Friday, March 25, 2011

Slaves of the Master

Book Review: Slave-The Hidden Truth About Your Identity In Christ
by John MacArthur

The background to this book is a translation issue and the implications in a Christian’s life based upon their understanding of their relationship to Christ. The Greek word doulos literally means “slave”. This is how I learned it in my two semesters of New Testament Greek. I remember translating sentences my professor had created for practice and over and over we would be translating ‘o doulos- “the slave”. It seemed to me at the time that we were practicing this word a lot for the relatively few times that the New Testament references slaves. What I came to learn, what MacArthur points out in his book, is that doulos is often translated as “servant” rather than “slave” (see Romans 1:1 and James 1:1 as easy to locate examples).

MacArthur discusses the reasoning behind this translation choice, essentially reasoning that it is in order not to offend our modern sensibilities. Personally, I think it is a complex issue. Mention the word slavery and Western minds will automatically think of American/British chattel slavery. In fact, you have probably heard an atheist/agnostic attack the Bible, claiming it supports slavery. Their reference point when doing so is American/British chattel slavery. But, as MacArthur points out, this is not the reference point of doulos. MacArthur explains the differences between the modern concept of slavery and slavery of the Greco-Roman world. Without idealizing slavery (it is still slavery) MacArthur says that slaves of this time could find considerable standing (serving as doctors or teachers), even respect and honor based upon who their master was. If they had a benevolent master they, in many cases, would even enjoy a more enviable lifestyle than the free poor.

What significance does this have to my relationship with Christ? Well, if I am merely Christ’s servant then I have chosen to hire myself out to him. If I don’t like the work or the wages I can choose to hire myself out to another master. However if I am a doulos (slave) then I am not my own, for I was bought at a price (1 Cor 6:19-20), that price being the precious blood of Christ Jesus himself! In this economy Christ has chosen me, I am His, He sets the work before me and I have no choice but to do it, after all, I belong to Him.
Two final points are worth consideration: First, we may think ourselves to be free, but the clear teaching of Scripture is that we are born slaves to sin (Romans 6:17). However, through the shed blood of Christ we have been set free from slavery to sin, whose wage is death, in order to become slaves to righteousness, the wages being eternal life (Romans 6:18)! Second, no master could be more benevolent than Christ. In the Greco-Roman system of slavery a slave might enjoy considerable prestige based upon his masters standing in society. For Christians, our master is the King of king and Lord of lords. The glorious doctrine of adoption shows us that though we are slaves we become sons, sons whom Jesus is not ashamed to call brothers (Hebrews 2:1).

This book is worth a read (or a listen) and will challenge your commitment to your master. Personally, I listened to the book narrated by MacArthur. The audio book is available from

I received this book free from through the christianaudio Reviewers program.