Liturgy: Etymology - University of St. Thomas

Liturgy: Etymology
A. Leitourgeō / Leitourgia in
non-biblical Greek
• Leitourgein = lēitos (“concerning the people or
national community”) + ergon (“action”,
• Basic meaning: “to do things which are related,
not to private concerns, but to the national
community as a political unity, or the ‘body
• More precisely: “to render service to the people as
a common political entity by discharging a true
task for society”
Technical Political Usage
Citizens with an income above a fixed level had by
law to accept specific services at their own
expense, although the could also do so voluntarily
for motives of patriotism, vainglory, or both.
– Regular solemn liturgies feeing the phyla
– Extraordinary liturgies for extraordinary needs (e.g.,
paying military taxes)
– Special liturgies involving the metoikoi
Political Usage Extended
• Public and constitutionally regulated
services in the discharge of all kinds of
compulsory tasks and the execution of all
possible offices
– Questions of obligation, limitation, appointment
– Complaints about the burdens imposed
– Request for exemption
Weaker Popular Use
• From a wider technical use there develops a
general and non-technical use in which the words
simply denote rendering a service and the
significance of lēitos is lost
– Private services of slaves/workers to their
– Suckling of young by mother animals
– Services friends render to one another
– Services rendered by father to a son
– Services rendered by organs to the body
Specialized Cultic Use
• The idea is not that one can render service
to the nation through the cultus
• Rather the very general idea of service is
applied to the cultic relation to the gods, and
it is applied in such a way that there is an
approximation to a new technical usage
B. Leitourgeō / Leitourgia in
LXX and Hellenistic Judaism
• Leitourgeō occurs c. 100x in LXX, first in
Ex 28:35. Most of the instances are found
in Exodus 28-39 (13); Numbers (25);
Chronicles (20); and Ezechiel 40-46 (16)
• Translates sheret when the reference is
• Also applies to the worship of idols and
Astarte (Ez 44:12; 2 Ch 15:16)
• Leitourgia occurs c. 40x in LXX
• Translates abodah when the reference is cultic
• With the exception of 2 Kings 19:19 where there
is a reference to a leitourgia to the king, the term is
always used of the ministry of the priests and
levites in and at the sanctuary, especially the
ministry of the priests at the altar
• Relation of LXX use to non-biblical Greek:
– The object of leitourgia is neither the city, state,
people, citizens, nor specific individuals
– The object of leitourgia is the tent, the house,
the altar, God Himself, or the Name of God
– The recipient of the service is God, not the
people, though the service promotes the
national welfare, which depends on the
gracious disposition of God.
– The people receives the sacrifice merely to the
degree that it can offer its sacrifices only
through the mediation of the priest, a cultus that
is official, legally prescribed, and solemn.
Leitougeō / Leitourgia in the
New Testament
• Leitourgein occurs 3x: Acts 13:2; Romans
15:27; Hebrews 10:11
• Leitourgia occurs 6x: Luke 1:23; 2
Corinthians 9:12; Philippians 2:17, 30;
Hebrews 8:6; 9:21
• Leitourgos occurs 5x: Romans 13:6; 15:16;
Philippians 2:25; Hebrews 1:7; 8:2
• Leitourgikos occurs 1x: Hebrews 1:14
• Civic service
– Romans 13:6: “For the same reason, you should
also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers
[leitourgoi] of God, attending to this very
• Heavenly service
– Hebrews 1:7: “Of the angels he says: ‘Who
makes his angels winds, and his servants
[leitourgous] flames of fire.”
– Hebrews 1:14: “Are [angels] not all ministering
[leitourgika] spirits sent forth to serve, for the
skae of those who are to obtain salvation?”
– Hebrews 8:2: “[Christ is] a minister [leitourgos]
in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up
not by man but by the Lord.”
• Christian community service:
– Romans 15:27b: “For if the Gentiles have come to
share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be
of service [leitourgēsai] to them in material blessings.”
– 2 Corinthians 9:12: “For the rendering of this service
[leitourgias] not only supplies the wants of the saints
but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God.”
– Philippians 2:25: “I have thought it necessary to send to
you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and
fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister
[leitourgon] to my need…”
– Philippians 2:30: “For [Epaphroditus] nearly died for
the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your
service [leitourgias] to me.”
• Jewish cultic worship:
– Hebrews 9:21: “And in the same way [Moses]
sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all
the vessels used in worship [leitourgias].”
– Hebrews 10:11: “And every priest stands daily
at his service [leitourgōn], offering repeatedly
the same sacrifices, which can never take away
– Luke 1:23: “And when his time of service
[leitourgias] was ended, [Zechariah] went to his
• “Spiritualized” Jewish cultic worship:
– Philippians 2:17: “Even if I am to be poured as a
libation upon the sacrificial offering [leitourgia] of your
faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”
– Hebrews 8:6: “But as it is, Christ has obtained a
ministry [leitourgias] which is as much more excellent
than the old as the covenant he mediates is better…”
– Romans 15:16: “To be a minister [leitourgon] of Christ
Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel
of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be
acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
• Distinctively Christian communal prayer:
– Acts 13:2 “While they were worshiping
[leitourgein] the Lord and fasting, the Holy
Spirit said: ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul
for the work to which I have called them.’”
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