Servant - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


therapon (G2324) Servant
doulos (G1401) Slave
oiketes (G3610)
diakonos (G1249) Minister
hyperetes (G5257) Officer
Hebrews 3:5 is the only passage in the New Testament where therapon is used: "And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant[hos therapon]. "This is clearly an allusion to Numbers 12:7, where the Septuagint has therapon for the Hebrew 'eber.The Septuagint, however, also uses doulos for 'eber, thus giving rise to its use in Revelation 15:3: "Moses, the servant [ho doulos] of God."
This does not imply that there is no difference between doulos and therapon or that there may not be occasions where one word would be more fitting than the other. It only implies that there are many occasions that do not require highlighting the difference between them.
There are genuine differences between doulos and therapon. The doulos, as opposed to the eleutheros, has despotes or (more commonly in the New Testament) kurios as its antithesis. The doulos was properly the "bond-man," one who was in a permanent relation of servitude to another, one whose will was completely subject to the will of the other. One was a doulos apart from any service he rendered at any given moment. The therapon, however, was one who served without regard to his state as a freeman or as a slave and without regard to whether he was bound by duty or impelled by love. Therefore the services of the therapon are implied to have been more tender, noble, and free than those of the doulos. Thus Achilles referred to Patroclus as his therapon, one whose service was not compelled but who ministered out of love. The verb therapeuein, as distinguished from douleuein, underscores even more strongly the noble and tender character of the service.
Therapeuein may be used of the physician's watchful tending of the sick or a person's service to God. It was beautifully applied by Xenophon to refer to the care that the gods have of men.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews called Moses a therapon in the house of God (3:5), implying that Moses occupied a more confidential position, offered a freer service, and possessed a higher dignity than a doulos. Moses' service more closely resembled the service of an oikonomos (G3623, overseer) in God's house. Numbers 12:6-8, which ascribes exceptional dignity to Moses and elevates him above other douloi of God, confirms this view. Similarly, only Moses is given the title "attendant [therapon] of the Lord" (Wisd. of Sol. 10:16) in a chapter of the Wisdom of Solomon that mentions other prominent people of the old covenant. It would have been helpful if our translators had discerned a way to indicate the exceptional and honorable title given to Moses (who "was faithful in all God's house"). using minister, perhaps as adequate a word as the English language affords.

The distinction between diakonos and doulos also should be maintained in English versions of the New Testament, but that is not difficult to do. Diakonos does not derive from dia and konisone who in haste runs through the dustbut probably comes from the same root that has given us dioko (G1377),"to hasten after" or "pursue," and indeed still means "a runner."
The difference between diakonos on the one hand and doulos and therapon on the other is that diakonos represents the servant in his activity for the work, not in his relation to a personeither as a slave (doulos) or as a freeman (therapon). Regardless of their condition as freemen or slaves, for example, the attendants at a feast were diakonoi.The importance of preserving the distinction between doulos and diakonos may be illustrated from the parable of the marriage supper (Matt. 27:2-14). In the Authorized Version, the king's "servants" bring in the invited guests (vv. 3, 4, 8, 10), and his "servants" are bidden to cast out that guest who was without a wedding garment (v. 13). In Greek, the douloi bring in the guests, and the diakonoi fulfill the king's sentence. This distinction is a real one and essential to the parable. The douloi are men, the ambassadors of Christ who invite their fellow men into his kingdom now. The diakonoi are the angelswho execute the Lord's will in all the acts of judgment at the end of the world. The parable certainly does not turn on this distinction, but these words should not be confused any more than douloi and theristai (G2327, reapers) should be in Matthew 13:27, 30 (cf. Luke 19:24).
Oiketes is often used as a synonym for doulos. This is certainly the case in 1 Peter 2:18 and in its three other New Testament occurrences (Luke 16:13; Acts 10:7; Rom. 14:4). Neither the Septuagint nor the Apocrypha distinguished these terms. At the same time, oiketes does not emphasize the servile relation as strongly as does doulos. Instead, the relation is viewed in a way that tends to mitigate its extreme severity. The oiketes was one of the household, one of the "family" in the older sense of this word, but not necessarily one born in the house. In its best uses, oiketes included the wife and children, as in Herodotus; in Sophocles only the children of Deianira are included as oiketai.

Hyperetes is a military term that originally referred to someone who rowed on a war galley, as distinguished from the soldiers on board. Later the term was used to refer to anyone who performed strong and hard labor and later still to subordinate officials who waited to carry out the orders of their superiors, as in the case of an orderly who attends a commander in war. Hyperetes also refers to the herald who carried solemn messages. Undoubtedly Prometheus intended a taunt when he characterized Hermes as Theon hyperetes, one who runs the errands of the other gods. Mark was the hyperetes of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5); he was an inferior minister who performed certain defined functions. Indeed, hyperetes is predominantly used in the New Testament in the official sense of the Latin lictor and apparitor. John's use of douloi and hyperetai together (18:18) indicates that he also observed a distinction between these terms. Thus the one who struck the Lord on the face (John 18:22) could not be the same person whose ear the Lord had just healed (Luke 22:51); the latter was a doulos, but the profane and petulant striker was a hyperetes of the high priest. The meanings of diakonos and hyperetes are closer, and there are innumerable occasions where the words might be used indiscriminately. They are distinguished by the more officialcharacter and functions of the hyperetes.

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