Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: παις

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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun παις (pais) means "little one" or "low one" in a rank sort of sense: subordinate or junior. It could be used to denote slaves (Matthew 8:6) or folks of lower social standing, but mostly it was utilized as the common word for child — yet a child in the sense of being of lower authority than a parent or master. The word for son in the legal sense (whether biological or adopted) is υιος (huios): an accepted son, a son by rank and status, as opposed to νοθος (nothos), which denotes a slave-born or bastard child. The word for servant in the sense of someone who does the master's bidding is δουλος (doulos) but our word παις (pais) describes a rung of the social ladder rather than a link in the chain of command. Our noun is used similar to old-fashioned English terms like "house-boy" or "bar-maid" which could very well describe old people of the servant class.

Our noun παις (pais), meaning low one or junior, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "pehw-", from which also come such words as foal, pauper, pony, poor, impoverished, pupil and puppet. It's also closely related to the adjective παυρος (pauros), meaning feeble or little, from whence comes the name Paul, and which itself is related to the verb παυω (pauo), to stop (see below).

Several familiar English compounds derive from our adjective: pediatrics, pedagogy, which all relate to children rather than to people of the working classes — and certainly not to feet, which is πους (pous) in Greek and stems from the Proto-Indo-European root ped-, meaning foot (hence one octopus, two octopodes).

Our word occurs 24 times, see full concordance applied to both genders (Luke 8:51), and since there's no proper English equivalent of this term, it's not at all clear whether the centurion's pais was an old slave or a young child (Matthew 8:6), or that God called both Jesus and David his child or his servant (Matthew 12:18, Luke 1:69).

From our noun derive:

  • Together with the verb αγω (ago), meaning to guide or lead: the noun παιδαγωγος (paidagogos), which in the classics originally described a slave who walked his master's child to school and back (Galatians 3:24). Later this word came to denote a more general mentor and finally the actual teacher. In the New Testament this word is used in 1 Corinthians 4:15, Galatians 3:24 and 3:25 only, where it obviously serves in the original sense of describing a master's subordinate who takes care of the master's heirs who for now are more equal to the slave than to the master.
  • The diminutive παιδαριον (paidarion), which would probably describe a slave-child, or "little subordinate." It occurs in John 6:9 only, but strikingly in the neutral form. In other words: we don't know whether this person was a boy or girl or perhaps an adult with very little formal authority.
  • The verb παιδευω (paideuo), meaning to raise or educate any "low-one" toward a level of sophistication or upper social status. This verb was obviously most often used to describe the raising of children, but specifically in the sense of educating them in the social graces, arts and sciences. This verb was also used to euphemize punishment, literally in the sense of "teaching a lesson." It occurs 13 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
    • Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective απαιδευτος (apaideutos), meaning unsophisticated, not having had a proper upbringing (2 Timothy 2:23 only).
    • The noun παιδεια (paideia), which describes an element of a subordinate's upbringing: either a lesson or a chastening. It's used 6 times; see full concordance.
    • The noun παιδευτης (paideutes), meaning an instructor (Romans 2:20 and Hebrews 12:9 only).
  • The diminutive noun παιδιον (paidion), meaning "younger junior," which may describe a child up to seven years old, or else an adult with very little authority. It should be emphasized that this word does not refer to age but rather to social rank, and particularly one's potential to rise up the social ladder. The flute-playing dirge-singers of Matthew 11:16, for instance, were obviously not physical infants but rather "infants of say-so". They had so little clout that they couldn't even get people to dance to their tunes.
    On occasion this word was used to refer to foreigners, which illustrates that compared to our modern society, Greek social stratification was much more based on rank and not at all on age. Comparing an adult foreigner to a native infant was not a matter of a figurative use of the word for child, but rather reflected one and the same level of social engagement. This level of social engagement would be similar to a three year old and an adult who barely spoke Greek and had no sense of Greek decorum and social codes.
    Many a children's bible sport centerfolds that show Jesus calling wide-eyed "children" to him (Matthew 19:14) but that's not at all the point of the story. Instead, Jesus calls people of all ages that can't get anybody to listen. He calls the weak and powerless and authority-less of all ages, because the Kingdom belongs to the weak and powerless and authority-less. Christ will crush all rule and dominion and authority (1 Corinthians 15:24) and the earth and all that is in it will belong to the weak and authority-less (Matthew 5:5, 18:3).
    The difference with the diminutive παιδαριον (paidarion; see above), isn't clear but it appears that παιδιον (paidion) describes the younger or lower of the two. Our noun is used 51 times; see full concordance. From this noun in turn comes:
    • The adverb παιδιοθεν (paidiothen), meaning from one's first step onto the social stage and one's first feeble steps of social engagement (Mark 9:21 only). This adverb would most commonly refer to one's birth but could in theory also refer to one's first steps toward being civilized as an adult (say, in case one came from the wilderness or some foreign country).
  • The feminine noun παιδισκη (paidiske), which could refer to a girl or a working woman of very low standing. Since the parent noun παις (pais) was used both in masculine and feminine forms, this noun παιδισκη (paidiske) implies employ for which the feminine gender was essential. Note that in Greek and Roman society, sexual services were among the common duties of slaves of both genders. Brothels in the Greco-Roman world were for customers who didn't own slaves. This noun is used 13 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb παιζω (paizo), meaning to act or treat like a παις (pais): to act with little regard for social decorum, to horse around, or to toy with someone as if they were a child or low-ranking slave. This doesn't necessarily refer to indecent behavior but rather to play, sport, jest, singing or dancing (1 Corinthians 10:7 only). From this verb in turn comes:
    • Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, on, at, by: the verb εμπαιζω (empaizo), meaning to belittle or play someone, to ridicule someone. This latter verb, to ridicule, comes from the Latin verb rideo, to laugh, which is of unclear origin. The noun ridica, however, means stake or prop (to support vines with), and a small one would be called a ridicula. These two nouns are also of obscure pedigree, but a native speaker of Latin would almost certainly have assumed a natural link between these words and our verb rideo. In Greek there is the verb ερειδω (ereido), to prop or stick something upon something else (Acts 27:41 only), which in turn is of unclear etymology, but by the authors of the New Testament rather obviously and lavishly utilized to illustrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our verb εμπαιζω (empaizo), to ridicule, is used 13 times; see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
      • The noun εμπαιγμος (empaigmos), meaning ridicule (Hebrews 11:36 only).
      • The noun εμπαικτης (empaiktes), which describes someone who plays, mocks or degrades others: a ridiculer, mocker or scoffer. This rare noun occurs in 2 Peter 3:3 and Jude 1:18 only. The Septuagint, curiously, uses this word in Isaiah 3:4: "young boys will be their princes and ridiculers will rule them", as a translation of תעלולים (ta'alulim), vexers.

The verb παυω (pauo) means to stop or make to cease. It's of unclear origin, but widely suspected to be kin to the noun παις (pais), little one (see above), and survives in English in the word pause (via the noun παυσις, pausis, a stopping). The noun παυλα, paula, means rest or cessation, and is obviously similar to the name Paul. Latin words from this same stock are paulatim, meaning gradually or little by little; paulisper, meaning for a little while and paululus, meaning very little. The noun paulum means a little. The adjective paulus (identical to the Latin version of the name Paul) means little or small.

This is the verb that Saul uses to rebuke Elymas, with the words: "wilt you not cease to twist the right ways of the Lord?" (Acts 13:10), after which Saul assumes the name of both their host: Sergius Paulus.

In the classics our verb is used from any sort of cessation or termination, from killing someone, to forcing people, things or natural forces to stop what they are doing, to willingly stop doing something, to giving someone rest from some burden or task. It's used 15 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it come:

  • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon: the verb αναπαυω (anapauo), also meaning to stop or make to cease, but which emphasizes cessation upon an implied period of toil or trouble (tellingly, this verb could also describe the laying fallow of farm land). In the classics this verb is frequently used to describe a providing rest after service or battle. In that same sense, our verb occurs in Matthew 11:28: "Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Our verb is used 12 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • The noun αναπαυσις (anapausis), meaning repose or rest, particularly from a specified endeavor or task. This noun is used 5 times; see full concordance.
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επαναπαυω (epanapauo), meaning to rest upon. In the classics this verb is used to describe a reposing upon a comfortable receptacle, or the coming to rest of some moveable machine, the resting of one's hope upon some certainty or expectation, or a resting contently on something relied on. In the New Testament, our verb occurs in Luke 10:6 and Romans 2:17 only.
    • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συναναπαυω (sunanapauo), meaning to jointly rest (Romans 15:32 only). This verb is extremely rare in all of Greek literature, and occurs rather conspicuously in the Septuagint version of Isaiah 11:6, where the leopard is foreseen to enjoy rest jointly with the kid. It seems obvious that Paul used that same word with an equal degree of conspicuousness.
  • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb καταπαυω (katapauo), meaning to stop and ease, to stop and stand down, to stop and bring down, to cut down a size: to stop by killing someone, to stop and depose some tyrant, and so on. This verb may describe the conclusion of some first section (of a play or a speech) and the continuation to the next. Or it may describe the cessation of worship and stripping of honors of outdated gods. Or it simply meant to stop doing something and dropping the whole endeavor altogether. This verb is used 4 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective ακαταπαυστος (akatapaustos), meaning unrestrainable, unstoppable and put-downable (2 Peter 2:14 only).
    • The noun καταπαυσις (katapausis), which describes the act of stopping and easing off, a putting to rest and deposing. It's used 9 times; see full concordance.

The noun πωλος (polos) means foal (same word), the young of a donkey. It stems from the same PIE root "pehw-" as the above.

This noun occurs only in the story of Jesus' triumphal entry, which is significant in a myriad of ways. Besides the obvious (a warlord enters on a stallion, the King of Peace on a foal), our word is closely related to the name Paul, the quintessential missionary to the gentiles, who urged his audience to be like him (Acts 26:29, 1 Corinthians 4:16; see Hebrews 12:1).

Dreams and the ability to explain them are crucially important in the Bible. Two important Biblical oneirocritics are Joseph the son of Jacob and his namesake Joseph the father-by-law of Jesus. The noun οναρ (onar) means dream; the noun ονος (onos) means donkey. That's probably not a coincidence.

When the Great Jewish Revolt broke out, Roman general Vespasian was in the Galilee, trying to quell the trouble. Before the war had ended, Vespasian, while still in the Galilee, was pronounced Emperor, and went back to Rome. His son Titus (also a future emperor) remained in Judea to finish the job. The Jewish Revolt resulted in the wholesale destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and the death of a million Jews. Paul wrote before the destruction, and the gospel genre emerged just after, in human terms as a literary attempt to propose Jesus of Nazareth as the continuation of the Jewish heritage now that the central temple had been destroyed. Just prior to coming to Judea, Vespasian had been in Africa, where he had paid his bills by dabbling in the mule trade. Hence he was nicknamed mulio, or muleteer. That made Titus the filius mulio. Nobody in the gospel's original audience would have missed that pun.

Our noun πωλος (polos), foal, is used 12 times, see full concordance, and only in the accusative singular masculine form: πωλον (polon), which is probably also significant.


The verb παιω (paio) means to strike or hit. It stems from a Proto-Indo-European root "pau-", to cut, strike, stamp, and exits in Latin as pavio, hence the English to verb pave. It also provides the pute- part of words like amputate, compute, depute, dispute and repute. We list this word here because older dictionaries list this PIE root as "pau- (1)" and the root "pehw-", we explore above as "pau- (2)". It seems not unreasonable to suppose that the ancients developed these two identical roots because they experienced them as the same: cutting and hitting someone would have the same result as making that person smaller, whether literally or figuratively.

Our verb παιω (paio) occurs 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance. It has no derivatives. Note that in the scene in which Peter strikes off Malchus' ear, Mark 14:47 and John 18:10 use our verb παιω (paio), whereas Matthew 26:51 uses πατασσω (patasso), see next.


Possibly related to the previous, possibly onomatopoeic, and possibly from some long lost pre-Greek language or even (as per the shameless bias of us here at Abarim Publications) related to the Hebrew verb פתת (patat), to break up or crumble, the otherwise unexplained verb πατασσω (patasso) means to beat, strike or hit. It's used 10 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and as noted above, on occasion as equivalent of the verb παιω (paio). This verb too has no derivatives.

Associated Biblical names