In an interview to promote his new book, Slave: the Word that Reveals the Riches of Your Salvation, John MacArthur of Grace Community Church and Grace To You ministries thinks that English translators of every English Bible has mistranslated the word doulos to mean servant when it should be translated slave.  Lillian Kwon at asked MacArthur about his “discovery.”  MacArthur claims he did research and found that all English translators, going all the way back to the first English Bibles, felt that the word slave only held a negative connotation and that the word servant should be used instead.  According to MacArthur, slave is the only correct translation and he believes the translators have covered up this error through the centuries.

MacArthur then goes on to re-define the word slave and explains how not using the word slaves has only weakened the church by yielding insincere Christians who are not interested in living out their Christianity if they are really true Christians at all.  He claims that this mistranslation is also the cause of the prosperity gospel or positive thinking teaching in large churches like Joel Osteen’s where Jesus wants to give us whatever we want which makes Jesus our slave instead of us being his slave.

I think John MacArthur is wrong here.  He, in essence, is saying “You all have been getting it wrong for centuries and I’m the one who has the true answer that can improve the church.”  Really, Mr. MacArthur?  This is simply the same type of marketing ploy we see in infomercials and other ads every day.  The ads tell us how we haven’t had a real workout until we get so-and-so’s workout DVD.  Or we haven’t had a REAL power tool until we buy so-and-so’s power tool.  Mr. MacArthur is simply trying to stir up a feeling in believers that they are lacking and that he has the answer so they’ll buy his book. 

The reason translators used the word servant is because that is the word giving an accurate picture of our relationship to the Lord.  The word is neutral and can be used as a negative or positive, depending on the context of the scripture. The KJV uses the word slave twice–once in Jeremiah 2:14 and again in Revelation 18:13.  In the context of Jeremiah 2:1, both the word servant and slave are used together and are shown to be synonymous in that context of negativity.  Revelation 18:13 also has a negative context.  But here’s the catch–neither the Greek word doulos nor its Hebrew equivalent is used in either case.  The translators only used the word slave in a negative way using the most reliable manuscripts. 

The KJV also uses the words bondbondage, bondwoman, bondmaid, and bondservant as being synonymous with servant.  I’m sure that Christians who study the word (KJV) with the Holy Spirit’s help can distinguish between the word servant as used of Joseph when he was sold into slavery by his brothers in comparison to servant as used for Jesus in Isaiah 42 and the word servant to refer to believers in the New Testament.  It is the newer versions that call Christians slaves in the New Testament and they are based on a minority of the manuscripts that were found in Alexandria, Egypt.  The word slave is a word promoted in false religions, including New Age thinking, sorcery, and witchcraft, to denote a person who is the lowest of the low, lacking intellect, and worthy to be used only for the social or sexual pleasure of their masters.  This is why the English translators who use servant got it correct so there could be a distinction between God’s use of words as opposed to the world’s use of words.

In my opinion, MacArthur’s book should be ignored.  I happen to listen to his program and enjoy some of his teachings, but he’s off on this one.

–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–