Greek Words Translated as “Servant” in the NASB New Testament

There are a variety of Greek words that get translated as “servant” in the NASB New Testament.  When I say “servant” I am referring not just to the word”servant” per se, but also to any hyphenated form in which “servant” occurs.  There are two of these forms that we find when we search the NASB New Testament for “servant.”  They are “bond-servant,” and “servant-girl.”

The variety of Greek words that are translated into servant, or hyphenated version of “servant,” are often translated into words other than “servant.”  Other translations of these words (which you will see identified below) include “minister,” boy,” “child,” “slave,” and “bondslave.”

The word “servant” appears 80 times in the NASB New Testament.  These occurrences can be broken down as follows [emphasis added for visual clarity; the Greek words are listed in the order of their prominence in accounting for the English word]:

servant(s)” – 49 times

1249 diakonos; of unc. or.; a servant, minister:–deacons(3), minister(7), servant(10), servants(9).

3816 pais; a prim. word; a child, boy, youth:–boy(4), child(1), children(1), girl’s(1), male children(1), men(1), servant(12), servants(2), slaves*(1), son(1).

3610b oiketês; from 3611; a house servant:–servant(2), servants(2).

1247 diakoneô; from 1249; to serve, minister:–administered(1), administration(1), cared(1), contributing…support(1), do…the serving(1), employ…in serving(1), minister(3), ministered(2), ministering(3), servant(1), serve(4), serve as deacons(1), served(2), served as deacons(1), serves(5), services…rendered(1), serving(4), take care(1), wait(1), waited(3).

2324 therapôn; a prim. word; an attendant:–servant(1).

bond-servant(s)” – 25 times

1401 doulos; of unc. der.; a slave:–bond-servant(11), bond-servants(12), bondslave(3), bondslaves(8), both men and women(8), servants(1), slave(58), slave’s(1), slaves(39).

4889 sundoulos; from 4862 and 1401; a fellow servant:–fellow bond-servant(2), fellow servant(2), fellow servants(1), fellow slave(2), fellow slaves(3).

servant-girl(s)” – 6 times (1 of these is a fill-in of an ellipsis; therefore the Greek word only appears 5 times)

3814 paidiskê; dim. of 3816; a young girl, maidservant:–bondwoman(5), servant-girl(4), servant-girls(1), slave-girl(2), slaves*(1), women(1).

[Note: the occurrences listed above total to 80, while the NASB Strong’s concordance lists 76.  The reason for the difference is that the NASB Strong’s concordance lists number of verses in which the word occurrences (rather than number of occurrences of the word).  Therefore, when you have two occurrences of the word in a single verse – as you do here, on four different occasions – the count does not increase.  I also checked these numbers against the Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance, published by Zondervan.]

Regarding the term “bond-servant,” while it shows up frequently in the NASB New Testament (25 times), does not appear at all in the NASB Old Testament.  Note that the underlying Greek word “doulos” (Strong’s 1401, or its cognate 4889) is also translated as “bond-slave,” “slave,” and even once simply as “servant.”  “Doulos” (Strong’s 1401) actually shows up often in the ABP, but is translated there as “slave,” “bondman,” “manservant,” “an ancillary,” or “subject.”

As with “bond-servant,” there is no occurrence of “servant-girl” in the NASB Old Testament.  The ABP shows the underlying Greek word “paidiske” (Strong’s 3814) showing up over three dozen times, with the English translation being “a female child,” “a girl,” or a “maidservant.”

The simple word “servant” shows up many, many times in the NASB Old Testament.  In the ABP English-Greek Index the following relevant entries are shown, the Greek words being followed the Strong’s number (the words to the right of the dash alternative translations to the main one):

servant, a

diakonos (1249) –

paidion (3813) – boy, child, offspring

pais (3816) – boy; child; girl; maidservant; manservant

servant-lad, a

paidarion (3808) – boy; boyhood; young man; youngster (this is the masc. dim. of 3816 as 3814 is the fem. dim. of it, shown above)

bondman

desmotes (1202) – prisoner

doulos (1401) – man-servant; slave; subject

bondwoman

dole (1399)

slave

doulos (1401) – bondman; manservant; subject

Thus the ABP LXX seems more consistent in translating “diakonos” and “pais” (and their cognates) as “servant,” while translating “doulos” (and its cognates) as slave or bondman.

In the NASB Old Testament there are no occurrences of “bond-.” That is, there are no occurrences of any of the terms above that begin with “bond,” whether with or without a dash.  You can find, however, about 30 occurrences of “bondage,” “bond,” “bonds” – most of which have to do with slavery (e.g. “both bond and free in Israel”).

The NASB Old Testament shows over 300 occurrences of “servant,” the vast majority of which are translations of “ebed” (Strong’s Hebrew 5650).

5650 ebed (713d); from 5647; slave, servant:–attendants(1), bondage(2), male(24), male servant(7), male servants(5), male slaves(1), officers(1), official(2), Servant(6), servant(332), servant’s(4), servant*(1), servants(353), servants'(2), servants*(12), slave(25), slave’s(1), slave*(4), slavery(11), slaves(19), slaves*(8).

There are only about 1/10 as many occurrences of “slave” in the NASB Old Testament as there are of “servant.”  Most of these, too, are translations of “ebed” (5650).

Conclusions

Normally, the NASB is more consistent in its translation.  Its failure to consistently render “diakonos” (1249) as servant and “doulos” (1401) as slave in the New Testament creates confusion – especially when it comes to the important task of correlating these respective occurrences with their counterparts in the Old Testament.

The lack of consistency for pais (3816) is more understandable since this word correlates to our own colloquial use of the term “boy” to refer to a child (“my boy Timmy”) or a worker (“my boys will start construction next week”).

While there are obviously nuanced differences in meaning between these various terms (and sometimes perhaps more difference than a nuance), we should be able to generally understand “servant” in the NASB New Testament to mean the same thing as “servant” in the NASB Old Testament.  And we should not make too much of variations like bond-servant, slave, and so on, except as these terms might be differentiated in a specific passage for a specific purpose.

Obviously, this has implications for studying Jesus because He is the “servant” of Isaiah 42:1; 52:13; and 53:11 (even though the first two are “pais” and the third is a verbal noun from “doulos”), as well as the “servant” of Acts 3:13,26; 4:27, 30 (even though all four occurrences are of “pais”).  (By the way, these are the only references to Jesus as “servant” in the book of Acts, for more on the Acts 4 references see here.)

The purpose of this blog is to proclaim Jesus Christ in terms familiar to those who read the Bible, and to help others become more familiar with the Bible. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, see the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted. 

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