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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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Steward, Stewardship
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‘Steward’ in English may be taken to represent two Greek words, ἐπίτροπος and οἰκονόμος, the former being rather steward of an estate (as in Matthew 20:8 and Luke 8:3; see W. A. Becker, Charicles, Eng. translation , London, 1895, p. 363), and the latter of a household. ἐπίτροπος, however, occurs only once in the NT outside the Gospels, and there it is joined with οἰκονόμος: ὁ κληρονόμος [while still νήπιος, ‘an infant’] ὑπὸ ἐπιτρόπους ἐστὶ καὶ οἰκονόμους (‘sub tutoribus et actoribus’ [Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] ] Galatians 4:2); this Lightfoot in his commentary translates ‘under controllers of his person and property,’ taking ἐπιτρόπους as the boy’s legal representatives (so Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] ) and οἰκονόμους as stewards or bailiffs to manage either his household or his property. No doubt οἰκονόμος was often used as a general term for one who acted in either capacity.

The first instance we adduce is that of a public official: ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς Ἔραστος ὁ οἰκονόμος τῆς πόλεως, Romans 16:23 (‘arcarius civitatis’ [Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] ]). The city here is apparently Corinth, where St. Paul was at the time of writing (the Erastus mentioned in Acts 19:22 as a messenger of the Apostle from Asia to Macedonia can hardly be the same person; and even the one mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:20 as still at Corinth is perhaps more likely to be the same as the latter than the former). The office held by Erastus was doubtless that of city treasurer or something similar; cf. 1 Esdras 4:47; 1 Esdras 4:49, where the same title occurs. All the other instances of οἰκονόμος and οἰκονομία are in the Epistles and occur by way of comparison or simile.

(1) General, with further description: εἰ γὰρ ἑκὼν τοῦτο πράσσω (= εὐαγγελίζομαι), μισθὸν ἔχω· εἰ δὲ ἄκων, οἰκονομίαν πεπίστευμαι (‘I have to bear in mind that I am charged with a stewardship and must carry it out’) (1 Corinthians 9:17). In 1 Corinthians 4:2, ζητεῖται ἐν τοῖς οἰκονόμοις ἵνα πιστός τις εὑρεθῇ, the faithfulness of stewards in general is spoken of; but the phrase follows directly upon a special kind of stewardship (οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ).

(2) Special: stewards of God, acting for Him: δεῖ γὰρ τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνέγκλητον εἶναι ὡς θεοῦ οἰκονόμον, Titus 1:7; διάκονος κατὰ τὴν οἰκονομίαν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι εἰς ὑμᾶς Colossians 1:25; ἐκζητήσειςμᾶλλον ἢ οἰκονομίαν θεοῦ τὴν ἐν πίστει, 1 Timothy 1:4 (here the sphere in which, or rather the method by which, stewardship is rightly exercised is added [sc. by faith]).

(3) Stewards with the matter of stewardship described [sc. of grace, of mystery, or of mysteries): ἕκαστος καθὼς ἔλαβεν χάρισμα, εἰς ἑαυτοὺς αὐτὸ διακονοῦντες ὡς καλοἱ οἰκονόμοι ποικίλης χάριτος θεοῦ, 1 Peter 4:10; εἴ γε ἠκούσατε τὴν οἰκονομίαν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς δοθείσης μοι εἰς ὑμᾶς, Ephesians 3:2; οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος ὡς ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θειῦ, 1 Corinthians 4:1; τίς ἡ οἰκονομία (v.l. [Note: .l. varia lectio, variant reading.] , κοινωνία) τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ ἀποκεκρυμμένου ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων ἐν τῷ θεῷ Ephesians 3:9.

(4) One very curious extension of the use of the word occurs in Ephesians 1:10, εἰς οἰκονομίαν τοῦ πληρώματος τῶν καιρῶν, which is well paraphrased and explained by W. Alexander (Speaker’s Commentary, London, 1881, in loc.): ‘The dispensation is the Divine arrangement of His household, or plan of government, which was to be carried out when the full time had come, which time had now arrived.’ Here the idea of stewardship almost disappears, as it is the Master’s own management that is referred to.

C. L. Feltce.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Steward'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/steward.html. 1906-1918.