From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Apr 22 1998 - 13:31:54 EDT

At 9:22 AM -0500 4/22/98, Edgar Foster wrote:
>> >So I would agree, Thales is evidently not referring to a personal
>> >deity, but evidently a force of some kind. This still doesn't prove
>> >that QEOS ever "meant" (in a marked or unmarked sense) "power." The
>> >closest I have come to finding any evidence for this is the
>> >of QEO by Plato to describe the world soul. Etymologically, QEO
>> >evidently means "I run" (i.e., power). But I find no usages Greek
>> >literature which indicate that QEOS ever MEANT power, over against
>> >Deity.
>> >
>> >Usage is my main point here.
>> >
>> >While Burnet says that QEOS means "god" in a religious sense, he also
>> >says that is not its only signification. Later, he adds, however:
>> >"This non-religious use of the word "god" is characteristic of the
>> >whole period we are dealing with" (Burnet 14).
>> >
>> >So here is the crux of the issue for me. I can agree that QEOS was
>> >employed to DESCRIBE powers, but I see no evidence that it ever meant
>> >"power." How does this apply to Biblical Greek? My friend suggests
>> >that if QEOS means "power," it could affect our understanding of QEOS
>> >in John 1:1.
>---"Carl W. Conrad" <> wrote:

>> Let's be clear here: there's all the difference in the world between
>> that QEOS may have meant "power" at some point and to some
>> of Greek and saying that QEOS must therefore be affected by that
>sense of
>> its meaning in John 1:1. I DO think that QEOS was probably used in a
>> non-religious sense in the pre-Socratic literature, but I really don't
>> think I'd try to bring that to bear upon understanding of John 1:1.
>Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, Carl. But if I use a word to signify
>something else, does the word then take on the meaning of the thing
>signified? For example, if an entire society of persons applied the
>word to a tree, does QEOS then mean "tree"? I think it would be more
>accurate to say that QEOS was used to describe a tree, or that a tree
>was called QEOS--but QEOS does not mean "tree." I.e., "tree" would not
>qualify as a lexical entry for QEOS. Maybe as a semantic domain.

Well, there clear ARE words that have such a history. One instance is
POIHTHS which any plain fool can see is an agent noun from POIEW and means
"creator"--but you will almost never find this word used in Greek for
anything other than a poet, although the verb continues to be used for the
activity of other kinds of creative artists, as for example by the potters
who sign their own work, e.g. "EXECIAS EPOIHSEN."

>I feel that the same applies to QEOS and "power." If you have examples
>from the Classical literature where QEOS clearly MEANS "power," I am
>open to it. But, I differentiate between a semantic domain and a

And what I'm saying is that the semantic range of QEOS in classical (and
even Hellenistic) Greek is not so narrowly defined or definable. I would
never want to say that QEOS and DUNAMIS are synonyms, although they may be
used in ways suggestive of each other. I wonder whether your interlocutor
perhaps was thinking of the way ELOHIM may be used occasionally in Hebrew:
at the opening of Genesis, some think that the RUACH-ELOHIM "moving over
the face of the deep" means not Spirit of God, but a "powerful wind"--i.e.
ELOHIM may here ben the equivalent of an adjective for "very powerful." You
may very well want to say that QEOS in Greek is an exact equivalent of
"god" in English, where "god" must refer to a named divine personality, a
deity. But there is a peculiar way in which writers of the pre-classical
age use QEOS of impersonal transcendental power that puts the word in a
different sphere altogether from what the OT calls "the God of Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob." And when Cleanthes penned his "Hymn to Zeus," it is not
at all clear what sort of religiosity we are supposed to attribute to him
for supposing the existence of an immanent teleological principle in the

In sum, I don't think I'm arguing any big thing here, although it may have
wide-ranging implications: that the USAGE of a word is by no means wholly
divorced from the perceived MEANING of a word over the course of a cultural

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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