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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/p/p-t-om-ch-o-sfin.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb πτυω (ptuo) means to spit, to forcibly eject saliva through one's puckered lips (Mark 7:33, 8:23 and John 9:6 only). Despite its rarity in the Bible, this verb describes a surprisingly crucial exercise. Jesus used his spit to heal deaf and blind people, and after his arrest he is spat upon (see εμπτυω, emptuo, below).

As we discuss in our article on βδεω (bdeo), to fart, the mouth is where food is first introduced to the digestive system, and if this system isn't functioning properly, excessive flatulence may be the result. Since eating and learning (the intake of raw information to be chewed and then decompiled and sorted for useful elements to be incorporated into our mind, and not useful elements to be rejected and "forgotten") are highly similar processes, the anonymous dispensation of bad smelling flatulence is self-similar to the covert spreading of fear and unease. As we point out in our article on the verb δακρυω (dakruo), to shed tears, spit is one of a few forms of bodily water (tears, urine, sweat, spit) that serve to rid the body of dirt, waste and excess heat.

When something edible has passed a preliminary visual inspection, we first asses its taste in our mouths (nouns χειλος, cheilos, lip, and στομα, stoma, mouth, both describe outer edges or rims). There we determine whether we want to swallow what we bit off, and actually introduce it to our digestive track. If we dislike or distrust the taste, we will spit it out. That means that spitting something out of our mouths happens very early in the process, long before the bite has been properly disassembled in search for valuable nutrients. Likewise, when a crowd rejects a speaker long before her words could have been properly assessed, simply because the people don't like the way she "tastes" (something about her looks, posture, heritage, that puts them off), they reject her in loud derision and rude gestures to prevent her from further addressing the crowd.

All this suggests that Jesus' healing of the deaf and blind men by means of his saliva had to do with clearing their debilitating biases and restoring their ability to bravely hear an unfamiliar person out before they rejected her in fear and anger.

Note that a dry mouth disables a person's speech (Psalm 22:15, 137:6), which means that an excess of saliva loosely relates to a barrage of words. In John's version of the story, Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud. The Hebrew word for mud, namely יון (yawen), is the same as the Hebrew name for Greece, namely Javan. The idea behind this is that certainty and sound knowledge is like dry land, whereas the waters represent uncertainty and not-learnedness. Mud is an intermediate stage between waters and dry land. All this suggests that the restoration of the senses of the blind and deaf men had to do with a proper appreciation of Greek mythology, which is obviously a step down from Hebrew Scripture but certainly not at all without merit (and see our article on the name Hellas for a longer look at this).

Our verb πτυω (ptuo) is generally thought to stem from the same Proto-Indo-European root that gave English the verb to spew (via the Latin spuo). However, here at Abarim Publications we suspect it's actually Semitic and rather stems from the verb פתה (pata), to spread out or be muddy, hence the name Japheth, of the father of Javan. Proverbs 20:19 and 24:28 admonish the reader to not pata the שפה (sapa), lip or speech. Derived noun פתי (peti) means simplicity, or a being "muddy of mind". It's used only in Proverbs 1:22: "How long, simple ones (פתים, petim), will you love simplicity (פתי, peti)?".

From our verb πτυω (ptuo) derive:

  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the verb εκπτυω (ekptuo), meaning to spit out (Galatians 4:14 only).
  • Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, at, on: the verb εμπτυω (emptuo), meaning to spit at or on. This verb is used 6 times; see full concordance, five of which describe the Roman soldiers spitting into Jesus' face.
  • The noun πτυον (ptuon), which would literally be a thing to "spit" with, but which in practice described a winnowing shovel with which a worker would toss up a scoop of grain so that the wind could blow away dust and chaff (like spitting inedible debris from one's mouth). This word appears only twice in the New Testament (Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17 only), but crucially also in the Iliad (13.588) in the scene which describes the duel between Menelaos and Helenos: Helenos shot an arrow, but it glanced off the breastplate of Menelaos, like beans from a winnowing shovel, and didn't harm him. Menelaos in turn hurled a spear, which pierced the hand of Helenos, who subsequently had to retreat.
  • The noun πτυσμα (ptusma), meaning spittle (John 9:6 only).

The verb πτυσσω (ptusso) means to fold up. In the classics this rare verb is mostly used to describe the folding up of fine clothes in preparation for a journey (Od.1.439, 6.111, 6.252). On rare occasions it may describe the folding of arms or the wrapping of bandages. It's not clear where this word comes from, but the noun πτερυξ (pterux), meaning wing, may have come to the mind of creative poet. Here at Abarim Publications we further suspect that our verb may have to do with the former, in that it marks a separation and storage of select clothes, the way one would fold and store select information or select food items. This verb occurs in the New Testament in Luke 4:20 only, where Jesus "folds up" (rolls up or closes) the book of Isaiah he had been reading from. The closing of the book corresponds with the closing of one's mouth, after which one chews (contemplates) that what was bitten off. From this verb derives:

  • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon: the verb αναπτυσσω (anaptusso), meaning to un-fold or rather un-roll (Luke 4:17 only). Note that Luke's use of this and the previous word suggest a similarity between the two lips of a mouth and the two rolls of a book scroll: when unrolled, the mouth speaks, but when rolled back up, the mouth closes and the audience chews.

The verb πτοεω (ptoeo) means to terrify or frighten, or rather more general: to be very excited, to flutter and bounce around because of uncontrollable excitement (usually but not exclusively negative). This relatively rare and specific verb is thought to be related to the verb πτωσσω (ptosso), to cower away (see further below), but it obviously also relates to πτυω (ptuo), spitting as a sign of rejection or fear. Our English verb "to consternate" and noun "consternation" stem from the Latin sterno, meaning to spread out, which obviously corresponds to the above. Our verb is used in Luke 21:9 and 24:37 only, and from it comes:

  • The noun πτοησις (ptoesis), which describes the condition associated with the verb: terror, uncontrolled excitement, consternation (1 Peter 3:6 only).

The verb πτυρομαι (pturomai) also means to excite, alarm or startle (of horses), and although it's not perfectly clear how this verb came about, it obviously fits right in. It's rare in the classics, and in the New Testament used in Philippians 1:28 only.


The adjective πτωχος (ptochos) means crouching, cowering or shrinking away and derives from the unused verb πτωσσω (ptosso), which describes the behavior of birds and other small and frightened creatures who commonly try to hide away. In the Greek classics this verb was occasionally applied to people shirking or cringing away from other people, but the adjective specifically attached itself to the proverbial "poor", although that translation misses the point. Instead, it describes the destitute: our English word "destitute" comes from the Latin elements "de-" and "status", and means disenfranchised or forsaken. When Jesus said: "eli, eli, lama sabachthani" or "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me" he wasn't asking God for information but his audience to contemplate his condition.

The πτωχοι (ptochoi) are society's spewed out creepy crawlers and scattering cockroaches, the vermin, the rats, the weasels, the chickens, the yellow-bellied canaries, the pussies (noun πτωξ, ptox, means hare). Our word does not describe someone who is merely impecunious — that would be covered by πενιχρος (penichros) — but someone who cowers away, either from fear, timidity, disease or shame. The crucial difference with merely impecunious people is that the latter could always find a bit of land to work on, or even scrounge about other people's lands for leftovers (Leviticus 19:9-10, Ruth 2:3). These πτωχος (ptochos) were, for whatever reason, unable to do even that, and were not able to partake even in the least demanding stratus of normal human economy, or even to function as slaves. Nobody would buy them. These were people who had no family, no friends, no skills or suffered some debilitating disease, and were reduced to begging for food from strangers. These were literally the worthless people, and that's probably how they felt and certainly how they were regarded.

In the Hebrew world, all maladies basically fell into either of two main proverbial categories, namely the lame and the blind (עור ופסח, 'iwwer wa piseah). Blindness, and all variation thereof, was caused by too much of a good thing (the word for blind comes from the word for skin), whereas lameness, and all variations thereof, was caused by a lack of a good thing, namely inner strength. Our adjective πτωχος (ptochos) obviously describes a condition of the lame category, and could be cured by providing inner strength.

Contrary to popular myth, poverty is not cured by dispensing money, but support, and particularly support from a broad network of human contacts. When Jesus blessed the πτωχος (ptochos), he did so because they were receiving the gospel (Matthew 5:3, 11:5), which does not mean that they got preached at, but rather that they were exposed to and absorbed by a network much stronger and vibrant than any regular human network (Matthew 19:21). Note that the Hebrew word for being destitute and disenfranchised, namely רוש (rush), closely relates to ראש (rosh), primality, from which comes the term בראשית (bresheet), in the beginning, which is where everything else starts (Genesis 1:1, Matthew 6:33, James 2:5).

Our adjective πτωχος (ptochos) means destitute and when used substantially it describes a beggar; someone outside the human economic continuum. It occurs 34 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • The noun πτωχεια (ptocheia), meaning destitution, the condition of being unable to work or be useful and having to beg to be allowed to live (2 Corinthians 8:2, 8:9 and Revelation 2:9 only).
  • The verb πτωχευω (ptocheuo), meaning to beg or be destitute. This verb is used in 2 Corinthians 8:9 only, where Paul explains that Christ did not simply become impecunious and had to slave for a living, but rather embraced utter economic uselessness to the point where he had to beg to live. Contrary to the conclusions of some enthusiasts, this does not promote that particular lifestyle, but rather tries to motivate people to find use for anything that comes their way, and amend their own views and categories of the world to the point where all human beings have a purpose. In nature no animal is useless, and uselessness and unemployment are human failures that must be overcome. Likewise, debilitating diseases and even death are not righteous and must ultimately be overcome (John 14:12).