Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: πινω

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/p/p-i-n-om.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb πινω (pino) means to drink, to swallow liquid. It stems from the Proto-Indo-European root pet-, meaning to rush or fly, which also gave us the Sanskrit noun pattram, meaning feather or wing, the Latin noun penna of the same meaning (and thus ultimately our English word "feather"), and the Greek words πτερον (pteron) for feather, πτερυξ (pterux) for wing, and possible the verb ποταομαι (potaomai), to fly about. The widely attested Semitic word for feather is אבר ('abir), which means "strong one" and which is one of the names of God (namely Abir, or Might One) and may even be part of the name Abraham.

The word ποσις (posis) may both mean a drink or drinking (see below) and master or husband; hence the word δεσποτης (despotes), meaning [house-]master. The related Greek noun ποτη (pote) both means flight and "swig of wine," which brings us back to the act of drinking.

Organisms drink water so that their bodies can excrete excess heat (through transpiring) and waste products and toxins. That makes drinking the internal version of washing, and is therefore as an act closely related to the act of baptism (Matthew 20:22-23; see our article on the verb βαπτιζω, baptizo). When Jesus spoke of living water coming from one's inside (John 7:38), nobody in his original audience would have missed the connection with urinating.

Solids and dry land represent certainty and knowledge, and water represents the unknown and unfamiliar. Solid ground may be a promised haven but draught will turn any paradise into a desert. Likewise thirst kills, and a big part of dying of thirst is becoming intoxicated with wastes that can't be shed.

The form πω (po) is both the third person singular imperative (he/she/it drink!) but also an adverb of inquiry meaning "where?". That may be more than a cute coincidence since drinking is obviously part of the larger hydrological cycle (rain makes rivers which empty into the sea which evaporates and makes rain), which in turn is strongly associated with the cycle of inquiry and learning: the Hebrew noun מורה (moreh) both means rain and teacher and is a close sibling of the familiar word Torah (for more on the hydrological cycle of learning, see our article on the word ארץ, 'eres, meaning dry land). The Hebrew particle of inquisition מי (may) means "what?" and looks like the hypothetical singular form of the always plural word מים (mayim) meaning waters. Even our English word "petition" comes from the Proto-Indo-European root pet-, mentioned above. In short, to the ancients, the act of drinking was to the body what the act of inquiry was to the mind.

Note that the act of separating a unit of drink from a larger body of liquid would have reminded everybody in the ancient world of the relationship of one's personal curiosity to humanity's greater economy of cognition. Similarly, the act of sharing a drink with someone reminded strongly of verbal interaction, particularly a joint expression of uncertainties and wonder. The mouth is of course one of the body's most obvious water sources, and both speaking and drinking has to do with the mouth; see our article on στομα (stoma), meaning mouth.

Our verb πινω (pino), meaning to drink, is used 74 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down: the verb καταπινω (katapino), literally meaning to drink down, but suitably paraphrased into English: to drink up, to gobble down a liquid. Note that the famous camel that the Pharisees swallowed was a liquid one (Matthew 23:24). This metaphor obviously utilizes the camel as unit of understanding (most literally: your inquiries are thwarted by the dumb stuff you are already believing in), and for more on the significance of the camel in Biblical though, see our article on גמל (gamal), meaning camel. Our verb καταπινω (katapino) is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun ποτης (potes), meaning a drinker. This noun isn't used independently in the New Testament but together with the noun οινος (oinos), meaning wine, it forms: the noun οινοποτης (oinopotes), meaning wine-drinker (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34 only).
  • The noun πομα (poma), meaning a drink in the sense of a portion of liquid to imbibe (1 Corinthians 10:4 and Hebrews 9:10 only). In the classics this word is mostly spelled with a long o: πωμα, and an identical word means lid or cover; a curious convergence perhaps due to ancient drinking vessels having lids.
  • The noun ποσις (posis), meaning a drink in the sense of the act of the verb: a drinking, a doing of the act of drinking (John 6:55, Romans 14:17 and Colossians 2:16 only). This word is spelled identical to a word meaning master or husband (what in Hebrew would be בעל, ba'al, hence the familiar name Baal), and the head of the household of course represents the smallest unit of the larger societal economy. Note that in John 6:55 Jesus doesn't say that his blood is a drink, but that his blood is a drinking. Paraphrased: sharing in the blood of Jesus means to verbally partake in the greater collective inquiry into the working of creation and thus the mind of the Creator (compare Colossians 2:3 with Romans 1:20).
  • The noun ποτηριον (poterion), literally meaning a drinking-thing: a cup or vessel in which a drink may be presented and handled. In antiquity people didn't have cupboards full of cups and glasses and folks simply had their own cup (which, according to the story of Diogenes, was considered the most minimum of luxuries) or shared one. In the analogy of liquid representing one's inquisitiveness, a cup in which one keeps one's personal drink would correspond to one's body, or σωμα (soma), which explains many Biblical cup-scenes. Our word ποτηριον (poterion) occurs a whopping 33 times; see full concordance.
  • The noun ποτος (potos), meaning a drinking: that which is drunk (hence our English term "potable water"), or he who is drunk (who has drunk). As with the English verb "to drink", this noun also served to describe excessive drinking: a booze fest or drinking binge. Our word occurs in 1 Peter 4:3 only, in the latter sense, and from it in turn derive:
    • The verb ποτιζω (potizo), meaning to let drink or give to drink. This verb is the liquid counterpart of the verb to feed, and it's rather curious that English doesn't have a word for that. It's used 15 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
    • The noun ποταμος (potamos), meaning stream or river (hence our English word hippopotamus, which combines our noun with ιππος, hippos, meaning horse). This noun actually appears to technically derive from a verb ποταζω (potazo), which in turn derives from our parent ποτος (potos), but there aren't any extant contexts of this intermediate verb and it's not clear what it may have meant. Most commentators suggest "to flow" but that's too simplistic, given the greater symbolic structures at work in these words.
      Here at Abarim Publications we liberally guess that our word relates to the idea that the earth drinks (Hebrews 6:7, Revelation 12:16) and thus internally cleans. As we mention above, a human mind is merely a private swig from a much larger cognitive hydrological cycle, and the hypothesis that suggests that the biosphere is naturally equipped with some kind of unified data-storage facility — popularly known as Gaia's mind, but also as the Akashic Library, the Hall of Records or perhaps the Book of Life; see Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3, Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 20:15 — becomes quite enticing. Greek has a word specifically for the drinking earth, which combines the word for earth, namely γη (ge), with our noun ποτος (potos), meaning that which is drunk. This word is γαποτος (gapotos), and means "that which the earth drinks".
      Here at Abarim Publications we further guess that this word γαποτος (gapotos) may be related to the familiar noun αγαπη (agape), and may even have reminded a creative Greek of the name Egypt (Αιγυπτος, Aiguptos).
      Note also that mankind's great civilizations always grew on rivers, and that in the Bible the names of rivers pretty much always refer to the cultures and thus wisdom traditions that were sustained by these rivers. The story of the four rivers of Eden, to give an example (Genesis 2:10-14), is not the story of a lush garden somewhere but rather some-when. It tells of how humanity began to develop in four distinct hot spots, spread across the singular Fertile Crescent that stretched from Ethiopia (the Gihon that flows around the whole land of Cush) to the Indus Valley (the Pishon that flows around the whole land of Havilah).
      Our noun ποταμος (potamos) is commonly translated with "river" but in the narrative of the New Testament it always refers to a collective inquiry or school of thought. The river Jordan, to name another example, refers to the intellectual core of Judaism, namely to wonder, ask and marvel about nature. Jewish teachers rarely lecture but rather ask questions — see our article on the Hebrew noun חידה (hida), meaning riddle. Our noun occurs 16 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
      • Together with the verb φερω (phero), meaning to bring or carry: the adjective ποταμοφορητος (potamophoretos), literally meaning carried down the river; carried off by an overwhelming displacement of water (Revelation 12:15 only). This word in this solitary context obviously refers to an event in the cognitive or intellectual basin: something that happens to humanity upon a "watershed" event.
  • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συμπινω (sumpino), literally meaning to drink together but obviously with the connotation of asking questions and exchanging uncertainties (Acts 10:41 only). From this verb comes:
    • The familiar noun συμποσιον (sumposion), which is often thought to describe an event centered on drinking together, a banquet in the liquid sense. Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that the emphasis of this word lay rather on the flowing together of people, somewhat according to the principle described as the third creation day: the waters collect and dry land appears (Genesis 1:9). This Greek noun transliterates into English as the word symposium, which now as much as then not so much refers to a place or occasion to engage in collective boozing, but rather a place where people gather and come to the solid ground of reason.
      Our word occurs in the New Testament only in Mark 6:39, but not without additional mystery. Our word is repeated but not so that it might mean "companies of companies" (because that would have required the second one to be in the genitive case). Instead it appears that Mark 6:39 reads: "he ordered them to recline in companies, companies upon the green grass," which in turn brings to mind texts like James 1:10-11 and 1 Peter 1:24.

The noun πιναξ (pinax) describes a board, pad or tablet to write or draw upon, or a road sign, billboard or publication board upon which something was written. Rather spectacularly, John's head was placed on such a board (Matthew 14:8), which was thus not so much a dinner plate but rather a writing board. Likewise, when Jesus spoke of Pharisees cleaning their "plates" (Luke 11:39) he didn't mean the crockery upon which their lunches had been served, but their erasable writing pads upon which their wisdoms had been engraved (implying that they forgot their lessons as soon as they erased their pads).

The noun πιναξ (pinax) describes any board for writing or drawing, and a subset of those was the so-called δελτος (deltos), a writing pad that was a folded shallow box with wax in it (the folded halves obviously reminded of a delta). A deltos allowed anyone to just as easily write something as quickly erase it again, and in a world in which texts were appreciated for their lasting value and were produced by professional scribes and words were revered as deities (see our article on YHWH), an erasable writing pad must have seemed the epitome of consumerism and thoughtlessness.

Again rather spectacularly, the one and only reference to writing in Homer uses our word πιναξ (pinax) and speaks of "many murderous signs incised in a folded tablet" (Il.6.169). The Homeric epics are bastions of the oral tradition that gave humanity its modern mind (see this explained in our article on μυθος, muthos, story), and the Homerids clearly abhorred the rise of writing. In deep antiquity, the guardians of wisdom and history were specially trained priests and a writing system that everybody could learn would profane the priesthood, while the texts would be trampled underfoot. But also the very existence of a device that allowed people to bypass their precious brains and sacred memories, and mindlessly scribble words down only to erase them moments later, would have horrified the linguistic purists among the Greeks. The Hebrews obviously thought otherwise and invented the alphabet and spread the art of writing all over the known world (hence Exodus 19:6, Psalm 16:10, Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 5:13 and Revelation 21:21) and in effect wholeheartedly allowed the divine Logos to be publicly nailed to a cross, in the conviction that he would rise again in a body even more splendid than script.

In that sense, John the Baptist would have embodied the oral Word whereas Jesus embodies the written Word. In our modern times, record-keeping Jesus became "more" and mnemonic John became less (John 3:30). In the third century BC, a librarian of Alexandria named Callimachus produced the Pinakes, or the world's first library catalogue. Nobody in the original audience of Matthew would have missed that pun.

It's apparently a mystery where our word comes from, but in light of the Bible's many food-and-drink metaphors that are really about cognition, here at Abarim Publications we surmise that our noun πιναξ (pinax) settled into the Greek language because of its obvious proximity to the verb πινω (pino), to drink (see above). Drinking and baptizing basically accomplishes the same thing: to wash the body (inside and outside, respectively) from contaminants.

Alternatively, and this is an admitted longshot, wax tablets like these may have been introduced along with the rudiments of writing, from Greece's Semitic trading partners who not merely dubbed them little doors — δελτος (deltos) comes from דלת (delet), a thing that hangs, from the verb דלל (dalal), to hang — but also thought of them as little buckets (דלי, deli, means bucket) with which one drew the waters of one's subconscious to irrigate the fields of one's reason (Matthew 13:1-9, and see our article on φρεαρ, phrear, well). That being so, our word πιναξ (pinax) may very well have derived from the term פניך (pinak), meaning your turnings or your faces (from פנה pana, to turn; פנימי, penimi, means inner, and פנים, panim, means inner inclinations or "face").

Our noun occurs 5 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derives:

  • The diminutive πινακιδιον (pinakidion), or little πιναξ (pinax), which is a small writing tablet (Luke 1:63 only). Note the grim irony of Zacharias writing his son's name John on a small writing tablet, while Salome demanded John's head of a large one.