I regularly play this 4-minute video in classes I teach because because it illustrates so well how complex it is to translate the Bible into English:
This illustrates how difficult it is to explain the concept of slavery in the OT and NT to people in America today. It also illustrates good translation sense. The committee members are asking exactly the right questions (especially Wayne Grudem here).
(Justin Taylor gives more background about the video here.)
From the ESV Preface:
A particular difficulty is presented when words in biblical Hebrew and Greek refer to ancient practices and institutions that do not correspond directly to those in the modern world. Such is the case in the translation of ‘ebed (Hebrew) and doulos (Greek), terms which are often rendered “slave.” These terms, however, actually cover a range of relationships that requires a range of renderings—“slave,” “bondservant,” or “servant”—depending on the context. Further, the word “slave” currently carries associations with the often brutal and dehumanizing institution of slavery particularly in nineteenth-century America. For this reason, the ESV translation of the words ‘ebed and doulos has been undertaken with particular attention to their meaning in each specific context. Thus in Old Testament times, one might enter slavery either voluntarily (e.g., to escape poverty or to pay off a debt) or involuntarily (e.g., by birth, by being captured in battle, or by judicial sentence). Protection for all in servitude in ancient Israel was provided by the Mosaic Law, including specific provisions for release from slavery. In New Testament times, a doulos is often best described as a “bondservant”—that is, someone in the Roman Empire officially bound under contract to serve his master for seven years (except for those in Caesar’s household in Rome who were contracted for fourteen years). When the contract expired, the person was freed, given his wage that had been saved by the master, and officially declared a freedman. The ESV usage thus seeks to express the most fitting nuance of meaning in each context. Where absolute ownership by a master is envisaged (as in Romans 6), “slave” is used; where a more limited form of servitude is in view, “bondservant” is used (as in 1 Corinthians 7:21–24); where the context indicates a wide range of freedom (as in John 4:51), “servant” is preferred. Footnotes are generally provided to identify the Hebrew or Greek and the range of meaning that these terms may carry in each case. The issues involved in translating the Greek word doulos apply also to the Greek word sundoulos, translated in the text as “fellow servant.”
1. In the below lecture, Peter Williams, a member of the ESV translation committee, answers the question, “Does the Bible support slavery?” Williams prefers to consistently translate the Hebrew word ebed as “servant” and the Greek word doulos as “slave.” (Justin Taylor summarizes the lecture here.)
4. Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, New Studies in Biblical Theology 8 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999).
6. D. A. Carson, “The SBJT Forum: In Your Book Love in Hard Places You Gave Us Some Reflections on Racism. Summarize Some of the More Uncomfortable Thoughts That Spring to Your Mind When You Think about This Subject,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 8:2 (2004): 74–78.
7. J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, New Studies in Biblical Theology 14 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
Update on 3/31/2017: In my latest attempt to explain how to interpret and apply the Bible, I include a chapter on Bible translation (pp. 50–81).