New Testament Word Studies – Teknon, Huios

(Quotations are from Revised Version)
Since teknon etymologically means “a born-one, a bairn, a child’, and huios means a ‘son’, one may often hear it said that wherever in Scripture we read of the CHILDREN (teknon) of God, it is a question of the relationship of life brought into being between God and the believer through the new birth, whereas when we read of the sons (huioi) of God, we are to think of the similarity of character existent between mature believers and God. Now certainly there are places where the difference between life and character is clearly apparent. In John 1.12,13, for instance, ‘… to them gave he the right to become children {teknon) of God … who were born …’ the relationship of birth and life is explicitly emphasized. On the other hand, the Lord’s words in Matt. 5. 44, 45, ‘Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you, that ye may be sons (huioi) of your Father which is in heaven’, urge us to display in practical living the same character as our Father.
But it would not seem that this distinction in meaning between teknon and huios is uniformly maintained throughout the New Testament. It is, for example, very difficult to see any real difference in meaning between Galatians 3. 7 where believers are described as ‘sons (huioi) of Abraham’ because they show the same character of faith as Abraham did, and 1 Peter 3. 6 where women who show the same character as Sarah are called not ‘daughters’ but ‘children’ (tekna) of Sarah. Without doubt in this latter instance teknon is used of character, not of any birth/life relationship.
Again, while kotos is sometimes used of one whose character is developed as distinct from an immature child, witness Galatians 4. 1-6, it is also used to describe one who enjoys the dignity of a life-relationship with the Father, as distinct from a slave who is not related by life to the Father, Gal. 4. 7. Moreover the veriest babe in Christ, whose character is quite undeveloped, can rightly claim to be a son of God, for so Galatians 3. 26 explicitly calls him: ‘For ye are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus’. And the context makes it abundantly clear that the means by which we obtain this sonship and so become heirs of the inheritance covenanted to Abraham, is not development of Christian character, but baptism into Christ and this explicitly precludes distinctions of any kind between one believer and another.
Here then is an example that shows how unreliable etymology is when taken by itself. We must always take into account the general usage of a word with all its variations and let the context decide its particular shade of meaning; and often the final interpretation will rest with the theologian rather than the grammarian.

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