Harry Whittaker
Word Studies



Several words, with a diversity of flavours, all appear in the AV translated “despise”.

Exoutheneo means “to treat as worthless, not worth one thing” (cp. “reckoned unto nothing”: Acts 19:27, Gk.). The Pharisees deemed themselves to be “righteous, and despised others” (Luk 18:9). Jesus was “the stone which the builders set at nought” (Acts 4:11). “Why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” remonstrated Paul (Rom 14:10). The critics of Paul did just this: they declared “his speech contemptible” (2Co 10:10). “Despise not prophesyings,” he wrote to those who were losing patience over a certain over-free exercise of Holy Spirit gifts (1Th. 5:20). But why use so strong a word when, in his going-to-law pronouncement, he bade the brethren: “Set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church”?

The nearest NT word to the English “despise” is kataphroneo, which is literally ‘think down’, with the idea of ‘look down on’. They “despise government,” wrote Peter (2Pe 2:10) about those who criticized their divinely-appointed ecclesial leaders.

“Let no man despise thy youth,” wrote Paul to Timothy (1Ti 4:12). This is by no means the only intimation that Timothy, though zealous and spiritual, was not a strong character. But how was he to apply this precept in practice? By asserting himself, or by quietly ignoring a slighting demeanour?

In the conflict between God and mammon, some “hold to the one, and despise the other” (Mat 6:24) — and despising mammon is surely the best attitude here.

Atheteo mostly means ‘rejection of the authority of law’. In only one place is it translated “despise”, thus: “He that despised Moses’ law died under two or three witnesses” (Heb 10:28). The noun has the same idea: Heb 7:18 speaks of a “disannulling of the commandment”; and in 9:26 Christ “put away sin (ie abrogated the dominion of sin) by the sacrifice of himself”.

“Ye have despised the poor,” wrote Jam, with unvarnished censure (2:6). Atimazo means literally “dishonour”, but in normal usage it developed a stronger bite: “treat shamefully”.

Oligoreo means to have little care or concern. Hence: “despise not thou the chastening of the Lord” (Heb 12:5).


Luo means quite simply: “to unloose”. But now and then King James’ men thought a stronger reading to be necessary, as in the words of Jesus: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again” (John 2:19) — and thus they destroyed the main idea, for Jesus was alluding to the taking down of the Tabernacle (Num 10:33-36). On this, see “Gospels”, ch. 22.

So also in Peter’s graphic prophecy of the final dissolution of human civilisation: “the elements shall melt (be unloosed) with fervent heat...all these things shall be dissolved...” (2Pe 3:10-12).

Holothreus, and its noun holothreutes (destruction) seem to be used so emphatically of angelic judgment [Heb 11:28; 1Co 10:10; 2Th. 1:9; 1Th. 5:3; Obad. 13 (3 times); Acts 3:23 (quoting Lev 23:29)], as to suggest the likelihood of this meaning in other places also: the excommunication of the depraved offender in 1Co 5:5; and of the rich (1Ti 6:9).

The chief NT word for ‘destroy’ — apollumi — means just that. In an abundance of places this is the meaning which shouts from the text:

In just one or two places the word is used hyperbolically where utter destruction is not spoken of. In each case the exaggeration is both pardonable and effective:

One example — Mat 10:28 — is specially instructive: “Fear him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” It needs only the asking of one simple question, and this is clear at a glance: Where is the body destroyed? Answer: In the grave. Thus “hell” is defined; and it is there where the “soul” dies also.

There are no less than ten other Greek words which are all translated “destroy”, twelve or thirteen when cognates are included in the reckoning. Each has its own special meaning.

One of the most important of these is: katargeo — bring to nought, put out of action: “Why doth it (the fruitless fig tree) cumber the ground?” (Luk 13:7). “Do we then make void the Law?” (Rom 3:31). This is the meaning in many a passage. Then what of Heb 2:14: “...that through death he might destroy him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil”? In the context, phrase after phrase alludes to the Passover: “the children...partakers... flesh and blood...took part...deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”. The verbal contacts with Exo 12 (LXX) are unmistakable. Then who was the “devil” who was “brought to nought”? Exo 12:23, with its emphasis on “the destroyer”, the Almighty’s angel of death, provides the answer. This is probably the meaning in 1Co 15:26.

Another interesting example is 2Th. 2:8: “The man of sin...whom the Lord shall bring to nought with the brightness of his coming.”

Phtheiro means ‘to cause to corrupt’, as in “the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph 4:22).

This is the obvious meaning in nearly every occurrence, eg “Evil communications corrupt good manners” (1Co 15:33). “If any man corrupt the temple of God, him shall God cause to corrupt” (1Co 3:13).

The intensive form of the word — diaphthera — is used only about the corruption of the grave, as in: “Thou wilt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:31). And there are the grim words of Rev 11:18: God will “destroy them that destroy the earth.”

Kathaireo is a verb only once translated “destroy”: “When he (God) had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan” (Acts 13:19). Its normal meaning is “to take down”. Then was Paul here implying that the Canaanites were subjugated, and not destroyed? The noun kathairesis is used with this sense: “Mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2Co 10:4 — one of a running series of allusions here to the conquest of the Land under Joshua). In the same chapter Paul speaks of his apostolic authority “for edification, and not for your destruction” (2Co 10:8) — a building up, not a pulling down.

Portheo describes devastation, as of the laying waste of a city or countryside, hence the name Parthians. It is in just this sense that it is used with regard to Saul’s persecution of the early church: Acts 9:21; Gal 1:13. It serves as well as a long drawn-out description to depict the savagery and ruthlessness which the early brethren were called upon to endure.

The noun suntrimma occurs in Rom 3:16 only. Its verb suntribo always means to break or bruise.

Determine, Appoint

Horizo is a word describing demarcation, Maring out distinctly. The horizon is the line which plainly separates sea and sky. Horia is the normal NT word for a boundary between two countries. In the NT the word intimates God’s purposeful pre-appointing of people and events. The birth and work and death and future kingship of Jesus are all covered by this expressive word (Rom 1:4; Acts 2:22; 10:42; 17:31). The same word, with elucidating prefix apo — aphorizo — is used three times about the pre-determined work of Paul (Gal 1:15; Rom 1:1; Acts 13:2).

All the occurrences of horizo are used with respect to the wisdom or work of God. Only one passage does not immediately fall into this category. In Acts 11:29 the brethren “determined to send relief” to believers in Judaea suffering from famine. It is surely arguable that by the use of horizo here Luk was neatly intimating that this decision was reached under direct divine guidance.

Similarly there are only two uses of aphorizo where divine action seems at first to be excluded. Jesus spake of men “separating you (the believers) from their company” (Luk 6:22). Perhaps he meant to imply that they would adopt this policy as under a mandate from heaven (the old bogey of block disfellowship), thinking they were doing God service. But what of Gal 2:12? At Antioch Peter, influenced by the Judaists, “withdrew and separated himself” from the Gentile believers. It is conceivable that in this instance, happily corrected later on, Peter was influenced by the use of the same word applied in Exo 19:12, LXX, to the exclusion of Israel before God brought them into His covenant (Exo 24).

Double Negatives

In modern English the double negative is a hallmark of poor education: “I didn’t do nothin’ ”. Not so in NT Greek, where it is particularly common in the gospels, thus:

6 (and Acts 8:39; 26:26).
11 (and 1Jo 1:5; Rev 7:16).

Paul has two double negatives (1Co 8:2; 2Co 11:9). The rest of the NT not at all.

In three passages there are triple negatives: ‘You don’t know nothin’ no time!’ But the gospels can hardly be accused of crudity in this respect:

“There shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, to this time, no nor ever shall be” (Mat 24:21) — oud' ou me genetai.

“And nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luk 10:19) — ouden...ou me.

Joseph’s tomb, “wherein never man before was laid” (Luk 23:53) — ouk... oudeis oupo.

Dry, Wither

Xeros basically means “dry”, and hence “withered”. It has passed into poetic English: “the sere and yellow leaf”.

Simple examples of the first meaning: Israel came “through the Red Sea as by dry land” (Heb 11:29). “Ye (Pharisees) compass sea and land (literally: the dry) to make one proselyte” (Mat 23:15).

The meaning “withered” is actually more common: eg with regard to the cursed fig tree withering away (Mat 21:19,20). The seed in stony places has no root and withers away (Mat 13:6).

The man with a withered hand (Mar 3:1) presents an interesting problem. This was no commonplace dermatitis, but the dry gangrene which can be a killer, and mostly was in those days; hence the Lord’s expostulation to his critics: “On the sabbath day is it lawful to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” Healing that withered hand would save his life; refraining from an exercise of healing power would, in effect, sentence him to death — hence the strong language: “to do kill”.

The Apocalypse in two interesting places uses the verb. In the Sixth Vial the water of Euphrates is “dried up” (Rev 16:12). This seems to imply the river’s disappearance, and not its being reduced to a rivulet. Does this affect the interpretation of the symbolism?

Also, in 14:15 the harvest of the earth (or, of the Land) is to be gathered because it is dried up (AV: ripe). What does this imply about those whom this symbol represents?

Dull, Slothful

“Seeing ye are dull of hearing (ie of understanding the gist of a valuable scripture)” (Heb 5:11). One lexicographer even translates it: “stupid”. The same word comes in one other place, a few verses further on. “That ye be not slothful, but followers of them that through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12). This shows that spiritual insight, and not merely academic cleverness, is the essential meaning. This throws a useful light on Prov 22:29, LXX: “The man diligent in his business...shall stand (in honour) before kings; he shall not stand (in humility) before mean men.” Few greater humiliations for an intelligent industrious man that to have to serve those who are stupid.

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