Word of the Week
October 16, 2021
Lists: The Top 5 Greek Nouns
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .
Ephesians 1:3 (NASB)
If something is important to me, it will show up in my checkbook and my calendar. I may say that my spouse is my top priority, but that claim can ring hollow if that concern never surfaces in the way I spend my time and money.
Conversation is another clue to our deepest interests. When we are emotionally invested in something, we mention it easily. In Indianapolis, it’s amazing how often football fans talk about the Colts. Baseball enthusiasts sprinkles their conversation with references to the Yankees or the Red Sox. When you hear someone talking about chrysanthemums and compost, you suspect that they are gardeners.
Let’s apply the same principle to God’s Word. Perhaps we can get a better idea of the most important themes of the Bible by discovering which words are used most frequently. If God thinks it’s worth repeating, I think it’s worth noticing!
This week, let’s look at the Greek words that appear most often in the New Testament – our Top Five List.
Realistically, the most common words in Greek or any other language are boring. Top of the list is the Greek word for “the” – 19,734 times! Next comes “and” (8947 times) and “he/she/it” (5534 times). Almost every sentence uses these structural words to hold the ideas together, but I find it difficult to squeeze much spiritual nourishment from those words.
Nouns and verbs are the most interesting words. Nouns tell me what we’re talking about, and verbs explain what the nouns are doing. So we are going to take a quick look at the five most common Greek nouns in the New Testament.
- Theos – “God” (1314 times)
Theos was a general description of any deity. The pagan world used it to describe the many deities that they worshipped in temples across the Roman empire (1 Corinthians 8:5). When Paul was unharmed by a venomous snake bite, the onlookers began to call him a theos (Acts 28:6). Paul even describes Satan as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
In the New Testament, however, theos was the title of the God who created the world and revealed Himself particularly to the nation of Israel. He is the one genuine Sovereign who controls the universe, with infinite power and wisdom. He is the one God who dominates the Old Testament, revealed as a Trinity in the New (see John 1:1).
- Kurios – “Lord” (718 times)
In secular society, a kurios was the “owner” of a piece of property or the “master” of slaves (Matthew 20:8; 10:24). Kurios could even be used as a polite term of respect like “Sir” (Acts 16:30).
In quotations from the Old Testament, kurios is the standard translation for Yahweh or Jehovah, the personal name of God (Romans 4:8). The term often describes the God of Israel (Luke 1:6).
It is also a common description of Jesus, who is described as Lord on an equal basis with the Father (Ephesians 1:3).
- Anthrōpos – “man” (548 times)
Anthrōpos is usually the generic term for humanity, including both male and female. Greek has other words such as anēr that refer specifically to males. There are a few passages where it refers directly to men, rather than women (1 Corinthians 7:1), but the main emphasis is on the human race. The New Testament emphasizes the contrast between God and mankind in passages like Colossians 3:23.
- Patēr – “father” (415 times)
The New Testament frequently mentions human fathers (Matthew 2:22) or more distant ancestors (Matthew 3:9). However, the major emphasis is on God the Father, who provides the pattern for all human parents (Ephesians 3:14-15). He is the Father as part of the Trinity, in relationship to the Son and the Spirit, and in a different way, he is the Father of all believers.
- Hēmera – “day” (388 times)
Sometimes the New Testament uses hēmera to describe the daylight hours (Matthew 4:2), or the 24-hour period that includes both day and night (Luke 1:23). It can also refer to a general period of time like “the days of Herod” (Matthew 2:1).
Scripture frequently uses phrases like “the last days” (2 Timohy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2-3) or “the day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 1:8) to describe key events in God’s plan for the world, not limited to a single day.
What have we learned about God’s major interests in Scripture from this quick survey?
I read the Bible to learn about God – both as the Lord who owns the universe and the Father who enters into personal relationships.
I read the Bible to learn about people, and how we relate to God.
And I read the Bible to learn how God works in time, day by day, to accomplish His purposes. It’s a grand story of His dealings with us from beginning to end.
It would have been fun to present a Top Ten List of Greek New Testament nouns, but we don’t have enough space for that. If, however, you would like to fill out the rest of the list, here are nouns #6-10:
Pneuma – spirit (379 times)
Huios – son (375 times)
Adelphos – brother (343 times)
Logos – word (331 times)
Ouranos – heaven (272 times)
Q – All right, you’ve told us about the most common Greek nouns. What are the most common Greek verbs in the New Testament?
A – Here are the most frequently used verbs:
Eimi – to be (2450 times)
Legō – to say (1318 times)
Eipon – past tense form of legō (925 times)
Echō – to have (705 times)
Ginomai – to become, happen (667 times)
Erchomai – to come (631 times)
Poieō – to do, make (565 times)
You’ve seen plenty of statistics this week, so next week we will go in a different direction. We will delve into the Greek word that serves as the basis for cosmetics – and more!
©Ezra Project 2021