Q: Is there a difference between a servant and a bond-servant?

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 16:40


Is there a difference between a "servant" and a "bond-servant"? I've read many different explanations, some even contradicting other definitions. I've read mostly that a "servant" is synonymous for 'slave' (one taken as a slave) and a "bond-servant" is one who has chosen to stay with his/her master by choice. I see throughout the New Testament where the Apostles will introduce themselves as "servants" in one version of the Bible and "bond-servants" in another version of the Bible. I've also read that there is no difference between the two... they're both 'slaves', but then I read, Colossians 4:7 (NASB) that reads, "As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord". So, I was wondering if you could clarify the two.


greek alphabetA better question is whether there is a significant difference of meaning in the Greek between a doulos and a diakonos. The answer is that they have a fairly different connotation. The term doulos is a stronger term which can mean slave or servant, depending on the context. The word suggests a strongly subservient position, either voluntary or by choice. The word diakonos means servant, which may mean a literal servant/employee or a person who acts as a servant, but is not, technically a servant. It has a much weaker implication of being positionally under the person being served. When we say in English that so and so in the church is a "servant" we almost always would translate this as a diakonos, not as a doulos. Yet, the New Testament often has people declaring themselves doulos of Christ or of one another.

In Colossians 4:16, both words are used. Paul says that Tychicus, first is a diakonos--one who serves, probably in reference to his being a servant of the church (not necessarily having the position of deacon, but possibly having that position). Second, he is a fellow slave of Christ in his work with Paul.

Tychicus is a servant of the church and a slave of Christ (along with Paul), to put it into fairly literal English.

By the way, the word fellow is not in the Greek. It is inserted in Colossians 4:7 to make it more readable. The word "fellow" is added in the NIV to help readers realize that he is talking about his relationship with Tychicus as slaves together in Christ.

The words diakonos and its variants and doulos and its variants are used quite a bit in the New Testament and their range of meaning varies according to context. In our attitude we can be a doulos of one another or a diakonos of one another, depending on the context.

So, whoever said there is no difference of meaning between the two words is wrong. What can be said is that doulos can be translated as either servant or slave. In English the difference in meaning between servant and slave is cavernous. In Greek society, the difference between servant and slave was smaller. This is why a single word in Greek can be translated as two words in English which it is hard to imagine could be used for the same word in Greek. It could be that when you heard that something is like something, it may have been someone saying that in Greek slave and servant have (nearly) the same meaning.

John Oakes
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