As followers of Jesus, we call ourselves, “Christians.” But the fact is this word appears only three times in the New Testament. So the Bible uses a host of other terms to identify the followers of Jesus – children of God, citizens of heaven, lights to the world, members of His body, sheep in His flock. But there is one word used more frequently than any of these. Slave.
“Really? Do a casual read through your English New Testament and you won’t see the word printed more than a few times. “That’s because,” John MacArthur says, “the Greek word for slave (doulos) has been mistranslated in almost every English version – going back to both the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it.”
Occasionally, I liken myself to AA Milne’s stuffed yellow friend of Christopher Robin: “A bear of very little brain.” It means that I have difficulty in wrapping my head around complex thought and theory. (Just ask my high school Religious Philosophy teacher!) When I received my copy of ‘Slave,’ therefore, I expected it would be a long and heavy-going read. After all, the back cover states that “MacArthur unveils” an “essential and clarifying revelation” which is “powerful” and “controversial.”
Within a couple of chapters, however, I found it made perfect sense. Throughout the book, MacArthur uses Roman civilization as a context and I could understand the comparisons he makes. We have been bought for a price, just as Roman slaves were bought in the marketplace. Our old master was sin, our new master is Christ. Our new master is a benevolent one, just as Roman masters could be. We are instructed to serve and obey. We cannot do whatever we want and think it’s okay, because it isn’t. Okay, I get it.
MacArthur also writes of pre-destination. Just as the Roman master chose which slave to purchase, so God has chosen us. Pre-destination is a tricky subject. On the one hand, it makes sense that no one becomes a Christian without God’s hand in it. He is all powerful and had plans for us even before we were created (Psalm 139:16). It’s also a good feeling to know we’re chosen. On the other hand, what does it say about the non-Christians in our lives? Have they not been chosen, or has the time of their redemption simply not happened yet? Still, if you get the concept of pre-destination, you can understand the analogy of us being bought like the slaves in the marketplace.
The back cover states that there has been a “cover-up of Biblical proportions” in the substitution of ‘servant’ for ‘slave,’ but I would not go that far. In fact, MacArthur donates very little time to the supposed ‘cover-up’ and the possible reasons for it. Instead, he chooses to focus on what it means to be a slave in the Christian sense.
Two-thirds of the way through the book, however, MacArthur changes gears. He writes of the Roman master freeing the slave and becoming his father in the eyes of Roman law. The former slave was normally also granted Roman citizenship. I understand the citizenship analogy. Since we are longer slaves to sin, we become citizens of heaven. MacArthur also states that we are now simultaneously both sons and slaves: sons of God and slaves to righteousness. Righteousness? I thought we were slaves to Christ? Here, I do feel like Pooh Bear, and no doubt I will have to carry out further study of this concept.
The truth is, however, this book is not as heavy going as I expected. It looks daunting, but that is because of the massive amount of footnotes. They are difficult to ignore. MacArthur quotes many writers and uses a lot of Biblical concepts. As a result, there is at least one footnote at the bottom of almost every page. In some cases, the footnotes take up a third of the page. The flow of the book, therefore, is often broken as the reader switches focus from the main body of the text to the appropriate footnote and back again. To conclude, this is an interesting book regarding a concept most readers should be able to grasp.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
I received this book for review from Thomas Nelson. I was not required to write a positive review and the above opinions are my own.