Katapateo: Stepping on Someone

Word of the Week

March 2, 2024

Katapateō: Stepping on Someone


You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

Matthew 5:13 NASB95


Our family lived in Phoenix during my high school years in an older house with a small laundry room, which featured a door leading to the back yard.  It also featured sewer roaches.

If you entered and turned on the light late at night, you would probably find several of these two-inch-long behemoths roaming the floor.  My father was the appointed exterminator.  Every so often you could hear the sound of shoes stomping the floor, and you would know he had found more roaches.

I don’t know if there are roaches in Greece, but I do know that there’s a Greek word that aptly describes what he was doing.

The New Testament often uses the word peripateō to describe a person walking around through the day’s routines.  However, the related word katapateō is the word of choice when you want to describe a person trampling or stomping on something.  The most common translations are “to trample, to tread on.”

The Gospels use this word in four passages, each illustrating the idea in a different setting.

  • The crowds – Luke 12:1

Wherever Jesus went, people gathered.  Not politely arranged in rows, but shoving for a closer look at the miracle-working, controversial teacher.  Luke describes a typical scene:  “so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another.” Many came away with bruised feet from the imprint of a burly farmer’s sandle.

  • The crops – Luke 8:5

Jesus told the parable of the sower to describe His unanticipated kind of kingdom.  It is like a man sowing in a field, He announced.  Some of the seed that he tossed landed beside the pathway, where “it was trampled underfoot.”  It lay squashed onto the roadside, ending up as a snack for the birds, not the beginning of a rich crop.

  • The salt – Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus told his listeners.  But He added the warning that salt can lose its potency, perhaps by being mixed with dirt or other debris.  Such salt is useless.  It will be discarded, “thrown out and trampled underfoot,” squashed into the dirt by passers-by.

  • The pigs – Matthew 7:6

In one of His best-known sayings, Jesus warned his hearers not to “cast your pearls before swine.”  If you do, “They will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

What an ominous word picture of violent, disdainful rejection and aggression!

The word lends deeper meaning to the warning issued in the book of Hebrews to a group of former Jews who had joined the Christian movement, discovered that it was difficult, and were toying with the idea of returning to their old faith.  Hebrews features several strong warnings against such a move, culminating in chapter 10.  The writer points out that death was the penalty for deliberate defiance of God’s Old Testament law.  Disregarding the Law was a serious offense; how much more serious is deliberate rejection of Christ and His sacrifice for sin?

“How much more severe punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29)

What shall we say about a person who clearly understands the gospel of Christ’s death for our sin and His matchless person, yet deliberately turns his back on that salvation?  Not a misunderstanding or a moment of confusion, but a purposeful rejection.  Hebrews says this is equivalent to stomping on the Savior, a slap in the face of God, as we would say.

When Someone has died for you, the right response is gratitude.  Anything less is an insult to His love.


Study Hint:

Peripateō starts with the preposition peri, which means “around, about.”  We discussed this word in a recent Word of the Week article.

Katapateō starts with the preposition kata, which has several meanings, including “down, against.”  It is an appropriate way to describe someone who “puts his foot down.”

Side Bar

I originally became interested in the word katapateō I was studying the Old Testament.  Psalm 139:11 describes the anxiety of someone who worries, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night.”  In dark days, such fear easily invades our soul, and the rest of the Psalm provides great comfort to counteract that fear.

I was curious about the word “overwhelm,” and started to dig into the Hebrew word.  In the process, I stumbled onto the fact that the Jewish scholars who first translated the Old Testament into Greek chose the word katapateō to express their understanding of the Hebrew here.  It’s a strong picture of someone looking at the surrounding darkness and thinking “I’m going to be trampled by these dark forces.”  No wonder he was comforted by knowing that “Even darkness is not dark to [God], and the night is as bright as the day.”

After all, God is light!


Coming Up

The Tenth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not covet.”  Yet we all have strong desires.  When does desire cross the line and become coveting?  Next week we will examine the Greek word behind this issue.

©Ezra Project 2024


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