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Paul and Timothy in the Book of Philippians (Part Six)

Posted on February 27, 2013 at 11:43 PM Comments comments (0)
“Paul and Timothy, Servants of Jesus Christ…”  Philippians 1:1  

In Part 5 of this series, I discussed the Hebrew word, ebed ( slave) and other Hebrew words that are translated servants in the Old Testament.  I intend to argue biblically that there were other Greek words for servant that could be used, but translators deliberately rendered ebed (slave) for servant.  Let’s continue, in this Journal, with the second point:

Second, the New Testament Meaning of Slave and Servant: In the NT, the Greek word translated slave is doulos. It is the literal meaning of the Hebrew word, ebed.  
Paul’s definition of a slave in this context is a reflection on the history of Israel’s bondage in Egypt (Exod 2:2) which also corresponds with man’s bondage to sin.  In this case, a slave does not exercise his will or right in any situation only the will of his master becomes final in all things. Paul knew that the chief characteristic of a slave is that he/she belongs to another.

To do justice to a text, one needs to consider the prevailing situation at the time of writing.  At that time a slave had neither legal rights nor the ability to make personal choices. The Philippians understood exactly what Paul meant when he said they were slaves for Jesus Christ. There are some Greek words that could be correctly translated as servant.  The following are just a few: 

  • One of the Greek words for servant is Leitourgos, which means one who serves with the implication of more formal or regular service. The word is used for public servants in Greece…one who minister to someone.
  • Diakonos: One who serves as an intermediary in a transaction, an agent, intermediary,courier,one who gets something done at the behest of a superior, an assistant, a minister and or a deacon.
  • Pais or Paidos:  It is translated also as servant. This is in direct reference to a young person, (normally below the age of puberty, with focus on age    rather than social status), a boy or youth, one’s own immediate offspring, a child as ‘son’ or ‘daughter’. One who is committed in total obedience to another is a slave, and servant.{1} It can be also used for  slaves who are young people serving within a household, and children who are not slaves, yet serving in the household with their parents. 

It is essential to trace examples of the Greek word, doulos in the NT: 

  • Paul believes that he and Timothy are douloi (slaves) for Christ (Philippians 1:1)
  •  “A student is not above his teacher, nor a doulos (slave) above his master.” (Mt. 10:24)
  • “His mother said to his douloi (slaves), ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” (John 2:5)
  • “…, the God of our Father has glorified his paidos (his son) Jesus, you gave him over to be killed….” (Acts 3:13NIV84).  In this passage it is translated servant in many translations. 

In the NT, slaves frequently appear in the gospels, especially in the parables (Matt.18:23-35; 21:33-44). For Jesus the concept becomes a way of expressing humankind’s relationship to God.  God is the Lord to whom the believer owes unreserved service. ‘No one can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).  Nor is a servant above the master (Matt. 10:24).  Rather, the faithful servants does the master’s will (Matt. 24:45-46) and realizes that in the presence of God even the best disciple is only an unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10).

I have defined slave and servant. However, these two words, though they may overlap to some degree, they have key distinctions, which will be discussed further. I proposed that the Hebrew word ebed, which is slave, has been wrongly translated in the English Version of the Bible to satisfy some western cultural demands.  Thus the literal Hebrew word has lost it true meaning.

I have discussed that the Greek word, douloi (plural) used by Paul in this text is a literal meaning of the Hebrew word ebed. There are other Greek or Hebrew words for slave and servant, and I provided some examples. Three Hebrew words that could be translated as servant are – Na’ar, sharath and ebed used in special cases as slave. In the context of “servant of the Lord” it has special reference to Moses, David, Isaiah, Israel, Job, patriarchs, etc.   The word was also used in Christological dimension, and developed into Messianic victory on the Cross of Calvary.  We discussed the three other Greek words that could be translated servant or child/son; leitourgos, diakonos, and pais or paidos. However, I would focus on the cultural impact in my next Journal, which resulted in the misguided translation in some of the translations.  

To be continued.

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[1]W. Arndt, F.W.  Danker & W. Bauer.   A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2000), 750.