We Are Slaves of Christ

As opposed to servants, not that we don’t serve. We were “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Peter 1:18-19, Revelation 5:9). A very great price. Most English translations avoid using the word slave when referring to believers, although that’s changing.

The underlying Greek word is doulos, which always means slave. I realize that the way languages work, there is often more than one definition for a word given its context. But I’m agreeing with those who say that doulos always means slave, as opposed to servant or bondservant (1 Corinthians 7:22 ESV). The word “‘servant’ for ‘slave’ is largely confined to Biblical transl. and early American times” according to the entry on doulos in A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer along with Gingrich and Danker, often referred to and known as BDAG by scholars. (If you like to read commentaries you will find that referenced a lot.) In other words, it’s always translated as ‘slaves’ in most literature, with English (I suppose) Bible translations being an exception, which is regrettable.

Here are some examples. The ESV uses the traditional KJV, ASV, RSV rendering and HCSB, NLT, NET, and parts of the NASB use ‘slave’ when describing our identity in Christ.

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news–
Rom 1:1 HCSB

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Rom 1:1 NASB

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Rom 1:1 ESV

And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ.
1 Cor 7:22 NLT

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.
1 Cor 7:22 ESV

Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!
Gal 1:10 NET

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Gal 1:10 ESV

You cannot be slaves of God and of money.
Matt 6:24 HCSB

You cannot serve God and money.
Math 6:24 ESV

(The translation I read, God’s Word, uses ‘servant’ the majority of the time. Can’t have everything.)

John MacArthur wrote a book on this subject called Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ. As he is wont to do, he goes a little bit far and calls using the word servant a conspiracy among translators. I’m not sure how translators get together to conspire about this, but it sounds like an otherwise good book. MacArthur was apparently unaware of the newer translations–that not being his forte. He has a sermon you can find online” Slaves for Christ. There is also a book called Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ by Murray J. Harris.

Why is this important? John MacArthur says in an interview:

I read the other day the No. 1 group in the world in drawing audiences is YouTube; No. 2 is Joel Osteen. How in the world did that happen? But what’s his message? This message is whatever you want, whatever you desire, whatever you dream, whatever your heart longs for, Jesus wants to come along and give it to you. So now you have an inverted Christianity in which you are Lord and he’s your slave. That doesn’t exist if you understand what it means to confess Jesus is Lord and you’re his slave. That has been allowed to flourish to such a massive degree along with the health, wealth prosperity message which basically says the same thing – you’re in charge and Jesus will give you what you want. This whole inversion is because of a skewed understanding of doulos.

Read the rest here:
Interview: John MacArthur on Being a 'Slave' for Christ
Even if you don’t like John MacArthur, I think you might like this. I certainly did.

I wish I would have known this a long time ago, although the concept of us not being our own has already made a significant impact in my life with God.

Although we are slaves of Christ, we are also heirs, and he even treats us as friends:

Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?
James 2:5 HCSB

I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.
John 15:15 HCSB

2 Responses to “We Are Slaves of Christ”


  1. 1 Eric

    Hi Jeff – I think that’s been a tricky issue for translators for a long time. Here’s a short video of the translators of the ESV, including Wayne Grudem, as they wrestle with doulos: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/11/07/the-esv-translation-committee-debates-the-translation-of-slave/. I’m not a regular reader of the ESV but certainly appreciate their care in trying to render the best word(s). Eric

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    I’ve seen that video and it’s pretty disappointing to me actually. They just took to typical reading of it and took Grudem’s advice.
    Jeff

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