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 pau-, 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. 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 but 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 like a παις (pais), that is: to act with little regard for social decorum, to horse around. This doesn't necessarily refer to indecent behavior but rather to play, sport, jest, singing or dancing (1 Corinthians 10:7 only).