Lessons In Greek
By Elisabeth Duckworth
teknon (το τεκνον): child, offspring, progeny
Today we are looking at the Greek word teknon (το τεκνον). Its roots can be found in the English -tect words, (e.g. architect), or the tech- words (e.g., technique, technical). These words help us understand the basic meaning of teknon: something made, produced, or built. In Greek, it is most commonly used for a child (male or female) or offspring (human or animal). Teknon can also be used to describe the relationship between a patron and those who are beholden to him/her; between teacher and pupils; between rabbi and disciples, or; between a city and its citizens. (Examples in Scripture of its basic meaning: Mark 13:12; Luke 1:7; Acts 7:5; Revelation 12:4; plural, Matthew 7:11; Matthew 10:21; Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27; Mark 12:19; Luke 1:17; Luke 14:26; Acts 21:5; 2 Corinthians 12:14; Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11; 1 Timothy 3:4; Titus 1:6; 2 John 1:1, 4, 13.)
Paul regularly uses teknon when he either addresses directly or refers to his beloved Timothy. In this context, teknon is usually translated in our Bibles as “son”. It is also the word Jesus uses in Mark 2:5 to address the paralytic let down through the roof of the house. It's interesting that Luke has Jesus call the paralytic “person” in the Luke 5:20, but identifies the ones carrying his bed as “men” (adult males), while Mark only identifies the carriers as “they”, but uses the more personal term teknon for the paralytic. It is such an informal, familial choice of word, one not normally used by an adult male Jew to respectfully address another adult male Jew, especially one who is a stranger. The word is acceptably used, however, as a friendly term for a youth.
This informal, affectionate use of teknon as a synonym for a teenage male youth is traced back to the early 500s BC when the Greeks were first mastering the art of stone sculpture. They used the Egyptian sculptural tradition as their model. But unlike Egyptians, whose male and female subjects were clothed, the Greeks specialized in the nude young male. These sculptures were known as tekna: built things, the stone progeny of the sculptor. Since the subject matter was usually the male youth, real human youths were also called tekna as a loving nickname. It is this sense of the word Paul uses in reference to Timothy (and Titus). It might also explain Jesus' use of the word teknon for the paralytic, if latter were a teenager and not an adult.
There are times when Paul uses the plural tekna metaphorically to describe the children of God: true, genuine children, Romans 9:7; children begotten by virtue of the divine promise, Romans 9:8; accounted as children begotten by virtue of God's promise, Galatians 4:28; all who are animated by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14) and thus are closely related to God: Romans 8:16f, 21; Ephesians 5:1; Philippians 2:15; those to whom, as dearly beloved of God, He has appointed salvation by Christ, Romans 9:8. In the writings of John, teknon describes all who have been begotten of God, John 1:12, 1 John 3:1f, 10; 1 John 5:2; those whome God knows to be qualified to obtain the nature and dignity of His children, John 11:52.
There are also cases where the words child (teknon) and son (uios) are used interchangeably. To add to the confusion, Bible translators often use the word “son” for both uios and teknon. This really is too bad, since it obscures interesting and vital distinction between those two words. In the story of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:11ff, the father has two sons (uioi). The eldest is the father's direct heir, but both sons are under their father's authority. The younger's outrageous request to prematurely receive his limited monetary inheritance effectively ended his claim as a “son”. We know how the story ends, though. The repentant young man returns to his father and is reinstated as a son, as demonstrated by the garment and ring his father bestows on him. This annoys the elder brother, forcing the father to go outside and remonstrate with his eldest heir. In verse 31, the father turns to his sulking uios and whispers, “My own dear boy, my teknon,” a term of fatherly affection and endearment. What a shame we can't fully appreciate this touching moment with our English translations.
Teknon and uios, while agreeing in pointing to parentage, differ in that teknon gives prominence to the physical, outward aspects of parent/child relationship, while uios points to the inward, ethical and legal relationship.
Next time we will look further at the word uios (ο υιος) and its significance, as Paul uses it, to describe our inward, ethical and legal relationship to God.