Word of the Week
September 4, 2021
Pais and Teknon: Being a Child of God
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
“Children are a great comfort to us in our old age, and they help us reach it faster too!”
Having children is an intense experience. Their infectious antics can bring joy to even the darkest day. And they can drive us to distraction with their selfish, unreasonable behavior. Today I might mention “our little angel.” Tomorrow I may be complaining about “that little brat.”
The ancient Greeks must have known what it’s like to have children, because they used several words for “child.” They might talk about a huios, an adult son with a claim to the family fortune. Or they might mention a nēpios, a toddler.
Most often, however, they would select one of the two words that we will examine today.
This word has an intriguing set of possible meanings which can go two different directions.
First, it can mean “a child, a young person.”
- Herod slaughtered the children up to 2 years old in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).
- The 12-year-old Jesus lagged behind in Jerusalem talking to Temple scholars (Luke 2:43).
- Jesus raised a 12-year-old girl from death (Luke 8:51, 54).
- He also healed the desperately sick son of a Capernaum official (John 4:49-51).
Second, it can also mean “a servant, a slave.”
- The Lord healed the paralyzed servant of a centurion (Matthew 8:6, 8, 13).
- King Herod discussed the identity of Jesus with his servants (Matthew 14:2).
- The book of Acts uses pais as a description for David (Acts 4:25) and Jesus (Acts 3;13, 26) as servants of God.
How can you get both of those ideas out of a single word?
The word pais emphasizes the fact that neither children nor slaves were in charge of affairs. Kids need the supervision of a parent to survive, and the home ruled by children is in trouble! Even Jesus chose not to live outside the circle of the Father’s will.
Bottom line: A pais lives under the supervision of someone else, rather than making all the decisions about life.
There are two other surprising facts about this word: It is never used in the New Testament epistles, and it is never used to describe our relationship with God. That brings us to the second word for “child.”
This word occurs 99 times and is translated as “child,” but never as “servant.” It comes from the word that means “to give birth.” This word emphasizes the fact that a child is born as a member of a family. It describes a child in terms of relationship, not social status. It usually refers to a physical descendent, but it can also describe the kind of close spiritual relationship that existed between Paul and his proteges Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17), Titus (Titus 1:4), and Onesimus (Philemon 4).
As one wise person has said, “All grandchildren are beautiful and brilliant, and obviously take after their grandparent.” Your child may behave badly today, but he or she is still your child because your blood flows in their veins. There is an automatic emotional intimacy based on that birth tie.
Teknon is the word used to describe our place in the family of God as His children (John 1:12; 11:52; Romans 8:16, 21; Philippians 2:15; Ephesians 5:1; 1 John 3:1; 5:2). It reminds us that we have a permanent place in the heart of God. Even on the days that we fail, we are still part of His family.
Bottom line: A teknon is one born into a family with a permanent place in that household.
Parenting is a tightrope walk that tries to maintain balance between the need for supervision and the importance of love. We do our best, and we are grateful that God shows us the way as our perfect Father.
These two words are worthy of further study, but there’s an additional angle that you can pursue. The New Testament also uses a “diminutive” form of each word. The writers add an extra letter, turning teknon into teknion, much as we would turn “Jim” into Jimmy.” A similar shift happens with pais. It’s a way of showing affection to a little child, and some translations render these words as “little children.” You can see this in 1 John 2:12-13.
Q – I’m in the book of Isaiah and I encountered 2 Hebrew words for “listen”: shema and azan. I found materials online that explain shema but I can’t find resources online that differentiate the two. Can you help me with this?
A – This isn’t Greek, but the same principles apply to Hebrew.
Shamah is definitely the overwhelming favorite word for listen/hear. It appears 1159 times. Strong’s says it means to hear intelligently (often with the idea of attentiveness and obedience}. It can mean just hearing a sound, but more often it assumes that your mind also understands what you hear. It usually implies that you hear something, understand it, and act upon it.
‘Azan only occurs 41 times in the Old Testament, 8 times in Isaiah. Isaiah 28:23, for instance. It is almost always used in poetry passages, sometimes parallel to shamah. Hebrew poetry often rhymes ideas, rather than sounds, and says the same idea using slightly different words. I suspect that the two words are very close in meaning. ‘Azan comes from the Hebrew word for “ear,” and one source suggested that it pictures a person spreading or cupping his ear in order to hear better. The King James translation sometimes renders it as “hearken” or “give ear” to someone. One dictionary translates it as “to hear, perceive by the ear.” It is sometimes used for the way God hears the prayers of His people. It can also carry the idea of people listening and obeying God’s instructions.
The prodigal son wasted his money in “riotous living.” Next week we will look at the word that describes his foolishness – and links to the command to “be filled with the Spirit.”
©Ezra Project 2021