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

Posted on March 11, 2013 at 11:14 PM Comments comments (0)
“Paul and Timothy, Servants of Jesus Christ…”  Philippians 1:1 

I am focusing on the cultural impact that resulted in the misguided translation of the Greek word, doulos as servant in this week’s Journal. Owing to this error, a Christian’s true identity is lost in our Western theological thought.  However, three major areas will be discussed: (1) The origin of the cultural impact, (2) the Gospel and the Greco-Roman world, and (3) the misguided translation… its background and the Gospel. Let’s now begin with:  

First, The Origin of Cultural Impact: Fulfilling the Great Commission resulted in major changes or compromises in some of the key doctrines of Christianity. However, I am focusing   on the misguided translation of the Hebrew word, ebed and in Greek, doulos, which are words rendered as servants by the English Version of the Bible. Many countries that used the English Version as their standard for translation also picked-up the same cover-up.  

The Great Commission of Jesus Christ must be obeyed.  But how does the Gospel takes root in a culture?  This has been the struggle of the Church throughout history.

To understand the rendering of slave to servant in the Geneva Bible and in the King James Version, one needs to study what slavery was during the Greco-Roman era.  This influenced the decision of the translators. Slavery was part of the social structure in the first-century Roman Empire. Many slaves were bought from the slave market, and some sold themselves into slavery due to either debt or poverty, while others were captured as prisoners of war. Some slaves were freed by their masters for services rendered; other slaves would save money to buy their freedom. 

The Roman law prohibited mutilation and murder of slaves.  In his book, Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ.  Dr. John Macarthur, one of the notable scholars of the twenty-first century writes, “Slaves of all ages, genders, and ethnicities constituted an important socioeconomic class in ancient Rome.  Roughly one-fifth of the empire’s population were [sic] slaves – totaling as many as twelve million… The entire Roman economy was highly dependent on this sizable pool of both skilled and unskilled labor." Slaves in this culture were properties, though with little protection by law, and their primary duties were to please their masters.              
Slavery in ancient Greece was similar to that of the Roman Empire. The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined, “… slave as a human being who was considered an article of property, someone who belonged completely to another person. Ancient Rome viewed slaves the same way: ‘… a slave had, in principle, no rights, no legal status whatsoever; he was a chattel owned by his master.’”

Second, The Gospel and the Greco-Roman World: Because the Greeks were polytheistic (that is, they believed in many gods), Christianity was easily accepted in that culture.             

Luke records, in the book of Acts, that Paul preached in Athens, one of the Greek cities.  In the 1800s, “It was the capital and largest city of Greece, [located] in the eastern part of the country near the Saronic Gulf … Athens became the capital of modern Greece in 1834, two years after the country achieved its independence from Turkey. Population: 745,000.” Presently, the city is listed as one of the world’s largest cities with a population of 3, 027,000. The apostle Paul preached to the Athenians having been troubled by their dedication of idols worship as found in Acts 17: 22-24.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hand.  And he is not served by human hands….’  

Building on where they were religiously, Paul preached to them that the Unknown God is Jesus Christ and had appeared to him, and had taught him how to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

The Greeks were philosophically inclined. To them, they needed to understand in order to believe. Their reflection on the various deities within their culture paved the way for the acceptance of Christianity. On the other hand, the Roman Empire was also polytheistic like the Greeks.  Hence, the Gospel penetrated those cultures because everyone had the desire to know his true Creator.
To be continued.

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John Macathur. Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity In Christ (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2010) 25.
John MacArthur (quoted  Aristotle Politics & Pierre Grimal,) 27.