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Tuesday: Slavery in Paul’s Day — 7 Comments

  1. Some of us find it hard that Paul did not denounce slavery but rather encouraged both slaves and masters to do the right thing. I have just finished reading a couple of articles about slavery and how it worked in the first century AD. What immediately came to mind were the similarities with the "foreign worker" situation we see so often today.

    In Australia, many Pacific Islanders are given temporary visas to come and work in Australia, mainly for fruit-picking. The big drivers are that fruit picking involves a lot of tedious manual labour that Australian citizens don't want to do for the sort of wages on offer. For the Pacific Islanders, who are largely dependent on subsistence living at home, the money offered is quite substantial. The problem is that they are all too often exploited. Their employers or rather labour agents often extract huge fees for board and lodging so that the money these folk earn often ends up back in the hands of the employers.

    The issue is not just an Australian one. I have been to Dubai, admittedly only for 2 days, but it was enough to see that much of the manual work was done by foreigners, mainly Pakistanis and Bangladeshi. Their wages, living conditions and work safety standards were well below what we would consider appropriate.

    I mention this because I hear concerns that Paul seemingly accepted slavery and concentrated on how to live as Christians on both sides of the socio-economic divide.

    As much as we would like to, there are some things we cannot change. I visited a church in one of the fruit-picking areas of Australia. Many of the Pacific Islander workers have Seventh-day Adventist connections, and on the day I attended the church there were quite a few of them in church. Most of them had difficulty staying awake because they had been working long hours during the week picking mangoes. But, they were welcomed with open arms by the church and accepted as family.

    Maybe the lesson in this for us today, it that when we cannot change the system we do what we can to make it better for those who come into our area of influence. I think that was what Paul was trying to do.

  2. "A text without a context is a pretext!" It's an old dictum but still very much in use these days. Today, this practice is not only applied to Bible truths but also to the justification for discord in relationships, politics, and other social circles. People believe in what they want and then look for proof when the logical thing should be the opposite. May the God of light shine upon us so we can understand the "whole picture," not just a fraction. To be open to more wisdom, wrong concepts must be dismissed.

  3. Maurice I am surprised you did not mention the south sea islanders that were brought into Australia to work in the sugar fields . They were treated as slaves because many of those who developed that industry had learned how be slave masters in the British Caribbean where I was born. It is clear to me that Paul meant that Christians could not be slave masters as others were. Christians would must treat their employers as Christ would and In turn the former slave then no longer a slave but an employee would , must give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Paul did not send Onesimus back as a slave but as a person with all the rights as a free man.Paul knew well the law. Deut.23:15,16. Paul and Jesus did not openly confront slavery but if Christians followed Christ slavery would collapse.

    • I could have mentioned the "Kanakas" (Island indentured lsbourers), and a lot of other situations as well but I particularly wanted to focus on the issues we currently face. We sometimes look at the past and comment on how bad it was, but are blind to what is happening right under our noses in the present.

  4. See Patriarchs and Prophets pp460,461. “It was not the apostle’s work to arbitrarily…. are made one in Christ Jesus,”

  5. I did not know the official definition of the words: ‘bondservant’, ‘servant’, and 'slave', so I looked it up.

    Bondservant (an example):
    During the 1600s from 70 to 85 percent of the colonists came as bondservants. They signed an indenture, or contract, to work for a fixed number of years for masters who paid their passage to America. Most were young men between the ages of 15 and 24, though there were some women and even orphaned or vagrant children. (from the website ‘Got questions’)
    One could say that in our day and time people who pay to be smuggled across America’s southern border but cannot outright pay for it fall into this category.

    A person who performs duties for others, especially a person employed in a house on domestic duties or as a personal attendant.
    A person employed by the government.
    A devoted and helpful follower or supporter. (Oxford Languages)

    A person who is forced to work for and obey another and is considered to be their property; an enslaved person.” (example: they kidnapped entire towns and turned the inhabitants into slaves.) (Oxford Dictionary)

    In Old Testament times, the people of Israel were taken into captivity, others were killed during invasions or became slaves for the victorious party. Those were common practices then. More than 2 millenia later, instead of ending human slavery, one can see that it is still practiced and very profitable for slave-trade gangs to engaged in this as a world-wide practice.

    As a Christian, one can understand that those not able to consider the value of another human being in terms of being a child of God, not being able to see themselves as such, will perpetrate acts of cruelty and injustice to their fellow human being without remorse.

    ‘Manumission’ – release from slavery – man, women, children, spouses, neighbors – free or bond - all mankind is enslaved by the darkness of this world and remains ignorant as long as they do not receive the Truth of our heavenly Father which states: “Love me with all your heart and love you fellow man as you have been loved.” Luke10:27; Matt.22:36-40; Mark12:28-31.

  6. I would apply these verses to my employment.

    Col. 3:22-4:1. “Not with Eye Service.” Eye Service is doing work only when the master is looking. We can apply this principle today to whatever we do. We work when the boss is looking and we don’t when he’s not. Paul says we shouldn’t be “Men pleasers”. We work only to please the boss when he/she is looking. We should work to please God.

    Verse 23 “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men”. Can you imagine God counseling someone to behave this way if they were slaves in the modern day human trafficking industry where people are forced to sell their bodies?

    Verse 24: “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” When you are serving your employer, you do it with a heart to serve God, and God accepts it as a service to him.

    1 Pet. 2:18-25. Tell us to render service to your master, even the forward ones (these are the ones that are not so nice). Verse 20: Tells us to be faithful to our work, even if we suffer abuse. Verse 21: Says that Jesus suffered abuse and he responded without sinning.

    Verse 23 “when He was reviled (criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner), did not revile in return.”

    This counsel would apply in Paul’s day because the system was different from the slavery that existed in the state.

    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 “God is punishing this nation for the high crime of slavery. He has the destiny of the nation in His hands. He will punish the South for the sin of slavery, and the North for so long suffering its overreaching and overbearing influence. ”

    The bottom line is that slavery is an excusable sin that God will one day punish.


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