“Servant” or “Slave”?

Almost all English translations of the Bible render the Greek word doulos, when used in reference to our relationship with Christ, as “servant.” It is true that we are “servants” of Christ. However, mere servanthood does not carry the full meaning of the word doulos. John MacArthur (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 28) explains:

There are at least six Greek words for “servant,” and doulos is not one of them. For example, diakonos (from which our word deacon is derived) means “servant.” Oiketes speaks of a domestic servant. Pais denotes a young boy who runs errands. Huperetes (usually translated “minister”) literally signifies a low-level servant who pulls an oar on the lower deck of a large ship. Leitourgos, also meaning “minister,” designates someone who performs some kind of religious service. Therapon, used of Moses in Hebrews 3:5 (“faithful in all His house as a servant”), refers to a dignified kind of high-level service. And there are several more specific Greek words that describe service in terms far loftier and more respectable than doulos.

Doulos speaks of slavery, pure and simple. It is not at all a hazy or uncertain term. It describes someone lacking personal freedom and personal rights whose very existence is defined by his service to another. It is the sort of slavery in which “human autonomy is set aside and an alien will takes precedence of one’s own” (Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ, 112). This is total, unqualified submission to the control and the directives of a higher authority – slavery, not merely service at one’s own discretion.

We must be aware of the differences between a servant and a slave. Harris (Slave of Christ, p. 18) quotes Dr. Josef Tson, a Romanian pastor who had been arrested and imprisoned in 1974 and 1977, then exiled in 1981, and who “forcefully expressed his preference to be introduced simply as “a slave of Jesus Christ”:

In twentieth-century Christianity we have replaced the expression “total surrender” with the word “commitment,” and “slave” with “servant.” But there is an important difference. A servant gives service to someone, but a slave belongs to someone. We commit ourselves to do something, but when we surrender ourselves to someone, we give ourselves up.

What does this understanding of our position as slaves of Christ has to do with Paul’s response to the false teachers in Galatia? What does it imply in our own relationship with Christ as Christians and in the daily decisions we make? Read or listen to the sermon Slave of Christ based on Galatians 1:10-12.


One thought on ““Servant” or “Slave”?

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  1. Wow! What a powerful message! And I still haven’t read the actual message itself. We are the Lord’s. He owns us. In a sense, we don’t have a say on what we want to do. It is Jesus’ will that we ought to follow no matter what; whether we feel like it or not. Honestly, I have yet to reach that level of maturity and surrender to Christ.


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