Translate however you want, but, please, at least be honest...

The offense of the ESV translation committee's debate over how to translate the Hebrew ebed and Greek doulos isn't so much their final choice of "bondservant" over "slave." Rather, it's the arrogance of the prior discussion.

Take, for example, Wayne Grudem's claim that non-scholars can't comprehend how slavery in biblical times differed from the slavery of blacks in the American South. Wayne says ancient slavery differed radically from the modern understanding of slavery in the following ways: 1) Ancient slavery was temporary and voluntary rather than permanent and involuntary; 2) Ancient slavery was not racially, but economically, based, and; 3) Ancient slavery had status and carried legal protections.

All this may be entirely true of many forms of ancient slavery. But what Wayne glosses over in his eagerness to rid Scripture of the unfortunate implications of the word "slave" is that the essential experience of slavery in Scripture was everything Wayne denies it to be. The paradigmatic slavery of Scripture is Israel's bondage in Egypt, a slavery that was permanent, racial and entirely lacking in legal protection.

The parallels between slavery in the American South and Israelite bondage in Egypt are extensive. In fact, America's slaves were comforted by faith in the God who set His people free from a slavery as horrific as their own. The failure of the ESV translation committee to see these parallels when black slaves in the American south saw them so clearly in their oppression smacks of racism.

How Wayne and the others on the ESV translation committee managed to ignore the Egyptian bondage of the Israelites in their discussions boggles the mind. One could be forgiven for thinking they'd never actually read the Bible they're translating.

More likely, they just don't like it that Scripture reveals slavery to God as the highest privilege of the human life. (DB)


I posted the following comment last night on your Dec 19th post. I think it fits better here.

I actually felt angry hearing Wayne Grudem in the video when he said in essence "We as scholars understand the nuances but we can't trust it to the average English reader". As an "average English reader" I could never begin to see the truth of what it means to be a slave of God without the word "slave". Is there another word that means one person owned by another person? It's certainly not "bond-servant".

In God's providence I read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" just before reading MacArthur's "Slave". What a powerful combination first reading in Uncle Tom's Cabin the clear depiction of how utterly dependent American slaves were on their Masters - whether they were good or bad. Then, having MacArthur bring home the truth of how we too are completely dependent on God who is our Master and is a perfect Master in every sense. Totally dependent on a Master who loves us, provides all we need all the time and is always good. All this comforting truth in the "irredeemable" context of American slavery.

Tim, there is one other problem. It is bad enough to be patronized by scholars in the know. It is far worse when they pat you on the head and tell you things that are objectively wrong.

1. Ancient slavery? What's with that? We need to talk about OT Hebrew slavery and NT Roman slavery. Hebrew slavery was temporary and voluntary. The kind of pagan slavery that Paul taught the church how to handle in the NT was not.

2. Hebrew slavery was not racially based, the same way southern slavery was. That's true enough -- and the basis for a biblical condemnation of the "peculiar institution." But Roman slavery could be ethnically based, depending on where the captives were taken.

3. And his third point is the reverse of the truth. Roman slaves had no rights at all (Hebrew slaves did). The slave-owner could summarily execute them if he wanted. Southern slaves in the US had more status, and more legal rights, than did Onesimus, for example.

Yours truly, a minimum-wage-hired-temp of Jesus,


What our dear brother Douglas says. It would have come as news to many/most Roman slaves that their slavery was "voluntary," as they'd become slaves when their nations were conquered by Roman legions.

We mince words when talking with Scripture, treating our Lord with kid gloves, and then we wonder why the faith of many is hopelessly immature.

Yours truly, not even worthy to be considered less than a bond-servant.

Roman slavery is far more complex than is being made out here. Some of the most powerful men in the Roman Empire were slaves. Yes, slaves could be executed - but they could also be the executioners. This was especially true when only a very few were Roman citizens.

What is really annoying about this is viewing the translation process away from the teaching of Christ's undershepherds. The solution to a complex concept is not to dumb it down, or to change it, but to translate it as faithfully as possible, and then require the Church to help explain the nuances.

Great post--- it seems that the ESV is succumbing to the NIV idea that Christians are too ignorant to understand the real Bible, so it has to be dumbed down. The only difference is that in deviating from the real meaning the ESV people follow different conscious and unconscious biases.

Really, the dumbing down is bad on two levels. First: everybody, however expert, needs to work to understand the Bible; that's why we read it more than once. (maybe *especially* experts, since they get distracted by technical points). Second, in another sense nobody needs to work to understand the Bible. The basic message is clear--- even in a mistranslation, actually. That's the idea of perspicuity of the Scriptures.

That reminds me of another ironic aspect of this. It was the Roman Catholics who for centuries discouraged Bible reading and translations because they thought lay people would get things wrong if they read it for themselves.

Fred, it is not possible to talk about Roman slavery without generalizing, and these generalizations are true. But, of course, since they are generalizations, there are exceptions. Men are taller than women, except for the ones that aren't.

I have no doubt that some Roman slaves were in a position to require someone's execution. And there were times in the American South when some slaves took their masters to court, or loaned them money.

My only point is that the erroneous simplification about slavery was being conducted by the translation professionals, who then got the whole thing backwards.

By whose authority do they change this word?

The authority of the almighty...dollar I suspect, Allan. After all, another Bible version means more sales!

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