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
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:
Oligoreo means to have little care
or concern. Hence: “despise not thou the chastening of the Lord”
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.
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
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:
“Lord, save us, we
(his enemies) sought to destroy him” (Mar 3:6;
come and will destroy those wicked servants” (Mat
bottles are marred (ie spoiled beyond further use)” (Mar
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever- lasting life”
used the word about those who perished in the Flood (so also 2Pe 3:6) and in the
judgment on Sodom (Luk
the wisdom of the wise to perish (1Co
wilderness faithless Israelites were “destroyed of serpents” (1Co
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:
The lost sheep, and the lost
up the fragments that nothing be lost” (John
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”
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
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
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
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
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).
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,
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
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
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 evil....to 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
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?
“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.