What was the original meaning of πονηροῦ?

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.

What was the original meaning of πονηροῦ?

Postby Jim Williams » September 5th, 2013, 7:50 pm

The LSJ defines πονηροῦ using the word grievous and similar words. The only place where it uses the word evil is in connection with Matt.13.19. Is this meaning a modern revision of the original idea? Is there any evidence other than modern belief for interpreting this term as meaning evil?

I've given a transliteration of the Lord's Prayer from the New Testament in the Original Greek, translating the last line as "but draw us to you, away from that which is grievous." I invite comments and discussion.
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Re: What was the original meaning of πονηροῦ?

Postby cwconrad » September 6th, 2013, 7:00 am

I recall -- from years ago -- discussion of this adjective and it's usage in Homer and in Aristophanes. It seems essentially an adjective descriptive of "hard-up" people, working-class people -- "people who live on the other side of the tracks", as viewed from the perspective of the more respectable classes. In Homer it seems to be comparable to κακός when the latter adjective is used in the sense of "worthless for anything that really matters (e.g. fighting, offering counsel in a βουλή). In Aristophanes the adjective is often applied to the clever slaves who are "knaves" who are smarter than their masters and "shifty" or "mischievous." In the course of centuries the adjective came incresngly to have, as did κακός (which originally seems to have meant something like "incompetent," or "good for nothing") a moral sense, "evil" or "wicked." I haven't ever researched the hisory of the word, but something like that seems to account for its gradual change in usage.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: What was the original meaning of πονηροῦ?

Postby Ken M. Penner » September 6th, 2013, 8:32 am

Jim Williams wrote:The LSJ defines πονηροῦ using the word grievous and similar words. The only place where it uses the word evil is in connection with Matt.13.19. Is this meaning a modern revision of the original idea? Is there any evidence other than modern belief for interpreting this term as meaning evil?

Yes. The Greek scriptures used by the New Testament writers typically used πονηρός as the equivalent of the Hebrew ra`. I imagine that's the word Jesus used in this prayer. However, even when the Hebrew word refers to moral evil, it normally refers not to a person but to a thing, an act/deed/happening.
Ken M. Penner
St. Francis Xavier University
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