One of the greatest cover ups in the English translation of the Bible is the idea that we are slaves of Christ - John MacArthur
I often wonder who I am in Christ. I am adopted as a child of God (Ephesians 1:3-6). I am a coheir with Christ (Romans 8:16, 17). I am Christ’s spiritual brother (Matthew 12:46-49). I am part of a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9). And so many more identities we possess because we are in Christ.
In the letter of James we find another identity, one that is often overlooked, that we are slaves of Christ. This and the next five posts will cover the idea that we are Jesus’ slaves. In this post we will discuss that the identity of being Christ’s slave is covered up in the English translations of the Bible. Secondly, we will see the difference between being a servant and being a slave. Next, we will look at slaves being owned. Fourthly, we will see that slaves are obedient. In the fifth post we will see punishment that slaves can receive and the final post will cover the amazing reward for being a slave of Christ.
The opening quote from MacArthur says is all, in your English translation of the Bible is a cover up of immense proportions. The first verse of James chapter one reads this way in the ESV, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” Notice that James, Christ’s half-brother, in this translation calls himself a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Other English translations of James 1:1 use the word servant as well - Contemporary English Version (CEV), Douay-Rheims Bible (DRB), English Standard Version (ESV), Geneva Bible, Good News Bible (GNB), International Standard Bible (ISV), King James Version (KVJ), New International Version (NIV) and the Revised Version (RV). As you can many English translations use the word servant.
The word translated as servant in James 1:1 is the Greek word doulos. Doulos is used 127 times in the New Testament. In the translations I just mentioned they translate it as servant or bond-servant almost every time. The problem is that the Greek word for servant is diakonos not doulos. There are over six words in the Greek for servant and doulos is not one of them. So we need to understand doulos means since it doesn’t mean servant.
Simply put the Greek word doulos means slave. Every use of doulos means slave not servant. The English translations that get it right are the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), the Goodspeed translation and the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The 127 uses of the word doulos in the New Testament they translate as slave every time. Most other translations do not.
So the question we need to ask is why? Why do they use servant instead of slave. It is because the idea of slavery is deplorable to us, as it should be. The images that come to mind when one thinks of a slave are horrific and terrifying. We don’t like them and we shouldn’t. But that isn’t what is intended here or the other 126 times we see the word doulos used in the New Testament. In the next five posts we will see what slavery was during the time James wrote this letter and how it applies to us today. When we are done with this study I trust you will be encouraged, comforted and ready to call yourself a slave of Christ without hesitation.