Serve - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


latreuo (G3000) Serve
leitourgeo (G3008) Minister to
Although latreuo and leitourgeo both refer to service, the former word refers to service with special limitations. Latreuein properly means "to serve for hire" and thus does not refer to compulsory service, such as that of a slave, though this distinction between latris and doulos (G1401) was by no means always observed. Already in classical Greek doulos and latreia (G2999) are occasionally transferred from the service of men to the service of the higher powers, a use that anticipates, in part, the only meaning that doulos has in Scripture. In the Septuagint latreuein refers to service either to the true God or to the false gods of heathenism. Augustine was perfectly correct when he said: "Latreiain the customary terminology of those who have formed for us communication to deitieseither always or almost always designates service which pertains to worshiping God." Again Augustine stated: "Adoration, which in Greek is called service [latreia], in Latin cannot be expressed by one word, since it is strictly speaking a particular ministration owed to a deity."
Leitourgein has a more noble origin and thus eis to demosion ergazesthai means "to serve the state in a public office or function." Like latreuein, leitourgein was occasionally transferred to the highest ministry of all, the ministry to the gods. When the Christian church was forming its terminology, which it did partly by shaping new words and partly by elevating old ones to higher uses, it more readily adopted those words that previously had been employed in civil and political life than those that had been used in religious matterseven when it was searching for the adequate expression of religious truth. The same motives that induced the church to turn basilicas (buildings that had been used in civil life), rather than temples, into churches (because basilicas were less closely associated with heathenism) were at work in the church's selection of religious terminology. The principle of selecting words that were less closely associated with heathenism than other words is exemplified by the church's use of leitourgos (G3011), leitourgia (G3009), and leitourgein and by the prominent place these words assumed in ecclesiastical language. Additionally, by using leitourgein to refer to the performing of priestly or ministerial functions (Exod. 28:39; Ezek. 40:46), the Septuagint had prepared the way for its higher use in the New Testament. The words of this group, however, were not entirely separated from their primary uses, as were latreia and latreuein, and occasionally were used in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to refer to the ministry unto men (2 Sam. 13:18; 1 Kings 10:5; 2 Kings 4:43; Rom. 15:27; Phil. 2:25, 30).
The pre-New Testament distinction that latreuein meant "to serve" and leitourgein "to serve in an office and ministry" helps to explain the distinctive uses of these words in the New Testament and in the Septuagint. To serve God is the duty of all men; latreuein and latreia are demanded of the whole people. But to serve God in special offices and ministries can be the duty and privilege only of a few who are set apart for this function. Thus in the Old Testament leitourgein and leitourgia are ascribed only to the priests and the Levites who were separated to minister in holy things; they alone are called leitourgoi.The same language reappears in the New Testament, where these words designate not only the old priesthood and ministry but also the ministry of the New Testament apostles, prophets, and teachers, as well as the great High Priest of our profession, "a Minister [leitourgos] of the sanctuary" (Heb. 8:2).
Against the distinction drawn above, it may be argued that latreuein and latreia are sometimes applied to official ministries, as in Hebrews 9:1, 6. And of course this is true. Where two circles have the same center, the greater will necessarily include the lesser. The notion of service is central here. In leitourgein it is limited service in an office. Thus every leitourgia will necessarily be a latreia, but not every latreia will be a leitourgia. No passage better distinguishes these two words than Ecclesiasticus 4:14: "They that serve her [i. e., Wisdom] shall minister to the Holy One."

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