I have recently been engaged in an email discussion with a KJV onlyist. As is typical with KJVO apologists, I was document bombed with a number of cut and pasted articles that allegedly refuted my criticism I have of KJV apologetics.
The first email focused upon my two part series on the word doulos, which is rightly translated “slave,” rather than the traditional KJV “bond servant” or “servant.” My emailer took umbrage with my articles and the conclusions I drew that slave is the more accurate translation of doulos. He instead insisted that the KJV translators were not only more accurate rendering the word as “servant,” but the translation “servant” better reflects the freedom and joy a man or woman has with their new found salvation.
I on the other hand argue – and I believe persuasively if you read my articles – that defining doulos properly as “slave” has profound theological implications with our understanding of the doctrine of depravity and salvation. In my opinion, the KJV (as well as a number of other translations), fails to accurately capture the true meaning of doulos and those important, theological nuances are missed as a result.
It’s not my habit to utilize personal email as blog fodder, but I thought the challenges my emailer raised presented us a working picture of how KJVO apologetics attempt to defend the KJV in light of significant problems with its translation of the biblical text. So I wanted to present a few generic highlights from our exchange for others to read and study. My emailer’s statements will be in blue, mine will follow afterward.
One of many errors introduced to churches through some seminary/college graduates & modern bible versions is the rendering of Greek doulos as slave or its equivalent, bond servant.* This results in the improper suggestion that the Bible teaches a Christian is to be a slave in bondage to God or man. It’s not God who condones slavery & bondage, but the devil, through his influence on men who seek to make others submit to them. God teaches us voluntary servant-hood, which is a very different matter, one having great associated blessing, security and ultimate glory (Rev.3:21, Mt.19: 28, Lk.12:42-44).
I’ll begin with this opening comment by my detractor because it reveals for us some core presuppositions most Independent, Fundamental Baptists have regarding God, man, the nature of man’s sin, and salvation.
First he claims God does not condone slavery and bondage and thus by extension, to claim doulos must be translated as “slave” is besmirching God’s character as a promoter of slavery. But it is just a fact that the writers of the NT, Paul in particular, utilized the word and slave imagery to teach basic truths regarding the bondage a sinner has to sin and the claim of Lordship God has upon those whom He has redeemed.
My detractor makes a category error, because he assumes the use of “slave” language equates to calling God a slave trader or whatever. Translating doulos as slave does not equate to God condoning slavery.
However, while God does condemn slave trading and kidnapping for the purposes of enslaving people, He did not forbid slavery, merely regulated it, and instituted indentured servitude that does practice principles of master ownership of another person.
Additionally, the fact that Paul mentions slavery in the context of the Roman slavery during his days of ministry, exhorting masters to treat their slaves honorably with respect and dignity, and slaves to serve their masters with a whole-hearted devotion, (See Ephesians 6:5ff.) shows that Christianity can and does thrive in such conditions; albeit conditions we in liberty-loving modern America find odious and have virtually never experienced.
Secondly, and more to the main point, rather than defending the integrity and scholarship of the KJV translation, I believe he is aiming more at protecting the Fundamental Baptist form of semi-Pelagian synergism with regards to man and salvation. In other words, he wants to keep intact the idea that sinners have the ability within themselves to either choose for God or against God in matters of personal salvation.
That is the reason he double-downs on his defense of the KJV’s inaccurate rendering of doulos as “slave.” If men are owned by sin to such an extent that they are enslaved to sin as their “masters,” they are powerless to free themselves so as to make a willing choice for the Gospel. That is a key talking point among Fundamental Baptists because if one goes with the correct translation of “slave” for doulos, that by extension directs our theology toward the erroneously named “Lordship” view of salvation (which is really just biblical Christianity) that Baptists like my emailer tend to despise.
I personally think that is what is at the heart of his defense for his view of doulos. It plays into his autosoteriological understanding of the Gospel. I say that because later in his email he writes (note my emphasis),
The Christian is a servant loved by God, and is free to make choices, even being forgiven for error in judgment due to his humanity and God’s love for him. Further, the servant of God receives wonderful wages in the form of eternal and earthly rewards, and he can have complete confidence that all that he does in service to God is for his own ultimate good and that of others since God knows all things perfectly and leads His people in accord with His love for them.
His view of “freewillism” drives his adoption of “servant” as a translation of doulos. But even then his understanding of freedom is flawed. The Christian is not “free” to just walk away from God and abandon his salvation unless my detractor is a full Arminian. The same is true about the Christian’s freedom in the eternal state. In other words, Christians won’t have the freedom to lead a heavenly rebellion against the Lord.
Moving along to some other areas, he writes,
K.S. Wuest, Greek professor at Moody Bible Institute, … He was one of the more influential anti-KJV men influencing modern scholars.
A couple of thoughts with this comment. First, it is a repeated practice among KJVO apologist to accuse anyone who challenges the various KJV talking points as “anti-KJV.” That is common among members of any ideological camp: Paint your opponent as “anti” whatever. Challenge Roman Catholicism, you’re “anti-Catholic.” Challenge Darwinianism, you’re “anti-science,” etc. I never really read Kenneth Wuest, but from what I have read of him in regards to various NT studies, it is dishonest to claim his motivation was driven by anti-KJV sympathies.
Secondly, I never cited Wuest in my original article. In fact, some sources I cited pre-date his career, so it is an misguided attempt to identify him as the progenitor of the translation of doulos as “slave.” Deal with what I wrote and the sources I cited. Are they right or wrong?
One likely problem here is that scholars think doulos reflects the fact of slavery in the Roman empire of early New Testament days, not realizing that scripture teaching is relevant to all eras of time, and servant fits that type of usage.
Scholars think that because that is the meaning of the word. Moreover, the NT was written by the apostles living in the era of the Roman empire who practiced slavery, so I trust that they knew what they meant and intended to mean when God inspired them to write what they wrote. That doesn’t make the NT irrelevant to later generations. Later generations will need to do their study in order to uncover authorial meaning.
Like most words, doulos has different meanings in different contexts.
I would agree. In fact, my detractor supplies seven examples: Philippians 2:7, 1 Corinthians 9:19, 2 Timothy 2:24, Revelation 15:3, Matthew 20:7 and 24:45, and Luke 13-23. In a few of those examples he supplies, “servant” is probably a more apt translation of doulos, like Phil. 2:7. However, that doesn’t change the primary definition as meaning “slave.” More to the point is the theological theme expressed with the use of doulos which is one of a sovereign ownership and obedient submission.
In the case of Romans 6, the one passage I used to illustrate that theme and the one he doesn’t go into any serious detail addressing, it is clear that a sinner’s identification with the old man, Adam, dominates and enslaves him. He can do nothing but serve sin and live disobediently to God’s law (Romans 6:15-23).
But God has made the sinner His slave. That being, God has redeemed the sinner by paying the ransom price with the death of Christ on His behalf so that now the sinner is “owned” as it were, by God. The sinner no longer obeys sin, for that former relationship of ownership has been broken, and he now has a new identification with Christ as his Lord (there’s the dreaded Lordship) and can serve righteousness.
My KJVO proponent seems to miss that theme entirely, and instead fixates upon making sure the person’s “freedom” and “freewill” remains at the forefront. Take for instance his comment regarding Revelation 15:3 where he says,
Moses as,… the servant (doulos) of God, and while he took many direct commands from God, even he was not a slave to God, for he made personal decisions, such as heeding the advice of his father-in-law in choosing judges to handle lesser matters among the children of Israel and deferring to his wife’s desire to not circumcise his son (for the latter choice he faced severe chastisement from God – Exo. 4:24,25).
Whether or not Moses could make decisions governing Israel or in his personal life is irrelevant to his position before God. The point is that he was owned by the Lord, for the Lord had delivered Moses and the children of Israel from bondage. That is, they were enslaved in Egypt and God moved to deliver them so that now they are His people. There is a principle of sovereign ownership and obedient submission in play between God and Moses (and all of Israel).
This is were the KJVO apologetic fails. Instead of recognizing significant difficulties in the KJV text that arise due to a slightly misaligned translation of the original languages, the KJVO apologist resorts to desperate exegetical measures to rescue any reasonable correction to the KJV text. And regrettably, they are forced to adopt misguided theology in order to maintain their position.