Is Slave a Good English Translation?

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Darrell Post's picture

I am pleased with the translation slave. It's not like translating doulos as 'bond-servant' or 'servant' frees you from having to explain from the pulpit what a first-century doulos was. I recently preached on the slave/doulos relationship we have to Christ, and it took only 10 minutes of the sermon to explain the differences and similarities between a first century doulos and American slavery. The people in the pew can easily understand it. But the reason I like slave as a translation is the key similarity--the loss of personal autonomy. The slave, whether in the first century or the 19th, yields personal autonomy and now finds identity in his master. That is why the apostles picked up this terminology to explain their relationship to Christ. They don't 'serve' Christ 8-5 and then punch out. They don't work for Christ until Friday at 5pm, and then live Saturday for themselves. It seems the translation servant would require even more explanation than the rendering slave.

Whenever there is no English word that precisely translates the Greek, the responsibility of the preacher is always to offer further explanation to fill in the gap to reduce what was lost in translation. Slave comes closer than any other English word for rendering doulos, but the explanation is still needed.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think slave is excellent - it's bolder and starker than the softer "servant." It gets across the reality of slavery to Satan in a very startling and blunt way; and that's always a good thing. It also depicts a Christian's proper relationship to Jesus Christ - His slave. The bluntness and matter-of-factness of this phrase allows no wiggle-room from (1) the sinner who wishes to downplay his relationship to Satan, or (2) the Christian who wants to soften his responsibility to the Lord. 

"Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness," (Rom 6:16-18).

This is a powerful statement. It's even more powerful if "servants" becomes "slaves." 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Greg Long's picture

After reading MacArthur's Slave and the more scholarly Slave of Christ by Murray J. Harris (which seems to be the source for much of MacArthur's material), I would say it definitely SHOULD be translated slave.

I wrote a paper on how Jesus calls us in Mark 10:41-45 not to "servant leadership" (which even the secular world espouses), but in fact to "slave leadership."

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Bert Perry's picture

.....I'm guessing that I'd use the word "bond-servant" and carefully explain what is going on for obvious reasons.  For that matter, given the sensitization of our society, especially among the young, I might do the same.  

One thing worth noting is that I'm pretty sure many translations don't translate doulos and diakonos consistently--there are nuances that impact meaning.  

Or, pretty much what Darrell said, but with a somewhat different implementation; ya gotta define your terms!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.