Monday, February 13, 2006

Word Study: Slave

Bible Study: Versions (part 2)

I will begin with a difference in the KJV compared to other versions. I know that comparing isn’t the best way to show error, but this essay is on comprehension and not errors (though this essay does raise the question of a possible contradiction in those bibles that have the word change).

ROMANS 6:22 “But now having been set free from sin, and become slaves to God…” (NKJV*) (Emphasis added)

ROMANS 6:22” But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God…” (KJV) (Emphasis added)

* I must identify this version because of the copyright. The KJV is the only version that isn’t copyrighted.

SLAVE, n. 1. A person who is wholly subject to the will of another; one who has no will of his own, but whose person and services are wholly under the control of another.

SERVANT, n. 7. One who yields obedience to another.

Webster’s New World Dictionary (1990) & Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1996)—same as the NOAH WEBSTER 1828 DICTIONARY

The KJV is the only version, that I have seen, that uses the word servant in this verse, and all other similar verses in the New Testament. I have been told this difference is irrelevant.

I decided to do a word study. I searched several dictionaries (including a copy of an 1828 dictionary); all made distinct differences between servant and slave. The difference is the will. A servant is willing, while a slave is not.

Being mindful that the bible was originally written in Greek, I turned to the Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible. It stated that each time the bible uses the word servant, that word is translated from one of the five Greek words (doulos, diakonos, pais, oiketes or douloo). All of the Greek words, except one (oiketes), literally translate into the word slave, but in the way the writers of The Bible (such as Paul etc.) used those words, they imply willing “subjection without bondage”.

If we are slaves then, in the true sense of the word, we can hate God and still be saved. Jesus’ own words tell us to love God in MATT. 22:37.

Finally, in light of some verses, such as JOHN 8:36 and GAL. 5:13 (see below), it appears that saying we are slaves creates a contradiction. Jesus says we are free, let’s not call ourselves slaves.

JOHN 8:36 (Jesus speaking) “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (Emphasis added)
GALATIANS 5:13 “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Emphasis added)

Additional (Unrelated) Verses to Consider:
1. GENESIS 22:8 (KJV) “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb…”

Some other versions read “…provide for himself…” or “…God himself will provide…” These changes distort the prophesy that God would become the lamb. The fulfillment of this prophesy is found in JOHN 1:29

2. ISAIAH 14:12, 15 (KJV) “12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer…/15 Yet thou (Lucifer) shalt be brought down to hell…”

Some other versions say “Morning star”, “Day star”, or “Star of the morning” instead of “Lucifer” in v.12. The title “Morning star” is reserved for Jesus in REV. 22:16. The Hebrew word for “star” (kokab) is not found in this verse. This is also the only time the word “Lucifer” is found in the bible.

In v.15 the KJV sends Lucifer to hell, many other versions send him to the mysterious “Sheol” or the “grave”. We all go to the grave.


Elizabeth Ellen Moore said...

This is an interesting word study. You did some deep research. One thing that came to my mind was the use of the word “servant” in reference to the slaves of the colonial era by some sources (“slave” is used more often.) They apparently had not read Webster’s Dictionary! Thanks for posting.

Robert W Moore said...

Hi Zac,

...Interesting points.

It is helpful to remember that the meanings of many words and phrases from the late 16th and early 17th centuries have changed over the years.

In 1611 it was acceptable to refer to slaves as servants. In today's modern parlance, we would more readily use the word slave. The key is this: what did the original Greek word mean to the author and the first generation of people to read the manuscripts. In this case, the Greek word strongly implies subjection to bondage. 1611: servant. 2006: slave.

This is not a contradiction to orthodox Christian teaching. In the same way that we may be both BORN (i.e. new birth, born again; I Peter 1:3; John 3:3) and ADOPTED (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:15), we may also be servants and slaves.

We tend to view these things from the limited human perspective. Our relationship with God defies any single explanation. For instance, God Himself is described as King, Father, Shepherd, Master, and so forth. Hence, I can be a servant, child, sheep, slave -- all of these help us begin to understand the richness of belonging to HIM alone! ...It's a beautiful study that should never tire us.

What tools or resources are you using to understand biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek)? The key issue is original meaning. In other words, what did the word/phrase first mean? There should be an equivalent word/phrase that is readily understood in the vernacular.

Some estimates indicate that more than 800 words and phrases in the 1611 KJV have changed meanings.

Thanks for your work here. It is thought provoking.

Markus Reuter said...

Hi Zac,

You may not remember me, but I used to go to Miss Suzi's in your class, among other things. Nice to see you have a blog, and a very interesting one, not to mention one of the most wholesome ones I've ever seen. Will check back soon.

Wholesome Works said...

Mr. Moore,

I appreciate your comment and have been doing some further research.

I believe that the Greeks would have read these words as our modern day word, servant. The words are used as we use the word slave in a sentence like, to slave over a stove. Although the biblical usage is much deeper, implying a believer puts himself into willing subjection to dependence. In contrast, a slave would have an unwilling dependence on (bondage to) God.


Wholesome Works said...


I wouldn’t forget a fellow bass recorder player.

Sorry I missed your nickname contest. I would have voted for “Sparkius”

Come back soon,

Robert W Moore said...

Hi Zac,

In 1611, the "servants" were in subjection to the master of the house. Translations that render the GR word douloo as "become slaves" are not incorrect. The Greek word simply means to be subjected to bondage.

I think this deserves further thought! The contrast in Romans 6:22 involves our former slavery to sin. This is why Paul emphasizes that we're FREE from sin. We're no longer enslaved to it. The context supports the notion of being in subjection to GOD rather than SIN. ...That's a good thing!

It is the Lord Himself who touches our will to give us the "want to" when serving Him. One could say that whether you call it "servant" or "slave," the point is that we're serving and obeying Him without reservation. We couldn't do that without the grace of God.

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13 ESV

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13 KJV

...Good work here, Zac. Keep it up! Christians should be wary of most 20th century Bible versions.