New Testament Words and Verses
NT Verbs for the Agricultural Cycle
Mastering Biblical and LXX Greek is a multi-part affair. One must learn the structure of the language; the various conjugations of verbs and declensions of nouns; the interesting way in which sentences are organized; the vast vocabulary of the language. In this post I will move from planting to harvesting to preparing food and, along the way, mention about ten verbs that take us through this process. I’ll illustrate through various verses so that it might be easier for the verbs to “stick.”
Preparing the Ground and Planting
1— αροτριαω, to plough. One should not plow with both a young ox and a donkey at the same time (Deut 22:10; οὐκ ἀροτριάσεις ἐν μόσχῳ καὶ ὄνῳ ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό). The verb appears 3x in the New Testament, with two of them in the same verse (I Cor. 9:10), where it says that the “plowman ought to plow with hope. . .” (ὅτι ὀφείλει ἐπ’ ἐλπίδι ὁ ἀροτριῶν ἀροτριᾶν).
2—φυτεύω, to plant. It appears 11x in the NT and often is connected with the threefold process of planting, watering and growing. Often a person plants a vineyard (ἀμπελών; Matt. 21:33; Mk. 12: 1; 13:6). But at times it just appears neatly in a collection of verbs to describe what people are doing before the end suddenly comes (people were buying, selling, planting, building—Lk. 17:28, which itself is a harvest of useful verbs).
3—σπείρω, to sow. This very common verb (53x in the NT) is perhaps so popular because of the parable of the sower. It appears at least 7x in Mark’s telling of the parable (Mk. 4:1ff); when one adds up the Matthean and Lucan versions of the parable one may have 40% or more of all the NT appearances of the term. So, it is enormously useful to know.
4—ἀλοάω, to thresh. It appears in the same verse as αροτριαω (I Cor. 9:10), Just as the plowman plows in hope, so the thresher shares that hope. The verb also appears in Recension B of Judges 8:16, where it is paired with καταξαινω, which means in that context to crush and destroy. The verb ξαινω, as will be indicated below, comes from the experience of combing or carding wool. One may thresh grain (Deut 25:4) or crush something under foot (Is. 41:15).
5—ποτίζω, to water or give to drink. This is required once you sow or plant, and appears 15x in the NT. It has a much broader meaning than simply watering a field or even giving the animals water. It can be used to describe the way that God provided for the people—giving them to drink, as in an abundant subterranean spring, for example (Ps 77:15). It is a supple verb, covering the provision of liquid nourishment for humans, animals, and the ground alike. Its figurative usage is also suggestive.
6—έψω (rough breathing, hepso), to boil (food). The noun form is έψημα/έψεμα, which is especially prevalent in the story of Jacob and Esau, where food is boiled and Esau is deprived of his birthright (Gen. 25:29-34). The corresponding verb also appears in that story as well as in the Passover story, where the Passover Lamb is to be boiled in water (Ex. 12:9) or where things are boiled in a pot (Num. 11:8).
7—ζέω, to boil or be hot. Very similar in meaning to the preceding, but stressing the heat or boiling hot nature of something rather than simply its ability to cook food. In the NT is it primarily used in a figurative manner, as in τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες, τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες (Rom. 12:11, “fervent (i.e., “burning/boiling”) in spirit, serving the Lord”). The adjective ζεστός, meaning “boiling hot” appears 3x in two consecutive verses in Rev. 3, where the Lord wishes people would either be cold or hot (ζεστός).
8—θερίζω, to harvest. The noun for “harvest" is θερισμός. A less-frequently appearing verb for “harvesting” is αμάω. Mic. 6:15, for example, talks about how “you will sow (σπεiρεις) but will not harvest (ουκ αμησατε).” But θερίζω and its related noun are quite popular in the NT, with the verb appearing 21x and the noun another dozen or so. Language of harvesting is probably so popular in the NT because of the longing for the return of Christ and the end of time. The concept of harvesting has even entered deeply into Christian hymnody, where hymns like “Harvest Home” emphasize the consummatory work of the Spirit of God.
9—σινιάζω, to sift. A sifter or sieve is a σινιόν, though the LSJ tells us that this is a “late word.” I don’t know how this word relates to σινομαι, which means “I destroy, hurt or harm. The word is a NT hapax, and appears in a rather strange context, where Jesus talks about a testing Peter will face in the future. Satan has demanded (verb is ἐξαιτέω, also a NT hapax) to “sift him as food/wheat” (τοῦ σινιάσαι ὡς τὸν σῖτον). Certainly this is an experience of severe judgment, though not leading to Peter’s death.
10—ξαίνω, to card or comb wool. The verb in this form doesn’t appear either in the NT or LXX, but a combined form, κατάξαίνω, appears in Recension A of Jud. 8:7, 16 and means to “tear in pieces.” It is a word of judgment spoken by Gideon to fellow Israelites who have not stood by him in need. He will do this to them. It appears in Recension A, but in both corresponding passages in Recension B the verb ἀλοάω appears.
These aren’t, of course, the only verbs that speak to the agricultural cycle or the process of cooking or boiling food. But they are a good beginning, and mastery of these will take one not simply incrementally but almost disproportionately far in one’s mastery of Greek verbs.
Romans 1, One
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