Title: Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ
Author: John MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” (Rom. 1:1). Over and over again, the New Testament’s writers refer to themselves by this one word—doulos. Typically, we see it translated in English as “servant” or “bondservant;” but is that most accurate way to translate it?
Does doulos really mean “servant?”
According to John MacArthur, it would be better translated as “slave.” In his latest book, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ, he examines the implications of what it means for each of us to be a slave of Christ.
MacArthur’s teaching gifts are on full display in Slave as he provides valuable insight into slavery in first century Rome, and illustrates how that understanding allows Christians today to better appreciate much of the language of Paul and the New Testament writers as they describe their relationship to Christ.
Against the historical backdrop of slavery, our Lord’s call to self-sacrifice becomes that much more vivid. A slave’s life was one of complete surrender, submission, and service to the master—and the people of Jesus’ day would have immediately recognized the parallel. Christ’s invitation to follow Him was an invitation to that same kind of life. (p. 43)
In reality, Slave isn’t simply about making readers see themselves as slaves of Christ. MacArthur, by focusing on the doctrines of grace—the total depravity of man, God’s unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints—gives readers a complete picture of who we are in Christ.
This ultimately culminates in MacArthur’s exposition of the doctrine of adoption. That is, all who put their faith in Christ are not merely slaves, we are also His sons and daughters adopted into God’s family with all the rights of a natural born child.
Reading these chapters, being reminded of this truth, that Christians are both slaves and sons, this is what gives us hope and assurance as believers. If God is our Father, then there is nothing we can do to make Him love us any more or any less. There is nothing that can snatch us from His hand. And because He is our loving Father, our greatest desire is that we should want to serve Him and be wholly devoted to Him in every aspect of our lives. This reminder is a great gift to me as a reader and as a Christian.
What’s surprising is MacArthur’s uncharacteristic use of hyperbole in the opening pages of the book. MacArthur writes that “it almost seems like a conspiracy” that doulos, which exclusively describes “the status of a slave or an attitude corresponding with that of a slave,” is almost universally translated as “servant” in English (p. 16). However, immediately after making mention of this seeming conspiracy, he gives sound reasons for why, perhaps, this word has not been translated as accurately as it should.
The first is related to the stigma of slavery in Western civilization, and the understandable desire to “avoid any association between biblical teaching and the slave trade of the British Empire and American colonial era” (p. 17). The other is that the earliest English translations were influenced by the Latin version of the Bible, which translated doulos as servus, which more naturally translates into “servant” (p. 18).
These are great explanations for the “why” on the translation issue; indeed, they’re actually quite compelling. I can’t help but wonder if the “conspiracy” language of the early pages of the book (and its marketing in particular) is unnecessarily inflammatory and might hurt it in the long run.
“To be a Christian is to be a slave of Christ” (p. 212). Throughout Slave,MacArthur does a tremendous job of illustrating this glorious truth and the freedom that comes through slavery to our great God and King. Despite the noted flaw (as well as a couple of references to the rapture & a subtle dig at guys like Mark Driscoll), Slaveis a book I would wholeheartedly recommend to any believer wanting to better understand their identity in Christ.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.