This is a challenging study to organize, primarily because traditional translators have been extremely inconsistent in their treatment of the text’s original vocabulary. Not only does each of these English terms represent multiple Greek words, but several of the Greek words have been artificially divided into multiple English concepts. I have chosen to confine this study primarily to those references in which the words are applied specifically to faithful followers of the Lord Jesus.
Of the nine Greek words traditionally translated “servant”, four, therapen, oiketes, misthios, and misthatos are never connected with serving God at all, but refer only to workers, either employed or enslaved, in household or agricultural service.
Diakonos, people who simply do whatever needs to be done, has been treated in W.S.#40, and often, though not exclusively, applies to Kingdom service. Please refer to that earlier study.
Pais may refer either to a servant or a minor child, and there is no way to be certain which is intended. We will consider that among the other words relating to children.
Huperetes denotes more of an official position, rather like a deputy, officer, or assistant. It is used of the men in the high priest’s courtyard with Peter (Mt.26:58, Mk.14:54, 65), of John Mark’s serving as an assistant to Paul and Barnabas (Ac.13:5), an official at the synagogue (Lk.4:20), Jesus’ disciples (Jn.18:36, Lk.1:2), and Paul (Ac.26:16, I Cor.4:1), as well as 11x of government officials.
Doulos is by far the most frequently occurring term (120x). Classically, it always referred to slavery – either one born into bondage, a prisoner of war, or even a child sold by indigent parents. Slaves were wholly-owned possessions of their masters, although some held positions of great responsibility. It was not uncommon for a faithful slave to be set free, either by his master’s generosity, by earning and purchasing his freedom, or by being “redeemed” (W.S.#61) by another. Paul frequently used doulos to describe his own service to Jesus (Rom.1:1, Gal.1:10, Phil.1:1, Tit.1:1), as did James (1:1), Peter (II Pet.1:1), and Jude (1): service that they had freely chosen.
Insight into the “status” of slaves is available throughout the gospels – for example, in Mt.8:9, a servant does whatever he is told; Mt.10:24,25 – the relationship is likened to that of a student and a teacher; Mt.13:27,28 – the servants bring a problem to the master, and receive instructions for action; and you can find many others. I highly recommend this exercise! Start with Mt.24:45-50, Mk.13:34, Lk.15:22, and go on from there!
Paul makes an eloquent case in Rom.6:16-20 that a person is a servant/slave to whomever/whatever he chooses to obey, and urges (I Cor.7:22,23) that a definitive choice be made.
He speaks approvingly of others also as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ – Timothy, Epaphras, Tychicus – sometimes preferring the prefixed term, sundoulos – “fellow-servant/slave”.
It is interesting that on two occasions (Rev.19:10 and 22:9), the “messenger” – usually assumed to be a supernatural being of some sort – who delivered the revelation to John, flatly refused John’s “worship”, with the declaration, “sundoulos sou eimi” – (“I am your fellow-servant”)! Among faithful servants of the King, there are no superiors – none deserving of greater deference than all the rest – except the Sovereign himself!!!
And Jesus himself reminded his followers, shortly before his departure (Jn.15:15), “I no longer call you servants, but friends!” (See W.S.#22)
Ergates – workers – and sunergos – fellow-workers – frequently parallel doulos and sundoulos. Although conventionally applied to hired workers rather than slaves, in the Kingdom context they are used synonymously. Paul prefers the prefixed term here too, applying it to Timothy, Sysygos, Urbane, Priscilla and Aquila, Philemon, Archippus, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. As in other references to “work” (W.S.#39 and 99), notice that the “work” that occupies one’s attention can be positive or negative, and requires committed discernment.
We have noted above that under Roman law, a slave did have the possibility of gaining freedom. If this was granted before a magistrate and legally registered, he could even attain coveted Roman citizenship (Ac.22:28). Citizenship conferred considerable privilege. It was also granted to select allied cities (of which Tarsus was one – Ac.21:39) and their inhabitants, and could be inherited by birth, or earned by service to the state, as well as by purchase. A Roman citizen had legal rights (Ac.16:37-38, 22:25-26, 23:27, 25:16) not available to others.
But the New Testament proclaims a citizenship far beyond that offered by Rome (Please refer to W.S.# 4, 19, 20, 21, 149, and Citizens of the Kingdom. ) Politeia, politeuma,and politeuo, although variously translated in traditional versions, all refer to Kingdom citizenship conferred by faithfulness to the King, the Lord Jesus Christ. The scene of transformation described in Eph.2:12-19 is graphic – from alienated foreigners to “fellow citizens with the saints [God’s people]” – sumpolites – as is a similar reference in Col.1:13. As ransomed, free citizens, the faithful remain sundouloi to their King! This is explored in greater detail in Citizens of the Kingdom.
And that is not all! The faithful are designated not only citizens of the Kingdom, but members of the very family of the King (Mt.12:48-50).
Of the seven words rendered “child/children”, only three are applied to Kingdom citizens.
Brephos and nepios refer to babies or very small children. Paidion is a pre-pubescent child of either gender, held up as an example of unpretentious love (Mt.18:3,4), and used as a term of affection throughout his letters by the elder apostle, John. Pais, as noted above, may refer either to a child or a young servant, although David (Lk.1:61, Ac.4:25), Israel (Lk.1:54), and Jesus himself (Lk.2:42, Ac.4:27,30; Ac.3:13,26) are all designated as pais to God, but other people are not. Elsewhere, the term does not specify whether it refers to a child or a servant, and traditional translators use them randomly.
This leaves teknion, teknon,and huios. Teknion, the diminutive (affectionate) version of teknon, appears only nine times, seven of them in I John, as the elder lovingly addresses his younger brethren (2:1,12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4, 5:21).
Teknon, which does not specify gender, is used classically of any offspring, human or animal. It may include both sons huioi and daughters thugater, and need not refer to physical descent. Geographical provenance (Mt.23:37, Lk.13:34, 23:28) or philosophical or theological affinity may also be understood – “children of light” (Eph.5:8), “of wrath”(Eph.2:3), “of the devil” (I Jn.3:10), or “of God” (Jn.1:12, 11:52; Phil.2:15, I Jn.3:1,2) – all of which employ teknon, despite being translated “sons” by some translators in many passages. (You can find these sorted out in Young’s Concordance.)
Huios, on the other hand, specifically intends “sons”. Please refer to the essay, “The Task of a Translator” for more detail. Despite Paul’s single use of teknon in Rom.8:16,17, it is usually huios that carries the weight of “inheritance” (W.S.#79,80). John uses huios only of Jesus, except where he designates the faithful as “sons of light” in 12:46. Other writers use it prolifically – Mt.5:9, 5:45, 8:12; Lk.6:35, 20:36; Rom.9:26, Gal.3:27, I Thes.5:5 – of “sons of the Father, the Kingdom, the Highest, the living God” (all mis-translated as “children”), as well as Rom.8:14,19,29; Gal.4:6,7; Heb.2:10,12:5-8, and Rev.21:7, where the correct word, “sons”, was used.
The declaration of the privileged status called “sons of God” does not exclude faithful females, but confers upon them equally exalted status! Gal.3:23-4:7 must be read as a unit, not cherry-picked for “verses”!
Servants – certainly! Workers – expected to be. Citizens – privileged to be! Beloved children – indeed! And “The whole creation is waiting with eager anticipation for the revealing of the sons of God!” (Rom.8:19)
May our gracious Elder Brother – and his faithful people – speed the day!