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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxxv. λατρεύω, λειτουργέω.

In both these words the notion of service lies, but of service under certain special limitations in the second, as compared with the first. Λατρεύειν, allied to λάτρις, ‘a hired servant,’ λάτρον, ‘hire,’ and perhaps to λεία, ληΐςEtym. Note. 19 (so Curtius), is, properly, ‘to serve for hire,’ and therefore not of compulsion, as does a slave, though the line of separation between λάτρις and δοῦλος is by no means always observed. Already in classical Greek both it and λατρεία are occasionally transferred from the service of men to the service of the higher powers; as by Plato, Apol. 23 c: ἡ τοῦ Φεοῦ λατρεία: cf. Phoedr. 244 e; and Euripides, Troad. 450, where Cassandra is ἡ Ἀπόλλωνος λάτρις: and a meaning, which in Scripture is the only one, is anticipated in part. In the Septuagint, λατρεύειν never expresses any other service but either that of the true God, or of the false gods of heathenism; for Deut. 28:48, a seeming exception, is not such in fact; and Augustine has perfect right when he says (De Civ. Dei, x. 1, 2): ‘Λατρεία secundum consuetudinem quâ locuti sunt qui nobis divina eloquia condiderunt, aut semper, aut tam frequenter ut paene semper, es dicitur servitus quae pertinet ad colendum Deum;’ and again (con. Faust. xx. 21): ‘Cultus qui graece latria dicitur, latine uno verbo dici non potest, cum sit quaedam proprie divinitati debita servitus.’

Λειτουργεῖν boasts a somewhat nobler beginning; from λεῖτος (== δημόσιος)Etym. Note. 20, and ἔργον: and thus εἰς τὸ δημόσιον ἐργάζεσθαι, to serve the State in a public office or function. Like λατρεύειν, it was occasionally transferred to the highest ministry of all, the ministry to the gods (Diodorus Siculus, i. 21). When the Christian Church was forming its terminology, which it did partly by shaping new words, but partly by elevating old ones to higher than their previous uses, of the latter kind it more readily adopted those before employed in civil and political life, than such as had already played their part in religious matters; and this, even when it was seeking for the adequate expression of religious truth. The same motives were here at work which induced the Church more willingly to turn basilicas,—buildings, that is, which had been used in civil life,—than temples, into churches; namely, because they were less haunted with the clinging associations of heathenism. Of the fact itself we have a notable example in the words λειτουργός, λειτουργία, λειτουργεῖν, and in the prominent place in ecclesiastical language which they assumed. At the same time the way for their adoption into a higher use had been prepared by the Septuagint, in which λειτουργεῖν (== שֵׁרֵת) is the constant word for the performing of priestly or ministerial functions (Exod. 28:39; Ezek. 40:46); and by Philo (De Prof. 464). Neither in the Septuagint, however, nor yet by the Christian writers who followed, were the words of this group so entirely alienated from their primary uses as λατρεία and λατρεύειν had been; being still occasionally used for the ministry unto men (2 Sam. 13:18; 1 Kin. 10:5; 2 Kin. 4:43; Rom. 15:27; Phil. 2:25, 30).

From the distinction already existing between the words, before the Church had anything to do with them, namely, that λατρεύειν was ‘to serve,’ λειτουργεῖν, ‘to serve in an office and ministry,’ are to be explained the different uses to which they are severally turned in the N. T., as previously in the Septuagint. To serve God is the duty of all men; λατρεύειν, therefore, and λατρεία, are demanded of the whole people (Exod. 4:23; Deut. 10:12; Josh. 24:31; Matt. 4:10; Luke 1:74; Acts 7:7; Rom. 9:4; Heb. 12:28); but to serve Him in special offices and ministries can be the duty and privilege only of a few, who are set apart to the same; and thus in the O. T. the λειτουργεῖν and the λειτουργία are ascribed only to the priests and Levites who were separated to minister in holy things; they only are λειτουργοί (Num. 4:24; 1 Sam. 2:11; Nehem. 10:39; Ezek. 44:27); which language, mutatis mutandis, reappears in the New, where not merely is that old priesthood and ministry designated by this language (Luke 1:23; Heb. 9:21; 10:11), but that of apostles, prophets, and teachers in the Church (Acts 13:2; Rom. 15:16; Phil. 2:17), as well as that of the great High Priest of our profession, τῶν ἁγίων λειτουργός (Heb. 8:2). In later ecclesiastical use it has been sometimes attempted to push the special application of λειτουργία still further, and to limit its use to those prayers and offices which stand in more immediate relation to the Holy Eucharist; but there is no warrant in the best ages of the Church for any such limitation; thus see Suicer, Thes. s. v.; Bingham, Christian Antiqq. xiii. 1. 8; Deyling, Obss. Sac. vol. i. p. 285; Augusti, Christ. Archäol. vol. ii. p. 537; Scudamore, Notitia Eucharistica, p. 11.

It may be urged against the distinction here drawn that λατρεύειν and λατρεία are sometimes applied to official ministries, as at Heb. 9:1, 6. This is, of course, true; just as where two circles have the same centre, the greater will necessarily include the less. The notion of service is such a centre here; in λειτουργεῖν this service finds a certain limitation, in that it is service in an office: it follows that every λειτουργία will of necessity be a λατρεία, but not the reverse, that every λατρεία will be a λειτουργία. No passage better brings out the distinction between these two words than Ecclus. 4:14: οἱ λατρεύοντες αὐτῇ [i. e. τῇ Σοφίᾳ] λειτουργήσουσιν Ἀγίῳ. “They that serve her, shall minister to the Holy One.”

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G3000,G3008.]

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