Slaves of Christ

Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Gospels has no problem whatsoever with slavery. It is impressive how much effort has sometimes gone into not thinking about this fact, and how much thinking has at other times been expended to rationalize it. The most widely used modern translations of the Gospels in Western European languages make this a bit easier by rendering the Greek word for slave as if it meant servant, or at least by using a more distant term like bondman/bondwoman in a way that doesn't confront the modern reader or listener with too much blatant honesty about the fact that not only do the Gospels portray a society where some people own other people's bodies, but gentle Jesus seems to be far less bothered by that than by the prospect of a man lusting after a woman he isn't married to. The motivated reasoning behind the translation choice is obvious when one considers the fact that, in translating the Qur'an, Christian English-speakers have no problem accurately rendering عبد as slave.

Jerome was under no such modern illusion when he accurately rendered the word δοῦλος as servus, anymore than were the Byzantine functionaries who rendered the same word as рабъ "slave" in Old Slavonic. The Church Fathers did not as a rule have a problem with slavery. They, like the Christ of the Gospels, took slavery in fact as an appropriate metaphor for the relationship to God. I doubt that modern devout English speakers would be comfortable referring to themselves as “slaves of God” no matter that that is what the phrase δοῦλος τοῦ Θεοῦ, like its Latin translation Servus Dei, originally meant. Though in some other modern languages (Russian and Arabic come to mind) where the common term for “slave” doesn’t have quite the associations it does in English, this is still done.

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