What is the difference between κόσμος used in the New Testament (e.g. John 1:9f) and אֶרֶץ (erets meaning earth, land, dirt) in the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 1:1f)?

אֶרֶץ - Earth goes from the planet downward, Promise Land, Land of Egypt, down all the way to dirt. κόσμος goes from the planet upward to the universe with the root idea of order.

While Genesis 1:1 means the planet Earth (κόσμος could have included both the heavens and the Earth), it appears that the difference when viewing the planet Earth is the emphasis in the Old Testament on geography, such as the Promised Land, while in the New Testament the emphasis is on people. Greek has the word γῆ, used in the Septuagint to translate אֶרֶץ. In the Septuagint κόσμος is seldom used for world (cosmos, cosmology), but is more often used with the meaning of ornamental (cosmetic, cosmetology).

κόσμος has obviously different meanings as used in the New Testament. For example,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:16–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:15–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

To be fair to the Old Testament, it focused on people in a nation (related to the Promise Land) and did not primarily focus on the people in the entire world.

One more detail. Here's a word translated world in the Old Testament, but realy more like אֶרֶץ:

†תֵּבֵל S8398 TWOT835h GK9315 n.f. Na 1:5 (appar. m. Is 14:17) world, poet. synon. of אֶרֶץ (perhaps orig. as productive, cf. יְבוּל, בּוּל, but this sense not clearly maintained;

Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 385). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • 2
    How does the Hebrew word refer only to the Promised Land? Does Genesis 1:1 say "in the beginning God created heaven and Canaan"?
    – b a
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 13:14
  • Sorry I wasn't clear, so I reworded it. I'm just putting out ideas about why the wording is different and looking for anyone who has or is researching this.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 23:52

2 Answers 2


In short, γῆ relates to part of the physical earth and sometimes the whole planet - with or without man, whereas κόσμος usually is used in the context of mankind. As you note, γῆ represents the Hebrew אֶרֶץ (e.g. Genesis 1:1 LXX). It is confusing in English, because the English congnate "cosmos" doesn't really mean the same thing as the underlying Greek word. Roughly, γῆ means "earth" or "land", whereas κόσμος means the "world" [of men].

Examples of γῆ in the New Testament, for instance:

Matthew 2:6

And thou Beth-lehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Καὶ σὺ, Βηθλεέμ γῆ Ἰούδα, οὐδαμῶς ἐλαχίστη εἶ ἐν τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν Ἰούδα· ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἐξελεύσεται ἡγούμενος, ὅστις ποιμανεῖ τὸν λαόν μου τὸν Ἰσραήλ.

Matthew 5:18

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται.

Examples of κόσμος:

Matthew 4:8

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them

πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν, καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Οὕτω γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται, ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

κόσμος is used 258 times in the Greek Bible (New Testament plus Septuagint) and γῆ over 3,300 times, so there are bound to be counter examples. But I think in general the usage falls along the above lines. I think, though, that although one might see γῆ being used in place of κόσμος to describe the "world of men", there are few if any examples in the other direction.

(I think this answer can be improved upon. I didn't really pay any attention to the Hebrew words that κόσμος translates in the Septuagint.)


Translation can be tricky. Any who’s familiar with another language knows that words themselves do not map one-for one. Some words have broader or narrower meanings and they carry associations as well.

First usage in the Bible carries more weight, so we can look to the Septuagint to see what word the Jewish scholars chose for צְבָאָֽם׃ (hosts with a military association).

Genesis 2:1 (TABP) And the heaven and the earth were completed, and all the cosmos of them.

The Greek word, cosmos is associated with English words such as order, adornment, arrangement, and organization. According to this context, the heaven and the earth both include cosmos, which I interpret as a complex arrangement with a purpose.

So in that context, let’s see how cosmos is used in John 1:9-11.

[Of Jesus] The true light which enlightens every man was coming into the cosmos, He was in the cosmos, and by him the cosmos existed, and the cosmos knew him not. Unto his own he came, and his own received him not.

My understanding from this is that Jesus was not only present in the world, but he participated in its social structure and natural laws.


  • Good information. I'm finding the information related to this huge.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 0:21

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