in “the House”. It is in the counterpart to “the House”, the ecclesia, where good works do evoke glory to God. Those who quote these words as an assurance that beneficent acts will convert pagans to Christ are about as far from the right idea as they could get.

Paul’s phrase about “reaching forth unto those things which are before (emprosthen)” (Phi 3:13) becomes the more telling when it is seen that he is implying that they are within fairly easy reach, not at a remote distance!

Begin, Beginning

The verb archomai means, quite simply, “begin” — and this is the way it is always translated, nearly 90 times.

The corresponding noun arche swings between three different meanings: (a) the beginning of creation (9 times approx.); (b) the beginning of the ministry or preaching or the new life in Christ (about 30 times); and (c) principality, in the sense either of ruler or angel (about 14 times).

Those passages with the meaning (a) pick themselves out very easily, as: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth..." (Heb 1:10).

In the second group it is noteworthy that, in John’s writings, this meaning dominates, there being only two clear exceptions: John 8:44 (“a murderer from the beginning”) and 1Jo 3:8 (“the devil sinneth from the beginning”).

For many in the early church, the beginning of Christ’s ministry was The Beginning! — the only beginning of any consequence. This usage is especially emphatic in John (gospel and epistles), and points strongly to a different interpretation for John 1:1 from what is usually assigned. As in John 1:1 especially (‘In the beginning — of the ministry — was the Word — Jesus himself’), there are often overtones of comparison between the creation of Genesis 1 and the New Creation in Christ: eg Col 1:18; Heb 2:3; 3:14; 5:12; 6:1; 1Jo 1:1; Rev 3:14.

Also: “From the beginning we were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word” (Luk 1:2; cp Mar 1:1; Phi 4:15).

Even more specialized is the use of arche for “principality”. Here it is important to recognize both human and angelic powers:

  1. Human rulers: Luk 12:11; 20:20; 1Co 15:24(?); Tit 3:1; Jude 6.
  2. Angelic rulers: Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10,15; Rom 8:38; Acts 10:11; 1Co 15:24(?).
There are cognate words which all have the same idea of “beginning” or “priority”.

Archegos means “prince”, one who has the lead (Acts 3:15; 5:31).

Archos is always a ruler or magistrate; and the verb archo means “to rule”.

Archaios is an adjective meaning “old time”. For example, “Mnason of Cyprus was a disciple, an old-timer” (Acts 21:16). “God spared not the old-time world” (2Pe 2:5).

Archomai has also two, not very important children enarchomai (Gal 3:3; Phi 1:6) and proenarchomai (2Co 8:6,10), both of which are more emphatic ways of saying “make a beginning”.

Bid Farewell

This is the normal and obvious NT meaning of apotassomai. Then, in Mar 6:46: “When he (Jesus) had sent them (the disciples) away”, is there just a suggestion of reluctance, as though he were sorry to see them go, notwithstanding that the work of the gospel lay before them? There is much more than a hint of reluctance in Luk 22:41, when in Gethsemane Jesus “was withdrawn” from the apostles. Here apospao means “dragged away”. The same word describes Paul’s — oh, so reluctant — farewell to his brethren from Ephesus (Acts 21:1).


There is a general word for “bind” (deo) which covers a nice diversity of shades of meaning: Satan bound 1,000 years (Rev 20:2); but angels bound at the Euphrates are only held back, not locked up (9:14); Peter is bound with two chains (Acts 12:6); Lazarus is bound hand and foot with grave clothes (Joh 11:44); the colt for Jesus is tied by the door (Mar 11:4); Peter’s great sheet is “knit at the four corners” (this could be “gripped by four angels”!); a wife is bound to her husband (1Co 7:39); Paul is bound in the Spirit (Acts 20:22).

But Paul was also bound (this time proteino, for flogging: Acts 22:25). This word means “stretched out” — arms and legs at full stretch to facilitate the grisly process.

How different the “binding up” of the victim’s wounds by the Samaritan in the parable (Luk 10:34). Where English idiom says “bind up”, Greek usage says “bind down” (katadeo).

How different also hupodeomai, which simply means “tie your shoe laces” — Bible phrase: “bind on thy sandals” (Acts 12:8; Mar 6:9; Eph 6:15).

There remains desmeno, to shackle as with chains. It describes how Saul the persecutor treated his victims (Acts 22:4). It was also used by the Lord with intentional venom against the Pharisees who tied up the people hand and foot with all the rules and regulations they piled on top of the Law of Moses (Mat 23:4).


Rather remarkably, this word comes only once in the NT: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal 5:15).

In LXX most occurrences refer to the sting of a serpent; eg Gen 49:17; Deu 8:15; Ecc 10:8,11; Amos 5:19. So it seems not unlikely that this Galatians passage is an allusion back to the fiery serpents in Num 21:6-9, where the context (ch. 20) is the death of Aaron (the end of the Law) and the lust of the flesh against the Spirit. Not inappropriate! Paul’s Biblical allusions never are.

Born, Begotten

With one exception the little group of words under consideration here is simple and straightforward.

Gennao means, quite simply, “to be born”, or when used transitively, “the begetting of a son by a father”. All the occurrences of the word have this meaning.

Similarly, Peter’s anagennao means, just as obviously, “born again” (1Pe 1:3,23). The first of these is a very moving allusion to the apostle’s own new birth through the knowledge that his Lord was risen from the dead (Mar 16:7; Luk 24:34).

Tikto means “to bear a child” — thus, in every occurrence of the word teknon means “a child, a baby”.

Special interest centers in the solitary NT passage using ektroma, by which Paul describes his own sight of the risen Jesus and his resulting conversion as “one born out of due time” (1Co 15:8). This translation is not accurate, for it implies a premature birth. But ektroma means “an abortion, one who is born dead”. So the problem arises: How to fit this idea to Paul’s use of the word?

The best solution appears to be on these lines: There are several hints (really calling for a separate study; see The Christadelphian, 1953, p. 49) that Paul saw Jesus in Jerusalem in the course of the Lord’s ministry. This was the time when he should have been new-born in Christ. But evidently, judging from Acts 7,8, and 9, growing conviction was stifled by a savage burst of persecution, so that instead of new-birth there was ektroma, an abortion. Thus the marvel almost to be heard in Paul’s voice in 1Co 15:8, was that one in whom new spiritual life had come to nought should be, so to speak, conceived and born afresh.

There is no other NT use of ektroma, but the OT occurrences bear out the usage already insisted on.

Aaron pleaded for Miriam in her leprosy: “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb” (Num 12:12). And, in the LXX, Job 3:16 uses the identical Greek words (which passage is alluding to which?).

LXX does not use ektroma in Psa 58:8, but all the other Greek versions of the OT do. Here is a description of the wicked adversaries of God’s faithful (eg Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor): “Let (them be) like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.” Here, again, the idea is not possibly that of a premature or belated birth, but of one who is born dead. When Paul used the word ektroma he must have had his eye either on this passage or on Num 12:12 (himself saved from his own unworthiness by the intercession of Priest and Prophet).

Breathe, Breath, Blow

The word which the NT consistently uses for the wind blowing is pneo. It is this word which lies at the root of pneuma, spirit; but there are very few occurrences of pneuma where this connection is maintained. John 3:6 is perhaps the only one, and even there the use of pneo is dictated by the allusion back to Isa 40:7.

The corresponding noun pnoe describes the wind or any other movement of air. Hence its use in Gen 2:7, LXX: “God breathed (emphusao) into his face the breath (pnoe) of life.” It was, doubtless, with allusion to this place that Paul told the Athenians that the Unknown God “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25).

A connection of a different kind with Gen 2:7 in the other NT occurrence: “A sound as of a rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2) with the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost — it was the beginning of God’s New Creation.

By contrast, the same verb, only more intensive (empueo) describes Saul’s “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against the early church. The counterpoise to this is the use of the same word in a Messianic psalm’s prophecy of the earthquake when Jesus was crucified: “Then...the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast (empueusis) of the breath of thy nostrils” (Psa 18:15).

Ekpneo — “give up the ghost” — is dealt with separately.

There is also one solitary occurrence of emphusao (from Gen 2:7, see above) in John 20:22: “he breathed on them, and said, Ye are receiving the Holy Spirit.” Here is another suggestion of a New Creation.


Jesus is the “brightness” (apangasma) of the Glory of God (Heb 1:3). The allusion is, of course, to the radiance of the divine Presence as described in Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7, etc.

But how reMarable that the same word, made rather less emphatic by being shorn of its prefix, is used no less than nine times in Lev 13 LXX with reference to the whiteness of the disease of leprosy.

Very unexpected!


Out of the group of words which mean “bring”, with various shades of meaning, the most simple and uncomplicated one is phero. They bring sick and blind people to Jesus (Mat 17:17; Mar 7:32; 8:22; 9:17). Timothy is to bring the books and parchments to Paul (2Ti 4:13). Oxen and garlands were brought to honour Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:13).

But, more often than not, there is also the idea of “carrying”. The head of John the Baptist was brought on a dish (Mat 14:11). Ananias carried to Peter the portion of the sale-money which he could spare (Acts 5:2). The women brought spices for the embalming of the body of Jesus (Luk 24:1). It has even been suggested than when “they bring Jesus to Golgotha” (Mar 15:22) there was need to carry him because of physical collapse. However, this idea cannot be insisted on.

There is one specialised meaning of phero which calls for careful attention. The word was evidently used in the early church in a semi-technical sense for inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the bringing of the divine message from God to men. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2Pe 1:21). Here some like to insist on the notion of “being forcibly driven along” (as in Acts 27:17), but this idea is not inherent in the word. Three times in 2 Peter (1:17,18,21) the same phero is inadequately translated “came”, but in all three places there is implied a divine voice or inspiration.

The same is true in 1Pe 1:13. After allusion to the Spirit’s message in the OT prophets and NT apostles, Peter continues: “Set your hope perfectly on the grace that is being brought unto you in an apocalypse of Jesus Christ”. Here “grace” refers, as in so many places, to an activity of the Holy Spirit. Peter is referring to the publication of the Apocalypse.

The same specialised use of phero is traceable in several other passages: “If any man (a wandering preacher) come unto you, and bring not this (true) doctrine, receive him not...” (2Jo 1: 10). These were false claimants to Holy Spirit gifts (cp. 1Jo 4:1).

“Let us go on (be borne forward) unto perfection” is the exhortation in Hebrews (6:1), in a context which stresses the Spirit’s guidance of the early ecclesias (6:4,5; 5:12).

And the mention of “a rushing (phero) mighty wind” at Pentecost suggests the identical idea. So also Heb 1:3: “upholding (again, phero) all things by the word of his power”.

The same idiom has been missed completely in AV of Rom 9:22: “What if God...endured (phero) with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” Here the true idea is that God brought His revelation even to Israelite vessels of dishonour, unworthy of their high privilege.

Phero also comes no less than seven times in the Lord’s parable of the True Vine “bearing fruit”. It may be the identical idea here.

In four out of the five occurrences of epiphero there is a technical meaning of a different kind — that of bringing a charge, as in a court of law. This is very obvious in Acts 25:18 and Jude 9, slightly less obvious in Rom 3:5, and calls for thought in Phi 1:16 — where those who “preach Christ of contention” think to “add (epiphero) affliction to my bonds” — in other words, make more difficult Paul’s defence in the trial which awaited him.

This legal meaning is certainly not present in Acts 19:12: from Paul “were brought to the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them...” Here the prefix in epiphero is used to impart emphasis.

With a different prefix, phero becomes prosphero — “bring unto” — and this is the straightforward meaning of the word in many a place. But again there are copious examples of an idiomatic meaning: “to offer sacrifice”. In this sense the word comes no less than 19 times in Hebrews, and the corresponding noun prosphora (“offering”), 5 times.

But what of the seeming exception? “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth (prosphero) with you as with sons” (Heb 12:7). The idea is just the same. Here is an allusion to Abraham’s offering of Isaac, a “parable” (11:19) of the sacrifice of Christ. But this Rom 8:32 passage generalises the idea to include those in Christ, who accordingly are referred to in Rev 6:9,11 as “souls under the altar”.

There are other examples of this sacrificial meaning. The wise men “presented” their gifts to the child Jesus (Mat 2:11). In the parable the servant who had received five talents “brought” other five also (Mat 25:20). The mothers “brought” their young children to Jesus (Mar 10:13) — it is the same idea. And Jesus warned his disciples: “He that killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2); ie your corpses will be like sacrifices laid by your enemies on God’s altar!

Now it is time to turn to the verb ago. The associated idea here is not that of carrying but rather of leading or driving. “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter” (Acts 8:32). They “led him unto Pilate” (Luk 23:1). The disciples “brought the ass and the colt” to Jesus (Mat 21:7).

In nearly all the many occurrences of this word there is a suggestion of compulsion — even in the words of Jesus in Gethsemane: “Rise, let us be going” (Mat 26:46). Herod’s birthday was “kept” (Mat 14:6) — it was a state occasion not to be omitted. The idea is there even in Luk 24:21: “Today is (ago) the third day since these things were done” — this third day is driving on to its close, is the meaning. And when the town clerk of Ephesus declared to the mob “The law is open” , he meant “the court is now sitting, so make use of its legal facilities” (Acts 19:38).

Following this word ago makes a good concordance exercise. In one place after another that slight suggestion of pressure or compulsion is discernible.

So also with the solitary passage which has the noun agoge, which Paul uses to describe his “manner of life”, that is, the “drive” that was there at the back of all his unflagging activities (2Ti 3:10). Or did he refer to the guidance or leading by Christ which was always his?

In prosago, the prefix suggests “bringing into the presence of” someone. Paul and Silas are “brought” to the magistrates (Acts 16:20). Christ suffered for sins, “that he might bring us to God” (1Pe 3:18). The epileptic boy was brought to Jesus (Luk 9:41).

There is one example of a nautical use of this term. Before the shipwreck on Malta the sailors were able to tell that “some country drew near to them” (Acts 27:27). This idiom is rather like the modern phrase for a landmark “coming in sight” — the landmark doesn’t really move, but relative to the observer it does.

Burden, Heavy

A small family of NT words are all compounded with bar- , yet not once is any one of them used literally.

Eyes are heavy with sleep (Mat 26:43; Luk 9:32), ears are heavy (dull) of hearing (Mat 13:15; Acts 28:27), there are burdens of spiritual responsibility to be borne (Rev 2:24; 2Co 1:8; 5:4); but the Lord’s commandments are not burdensome, although many of his disciples in these days would persuade themselves that they are (1Jo 5:3). Paul’s letters were weighty and powerful (2Co 10:10), but so also were the many and grievous (weighty) complaints laid against him by his enemies (Acts 25:7). Jesus warned against having hearts weighed down with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life (Luk 21:34); and Paul warned against grievous wolves who would ravage the flock (Acts 20:29).

King Jam’ men did a lovely bit of translating when they gave us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2Co 4:17). There can be little doubt that here Paul was thinking in Hebrew, even though he was writing in Greek; for in Hebrew kabed means (a) to be heavy, and (b) to be glorious.

There is another word phortion (phortizo, phortos) which was the technical term for the freight of a ship. However, it came to be used in a more general sense: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden (phortizo)...for my yoke is easy, and my burden (phortion) is light” (Mat 11:28,30). Here the figure is of two animals yoked together. Pulling plough or cart is easy enough when Jesus is the workfellow. But the Law forbade yoking two different animals to the same task (Deu 22:10). So there is implicit here the fundamental idea that the burden is light only when one is Christ-like. What a contrast with Psa 38:4, LXX: “My transgressions are gone over my head; as a heavy (barus) burden (phortion) they weigh me down (baruno).

Both words come together in two significant passages. “The scribes and Pharisees...bind heavy (barus) burdens (phortion) and grievous to be borne...” (Mat 23:4). Thus Jesus expressed his contempt for the finicky rules and regulations which these men multiplied.

“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). The context indicates that here the “burdens” (baros) are personal problems. A brother in difficulties is not to be roundly condemned, but helped. Paul seems to have had the LXX of Rth 2:16 in mind (little resemblance to the English text); and apparently in vv 7-10 his mind is still running on Ruth’s experience.

But in v 5, “every man shall bear his own burden (phortion)” has a vastly different meaning. Here the all-important future tense takes the mind forward to the Day of Judgment, as in 5:10: “he that troubleth you shall bear his own judgment, whosoever he be.”

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