Word Study: Poieo and Prasso
Poieo and prasso are both often translated “to do” in our English Bible, but they have very different flavors. Prasso has “to do” as a primary definition and “to practice” as a secondary definition. The feeling here is very physical and control-oriented–I take out the trash, paint the barn (Manley), make the bed, vacuum the floor. Those activities are prasso. I get tired as I do these things. Often times I have to make a conscious effort to make myself do those things. The common usage of prasso during Bible times was with regard to business. Prasso is always about results and ability (how something gets done).
Poieo‘s primary definition is “to create” with a secondary definition of “to do.” Do you see the difference? Poieo has the flavor of naturally occurring action–like it can’t be helped (or even guided to an extent). Think of an artist as she creates a painting (Manley). Yes, she’s holding the brush and she’s controlling where it goes as it dances across the canvas, but at the same time she’s not really controlling it. The art she’s creating is flowing out of her, that is, she’s pouring herself into the art. She doesn’t get tired as she works; the artwork is an expression of who she is. In the secular Greek, poieo is used to describe how trees produce fruit (Bolich). The common usage of poieo during Bible times was with regard to artists, philosophers, and poets. This is something that can’t be taught. Inasmuch as prasso is about how, poieo is about who (i.e. a painting reveals something about the artist).
Let’s take a look at some Scriptures to see this in action.
Romans 7:15 – I don’t really understand myself, for I want to poeio (do) what is right, but I don’t prasso (do) it. Instead, I poieo (do) what I hate.
Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning God poieo (created) the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:21 – So God poieo (created) great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water…
Genesis 1:27 – So God poieo (created) human beings in his own image.
John 5:19-20 – So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can poieo (do) nothing by himself. He poieo (does) only what he sees the Father poieo (doing). Whatever the Father poieo (does), the Son also poieo (does). 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he poieo (is doing). In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished.
John 5:28-29 – Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29and they will rise again. Those who have poieo (done) good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have prasso (continued) in evil will rise to experience judgment.
John 5:30 – I can poieo (do) nothing on my own…
John 14:12-14 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also poieo (do) the works that I poieo (do); and greater works than these will he poieo (do), because I am going to the Father. 13Whatever you ask in my name, this I will poieo (do), that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If you ask me anything in my name, I will poieo (do) it.
James 1:22-25 – 22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Poieo (Do) what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not poieo (do) what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to poieo (do) this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.
Jeremiah Bolich – Revelation 1:9 – “Kingdom Character”
Strongs Numbers: 4238 (prasso)
The Holy Bible: New Living Translation
Bible Study Tools
Unless otherwise mentioned, all scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.
4 thoughts on “Word Study: Poieo and Prasso”
May 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm
Do you mean that paul was saying I want to create what is right but I don’nt practice it but instead I create
what I hate. Most teaching they translate poieo as to do and prasso as practice in this verse.
I have never known when to translate prasso or poieo
when reading the word. As in 1john 3-6-10 etc and
sometimes it seems the greek lexion translates poieo
as practice and sometimes produce and prasso to do or practice. It gets confusing when to know when its
translated correctly. maree
May 14, 2010 at 12:16 am
I don’t think Paul was saying that he wanted to create what was right, but rather that he wanted to do right not because he was intentionally trying to do right, but because it was the natural outflowing of God through him. An artist can’t be taught how to paint a beautiful portrait or landscape–it’s just something that naturally flows out of who he is.
Christianity is not about us, it’s about Jesus and our allowing him to do through us everything he wants to do. It’s not that we’re in control–he’s doing through us. We are to yield everything to him and let him move through us. That’s the spirit of poieo.
Disclaimer: I’m certainly no authority on this (or any Greek), but thinking of poieo and prasso like what I’ve described is consistent with the Bible and true Christianity as the Bible has presented it.
May 15, 2013 at 7:35 am
I think you’ve got the right of it Smitty: “For it is God which worketh (energeo-to be operative, put forth power, display one’s activity, show one’s self operative) in you both to will (thelo-to will, resolve, desire, love, be fond of doing, delight in) and to do (energeo-to be operative, put forth power, display one’s activity, show one’s self operative) of his good pleasure (eudokia-will, choice, good will, kindly intent, benevolence, desire)”.~Phil.2:13
This is where most people miss it. They really don’t understand that God hasn’t just placed his nature in us, He is also working constantly in us through that nature, not simply to effect His will, but to effect our desire for His will. He does that by working miraculously in our hearts whenever we yield any part of ourselves or our problems to Him. And He does this without condemning us, and also by showing us that many of the things we erroneously label sin may actually be something else (our own ignorance for one thing–we’re made perfect in love, but scripture never says we’re made perfect in knowledge down here) or vice versa.
If God looks on the heart, it seems obvious that a great deal of what decides whether something is sin or not must have to do with our intent. A perfect example: Christ’s words, very often taken completely out of context, about looking on a woman to lust: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.:~Matt.5:28. Even in the KJV if we read what the text actually says (instead of reading into it what we may have always heard preached or taught about it), we see that Christ is speaking to intent. He didn’t say that to look on a woman WITH lust was an automatic sin: He said that looking on a woman TO lust (with the intent of lusting after her) was sinful.
The stray thought would actually be considered a TEMPTATION, not a sin. It becomes a sin if you yield to it rather than resisting it (so it will flee), and it becomes a LIFESTYLE of sin if you have gotten in the habit of looking on women TO lust. I think a lot of folks confuse temptation with sin, but we know temptation itself isn’t sin, because Christ was tempted in all points like we are, YET WITHOUT SIN (Heb.4:15). If temptation was sin then this verse would be contradicting itself, and Christ would be a sinner.
This is why it’s important that we study the word and learn to rightly divide it. If we can’t even clearly identify whether what we’re dealing with is just temptation or sin, it opens the door for false condemnation and even false accusation of our brother or ourselves. Can’t live delighting in doing God’s will (thelo) if we’re not sure what it is or if we’re doing it.
The best example I’ve ever heard given for God’s nature in us is one using Christ’s own words: ” I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”~John 15:5.
Have you ever seen a branch sweat to produce a leaf?
Of course not: it’s a natural part of the growth process for the plant. So are good works for those who are a part of Christ. If a plant brings forth something not right for it, we look to see what kind of plant it is. If it seems to be a Christ plant then we say, “Well, here is something the husbandman needs to take care of.” And then let Him do it. And who is the husbandman?
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”~John 15:1,2
So some plants need purging, but the Husbandman still considers them His, and He will work on them. But while a plant may have some browning of leaves or incomplete fruit, if its overall production is mostly good fruit, we accept it is a Christ plant and do whatever we can to encourage it to better growth–a great thing to ask the Husbandman for help on, as it also helps us bring forth the kind of “good will, kindly intent, benevolence: (eudokia) our Father is working to produce in us. It helps perfect our fruit-bearing in that area of our lives.
Anyway, that’s how I’ve always seen it. There’s really so much that can be said and taught on this subject, and yet we really never hear it taught on. It’s a real pleasure to see it shared here, where hopefully many people can see and benefit from it.
October 29, 2013 at 5:43 am
Well, I hope you’re still responding here. Because poieo is used in this verse: Mar 15:15 AndG1161 so Pilate,G4091 willingG1014 to contentG4160 G2425 theG3588 people,G3793 releasedG630 BarabbasG912 unto them,G846 andG2532 deliveredG3860 Jesus,G2424 when he had scourgedG5417 him, toG2443 be crucified.G4717 . So, in this case, was Pilate just like a tree, doing what comes naturally to man, and pleasing the people instead of God? Because at this point, he would not have had the power to resist sin. Actually, from what you said, I’m just trying to decide who the artist is here? Is it Pilate, the people, or God? Or maybe poieo is used differently here since it’s interpreted as contenting. I’d certainly appreciate your input here.