Matthew 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Spoken to: 

audience

Context: 

Jesus is speaking to a crowd including his disciples about scribes and Pharisees.

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

the one, however, higher than you will be your underling.

My Takeaway: 

The more people we assist, the greater we are.

KJV : 

Matthew 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

NIV : 

Matthew 23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

The translation of the word "greatest" means "greater." Indeed, "greatest" is not a term Jesus ever used because it would refer to the Father. The word means "greater" and the form of the word means "than you." However, it also means "higher," which is important in the meaning of the next verse, Matthew 23:12.

The word translated as "servant" is misleading because the KJV almost always translates a different Greek word, actually meaning "slave," as servant. I suspect that those hearing it heard something like our word "underling," contrasting its meaning with the "higher" above. Also notice, that it is not God that is served but people serving each other.
 

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

(article sg masc nom) "He that is" is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." Here it is separated from the noun by a conjunction.

δὲ [446 verses](conj) "But" is from de which means "but" and "on the other hand." It is the particle that joins sentences in an adversarial way but can also be a weak connective ("and") and explanation of cause ("so") and a condition ("if").

μείζων [22 verses](adj sg masc nom comp) "Greatest" is from meizon which means "bigger", "higher", "longer," and "greater" and is the comparative form of megas, which means "big" and "great." The superlative form "greatest" is megistos, μέγιστος.

ὑμῶν [168 verses](pron 2nd pl gen) "Your" is from humon, the plural possessive form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

ἔσται [614 verses](verb 3rd sg fut ind act) "Is" is from eimi, which means "to be", "to exist", "to be the case," and "is possible." (The future form is esomai. The 3rd person present indicative is "esti.")

ὑμῶν [168 verses] (pron 2nd pl gen) "Your" is from humon, the plural possessive form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

διάκονος. [6 verses](noun sg masc nom) Servants" is from the noun diakonos, which means "servant", "messenger," and "attendant." This is the source for our word "deacon."  As a verb, it is from diakoneô, which "to act as a servant", "to minister," and "to perform services."

KJV Analysis: 

But  - The Greek word translated as "but" joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better.

he -- (CW) The word translated as "he" is the Greek definite article, "the," without a noun, it has the sense of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

that is -- -- (IP) There is nothing that can be translated as "that is" in the Greek source.

greatest  - (CW) "Greatest" is from an adjective that is the comparative form of the word meaning "big" or "great." It means "bigger", "higher", "longer", "greater" and simply, "superior." Christ uses it more like we would use the word "better." When it is introduced by an article, it means "the greater" or "the higher." It is not the superlative form (i.e. "greatest"), which would refer to God. I personally prefer "higher" because of the joke regarding this idea that Jesus makes in Luke 22:27.

among  - (WW) There is no preposition here. It is word is simply the genitive form of "you," which is "your" or "of you." However, it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive verbs. In references to time, it could instead be translated ‘during’, ‘at’, or ‘within’. Here, it is a comparison so "than."

you -- The word translated as "you" is a plural, second-person pronoun in the genitive case.

shall -- This helping verb "shall" indicates that the verb is the future tense. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English.

be  - The verb "shall be" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It is in the future tense.

your  - The word translated as "you" is a plural, second-person pronoun in the genitive case. The "your" here is the same word as used above. Notice that these are not God's servants, but each other's. This is the most important idea in this verse because of what follows.

servant. -- (CW) The word translated here as "servant," actually means "servant" or "attendant" in the sense of someone who is voluntarily employed to attend someone. It is not the Greek word usually translated as "servant," which really means "slave," someone who serves because that is the role he was born or sold into. The Bible, however, usually translates another word, one meaning "slave," as "servant," so a different word, say "attendant," might work better here.

KJV Translation Issues: 

5
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "he" is not the common word usually translated as "he."
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The phrase "that is" doesn't exist in the source.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "greatest" is the word "greater."
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "among" should be "than."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "servant" is not the common word usually translated as "servant."

NIV Analysis: 

missing "however"  -- (MW) The untranslated word "but" joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better.

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article, "the," without a noun, it has the sense of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more.

greatest  - (CW) "Greatest" is from an adjective that is the comparative form of the word meaning "big" or "great." It means "bigger", "higher", "longer", "greater" and simply, "superior." Christ uses it more like we would use the word "better." When it is introduced by an article, it means "the greater" or "the higher." It is not the superlative form (i.e. "greatest"), which would refer to God. I personally prefer "higher" because of the joke regarding this idea that Jesus makes in Luke 22:27.

among  - (WW) There is no preposition here. It is word is simply the genitive form of "you," which is "your" or "of you." However, it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive verbs. In references to time, it could instead be translated ‘during’, ‘at’, or ‘within’. Here, it is a comparison so "than."

you -- The word translated as "you" is a plural, second-person pronoun in the genitive case.

will -- This helping verb "will" indicates that the verb is the future tense. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English.

be  - The verb "shall be" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It is in the future tense.

your  - The word translated as "you" is a plural, second-person pronoun in the genitive case. The "your" here is the same word as used above. Notice that these are not God's servants, but each other's. This is the most important idea in this verse because of what follows.

servant. -- (CW) The word translated here as "servant," actually means "servant" or "attendant" in the sense of someone who is voluntarily employed to attend someone. It is not the Greek word usually translated as "servant," which really means "slave," someone who serves because that is the role he was born or sold into. The Bible, however, usually translates another word, one meaning "slave," as "servant," so a different word, say "attendant," might work better here.

NIV Translation Issues: 

4
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "however" is not shown in the English translation.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "greatest" is the word "greater."
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "among" should be "than."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "servant" is not the common word usually translated as "servant."

Front Page Date: 

Aug 2 2021