For various reasons English translations of the Bible, going back to both the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it, have mistranslated the Greek word doulos. Doulos means slave, yet virtually all English translations substitute “servant” even though there are at least six Greek words for servant and doulos is not one of them (pp. 15-16). The net result of this mistranslation is a misunderstanding of the Christian’s status before the Lord. Servants are hired, can quit, have certain rights and can refuse to obey. Slaves are owned, have no rights and quit or disobey only at their own peril.
MacArthur has done us a great favor by reintroducing this truth to the people of God. If we do not know our spiritual identity we will inevitably be confused in our Christian walk. Unfortunately most of us have a misconception of what slavery meant when the New Testament writers used the term. Our thoughts immediately turn to the slave trade of the British Empire and the American Colonial era which had practically nothing to do with ancient slavery (pp. 16-17). MacArthur devotes much attention to correcting this misconception and detailing what slavery looked like in the first century. Then, in one of the most beneficial sections of the book, he offers five parallels between biblical Christianity and first century slavery (pp. 44-53). Other extremely helpful topics covered include first century concepts and biblical use of redemption (pp. 137-139), adoption (pp. 154-160) and citizenship (pp. 187-194). The final chapter suggests several helpful applications for correct understanding of the Christian’s standing before the Lord as a slave.
Some may disagree but I thought MacArthur veered off into a number of unnecessary tangents. He offers lengthy biographies of John Hus, George Müller and John Newton as examples of those who understood they were slaves of Christ. He adds discussion on the so-called “doctrines of grace” (pp. 131-136; 147-149; 172), removing any doubt that he accepts all five points of Calvinism (pp. 147-148). These tangents, while valuable in themselves and worthy of discussion, seemed out of place and were unnecessary for the theme of the book.
Slaves is a fine book, especially given the fact that the understanding of our position as slaves of Christ has long been buried under poor translations of doulos and our often anemic understanding of who we are as Christians.