Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is Jesus God’s Servant or Son?

More Evidence of Biblical Corruption? Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

In this part of the rebuttal we are going to examine the contexts of those specific passages of Acts where Jesus is called pais in order to determine whether it is more appropriate to translate the term as child/son or servant. We start off with the following:

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.… You are the sons of the prophets (humeis este hoi huioi ton propheton) and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant (ton paida auto), sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Acts 3:13-16, 25-26

Here we have Luke using huios in the previous verse when quoting Peter's words to his Jewish contemporaries that they are the children of the prophets. As such, Luke could have easily used this same word, as opposed to pais, if he wanted to make sure that his readers knew that he was emphasizing Jesus’ status as God's Son. More on this later. It therefore seems better to render the word as servant, as opposed to son or child.

And now to our next example:

“When they were released they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant (paidos sou), didst say by the Holy Spirit, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed”—for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus (ton hagion paid sou 'Iesoun), whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants (tois doulois sou) to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus (dia tou onomatos tou hagiou paidos sou 'Iesou).’” Acts 4:23-30 RSV

In this context, we have the disciples/apostles called doulos. This seems to justify rendering the Greek word pais as child or son in the case of Jesus since the inspired author could have used doulos if he wanted to call Jesus God's servant, much like he did in regards to the disciples. However, in this same context David is called God's pais, which the RSV renders as servant, not son or child, which seems to justify rendering it as servant in respect to Christ as well.

Yet even this doesn’t conclusively prove that pais should be translated as servant since the OT testifies that David is also God’s son:

“Of old thou didst speak in a vision to thy faithful one, and say: ‘I have set the crown upon one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him… He shall cry to me, “Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.” And I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.’” Psalm 89:19-20, 26-27 RSV

It is therefore quite possible that Luke is using the word pais to emphasize the fact that both David and Jesus are God’s S/sons. Even with that said, it still seems safer to assume that Luke is using this word to highlight the fact that both David and Christ were God’s faithful S/servants.

Besides, there are at least two reasons why it is more likely that Luke employs pais in reference to Christ’s status as God’s Servant.

First, the word that Luke consistently uses when seeking to identify Jesus as God’s Son is huios, not pais, just as the following verses plainly attest: 

“And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God (ho huios tou theou).’” Acts 9:20  

“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘Thou art my Son (Huios mou ei su), today I have begotten thee.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’” Acts 13:32-34

“‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High (huios hypsistou); and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her,’ The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (huios theou).” Luke 1:31-35

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son (Su ei ho huios mou); with thee I am well pleased.’”  Luke 3:21-22

“The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God (ei huios ei tou theou), command this stone to become bread.’… And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God (ei huios ei tou theou), throw yourself down from here,’” Luke 4:3, 9

“And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God! (Su ei ho huios tou theou)’ But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.” Luke 4:41

“Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God (huie tou theou hypsistou)? I beg you, do not torment me.’ For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.’” Luke 8:27-31

“‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’ About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying,This is my Son (estin ho huios mou), whom I have chosen; listen to him.’” Luke 9:27-35

“All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son (ho huios) is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son (ho huios) and any one to whom the Son (ho huios) chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:22

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son (ton huion mou ton agapeton); it may be they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’” Luke 20:13-14

“When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes; and they led him away to their council, and they said, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But he said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ And they all said, ‘Are you the Son of God, then (Su oun ei ho huios tou theou)?’ And he said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ And they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.’” Luke 22:66-71

As the foregoing shows, apart from the disputed texts Luke never uses the word pais to refer to Jesus as God’s Son. This, therefore, makes it highly unlikely that pais in the passages of Acts should be translated as son or child.

With that said, the readers will have to continue to part 4 to see the second reason why we think that pais does not mean son/child in these specific passages, but servant.