Servants or Slaves?
This little word study resulted from a letter I received from another Christian who wrote me about the alleged error of translating the Greek word 'doulos' as "servant" and not always as "slave". Here is his letter and then my response to the question he brings up.
This brother writes: Recently I was at a gathering and the minister made a big issue about the word "slaves" in the new versions. He said it should have been "slaves"and not "servants" as the King James says. Could you give me more info on this word "servants" and why it should be translated servants and not slaves? He implied that it was a translators preference and nothing to do with Greek. I would really appreciate if you could get back to me with any info on this word "servants" and why it should not be translated "slaves". I need your help on this one. God bless, hope to hear from you soon. In Christ, because of Calvary, Bruce Downey
Hi brother Bruce. Thanks for writing. I have heard this silly objection to the King James Bible a few times now. One other such "Every Man For Himself Bible Corrector" is Fred Butler. He also has posted this alleged error on the internet. Fred Butler works with fellow Bible Corrector John MacArthur, who also thinks the Greek word doulos should always be translated as "slaves". Fred probably got this idea from his favorite teacher. Men like Fred Butler and John MacArthur do not believe that any Bible in any language is the complete and infallible word of God, but instead make their own minds and flawed understanding the "Final Written Authority", and yet their ongoing bible invention differs from everybody else's.
John MacArthur is now banging the drums for his new book in which he thinks he has found some new insight that apparently has been lost or hidden for hundreds if not thousands of years by virtually all translators of the Bible, both in English and foreign languages.
John MacArthur writes: “Well if you read the New Testament in its original text, you would come away stunned really by how different the original text is from any English version that you’ve ever read...whether King James, New King James, New American Standard, ESV, NIV and you can name all the rest. All of them virtually have found a way to mask something that is an absolutely critical element of truth. In fact, the word “slave” appears in the New Testament 130 times in the original text.”
Keep in mind that John MacArthur does not believe that ANY Bible in ANY language is or ever was the complete, inspired and 100% true words of God. He is a Bible Agnostic. He has never seen “the original text” he talks about a single day in his life; and he sets up his own mind and understanding against virtually all other Bible translators when it comes to the meaning of the word doulos.
For proof of this, see - John MacArthur - Pastor with NO Infallible Bible - http://brandplucked.webs.com/johnmacarthur.htm
Even some Greek scholars tell us that the word doulos can have multiple meanings. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament tells us on page 156 that the word doulos can mean either 1. a slave, and bondman, or 2. A servant, and attendant of a king.
Greek Dictionaries: I have right here in my study a hardback copy of Diury's Modern Greek-English Dictionary 1974. On page 481 when you look up the Greek word doulos it gives these definitions: "slave; enslaved; a servant". The verb form is douleuw and is translated as "I serve, I labor; I work." A related word is he doula and is defined as "a maid, servant, servant girl." The Greek word even in modern times still carries both meanings, just like the Hebrew and New Testament Greek word - a slave or a servant.
What “scholar” John ought to do is simply learn a bit more about the richness of his own native English language.
Websters New World Dictionary, College Edition.
Look up the word Servant in any good English dictionary and you will see that it means: 1. A person employed to perform services, especially household duties, for another or others. 2. A SLAVE. 3. A person employed by a government; public servant; civil servant. 4. A person ardently devoted to another or to a cause, a creed.
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913
1. One who serves, or does services, voluntarily OR ON COMPULSION; a person who is employed by another for menial offices, or for other labor, and IS SUBJECT TO HIS COMMAND; a person who labors or exerts himself for the benefit of another, his master or employer; a subordinate helper. A yearly hired servant." Lev. xxv. 53.
2. ONE IN A STATE OF SUBJECTION OR BONDAGE. Thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt. Deut. v. 15.
And Webster’s 1828 Dictionary added these definitions:
3.In Scripture, a slave; a bondman; one purchased for money, and who was compelled to serve till the year of jubilee; also, one purchased for a term of years.
4. The subject of a king; as the servants of David or of Saul. The Syrians became servants to David. 2 Sam. 8.
5. A person who voluntarily serves another or acts as his minister; as Joshua was the servant of Moses, and the apostles the servants of Christ. So Christ himself is called a servant, Is. 42. Moses is called the servant of the Lord, Duet. 34.
There is no version that I could find that consistently translates the word doulos as slave or bondservant, except the Westcott-Hort based Goodspeed translation of 1943, which didn't amount to more than a passing ripple in a parking lot puddle. Goodspeed was a LIBERAL theologian, and even John MacArthur now seems desperate enough to recommend this liberal paraphrase just so he can bolster his idea that somebody else agrees with him that the Greek word doulos should always be translated as "slave". The closest modern version to do this in the New Testament is the NASB, however even the NASB translates this same word as servants in Revelation 10:7 - "His servants the prophets". So too do Wallace's NET version, the NIV, RSV, ASV, RV, NRSV, ESV, NKJV and the ISV.
Daniel Wallace and his ever changing NET version demonstrates the inconsistency and fickleness of modern scholarship when it comes to defining the meaning of various Greek words.
Wallace translates Romans 1:1 as: “ From Paul, a SLAVE (2) of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”
He then goes on to footnote regarding the use of the word “slave” - “(2) - Traditionally, “servant.” Though (doulos) is normally translated “servant,” the word does not bear the connotation of a free individual serving another. BDAG notes that “‘servant’ for ‘slave’ is largely confined to Biblical translation and early American times…in normal usage at the present time the two words are carefully distinguished” (BDAG 260 s.v.). The most accurate translation is “bondservant” (sometimes found in the ASV), in that it often indicates one who sells himself into slavery to another. But as this is archaic, few today understand its force.”
OK, at this point the learned docktor argues for the correct translation as being either ‘bondservant’ or ‘slave’. Oh, but wait. What does this modern day scholar do with other passages of his own NET bible version? Let’s see.
In Luke 2:29 Dr. Wallace translates the verse as: “Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your SERVANT (88) to depart in peace.”
He then footnotes: “(88) - Here the Greek word (doulos, “slave”) has been translated “servant” since it acts almost as an honorific term for one specially chosen and appointed to carry out the Lord’s tasks.”
At this point we might well ask, Well, how does this present definition of yours differ from its use in all the other passages where the Lord’s people, prophets and apostles are referred to as “servants” in almost every Bible translation in existence?
In Revelation 1:1 Wallace translated the word doulos once again as servant, saying, “ The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his SERVANTS (2) what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his SERVANT John”.
He then footnotes: (2) Grk “slaves.” Although this translation frequently renders (doulos) as “slave,” the connotation is often of one who has sold himself into slavery; in a spiritual sense, the idea is that of becoming a slave of God or of Jesus Christ voluntarily. The voluntary notion is not conspicuous here; hence, the translation “servants.”
Did you notice that last part? In order to communicate what he calls “the voluntary notion” he has now (and in other places too) decided to this time translate this Greek word as “servants” in order to show the voluntary nature of this service rendered unto God.
In Revelation 11:10 again Dr. Wallace translates the verse as: “ But in the days when the seventh angel is about to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God is completed, just as he has proclaimed to his SERVANTS the prophets.”
So which of the various nuances of meaning does the good docktor wish to convey here? “Not ... a free individual serving another”, or does he this time include the “voluntary notion”, or is it “an honorific term for one specially chosen and appointed to carry out the Lord’s tasks.”? These Bible Correcting guys are nothing if not consistently inconsistent.
The NIV translates doulos as servants 94 times and as slave only 29 times. For example, look at Romans 1:1 - "Paul a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ". This word doulos is rendered as servant in the KJB, NKJV, NIV, RV, ASV, RSV, NRSV, the 2001 English Standard Version, and the still being made ISV 2007.
See also Luke 2:29 where Simeon comes into the temple and takes up the child Jesus into his arms and blesses God, saying: "Lord, not lettest thou thy SERVANT (doulos) depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation..."
Servant is the translation given to this word by Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew's Bible 1549 - "Nowe lettest thou thy seruaunt departe in peace, accordinge to thy promes.", Bishops's bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1599, the Revised Version 1881, ASV 1901, Rotherham's Emphasized Bible 1902, Weymouth, Young's, RSV 1946-1973, NRSV 1989, ESV 2001, Message, the NKJV, the NIV 1984 AND the NIV 2010 versions, the Complete Jewish Bible, the upcoming brand new ISV (International Standard Version), and even in Daniel Wallace's inconsistent and wacky NET version.
Foreign language translations also translate the Greek word doulos as servants. Among these are the French Martin 1744, Louis Segond 1910, Ostervald 1996 and the La Bible du Semeur 1999 - serviteurs. Among the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese translations we find the Spanish Reina Valera 1909, 1960, 1995 - siervos, the Italian Diodati 1649, Riveduta 1927 and the New Diodati 1991 - servitori - as well as the Portuguese Almeida - servus.
In the Old Testament there is one Hebrew word Ebed which can either be translated as servant, bondservant or slave. It all depends on the context. Even the NASB translates this one single word as servant 684 times and as slaves only 25 times.
The same Hebrew or Greek word can mean either servant or bond-servant, depending on the context. In Leviticus 25:39-42 the exact same word is used in two very different ways. We are told the poor Hebrew brother who was sold unto another Jew was not to be compelled to "serve as a bondservant, but as a hired servant - "For they are my SERVANTS, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as BONDMEN."
Again, the same thing is found in 1 Kings 9:22 where we read: "But of the children of Israel did Solomon make no BONDMEN: but they were men of war, and his SERVANTS, and his princes, and his captains, and rulers of his chariots, and his horsemen." BOTH words are the exact same Hebrew word; Context makes all the difference in meaning.
Is the Lord Jesus Christ a SLAVE or a SERVANT of God? Many passages in the prophetic book of Isaiah refer to Christ as the "servant" of the Lord. See Isaiah 49:5-6, 50:10, 52:13, and 53:11 "...by his knowledge shall my righteous SERVANT justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."
In the New Testament, we are not called slaves but rather servants because Christ said "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free". "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." John 8:32, 36.
In I Corinthians 7:22 we are told "For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
Galatians 5:1 says: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage." And 5:13 " For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty"
Your minister should write his own bible version, and maybe then he will be happy. He is a Bible corrector who has set up his own mind and understanding as the final authority. Don't believe him. Trust your King James Bible and settle for nothing else.
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After having posted this article at our Which Version club - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/whichversion/ - another Bible believing Christian posted the following comments, and I totally agree with what he says. He posted:It is a false doctrine to say we are slaves of Christ, and it is a false doctrine to say we are slaves to sin. You need to "go to the Greek" to set up this edifice of error.