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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(’ish `al bayith (Ge 43:16,19; 44:1; 1Ki 16:9), ha-meltsar (Da 1:11), ha-cokhen (Isa 22:15)):

1. Old Testament Usage:

In the King James Version the word "steward" is found in Ge 15:2; 1Ch 28:1, in addition to the above. The American Standard Revised Version renders Ge 15:2 as "possessor," and 1Ch 28:1 "rulers."

The phrase ben-mesheq in Ge 15:2 is best rendered "son of acquisition," hence, "heir." But this is disputed. Skinner in the ICC on Ge regards the text as hopelessly corrupt, and offers no solution of the difficulty. In the other passages, the phrase ’ish `al bayith is conveniently translated "steward," though literally it is "man over the house." The word ha-meltsar in Da 1:11 is translated in the King James Version as a proper noun. This is certainly a mistake. The margin gives "the steward," and this is followed in the Revised Version (British and American). A better rendering perhaps would be "overseer," as this man seemed to have the superintendence of the training and feeding of the young men until they were fitted to enter the king’s service. He was thus rather a steward of persons than of property (see Melzar). In Isa 22:15 Shebna is described in the text as "treasurer," but in the margin as "steward," and seems to combine the ideas in both the words "treasurer" and "steward." Shebna was thus one of the highest officials, having charge of the city’s funds, and of administering them for the city’s benefit.

Though the word for "steward" occurs but once in that sense, the idea is one familiar to the Old Testament. Eliezer of Damascus was Abraham’s slave and trusted steward. Heseems to have had the oversight of all his affairs and was entrusted with the important duty of getting a wife for Isaac. He apparently had charge over the family of his master as well as his property. Whether Isaac had such a steward or not is nowhere stated, but it is practically certain that he had. Jacob seems to have been Laban’s steward for a time, as he apparently had full charge of the flocks and herds of his master. Joseph was practically Potiphar’s steward, and when he became Pharaoh’s chief minister, he himself had a steward over his own house (Ge 39:4,5; 44:1,4). The king Elah in his brief reign of two years had a steward in charge of his household (1Ki 16:9). The same was doubtless true of all the kings, and it may be safely inferred that every household of distinction or of sufficient wealth had a steward in charge. The functions of this officer seem at times to have included the care of the children or minors, as well as of the property. Sometimes he was a slave, sometimes a freedman.

2. In the New Testament:

epitropos, oikonomos. These two terms denote similar positions. The exact difference cannot be clearly defined, as they are sometimes almost synonymous. The two are found together in Ga 4:2. Some scholars say they are used synonymously, others that the first word is a more general term including the latter. Lightfoot and Ellicott think that the former refers rather to the guardianship of persons, the child’s legal representative, while the latter word refers to the head servant appointed to manage the household or property (compare 2 Macc 11:1; 13:2). There would, however, not be any such hard-and-fast line between their respective duties; these might vary with every master, or might be combined in one individual.

(1) In the Gospels.

(2) In the Epistles.

The application of this term is largely confined to the ministry of the gospel. Paul and his fellow-laborers regarded themselves as stewards of the mysteries of God (1Co 4:1,2). The idea is that he take scrupulous care of that which was entrusted to him, and give it out to others faithfully and as directed by his master Jesus Christ. A bishop or overseer is to be as God’s steward (Tit 1:7). Peter considered himself and all other Christians as "stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1Pe 4:10). The prevalence of the custom of having guardians and stewards over children in their minority is shown in Ga 4:2. The difference in meaning of the two words used here is stated above. In Romans 16:23 Erastus is called the oikonomos of the city. This is best translated "treasurer." Erastus was thus an influential member of the community of Corinth and evidently a faithful Christian.

See also

  • Occupations and Professions