Slaves or Servants (pt 1)

What is the more accurate translation of doulos?
Advocates for the King James Bible will insist that the venerable translation is the only printed English edition that accurately conveys God’s revelation to men in our modern world. When the KJV was translated, they will boldly argue, it was translated by the most learned language scholars the Christian world had ever known and has known since. Those men were so expert with the command of Hebrew, Greek, and English, they used just the right English words to precisely translate the meaning of the original biblical languages.Overseeing this miraculous work of translation was the Hand of divine providence. God Himself, in the fullness of time, brought together all the conditions necessary to have translated once and for all the one and only Bible to be used by God’s people throughout the English speaking world, and that Bible is the King James Version.

Those are some extremely lofty claims for a translation of scripture. The implications are profound. It means no other English Bible translation before or after the publication of the KJV can rightly be called “God’s Word.” Moreover, any revision done to the KJV text with either updating spelling or English usage for the purpose of clarifying difficult to read passages is, in a manner of speaking, changing “God’s Word.” That certainly holds true for any meaningful revision involving the re-translation of specific words or phrases where the KJV translators could have been more accurate with their translation into English.

I have been writing on KJV-onlyism for a few years now, and one of my key ojectives has been to demonstrate the absurdity of the exclusive claims made on behalf of the KJV. King James apologists have good intentions with their beliefs. They merely wish to up hold God’s revelation as being infallible and inerrant. Yet, regardless of how well intentioned their motives may be, the apologetics they have developed to defend the exclusivity of the KJV are woefully misguided. Instead of helping Christians stand confidently upon the Bible as God’s Word, they only serve to undermine a Christian’s faith when challenged to defend his beliefs against intelligent critics.

That is because the KJV-only view of how the scriptures were preserved and transmitted over the course of time is historically inaccurate. More importantly, the claim that the KJV has never been in need of any serious textual re-translation is dangerously false. In other words, if it can be shown that there is a better English translation for specific words and phrases from the original biblical texts than what the KJV has translated, then the KJV-only claim of perfect preservation for the King James is made a mockery which in turn ruins any meaningful defense of scripture.

With in recent months, this Achilles Heel in the KJV-only apologetic has become vividly clear to me when I have been considering the translation of the NT Greek word doulos. The primary definition of doulos is “slave.” The word is used over 100 times in the NT and carries the idea of slavery in the sense of a person being owned by a master. Ever since Christians have been translating the scripture into English the word “servant” or “bond-servant” has been used to translate doulos, and the KJV is no exception. In fact, the only time the KJV uses the word “slave” is in Jeremiah 2:14 and Revelation 18:13 and neither one of those passages is even translating the word doulos.

Now, there isn’t anything specifically wrong with translating doulos as “servant.” A slave is definitely a servant to a master; however a slave is a servant who serves involuntarily and in many cases, under severe compulsion. There are several key instances of doulos being used by biblical writers where the concept of slavery is clearly being expressed and the word “servant” just doesn’t capture the true intent of the original author’s meaning and hence the claim of “most accurate” translation for the KJV is erroneous.

My study is born out of a series of email exchanges I have been having with a couple of cranky KJVers who frequent an email discussion group where I participate. During the course of our interchange on the subject of “superior” Bible translations, I raised the problem with the KJV translating the word doulos consistently as servant rather than slave. Pressed to back up my challenge, I began the process of doing some research, but figured it would be beneficial for a larger audience, so that is why I am making it available as a blog post.

In order to keep this brief study manageable for my readers, I will close my introduction here and go into more depth with the next post. What I would like to do is consider some lexical definitions both Greek and English, demonstrate the theological importance of the word doulos and the necessity of it being translated as “slave” in the English text, and then draw some conclusions in relation to the KJV-only claim of perfect accuracy in translation for the King James Bible.


8 thoughts on “Slaves or Servants (pt 1)

  1. Fred,You make an excellent point in this post. I think John MacArthur had something to say recently about the proper translation of “doulos” and the obvious bias against using “slave” in most translations even when the context demands it. I can’t remember where I saw that article.Do KJVO promoters believe that the New KJV is also a “corrupt” version? If they’re consistent, they would have to reject it as well.Looking forward to the next post on this subject. Steve Lamm

  2. Thanks Steve,I will reference Mac’s message more in my next post, which has been put on hold until I can help my wife paint. =-)Yes, KJV-onlyist will trash the NKJV as well. In fact, I think DA Waite even has a booklet or two exposing the “dangers” of the New King James.Fred

  3. You said, "A slave is definitely a servant to a master; however a slave is a servant who serves involuntarily and in many cases, under severe compulsion." And yet we are 'servants' (doulous) of Jesus Christ. So, you think we serve Him involuntarily? This is not sound logic or reasoning.

  4. Bookborn,If you go to the second part of my study you can see my lexical and grammatical data as to the difference between and slave and a servant. To summarize – though I encourage you to read the second part if you haven't already – the word Paul uses to describe a slave is one that speaks of ownership. It is the ownership by the master that distinguishes between a slave and a so-called servant working voluntarily. This is an important exegetical nuance many translations, including the KJV, miss when they render the word as "servant" rather than "slave." The concept of ownership has significant soteriological ramifications including being a major point against the non-lordship heresy. Fred

  5. try this on – we are born slaves of sin (devils kingdom)and because of Christs sacrifice on the cross we are given an option to choose rebirth as a slave to God or not. as a baby christian we do receive whipping as a slave for disobedience (chastised). but as a mature christian we understand and obey out of love and receive joy yes it is voluntary and we are also slaves.

  6. Pingback: Answering the Claims of KJV-Onlyism | hipandthigh

  7. Pingback: Slaves or Servants (pt 2) | hipandthigh

  8. Pingback: Biblical and Theological Studies | hipandthigh

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