Book Review: Slave by John MacArthur

Title: Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ
Author: John MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” (Rom. 1:1). Over and over again, the New Testament’s writers refer to themselves by this one word—doulos. Typically, we see it translated in English as “servant” or “bondservant;” but is that most accurate way to translate it?

Does doulos really mean “servant?”

According to John MacArthur, it would be better translated as “slave.” In his latest book, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ, he examines the implications of what it means for each of us to be a slave of Christ.

MacArthur’s teaching gifts are on full display in Slave as he provides valuable insight into slavery in first century Rome, and illustrates how that understanding allows Christians today to better appreciate much of the language of Paul and the New Testament writers as they describe their relationship to Christ.

Against the historical backdrop of slavery, our Lord’s call to self-sacrifice becomes that much more vivid. A slave’s life was one of complete surrender, submission, and service to the master—and the people of Jesus’ day would have immediately recognized the parallel. Christ’s invitation to follow Him was an invitation to that same kind of life. (p. 43)

In reality, Slave isn’t simply about making readers see themselves as slaves of Christ. MacArthur, by focusing on the doctrines of grace—the total depravity of man, God’s unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints—gives readers a complete picture of who we are in Christ.

This ultimately culminates in MacArthur’s exposition of the doctrine of adoption. That is, all who put their faith in Christ are not merely slaves, we are also His sons and daughters adopted into God’s family with all the rights of a natural born child.

Reading these chapters, being reminded of this truth, that Christians are both slaves and sons, this is what gives us hope and assurance as believers. If God is our Father, then there is nothing we can do to make Him love us any more or any less. There is nothing that can snatch us from His hand. And because He is our loving Father, our greatest desire is that we should want to serve Him and be wholly devoted to Him in every aspect of our lives. This reminder is a great gift to me as a reader and as a Christian.

What’s surprising is MacArthur’s uncharacteristic use of hyperbole in the opening pages of the book. MacArthur writes that “it almost seems like a conspiracy” that doulos, which exclusively describes “the status of a slave or an attitude corresponding with that of a slave,” is almost universally translated as “servant” in English (p. 16). However, immediately after making mention of this seeming conspiracy, he gives sound reasons for why, perhaps, this word has not been translated as accurately as it should.

The first is related to the stigma of slavery in Western civilization, and the understandable desire to “avoid any association between biblical teaching and the slave trade of the British Empire and American colonial era” (p. 17).  The other is that the earliest English translations were influenced by the Latin version of the Bible, which translated doulos as servus, which more naturally translates into “servant” (p. 18).

These are great explanations for the “why” on the translation issue; indeed, they’re actually quite compelling. I can’t help but wonder if the “conspiracy” language of the early pages of the book (and its marketing in particular) is unnecessarily inflammatory and might hurt it in the long run.

“To be a Christian is to be a slave of Christ” (p. 212). Throughout Slave,MacArthur does a tremendous job of illustrating this glorious truth and the freedom that comes through slavery to our great God and King. Despite the noted flaw (as well as a couple of references to the rapture & a subtle dig at guys like Mark Driscoll), Slaveis a book I would wholeheartedly recommend to any believer wanting to better understand their identity in Christ.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.

35 thoughts on “Book Review: Slave by John MacArthur”

  1. Pingback: Around the Interweb | Blogging Theologically | Jesus, Books, Culture, & Theology

  2. There’s a reason that the Apostle begins all his letters with “I am a bondslave of Jesus Christ.” Its been stirring in my soul for a while, and I would love to read a book by one of today’s finest expositors on the depth of what the word means.

    David kim

  3. I think the information in this book would be extremely helpful in sharing with our youth group what it means to really follow Christ. Working with teenagers, it is not hard to see that the vast majority are slaves to their own passions (and think they are their own masters). I have always enjoyed Pastor John’s insights, and think there would be much in this book I could use to reach these youths. Thank you for your generosity, by the way. Whether or not I receive a copy, I definitely appreciate what you are doing here!


  4. Hey Aaron

    John Macarthur has been my “mentor” (the kind of mentor that I’ve never actually met except at a book signing one time) for a long time. Every book he has written that I have read has enhanced not just my knowledge about God but has deepened my relationship with Him.

    Thanks for the give away!

  5. Yes, I would love a free copy of the book but if I don’t get one I’m willing to pay for it. Is it available for the Nook, I wonder?

  6. I want a copy of this book for the same reason everyone entering this give away wants a copy” We love Jesus. We want to love Him more. He paid for us; hence we are His slaves. We have to watch every single dime that goes out of our household and free books are like Christmas and birthdays rolled into one.

  7. A few years back I got wind of MacArthur’s doulos position and I’ve never really done much investigation into it. This book would give me his full position and then I’d be able to weigh that against what knowledge I have about the Koine and come to a learned conclusion.

  8. I think you stated it very well……….for any believer wanting to better understand their identity in Christ.

  9. I’ve seen the video promotion of MacArthur’s new book and would love to read it: 1) so that I can discover the depth of what it means to be a slave for Christ, from MacArthur’s perspective and 2) to then give the book to a new Christian, so they can read about the great commitment there is to being a slave for Christ.

  10. I’ve never read a book by McArthur, but I’d like to — and this one sounds great, because I’ve always found “slave” to be difficult to explain to students (I’m a high school English teacher / discipler).

  11. Hi, Aaron – you are doing it again – I respect J.McArthur and am intrigued by the ‘slave’ emphasis. Since I can’t afford to keep on buying all the books you review and recommend – would love to obtain a free one – just once 🙂

  12. Aaron,

    Thanks for the giveaway! I would like a copy of the book because, as you cited and other have, I hear his explanation of doulos is extremely helpful.


  13. I had heard about this book, but after reading your review, I would really like to win a copy. Very interesting about the use of the word “servant” vs. “slave”. Since I’m the pastor of a predominately black church, I can see how one would rather use “servant” but it would be nice for my church fully embrace being a slave to Christ. Thanks for the chance!

  14. I’d like a copy of this book because I’m very curious about what MacArthur says about the word “slave,” and also because I’m just beginning to explore the doctrines of grace and other related generally-considered-reformed theology, and I think this book would also help me wrap my head around that.

  15. I was able to hear him unveil this book in a sermon. It was a bit ironic as he was taking the ESV to task for not translating doulos as slave. In the front row was Leland Ryken who is the main editor of the ESV. He did it humbly of course!

    I want to read this and learn how to take my place as Christ’s slave since pride and self-reliance reign too much in my life.

  16. I’m curious about this word, its translation, and the implications. So I’d love a copy.

  17. I want to read this book primarily because I haven’t read anything by John MacArthur and because I want to learn what he means by recovering the meaning of the word slave! Thanks for the opportunity!

  18. Thanks for this opportunity…I would welcome any resource that would help me grow in my understanding of and application of my identity in Christ… this would surely be of great benefit to my soul with the overflow impacting my wife, daughters, church family, and those with whom I interact with on a daily basis.

  19. I was at the DG National conference when he did a small part on dulos. I would like to read it expounded.

  20. Michelle Arencibia

    I would love this book to help deepen my understanding of what it means when I say that Jesus is Lord of my life. I want to be a slave to Jesus.

  21. I would love a copy to continually develop my understanding and faith in who I am in Christ. I’ve learned that because of who I am in Christ, this leads me to act, not the other way around and I think this book would help me to develop this further.

  22. MacArthur always writes incredible books, looking forward to reading this one. I would like a copy to continue my understanding of who I am in Christ.

  23. I would love to have a copy of this book. I have read another of his books and really liked it. Thanks for the opportunity!

  24. Would love to read it and share it with the folks at our church. Sounds similar (except it’s probably more sermonic in form) to Murray Harris’ work on doulos.

  25. I have read the book and think it is macarthur at his best. I gave a copy to a friend for Christmas and would love another one to give away!

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