After more than fifty years of translating, studying, teaching, preaching, and writing through the New Testament, I thought I had its truths pretty well identified and understood—especially in the realm of the New Testament theology of the gospel. In fact, clarifying the gospel was the most important and constant emphasis of my writing—from The Gospel According to Jesus, Ashamed of the Gospel, Hard to Believe, and The Truth War to countless sermons and articles through the years. But through all those efforts, a profound and comprehensive perspective, one that dominates the New Testament and is crucial to the gospel, escaped me and almost everyone else.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2007, on an all-night flight to London while reading Slave of Christ by Murray J. Harris, that I realized there had been a centuries-long cover up by English New Testament translators which had obscured a precious, powerful and clarifying revelation by the Holy Spirit. Undoubtedly, the cover up was not intentional—at least not initially. Yet its results have been dramatically serious.
A cover up in the English New Testament translations? Was that true? Why? And with what consequences? Had no one uncovered this before Harris in 1999?
It didn’t take long to find one who had—Edwin Yamauchi in his 1966 Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society article entitled “Slaves of God.” Why had there been no response to his work? And how could a truth related so essentially to translation integrity, as well as NT teaching about our relation to Christ be purposely hidden and the cover-up ignored?
I also discovered in my trips around the world that there are many other major language translators who have followed the lead of the English versions and maintained the cover up. Yet there are some who do translate the word correctly. Thus this revelation is not hidden to my fellow believers in places like Russia, Romania, Indonesia and the Philippines. Why in English?
I have no doubt that this perpetual hiding of an essential element of New Testament revelation has contributed to much of the confusion in evangelical teaching and practice. In fact, I wonder if it wasn’t the reason I felt the need to write so many books to clarify the gospel. If this one reality had been known, would any of those books have been necessary?
As I began to dig down on this buried jewel of the gospel, its pervasive splendor began to dominate my thinking and preaching. Every time and everywhere I addressed the subject, the response was the same—startled wonder.
During the same period I was asked to write a book on the “doctrines of grace” that was faithful to the Reformers. Was another one really necessary? Who could improve on Calvin, Luther, the English Puritans, Edwards, or Spurgeon? Certainly not me. I couldn’t hope to add to the clear, complete and enduring works of past and present theologians on gospel themes. So I struggled to find a reason to write something new considering what had already been written.
Until I saw the cover-up.
Though all those noble theologians in the rich reformation tradition of gospel truth touched on this matter—no one pulled the hidden jewel all the way into the sunlight.
Thus this book, Slave. For those who read it, my prayer is that they will see the riches of their salvation in a radically new way.