About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Paul and Slavery

If you read Eph. 6:5 - 9 you will see "some" of Paul's thoughts on the subject of slavery.  The interesting point that is not made, is that he does not suggest that slavery should be abolished.  What he does say is that slaves should respect their masters and that masters should treat their slaves with love and respect.

People have often wondered why Paul did not suggest the abolition of slavery.  In 1 Cor. 7:21 Paul says that if you were a slave when you were called by God, stay being a slave, yet if you have a chance to become free, take the opportunity.  Nowhere does Paul say that slavery is wrong.  He only suggests the poor treated of slaves is wrong. 

So why would Paul think this way?  Well one reason might be that slavery was an accepted practice of the day.  Paul may have been an abolitionist if he had lived in the U. S. in 1860.  Yet he didn't.  He "may" have viewed this subject through cultural lens of his day.

There might be another reason why Paul did not condemn slavery.  This is only my thinking, I could be wrong.  Jesus, in Mark 10:44 says, "...whosoever wants to be first, must be slave of all".  I wonder if Paul took these words very literally.  I believe that Paul was a real servant to the Lord.  His life displayed what Jesus was talking about here.  With this in mind maybe, just maybe, Paul had no problem with someone being a real slave.  This attitude may have been part of his thinking concerning the subject.  He considered himself a slave to Christ anyway, so being a slave to a human might not be out of the question. This ts just a thought, something to think about.   


Further Notes - 1

In 1 Tim. 1:10 Paul mentions "slave traders" in a list of pretty bad sins.  Therefore Paul viewed the buying and selling of people as sin.  I believe Paul felt that if you have a slave, then you should treat him as a brother, look after him well.  It may well be that if one released a slave in the community, they would have no skills to survive, therefore Paul tells his readers to look after them as if they were your Christian brother.  


Further Notes - 2

The word "slave trader" is used in 1 Tim. 1 :10 (NIV) in a list of pretty bad sins. It is from the Greek word "andrapodistes", literally meaning a slave dealer or kidnapper of people.  It appears that this word used in different forms could also apply to the trading of animals.  Therefore slave traders traded people or animals, lumping them altogether.  W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words says that this word  "was never an ordinary word for slave, it was too brutally obvious a reminder of the principle which made quadruped and human chattels differ in the number of their legs".  Simply put, to a slave trader it didn't matter if he was trading a person or an animal.  The only difference to him was the number of legs they had.   

Further Notes - 3

When thinking of Paul and slavery we cannot forget to speak about Onesimus.  He was a slave of one of Paul's close friends named Philemon, who lived in or around Colossae.  For some reason Onesimus ran away from Philemon and ended up in Rome to visit Paul in prison.  Paul led Onesimus to Jesus, resulting in Onesimus being of service to him and the Lord.  The intent of Paul's letter to Philemon was that he was returning Onesimus to Philemon.  Paul nowhere tells Philemon to free Onesimus.  

Once again, Paul does not forbid having slaves, only that slave owners should treat slaves as brothers, treat them respectfully.  Somehow he honours the relationship between masters and slaves, as he does between husbands and wives, and parents and children. He often mentions all of these relationship together in his writings. 


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