Summary: Part 4 focues on the Greek words translated as servant to determine which words actually mean slave versus another type of servant.
A Slave for Christ Part 4
In my last message I shared with you the history of slavery during the New Testament times. I shared with you that the Romans and Greeks had taken slavery to a whole new level. I spent most of the time discussing Rome as it had a direct impact on the New Testament Scriptures. This morning we will begin examining the words of Christ and some of the references He made to slavery. From there we will continue to the letters of Paul. However, before we do this, we must first examine a few words from the Greek so that the Scriptures we read will be understood in context of what was written.
As I have shared with you previously, the Greek word translated as “slave” in the New Testament is “doulos”. It is often translated as bondman or servant in Scripture. The “doulos” (slave) was properly the “bond man;” the one who was in a permanent relationship of servitude to another and whose will was completely subject to the will of another. He was a “doulos” (slave) apart from any service he rendered at any given moment. This is important as we will find that there were other words translated as “servant” but carried a different meaning from the word translated as slave. The word “doulos” focuses on the relationship, not the service a person provided. “Doulos” stresses the relationship of slavery versus other words focusing on an act of service like a waiter or house servant. Doulos means slave and originally was the lowest term in the scale of servitude. It came to mean “one who gives himself up to the will of another” and became the most common and general word for “servant” in the New Testament (i.e. Matthew 8:9). What is interesting is that this word when translated as servant often did not carry any idea of bondage. This is why we need to understand how the word servant is being translated as it will change the meaning of the verses read. With this in mind, let’s examine a few scripture references that use the word servant but carries a different meaning. We will start with Matthew 8:9.
I. Translating The Word “Servant”
Matthew 8:6-9 records the story of a centurion who came to Jesus for help. Let’s read what the centurion said in verses six and eight. “And saying, Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented….but the centurion said, ‘Lord I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” In these two verses the word translated as “servant” does not mean slave. It is the Greek word “Pais” which means a servant versus a slave (someone who is owned by another person.) The role that this servant plays in the centurion is not described fully, but it is clear that this individual is not a slave but a servant to the centurion and his family. When we examine verse nine there is a shift in the meaning of the word translated as slave. Verse nine reads: “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my (servant) slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” In this verse the centurion uses the word servant again but he is actually referencing a slave. It is important to understand the difference in what the centurion was saying in order to fully understand Jesus’ reply in verse ten. When Jesus heard what the centurion said, he made this statement in verse ten: “……Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.”
Do you understand why Jesus was so impressed with what the centurion said? The centurion came to Jesus because a servant in his household that he cared about was sick. He cared enough for his servant who was not a slave that he went to Jesus for help. Jesus offered to go to the centurion’s home but the centurion told Him he was not worthy of Jesus entering his home. The centurion went on to explain to Jesus that Jesus could just speak the words and his servant would be healed. He said he was a man under authority and had others under his authority. He gave examples of how he would tell those under him, including his slave, to do something and they would do it. He told Jesus that all He had to do was speak the words and his servant would be healed. What he was telling Jesus was that he understood that sickness, disease, demonic spirits and everything else came under Jesus’ authority. He said that these things were actually slaves to Jesus when it came to who had the authority. He had no doubt that if Jesus spoke the word the sickness would leave his servant because the sickness was under Jesus authority. Jesus was impressed with the centurion’s understanding of His authority and credited his faith. He had not witnessed that faith even with His own disciples. What I need you to understand is that Jesus gave that same authority to us! We do not walk in it because we have not been taught and yes we are so accustomed to living in sin and failure that it is difficult to rise to a life of victory over sin.