19. Cf. Harris, Slave of Christ, 183.

20. Rengstorf, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s .v. "δοῦλος," 2:261.

21. As Walter S. Wurzburger explains, "To be a slave of God . . . involves more than merely being His servant. Servants retain their independent status. They have only specific duties and limited responsibilities. Slaves, on the other hand, have no rights vis a vis their owners, because they are deemed the property of the latter" (God Is Proof Enough [New York: Devora Publishing, 2000], 37).

22. Speaking of Roman slavery in particular, Yvon Thébert noted that the slave "was equated with his function and was for his master what the ox was for the poor man: an animated object that he owned. The same idea is a constant in Roman law, where the slave is frequently associated with other parts of a patrimony, sold by the same rules that governed a transfer of a parcel of land or included with tools or animals in a bequest. Above all he was an object, a res mobilis. Unlike the waged worker, no distinction was made between his person and his labor" ("The Slave," 138-74 in Andrea Giardina, ed., The Romans [Chicag University of Chicago, 1993], 139).

23. John J. Pilch, under "Slave, Slavery, Bond, Bondage, Oppression," in Donald E. Gowan, ed., Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 472, notes that "the Greek noun doulos is a sub-domain of the semantic field ‘control, rule' and describes someone who is completely controlled by something or someone."

24. Ibid., 474. The author points out that "slavery in the ancient world had practically nothing in common with slavery familiar from New World practice and experience of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It would distort the interpretation of the Bible to impose such an understanding on its books."

25. Cf. Harris, Slave of Christ, 184.

26. For an intriguing look at the early English Bible translators' reticence to translate doulos as "slave," see Edwin Yamauchi, "Slaves of God," Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 9/1 (Winter 1966): 31-49. Yamauchi shows that by the late thirteenth century, "slavery disappeared from northwestern Europe. . . . Slavery therefore was known to the 17th-century Englishmen—at least at the beginning of that century—not as an intimate, accepted institution but rather as a remote phenomenon" (p. 41). Their concept of a "servant" was shaped by their knowledge of serfdom—a kind of servitude in which the laborer was bound to the land he worked. Although he was duty-bound to the landowner, his services could only be sold when the land itself was sold. By contrast, "slavery" in their minds evoked "the extreme case of a captive in fetters" (p. 41), an image of cruelty that they understandably wished to avoid. But in so doing they unwittingly diminished the force of the actual biblical expression. In Yamauchi's words, "If we keep in mind what ‘slavery' meant to the ancients, and not what it means to us or the 17th-century theorists, we shall gain a heightened understanding of many passages in the New Testament" (43). See also Harris, Slave of Christ, 184. 

This article originally appeared on Christianity.com.

Publication date: April 4, 2011