Is There a Conspiracy in Our Bible Translations?

Thursday is for Discipleship

Knowing who we are, who we really are, who we are in Christ, how we are to view ourselves as men and women under the Lordship of Jesus, is critical to making any progress in spiritual formation. This is the theme of my own essay, Settlers or Sojourners, but it is provocatively exposited in Slave, by John MacArthur.

“Scripture’s prevailing description of the Christian’s relationship to Jesus Christ is the slave/master relationship. But do a casual read through your English New Testament and you won’t see it.

geneva-bible
The Geneva Bible

The reason for this is as simple as it is shocking: the Greek word for slave has been covered up by being mistranslated in almost every English version–going back to both the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it. Though the word slave (doulos in Greek) appears 124 times in the original text, it is correctly translated only once in the King James. Most of our modern translations do only slightly better. It almost seems like a conspiracy.”

Instead of translating doulos as ‘slave,’ these translations consistently substitute the word servant in its place. Ironically, the Greek language has at least half a dozen words that can mean servant. The word doulos is not one of them.”

—John MacArthur,
Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ,
p. 16-17.

Question:
Why do translators, but also the rest of us, want to wiggle away from the clear teaching of Scripture related to our position and identity?


9 thoughts on “Is There a Conspiracy in Our Bible Translations?

      1. Yes, absolutely right, Marty. But it is such a gentle Master who just quietly reminds me that if I truly love Him, I will obey His commandments. I need to be like the slave in Dueteronomy who tells his master, “keep me, punch the awl through my earlobe, I’m yours dear Lord. I find great righteousness, peace and joy when I live according to your commandments”

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    1. Lightseeker,
      I like your name. Two thoughts.
      1) this has nothing to do with free will. It has to do with the how the believer is to think of him/herself. How does the scripture describe the relationship between the believer and our Lord.
      2) “is it supposed to help or hurt faith?” Ans. Neither at one level and help at another. I would answer neither and instead say that it is meant to describe what the scripture describes. At another level, understanding what the scripture actually teaches is always going to be an encouragment to faith.

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  1. So by improper translations, they aren’t appropriately communicating the original meaning/ intentions of the texts? That seems straightforward enough.

    I bring up free will because when I hear “slave” though, I don’t think of someone willingly entering into that bond. The word slave implies that the person is put in that relationship by the slave owner (god in this case) and that they are subservient without choice or pay. A true relationship with god would have to involve a choice and the pay would be a heavenly return. A “slave” would be held against their will and would only stay subservient if there was risk of punishment. That doesn’t seem much like commitment to me, but rather some sort of spiritual captivity. That might be why they used “servant” instead. However, that opens up a whole can of worms. Should we alter the word of God to suit our worldly needs or accept the original texts at face value, even if they are more off-putting? That’s why I asked if it would help or hurt faith. The uncomfortable truths of the original intent might scare some away.

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    1. Lightseeker,
      Your final comment, “the uncomfortable truths of the original intent might scare some away.” Truth is powerful. Someone once said, “You don’t have to defend the truth, you just unleash it and it will defend itself.” At the same time, not all trut his meant for all audiences at all times. Example, We all know how babies are made but you explain those truths to children in age appropriate ways. And you know all the while you are doing it that you are giving the whole story.

      Likewise, the doctrine of our slave to master relationship is a glory to believers but foolishness to those who do not believe, much like the gospel itself.

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  2. So then that goes back to your original question, why change the translations? That is a good question. Why would those translating the works not keep the original intent intact? What are their motives, in your opinion?

    I feel that the original documents should be maintained as closely as possible to the original meanings, teachings, and intentions. Otherwise, that undermines the Bible entirely. If it has been edited so much to suit cultural, emotional, personal, and societal opinions and ideals, then it is no longer a sacred text, but just a human book, manipulated for our own convenience.

    This phenomenon isn’t new or surprising, though. Even denominations will change opinions on certain themes and teachings to become more accessible and mainstream. I think that hurts the overall message of an absolute truth. I understand the teachings are up for interpretation, but outright changing them? Who’s correct? It just gets very frustrating.

    And thanks for your responses, so far!

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