The second most common verb Jesus uses.
After the Greek verb “to be,” the second most common verb Jesus uses is usually translated as “to come.” He uses this word more than the verb “to have,” which is the second most common English verb. However, the translation of this verb as “come” often distorts or obscures what he is really saying. The actual Greek word is erchomai (ἔρχομαι), which primarily means "to start," and "to set out." However, despite this, most Biblical translations always translated it as "come" even when that translation doesn’t work (see a clear example below).
Jesus usually uses this word more in the sense of "set out," starting some form of motion. This word doesn’t have a sense of direction, of being “to” or “from” someplace. It can be used to mean "to come" and "to go." The direction, if any, comes from the context. It means "to go" on a journey, that is, "to start a journey." However, it also means "to arrive" at a place." In English, we don't usually talk about an arrival as "starting someplace." This is why I prefer to translate this word as “showing up,” because “showing up someplace” has that sense of a new arrival.
Since the word erchomai, does not imply is the concept of moving toward something, as our word "come" does, there are a number of Greek words, all of which Jesus commonly uses, where erchomai includes a prefix indicating direction. "Go away" is aperchomai. "Go in" is eiserchomai. "Go out" is exerchomai. "Go by" is parerchomai. These words can also be translated with "come," as "come away", "come in", "come out," and "come by" or with "start", as "start away", "start in", "start out", and "start by". Jesus uses erchomai itself in about two hundred verses and words based on it in over a hundred other verses.
An Illustrative Verse
In some uses, this Greek word has a very strict sense of starting something. Unlike our word “come,” this word can take an object, the object being what is started.
A good example is the beginning of John 12:46, which the KJV translates as "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." Most other Bibles translate this starting phrase as, "I have come as a light in the world." However, in the Greek source, there is no word that can be translated as "as." More importantly, the “light” is in the form of an object of the verb.
The Greek is clear. Its translation is: "I have started a light in the world." This translation is certainly consistent with Jesus’s message. The tense is an action completed in the past. These facts create problems for translators who always translate erchomai as "come" because Biblical lexicons say that is its meaning.
Why the Complete Meaning is Important
This real meaning of "start" is very important to much of Jesus’s message and it is lost by simply translating erchomai as "come." Almost every time Jesus uses this word, we can discuss his statement in terms of a new movement, at its beginning. However, it is often misleading to think that whatever is showing up is coming toward us.
For example, in the Lord's Prayer (discussed in an early article here), Jesus says, (as usually translated) "Your kingdom come." From this analysis, we can think of this more accurately as meaning, "Your kingdom is showing up." God's kingdom is starting but it isn't moving toward us or away. And, in a sense, it is just getting started. It is always just getting started within someone.
Why is this more accurate sense of the word usually ignored in most Biblical translations? I don’t know. I suspect it is because the word “coming” has a sense of inevitability to it, something that cannot be stopped as opposed to something that is just starting.