Sacrificial servanthood

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John 13:15

Joh 13:15 Because I have given you a model, that you also should do just as I have done for you.
Joh 13:16 “I am honestly telling you, a slave is not greater than his lord, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.
Joh 13:17 If you have known these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Sacrificial servanthood

This narrative serves to show how translators sometimes can hide the significance of a word by translating it differently each time it occurs. The Greeks had come to Philip, requesting an audience with Jesus, and addressing Philip with the honorific title “Lord” (12:21). It is usually translated “Sir.” Jesus refers to himself with the title “Lord and Teacher” (13:13-14). Then he says that a slave is not greater than his lord (often rendered “master” (13:16). John used the same word (κύριος) in each of these texts.

13:16 also demonstrates a related problem. The word “slave” (δοῦλος) is often translated “servant,” as well as the word I translate “manager” (διάκονος). Both can be translated as “servant,’ but it is best not to do so when they are being contrasted with each other.

John’s point (and Jesus’) is that believers in Jesus may have all kinds of leadership abilities and roles, but we have to always remember that we are slaves to one Lord, and he has given us a model of sacrificial servant hood.

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About Jefferson Vann

Jeff is a former Christian missionary.
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