The words "servant, " "service, " and "serve, " in various forms, occur well over 1, 100 times in the New International Version. People are servants of other human beings or servants of God.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for servant, ebed [d,b,, contains at least two key ingredients: action (the servant as "worker") and obedience. Servants belonged to other people ( Gen 24:35 ; Exod 21:21 ), and performed a variety of work.
Many persons in the Old Testament are called "servants, " among them Abraham ( Gen 26:24 ), Jacob ( Gen 32:4 ), Joshua ( Jos 24:29 ), Ruth ( Ru 3:9 ), Hannah ( 1 Sam 1:11 ), Samuel ( 1 Sam 3:9 ), Jesse ( 1 Sam 17:58 ), Uriah the Hittite ( 2 Sam 11:21 ), Joab ( 2 Sam 14:20 ), Isaiah ( Isa 20:3 ), Daniel ( Da 9:17 ), Ben-Hadad of Aram ( 1 Kings 20:32 ), and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ( Jer 25:9 ). Moses is designated as such about forty times and David more than fifty.
The Book of Isaiah contains the "servant Songs" ( 42:1-4 ; 49:1-6 ; 50:4-9 ; 52:13-53:12). In them the servant may represent Israel as a whole; Israel after the Spirit; or the mediator of salvation (the Messiah of Israel). Many personal qualities are attributed to the Servant. While often called "Israel, " the Servant appears to represent some great individual. Like David, he will rule and establish justice on earth ( Isaiah 42:1 Isaiah 42:4 ). But he will also suffer. The suffering, death, and new life of the Servant become exemplified in the New Testament in Christ ( Isa 52:13 Acts 3:13; Isa 61:1Acts 4:27; Isa 53:7-8Acts 8:32-33; Isa 53:4-5, 7, 91 Peter 2:22-24).
In the New Testament, doulos [dou'lo"] is frequently used to designate a master's slave (one bound to him), but also a follower of Christ (a "bondslave" of Christ). The term points to a relation of absolute dependence, in which the master and the servant stand on opposite sidesthe former having a full claim, the latter having a full commitment. The servant can exercise no will or initiative on his or her own.
Doulos [dou'lo"] is applied to several Old Testament worthies, including Moses (Rev 15:3) and the prophets (Rev 10:7). Paul (Titus 1:1) and James (1:1) both refer to themselves as servants of God; Paul also calls himself the "servant of Christ" (Rom 1:1; Php 1:1).
Another common New Testament term, diakonos [diavkono"], derives from a verb meaning "to wait at table, " "to serve." As the Son of man, Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45).
The diakonos [diavkono"] gives hospitality (Matt 8:15), distributes food (Acts 6:1), sets a table (John 12:2), does the work of a deacon (1 Tim 3:10), or exercises spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11). In the New Testament, the idea of "serving at table" is expanded to encompass "the service of the saints" (1 Cor 16:15). Paul regarded the collection of money for the church in Jerusalem as a "service" (2 Cor 8:4; 9:11-13), along with preaching and ministering in spiritual things.
One striking modification of usage from the Old Testament to the New is the occurrence of the word groups latreia [latreiva] and leitourgia [leitourgiva]. While the primary use in the Old Testament was cultic, describing the service of the priests and Levites in the sanctuary, the New Testament use is rarely so. The New Testament describes Christ as the High Priest "who serves in the [heavenly] sanctuary" (Heb 8:10). But more often it describes the worship of one's heart (Acts 24:14b), of serving in the preaching of the gospel (Rom 1:9), of those who "worship by the Spirit of God" (Php 3:3).
Walter M. Dunnett
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Servant, Service'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".