Harry Whittaker
Word Studies


Light, Lightness

The word elaphros probably derives from the Greek word for “deer”. Certainly one of its usages is that of light, nimble movement like that of a deer.

Here, then, is one of the sayings of Christ which few of his disciples really believe: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mat 11:30). And Paul insists that “our light affliction is but for a moment” (2Co 4:17). These two passages put the service of Christ in a different perspective.

And perhaps all the more emphatically when it is realised that in both places there may be an allusion to the cherubim-chariot of the Lord, as described in Ezekiel 1; for there the same word comes (in LXX) in an expression which has no counterpart in AV: “and their feet were winged, and sparks like gleaming brass, and their wings were light” (v 7).

Jesus appealed: “Take my yoke upon you...for I am meek and lowly in yoke is easy...”, using the figure of two labouring oxen. But the cherubim figures in Ezekiel 1 are essentially winged oxen (“straight feet... a calf’s foot”; and Eze 10:14 uses “cherub” instead of “ox”). Thus, “my burden is light” is seen to have a double meaning — with allusion also to the burden of prophecy, for this is the function of the cherubim chariot, to convey the word of the Lord with power: “His word runneth very swiftly” (Psa 147:15).

So also Paul in 2Co 4:17, where he links “light affliction” with “an eternal weight of glory...the things that are not seen (by ordinary men)”. Again, the word “weight” suggests the burden of prophecy or preaching.

These are some possibilities of exposition opened up by the word elaphros, which occurs hardly anywhere else.

Look, See, Behold

There are four main words of fairly common (or very common) usage in this category. Besides these, there is a large collection of odds and ends, each with its own particular meaning.

The most frequently used word is blepo and its cognates. This is just the ordinary word for “see”. Not a few times it is used with specific reference to the eyes. “Anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Rev 3:18). “When his (Saul’s) eyes were opened, he saw no man” (Acts 9:8). It is used five times of the blind man who was sent to Siloam to get his sight (John 9).

In this ordinary sense of seeing, blepo is used over and over again.

But it also goes beyond that, to cover mental contemplation or discernment. “Ye see your calling, brethren...” (1Co 1:26). “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind” (Rom 7:23). “Behold Israel after the flesh” (1Co 10:18).

At times this meaning becomes even stronger. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief” (Heb 3:12). “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit” (Col 2:8).

Anablepo is used almost entirely (20 times) of a man receiving his physical sight. In these cases the translation sometimes attempted: “he looked up”, is over-literal. The prefix is simply intensive. The only exceptions to this are when Jesus is spoken of as looking up to heaven in prayer (Mar 7:34; 8:24), or looking up into the tree to speak to Zaccheus (Luk 19:5). Luk 21:1 is certainly intensive: “Jesus looked up (ie took special note of the fact), and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.” The same is probably true in Mar 16:4: “When they (the women) looked (anablepo), they saw (theoreo) that the stone was rolled away.” Or is Mark intending to suggest here that they were like blind persons receiving their sight? Or were they at the foot of a slope, looking up to the site of the tomb?

Diablepo comes in only one place: “Then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Mat 7:5).

Emblepo means to “look intently”. Perhaps “study” is a good translation here. “Behold the fowls of the air” (Mat 6:26) means: ‘Study the life of the birds.’ So also: “Jesus beholding him (studying his face intently) loved him” (Mar 10:21). And after Peter’s denials, “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter” (Luk 22:61). Here a better translation would be the strictly literal: “looked into Peter”. At the ascension, the disciples stood “gazing up into heaven” (emblepo again). Saul, confronted with the glory of Christ, peered intently in his effort to make out more detail (Acts 22:11).

All the dozen occurrences of emblepo are worth “emblepping”!

There is also periblepo which means, quite literally, “look round about”. In all its seven occurrences it is translated in precisely this way.

Next come two related words, theaomai and theoreo. Basically, they both mean “to gaze at a spectacle”. Here is the origin of the English word “theatre”. When the Ephesian mob rushed into the “theatre”, the Greek word is theatron. Its other occurrence is in 1Co 4:9: “we (apostles) are made a spectacle unto the world”. Cp also the use of the verb theatrizomai in Heb 10:33: “Ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions.”

All the occurrences of theaomai and theoreo are worth tracking down. In one after another there is the idea of staring intently at something of special interest or unusual character. “Which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life” (1Jo 1:1) — here is an allusion to disciples staring at Christ crucified, and handling him risen from the dead. At the trial of the adulterous woman, Jesus stared when he found that all her accusers had gone (John 8:10). Before the Lord called Levi the publican, he stood for a while and watched him at his work (Luk 5:27). “Now consider (take a good look at the circumstances regarding) how great this man, Melchizedek, was...” (Heb 7:4). The natives of Malta stared in amazement when Paul suffered no harm from snake bite (Acts 28:6). There are many more such examples.

There is also another specialised meaning of these two words in classical Greek, and this creeps into NT usage here and there — it is the idea of an official deputation to inspect the Greek games or to make enquiry at an oracle. Neither of these is to be expected in the NT, yet something reMarably close is to be traced in certain passages.

The use of theoreo in Mat 28:1 suggests that the women went to “see the sepulchre” of Jesus by formal arrangement with the disciples. The same word in John 12:19, “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing?”, probably implies that the Pharisees at the triumphal entry of Jesus were officially deputed to keep an eye on him. Similarly, Luk recounts how the chief priests “saw the boldness of Peter and John” (Acts 4:13), the emphasis is on the fact that it was an official enquiry (so also in 3:16). “What went ye out into the wilderness for to see?” challenged Jesus concerning the investigation about John the Baptist. Again the word is precisely right, referring to an official deputation.

In the parable of the wedding garment, “the king came in to see the guests” (Mat 22:11). Here once more is the idea of an official inspection (and it foreshadows the day of judgement). Similarly Paul when he wrote to the Romans: “I trust to see you in my journey” (Rom 15:24). When Paul’s adversaries “saw him in the temple” and raised a riot, the word implies that they had been posted there officially for that very purpose.

The two related but distinct meanings of these words can make a detailed concordance study really fruitful.

Anatheoreo, in Acts 17:23, intensifies the idea of Paul’s staring (in disgust, indignation, pity?) at the altars of Athens, or, in Heb 13:7, of sustained contemplation of the fine example set by good men.

Another very common word for “see” is horao, with its related optomai from which comes our “optic”. The first and obvious meaning here is that of seeing with the naked eye. This is so simple and straightforward that it hardly needs to be illustrated. But this word is appropriated very often in the NT to describe the seeing of a vision granted by God. In an astonishing number of instances there is a divine element about the experience. In John’s writings there is no exception to this.

Out of sixty passages, there are (it is believed) only four which do not obviously have this specialised meaning. The following three are worth further scrutiny.

Gallio contemptuously chasing Paul’s Jewish adversaries from his judgement seat: “If it be a question of words and names and of your law, see ye to it, for I will be no judge of such matters” (Acts 18:15). Gallio was cleverly and sarcastically telling them: ‘This is beyond me; go and get a divine revelation about this question.’

When Paul was bidding farewell to the elders at Ephesus: “...and now I know that ye shall see my face no more” (Acts 20:25).

Heb 13:23: “Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty, with whom if he come shortly, I will see you.” What a neat way of implying: ‘Your visit, with him, will be as good a tonic as an angelic visitation.’

Two other seeming exceptions to the usual meaning of “divine vision” meet the reader in Matthew 27. Pilate washed his hands of further decision about the Nazarene. The AV: “see ye (to it)” would imply again the same idea. But the literal reading is: “ye shall see,” surely implying: ‘You, and not I, will have to face a divine judgment for this’ (v 24). And the same idea, sardonically expressed, is probably there in v 4 also.

According to instructions, the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration “told no man any of those things which they had seen” (Luk 9:36). The same word describes the shipmasters and the rest seeing the smoke of the burning of “Babylon” (Rev 18:18) — appropriately because the judgement is from God (17:17). “Ye see,” says Jam concerning Abraham’s offering of Isaac, because he has been directing attention to the inspired record (Jam 2:24). So also Heb 8:5: “See...that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee in the mount” — again the word has been well chosen.

There is also the fairly obvious use of this word where physical sight is not involved. “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mat 16:6). “See that none render evil for evil” (1Th. 5:15). Paul refers to “as many as have not seen my face” at Colosse (2:1).

Ephorao (Luk 1:25; Acts 4:29) also has the idea of divine vision, only in each of these cases it is God who does the beholding: “The Lord hath looked on me (said Elizabeth), to take away my reproach” (Luk 1:25). And the disciples prayed: “Lord, behold their threatenings” (Acts 4:29).

Linguistically akin to this word is epopteuo and its noun epoptes. Classically, these two may refer to an official investigator or, very differently, to one who is initiated into the secret meaning of the Greek mysteries. Both usages operate in the NT Peter twice refers to the official adversaries of the gospel — Roman governors, or pagan husbands — “beholding” the “good works” and “chaste behaviour” of the believers (1Pe 2:12; 3:2). But Peter also declares how he and Jam and John “were eyewitnesses of the Lord’s majesty” in that most sacred mystery of the Transfiguration (2Pe 1:16).

With a different prefix, pro-orao signifies a seeing beforehand: “I foresaw the Lord always before my face” (Acts 2:25). So also in Acts 21:29.

The intensified form of the word kathorao comes only once with reference to “the invisible things (of God) being clearly seen” (Rom 1:20). This passage is usually understood as referring to ignorant Gentiles deducing the character and attributes of God from what they can appreciate of His works in nature. Actually the words have nothing to do with this, but the details are too complex for exposition here. Certainly the gist of the passage has not been “clearly seen” by the learned commentators, and they have a Bible as well as nature to help them out (see “Bible Studies”, ch. 13.02).

Pro-eideo has the same meaning: “The scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith preached beforehand the gospel unto Abraham” (Gal 3:8). (Cp also Acts 2:31.)

Another extremely common word for “see” is eido, which through Latin has become the ancestor of “visible”, though the derivation is almost invisible. Eido is peculiar in having no present active form, so horao does duty for it instead. Thus the usage of the two words goes in step. Yet another peculiarity is that the perfect tense oida has shifted in meaning from “I have seen” to “I know (because I have seen, with the eye or mentally)”. This is really a separate study.

Special mention must be made of ide and idou, two imperative forms of eideo. These are nearly always translated “Behold!” or “Lo!” (which in archaic English was originally “Loke!”). In the gospels these words are signposts signalling either a most surprising situation or one which calls especially for the reader’s attention. Matthew uses them all over the place as he recaptures the startling character of the words and miracles of his Lord. But John has little use for them until he comes to write Revelation, and then he cannot do without idou.

Next on the list is skopeo, which, as its use in microscope and telescope implies, emphasizes the notion of careful scrutiny. In the field of personal relationships it is equivalent to “keep your eye on So-and-So.”

The first object of this exercise is self: “Take heed therefore that the light that is in thee be not darkness” (Luk 11:35). “Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal 6:1). And yet Phi 2:4 seems to say the opposite: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” But of course here Paul is deprecating a selfish concern for one’s own affairs. The apostle has another implied warning against such a worldly spirit: “We look (skopeo) not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen (blepo) are temporal” (2Co 4:18).

But there are certain others whom it is necessary to keep an eye on: “Mar them which cause divisions” (Rom 16:17). Why didn’t Paul say: ‘Withdraw fellowship, and then you won’t need to worry about them any more’?

In much pleasanter tone he also exhorts: “Be followers together of me, and mark them which so walk” (Phi 3:17). Brethren are to be scrutinized not as an excellent field for criticism but when it is evident that they set an admirable example. Indeed, they are to be “kept an eye on” as a target to aim at, a spiritual example to emulate. Paul, making reference to the Greek games, uses skopos in a similar fashion: “I press toward the Mar for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi 3:14).

Episkopeo, more emphatic, means “scrutinize carefully”, as in Heb 12:15: “Looking carefully lest any man (self, or others?) fall short of the grace of God”. It probably means taking good care of those who waver in the Faith.

A small problem arises from the solitary use of historeo in Gal 1:18: “After three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter.” The well-established classical meaning of historeo is “to make inquiry”. But what about? About Peter’s attitude to the preaching of the gospel to Gentiles? About Paul’s own good standing with the leaders of the church? It is difficult to be sure. Some commentators sidestep the issue by citing examples from Josephus and Clement of Rome to show that the word might mean just “visit”. But it is difficult to believe that Paul would make that long journey to Jerusalem just for the sake of a friendly visit. The context suggests one of the two answers just mentioned.

Another solo occurrence is that of muopazo: “He that lacketh these things (a grasp of the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’, v 4) is blind and cannot see afar off” (2Pe 1:9). The Greek word is the English “myopic”, short-sighted. Obviously the meaning is: lacking spiritual discernment. How experience confirms this! One of the best tokens of spiritual maturity is a deep appreciation of the covenants of promise, and their future fulfilment.

There remains for consideration the one occurrence of katoptrizo: “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit" (2Co 3:18). A katoptron is a mirror. The only Biblical use of this word is about the mirrors of the tabernacle women being turned into a bronze laver (Exo 38:8, LXX). The RV reading is probably correct: “reflecting as a mirror”. But since your face cannot be reflected if you don’t look into the mirror, the idea of the AV is implied also. The allusion is, of course, to Moses’ face reflecting the glory of the angel who ministered the Law to him in Sinai. That was a fading glory. But we, keeping close to Christ, reflect his glory in a way which grows and intensifies with time and experience — “from glory to glory”.

Look Into

Parakupto is really a very vivid word. It conveys the idea of stooping down in order to peer closely at something of absorbing interest. It is used of both Mary Magdalene and the apostle John “stooping” to look into the tomb of Jesus. And with this still vivid in his mind, Peter, writing of the sufferings and glory of Christ, declares “which things angels desire to look into”. The hymn is not all poetic imagination in the couplet:

“The angel watchers of the skies
Look down with sad and wondering eyes.”

James harnesses the same lovely idea: “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and so continueth, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (1:25).

What a contrast between these examples, and the use in the LXX of 1Ch 15:29, about “Michal (David’s wife) looking out at a window” and despising her husband’s devotion and exhilaration before the Lord!

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