Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Officer (2)

OFFICER.—The term ‘officer’ is used in the Gospels (and Acts) as a translation of ὑπηρέτης in the ordinary secular applications of that term (Matthew 5:25, John 7:32; John 7:45; John 18:3; John 18:12; John 18:18; John 18:22; John 19:6, Acts 5:22; Acts 5:28). In other two cases (Mark 14:54; Mark 14:65 || Matthew 26:58, John 18:36) the Authorized Version translation ‘servants’; the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 in the former adhering to ‘officers’ and in the latter putting it in the margin. In most of these cases the officers are servants of the Jewish Council; in Matthew 5:25 and John 18:36 they may be regarded more generally as servants of the State. In Luke 12:58 ‘officer’ is the translation of a still humbler term, πράκτωρ, a prison official, described in (Revised Version margin) as ‘exactor’ from his duty of collecting fines. In John 4:46 (Revised Version margin) ‘king’s officer’ appears as an alternative to ‘nobleman’ for a term meaning ‘courtier.’

It is evident that in the 16th or 17th century ‘officer’ had a lower meaning than now.* [Note: The most frequent application of the term was not to commissioners in the army or navy, but to petty officers Of justice, as In ‘sheriff’s officer,’ ‘peace officer.’ It is this usage that is reflected in the NT.] These ὑπηρέται belong to the rank and file. They are subordinate officials, with duties purely instrumental, virtually on a level with our policemen. As emphasized in Jn., they are the creatures of the Jews, accompanying the chief priests for the doing of their will; or they may take orders from a captain of the Temple (Acts 5:26), or they carry into execution the sentence of a judge (Matthew 5:25). St. Luke in his narrative of the Arrest and Trial and in Luke 12:58 avoids the term, but he uses it in Acts 5:22; Acts 5:26 as above (where, possibly, he is following a source), and four times of religious service—in Luke 4:20 of a minister of the synagogue, in Luke 1:2 and Acts 26:16 (Paul) of Christian preachers, and in Acts 13:5 of John Mark, who was, in some sense, assistant to Barnabas and Paul. So also St. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 4:1. In all these cases the Authorized Version renders ‘minister’; in two (Luke 4:20, Acts 13:5) the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , without much lucidity, substitutes ‘attendant.’

ὑπηρέτης, originally ‘rower,’ was used in Greece of an assistant or inferior agent in any sort of work. In particular, it was used in a military sense of attendants on heavy-armed soldiers, and also of adjutants to officers of rank. A similar indefiniteness, but always involving subordination, belongs to the NT usage. The term ‘officer,’ owing to the secular and especially the military associations of the name, was manifestly unsuitable for the description of a Christian minister of any rank. Such terms of ancient administration as ἀπόστολος (commissioner) and ἐπίσκοπος (inspector) were received into modern languages, not by translation into an equivalent, but by a process of adoption and adaptation. But the ὑπηρέτης, whose title, like these, was extended from the secular to the sacred sphere, was too inferior in dignity and too indefinite in character for such distinction. We have indeed in ordinary usage a somewhat similar rank expressed by the term ‘office-bearer,’ and there is a special episcopal use of ‘official’; while a still humbler dignity, parallel with the secular use in Scripture, is denoted by the designation ‘church officer.’ Of such terms, and of the term ‘officer’ as representing the servants of the Sanhedrin, the interest pertains merely to the study of language. No theological or ecclesiastical idea is involved; and for practical utility or correctness the only duty of new Revisers towards this term is to eliminate it entirely from the sacred page.

R. Scott.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Officer (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/o/officer-2.html. 1906-1918.

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Officer