slave vs servant

by bite me 10 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • bite me
    bite me

    We are servants of God, not slaves. Why does the NWT use slaves rather than the proper term servants. How does the WTS claim this (using slave) is the proper way? and why?

    How can we tell others that servants is who we are, not slaves?

  • Narkissos

    I understand this may hurt modern sensitivity but from a translator's standpoint I feel the NWT is correct on this one (everything happens). The Greek word doulos and related terms clearly refer to the Graeco-Roman institution of slavery and the particular status of the slave. There are several other terms (pais, diakonos, huperetes etc.) referring to a "servant" regardless of this particular status. In metaphorical uses of doulos etc.(those that most matter to theology) you will notice that the emphasis is often on belonging to somebody rather than simply "serving" him. This is lost with the translation "servant".

  • bite me
    bite me

    That does make a lot of sense. However, I was thinking about it more on these terms. A servant willingly comits himself to serve a master that he loves and respects. And by doing that, that is going to help us on our way to get to where we want to be. Notice I said help us not actually get us

    A slave is more or less forced to do something because his own demands it. And they have to do it. On the other hand, although, God does command us to do a lot, not everyone abides by His rules.

    I'm going to go with Servant. Sounds more appealing, I think. I think as servants we feel more of a desire to serve our Master.

    Perhaps it's one of those things, call it want you want? By serving God, and the only God and with our faith there we'll make it.

  • Narkissos

    bite me,

    I understand that a modern Christian would not call him/herself a "slave of God" because this word doesn't belong to his/her world -- although, by the same principle, I would wonder why s/he sees no problem in calling God or Jesus "Lord" (a term which doesn't belong to his/her world either).

    This raises a problem about "translation" -- a problem which is often hidden in the technical debate between "formal" or "functional equivalence" although it is deeper than that imho. When we read the NT we are bound to "translate" 1st-century notions into 21st-century ones which actually are by no means "equivalent". This form of "translation" I would rather call "inspiration" in a very broad sense. Texts which originally belong to a 1st-century conceptual, social and political context inspire you to create sense in a completely different context. And you do need new words for this new context. Otoh, when you want to understand what the texts meant to their authors and original readers you have to "travel" to the original context which is foreign to you. And for that you need another type of "translation". Both types of works are probably complementary but by no means equivalent.

  • Chalam

    The Greek "douloo" can be translated 'slave' or 'servant'.

    If you think about the time of the Romans then slaves were also servants.

    There are verses which you can translate either way.

    If you want to think slave then this is good.

    1 Corinthians 7:22-24 (New International Version)

    New International Version (NIV)

    22For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

    Or this is an example for servant.

    James 1:1
    James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ


  • Narkissos

    1 Corinthians 7 is an excellent example of what I referred to in my first post.

    Now whether it's methodologically sound for the translator to avoid the proper meaning of the term (slave) as soon as the context doesn't formally constrain him/her to keep it is another question. A loose context doesn't imply a looser meaning.

    Of course "slaves were also servants" -- but they were also people, mammals, earthlings, living beings: does that make all those words interchangeable?

  • Leolaia

    Roman-era slavery is also a crucial metaphor in Romans 6, which cannot be understood apart from it (as it alludes to such features of slavery as the purchasing of slaves and the exchange of slaves between masters, self-manumission through the saving up of one's peculium, the legal status of a slave's debt at death, etc.). The Society, in its erroneous interpretation of v. 7, misses the import of this metaphor.

  • Chalam

    Hi again Narkissos,
    When I was learning a language I was taught that translation is not a science, i.e. merely transposing one word to another but an art. One had to look at the context where the word was and also context of where else the word is used to understand the meaning.

    So to answer your question, of course not all the words are interchangeable!

    Does this make any sense?

    21Were you a mammal when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

    Or this?

    21Were you a earthling when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

    The answer is no, not in context.

    So back to your previous point, I believe the context i.e. what the verses are saying is just as important as the actual words used themselves, especially as our native language is neither Greek or
    Hebrew. That is why the NWT is so detestable, the actual words are changed and also the meaning behind the verses.


  • JosephMalik

    So back to your previous point, I believe the context i.e. what the verses are saying is just as important as the actual words used themselves, especially as our native language is neither Greek or Hebrew.


    I argue this point sometimes as well. We have to think through a text even beyond accepted definitions but I also live with a translation if it really makes little difference when compared to another one. There is usually more variation in the explanation of a text than the words being challenged. And in this case we can live with the word servant. Why? Well it already was answered but sometimes context spans more than just a text. It can also be part of the biblical theme of many other texts. We know that: 1Co 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1Co 7:23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. We are not free the way a servant is. The servants body and spirit is free to quit and move on. We cannot. We were bought with a price and our body and spirit is owned by God. How is that? Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: And we are not the gift giver. Sometimes this is not emphasized in a text and doctrine suffers such as ‘once saved always saved.’ We cannot demand this gift saying that we worked for it so that we deserve it. God has assigned Jesus to make this choice for each one individually not us. Knowing that we were bought with a price and having the mind-set of a slave (obedience to the Master) we would not develop such an attitude.

    But some may be alarmed thinking that the word slave implies abuse. Does it mean that we can be mistreated in the kingdom promised to such slaves? Are we being mistreated now? By Religions such as the WTS, yes but not by God or Christ. The actually appointment of such slaves in the Kingdom will be like family having real authority. That is why they are also called brothers. Such thinking will go away then as nothing evil was meant by such use.


  • hmike

    "Slave" and "slavery" have negative connotations in our culture. We think of not having freedom, being abused by masters, having no legal rights, laboring in awful conditions, etc. It's not necessarily that way.

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