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Paul and Timothy in the Book of Philippians (Part Four)

Posted on February 6, 2013 at 10:27 PM Comments comments (4)
“Paul and Timothy, Servants of Jesus Christ…”     Philippians 1:1    

The rendering of the Greek word douloi (plural) for servants by the translators in this text does not present the original intent of Paul. What the Apostle meant is “slaves.”  Slaves and servants have different meanings. “[M]ale slave as an entity in a socioeconomic context… is largely confined to Biblical transl[ation] and early American times… [I]n normal usage at the present time the two words are carefully distinguished.”[1]

Some translators were influenced by their culture to use a softer word in their contextualization.  But this decision has been affecting the true identity of the Church. This cover-up started with William Tyndale and John Wycliffe. It was also picked up by the Geneva Bible and the English Version of the King James Bible. As a result, the same cover-up is picked up by translators who used the English Version as its standard.  But few countries like Russia, Romania, Indonesia, and the Philippines did not cover it up; they got it right. For them, slave is slave and not rendered servant. Therefore, we need a paradigm shift to the biblical meaning of the word, slave.

I intend to argue from biblical, exegetical, historical, grammatical points of view in laying out the purpose of this rediscovery so that the biblical meaning of slave is slave and not servant. My discussion will focus on the definition of slave and other Hebrew words used as servant in both Old and New Testaments. In this series, I will examine a few versions of the text (Phil 1:1) to show the divergence in translations. Translators’ disagreement on a text or a word within a text is a clear indication that something is wrong.  A scholar would do extensive word study about that word and a careful analysis of the prevailing situation/culture at that time to trace the root cause of such discrepancies.  This is the direction I am taking in this Journal and in the ones that will follow.  Here is the map for this special study: comparison of a few translations, the Hebrew and Greek word for slave and its meanings, the cultural impact that gave rise to such misguided translations, and a call for Christians to rediscover their true identity as a Slave for Christ.

First, a comparison of various translations: What does Paul mean by servants as translated by KJV and others?   

  • King James Version translated Philippians 1:1 douloi (plural) as “servants.”
  • New King James Version translated it as “bond-servants.”
  • New American Standard Bible 1995 translated douloi (plural) as “bond-servants.”
  • English Standard Version translated douloi (plural) as “servants.”
  • American Standard Version translated douloi (plural) as “servants.
  • The 1890 Darby Bible translated douloi (plural) as “servants, bondmen of Jesus Christ.”
  • New Living Translation: “Slaves [douloi] for Christ.”
  • The New Testament: An Expanded Translation translated douloi (plural)bondslavesby nature, the servants’ property of Christ Jesus.”
  • The Holman Christian Standard Bible: “Slaves [douloi] of Jesus Christ.”  

The fact that there are disagreements in the various translations indicate a problem. Something is wrong!  My question is which translation is biblically correct?  The purpose of this special study is to point out the cover-up that has been in the English Version of the Bible over the years. Those who translated it as “servants” are wrong. The right translation of douloi (plural) is slaves! Our true Christian identity has been buried due to these misguided translations, mainly in the English Version of the Bible. This cover-up was also picked up by countries that used the English Bible as the standard text for their translations. The biblical meaning of doulos is slave - the true identity of Christians. Jesus Christ is our slave Master because He purchased us with His own blood (Acts 20:28).       

For Christians who are only depending solely on the English translation of the Bible, you will be shocked, and those who have sound knowledge of Hebrew and Greek need to do a word study on the Hebrew word ebed; it should begin with the Old Testament through the New Testament; trace this word in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible by rabbinical scholars. They translated it correctly. Consider also the cultural implications that influenced those scholars who translated the Geneva Bible, and the King James Version of the Bible. The root cause of this cover-up is contextualization, which can be good, but in many cases it can create doctrinal and theological confusion.  Translators of the Geneva Bible and the King James thought that servant  is softer culturally than slave, not even considering the difference in their meanings.            

I am not suggesting that those translations that used “servants” in Philippians 1:1 are not God’s Word; certainly they are the Word of God and authoritative in all manner of life and practice.  As I write, my study Bible is the King James Version (KJV).  My concern, including those of other scholars, is for us to know our true identity in Christ.  

To be continued.     

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Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2000), 260.
John MacArthur.  Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity In Christ (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 2.