Bible · Christianity · religion

Slaves or servants? John MacArthur questions translators

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–


4 thoughts on “Slaves or servants? John MacArthur questions translators

  1. May I suggest you check out the endnotes in SLAVE? They are important because nearly all of these references lead to heretical works of modernist and postmodern scholars who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Some of these “scholars” are in fact rabidly anti-Christian, and their works, which Macarthur recommends as authoritative, are filled with slander and blasphemy of the Lord Jesus Christ. One homosexual scholar cited by Macarthur wrote a blasphemous book which attempts to prove that Jesus was a homosexual. (Sex and the Single Savior) Other liberal scholars quoted by Macarthur claim that Christians in the early Church, including the Apostles, not only condoned the institution of slavery but were abusive and immoral slave owners and slave traders just like Roman slave owners/traders. For documentation, read this critical review:



  2. I was doing some research and came across this commentary so let me reply. It does seem surprising that John MacArthur would claim to have made such a discovery. But, for the record, he’s not the only one. There are many people involved when pastors like him do research of this proportion. Secondly, he has made many discoveries and does not go around boasting about them. He is a very humble person and loves to share the gospel. MacArthur is a man of God and just wants the church as a whole to grow and learn from the Bible.

    He lives above reproach as the Scriptures assert in Titus. While, I would agree that someone who makes a discovery may seem like a “type of marketing ploy”, you have to remember that God tells us that blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD (Jer. 17:7). MacArthur is simply doing that by proving that the words of Scripture are far more important to take into account than man’s interpretation, even if years go by and we discover errors in our own writings about the Scriptures. God’s thoughts are higher than man right? I trust MacArthur’s teachings more than most people in this age. He has the gift of teaching and calls Paul the apostle his mentor. Although, I am glad you were not afraid to bring up the topic and create opportunities to share perspectives. We now realize that there are two terms here (slave or servant). I believe that the term “slave” brings God greater glory in the context of this topic as opposed to “servant”. That is a wonderful discovery and why we should continue to read and do our research for the glory of God.


  3. Jesus told his disciples they were no longer His servants but His “friends” and God’s “sons” and “heirs”.

    John 15:15 “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”

    Galatians 4:6-7 “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

    Even if you substitute the word “slave” in these verses, Jesus has declared that the terms “servant” and “slave” do not apply to the Christian’s relationship with Him. Furthermore, the Christian is espoused to Christ as His future “bride”:

    2Cor 11:2 “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

    Rev 19:7-9 “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.”

    John MacArthur even goes so far as to say that Christians will be slaves for eternity:

    “Well, as slaves, we’re going to have something on our foreheads, it won’t be fugitive, it will be His own name whom we serve. Verse 6, ‘He said to me, These words are faithful and true and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angels to show His slaves the things which must shortly take place.’ They were slaves in the past, they’ll be slaves in the future, slaves in heaven, we’re His slaves now who are being taught by the book of Revelation that these things will come to pass. We will never stop being slaves…never.” (Slaves for Christ)

    Yet the book of Revelation teaches that the blood-bought saints will be “kings and priests” who reign with Christ in heaven and on the earth.

    “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Rev. 5:9-10

    Clearly, John MacArthur is contradicting the Word of God.


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