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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Servant, Service

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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 [ Genesis 24:35 ; Exodus 21:21 ), and performed a variety of work.

Many persons in the Old Testament are called "servants, " among them Abraham (Genesis 26:24 ), Jacob (Genesis 32:4 ), Joshua (Joshua 24:29 ), Ruth (Ruth 3:9 ), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:11 ), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:9 ), Jesse (1 Samuel 17:58 ), Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11:21 ), Joab (2 Samuel 14:20 ), Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3 ), Daniel (Daniel 9:17 ), Ben-Hadad of Aram (1 Kings 20:32 ), and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Jeremiah 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 (42:1,4). But he will also suffer. The suffering, death, and new life of the Servant become exemplified in the New Testament in Christ (Isaiah 52:13— ;Acts 52:13—3:13 ; Isaiah 61:1 Acts 61:14:27 ; Isaiah 53:7-8 Acts 53:7-88:32-33 ; Isaiah 53:4-5,7 , 91 Peter 2:22-24 ).

In the New Testament, doulos [ δοῦλοσ  , δοῦλοσ  ] 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 [ Revelation 15:3 ) and the prophets (Revelation 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" (Romans 1:1 ; Philippians 1:1 ).

Christ took upon himself the "form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7 ). Believers have moved from being slaves to sin to become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18 ).

Another common New Testament term, diakonos [ Matthew 20:28 ; Mark 10:45 ).

The diakonos [ Matthew 8:15 ), distributes food (Acts 6:1 ), sets a table (John 12:2 ), does the work of a deacon (1 Timothy 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 Corinthians 16:15 ). Paul regarded the collection of money for the church in Jerusalem as a "service" (2 Corinthians 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 [ Hebrews 8:10 ). But more often it describes the worship of one's heart (Acts 24:14 b), of serving in the preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:9 ), of those who "worship by the Spirit of God" (Philippians 3:3 ).

Walter M. Dunnett

See also Servant of the Lord ; Worship


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Servant, Service'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/s/servant-service.html. 1996.

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