Article: Servants or Slaves? by Will Kinney

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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 transltors preference and nothing to do with Greek. I would really appreciate if you coulkd get back to me with any info on this word "servants" and why it should not be translted "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. Men like Fred Butler 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.

This other "minister" doesn't know what he is talking about either. There is no version that I could find that consistently translates the word doulos always as slave or bondservant. The closest one 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, 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 Complete Jewish Bible, the upcoming brand new ISV (International Standard Version), and even in Daniel Wallace's inconsistent and wacky NET version.

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 " his knowledge shall my righteous SERVANT justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."

The minister is probably getting his definition from the lexicons and not any Bible version out there. I have a modern Greek dictionary 1974 and it shows the word doulos can mean either a slave or a servant.

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 hat made us free, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage." And 5:13 " For, brethren, ye haver 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.

Will Kinney

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