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FIRST PERSON: Anthrax and the language bridge to the New Testament

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Reading about the anthrax scare, I’m struck by number of words deriving from the original language of the New Testament, Greek. I know the subject is grim, but it’s fascinating to see the links. Here are ten cognates:

1. Anthrax. Believe it or not, the word shows up in Romans 12:20, where it says we “heap burning coals” on our enemy when we feed him. Since coal (as in anthracite) comes in black lumps and anthrax causes the appearance of dark lumps on the skin, they’ve made the connection. As Time puts it, “The bumps then turn into fluid-filled vesicles, which in the course of several days will turn black.”

2. Typhus. Newsweek lists the likely effects of seven different types of biological attack. One of these involves the release of 50 kilograms of typhus from a height of two kilometers above a city of a half-million. Typhus comes from the Greek word, to smolder, tuphomai, a form of which appears in Matthew 12:20 – “a smoldering wick he [Jesus] will not snuff out.” The connection is obvious; typhus is marked by smoldering fever.

3. Spores. Offices around the nation are on the lookout for spores, or tiny seeds. The Greek word for seed, sporos, appears in Luke 8:11, where Jesus explains the parable of the sower – “The seed is the word of God.”

4. Microbe & Microscopic. Mikros, used to describe Zacchaeus in Luke 19:3, means small. It even appears in one of the Greek letters, omicron or “little o.” Microbe is short for microbiological organism. Biological comes from bios, the word for life, as in I Tim. 2:2 – “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.” Logos means word or reason, as in John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word.” As with all the “ologies” [psychology; etymology; kinesiology; archaeology, etc.], biology is the search for the rational structure and operation of its subject, in this case life. So microbiology is the science of tiny life.

If you know what “scope it out” means, you understand the verb skopeo, to view or notice. Paul tells us to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” in Philippians 3:17. So a microscope lets you take note of the little things.

By the way, if your epidermis is your “overskin,” then your episkopos is your “overseer.” And a church run by overseers is episcopal. [Believe it or not, the English somehow crunched episkopos into bishop – same word.]

5. Diagnose. Put dia [through] with ginosko [to know] and you get the word which appears in the form diaginoskein in Acts 23:15. The Jews were trying to kill Paul. They plotted to ask the Romans for another chance at interrogation and then ambush him on the way – “Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case.” So a doctor diagnosing your malady is simply trying to get the pertinent information.

6. Pneumonia. When your lungs fill with fluid, you have a problem with your pneuma or wind. The word is usually translated Spirit, and you can see the close biblical connection in John 3:8 – “The wind [pneuma] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit [pneumatos].

7. Pathogen. Pathema means suffering or affliction, as in pathetic and as in I Peter 4:13 – “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.” Gennao means to beget, as in the Annunciation in Luke 1:35. Put them together and you get an affliction producer.

8. Toxin. Revelation 6:2 mentions a rider on a white horse, holding a bow, a toxon. With it, he can launch killing arrows, many of which were tipped in poison in ancient days. So a toxin is a poison launcher.

9. Nausea. In Acts 27:41, the ship [naus] carrying Paul struck a sandbar. Before that, the ship’s motion on the rough Mediterranean likely produced some seasickness, nausea.

10. Necrosis. As anthrax progresses, tissue becomes dead [nekros], the same word we see in Rev. 1:18 – “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

Whatever the danger from bioterrorism in the years ahead, Christians can face even the worst scenario in the confidence that they can stand in heaven and repeat Christ’s words, “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger