The word servant occurs multiple times in the Bible. It can be found in both the Old Testament and the new. But what did that word really mean? That’s why I wanted to research what the word servant means in Hebrew and Greek.
All scriptures are taken from NKJV unless otherwise marked.
What Does The Word ‘Servant’ Mean In Hebrew?
na’ar- servant; youth; lad; a young man.
This word occurs 235 times in the Old Testament. Its basic meaning is youth. However, there’s a derived meaning of na’ar which means servant.
“Now it happened one day that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.”
– 1 Samuel 14:1
Kings and officials had servants who were referred to na’ar. Yet, in this context, the word means an attendant, such as used in Ester 2:2.
When a na’ar is paid to carry messages, he is known as the messenger. Therefore, na’ar doesn’t mean slave or someone who performs low duties.
abad- to serve; cultivate; enslave; work.
This word is used in Genesis 2:5 when God tells Abraham that his descendants will serve for 400 years:
“Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.”
A servant in this sense can be bought with money or hired. Also, God used this word to call the Messiah His servant.
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.“
– Isaiah 42:1-4
The servant was not a free man. He was subject to the command and will of his master. This is a fitting description of man’s relationship with God.
sakiyr- man at wages, a hired servant.
sharath- to attend.
As a noun, this word means to serve or minister. It’s often used to speak of service rendered in connection with Israel’s worship to God. Moses was to anoint Aaron and his sons that they may minister as priests.
“Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, as gatekeepers of the house and ministers of the house; they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them.”
– Ezekiel 44:11
Also, the word is used to speak of service rendered to a fellow human being. Although the person who is served is usually of a higher station or rank in life, this word is never used to describe a slave’s servitude to his master.
As a particle, sharath means a servant or minister. This term is used to describe Moses in Joshua 1:1.
However, the privilege of serving God is not only for humans because his angels also serve Him. In Psalms 104:3-4, it says fire and wind are God’s ministers as well.
Related: What Does The Word ‘Guilty’ Mean In Hebrew and Greek?
What Does The Word ‘Servant’ Mean In Greek?
diakonia- attendance, aid, service.
diakonos- attendant, deacon.
Diakonos focuses on the servant’s activity and work and not their relationship to a person.
Doulos, unlike diakonos, focuses on the relationship and not the service. This person was someone who was in a permanent relationship of servitude to another. It can be translated into slave which is the lowest term in the scale of servitude.
However, this word came to mean ‘one who gives himself up to the will of another.’
“But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.”
– Romans 6:17
In Romans 1:1, Paul calls himself a bondslave of Jesus Christ. This indicates that he had formerly been a bondslave of Satan and was bought by Christ. He was now serving Christ as a willing slave.
douloo- to enslave.
“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.”
– 2 Peter 2:19
As with a purchased slave, there were no limits in the kind or the time of services. This is how the life of the believer is to be lived in- with continuous obedience to God.
therapon- menial attendance.
“And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.“
– Hebrews 3:5-6
oiketes- menial domestic servant.
This term is used to describe someone who is part of the household and can even be viewed as family, although they weren’t born in the home. It’s translated into:
- household servant (Acts 10:7)
- servant (Luke 16:13; Romans 14:3; Philemon 1:25; 1 Peter 2:8)
In conclusion, the word servant didn’t always mean a slave. More often than not, this word was used to speak of someone who was a hired worker or attendant.
That’s what the word servant means in Hebrew and Greek. I pray you found this article helpful. If so, please share this content. Also, feel free to share any thoughts in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading!
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I really appreciate this resourceful and all time relevant and insightful exposition on the meanings of servant in Hebrew and Greek concepts. More divine revelation in the name of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for this. The scripture Isaiah 42:2-3 really hit it home for me. God Bless you!!!
Oops, I meant Isaiah 42:1-2. Sorry for posting the wrong one.But that scripture hit it home for me. Thank you so much for taking the time out to write this and explain it.
God Bless You!!!
Thank you, your article gave me some of the insight I needed for my bible study lesson. Shalom,
Thanks for the understanding of the difference! I really appreciate it.