Friday, February 6, 2015

Paul on Slavery (Part V)

PAUL: The Pastorals

Titus 2:9-10

The author (questions of authorship aside) begins this section by telling Titus to “teach what is consistent with sound [healthy] doctrine”(2:1). He goes with gender (2:3-5),[1] younger men (2:6-8),[2] and then to slaves.[3] The slaves are told not to give satisfaction by “not talking back and “pilfering.”[4] Tellingly, the institution of slavery isn’t rooted in creation or a divine ordinance. Instead, they are to be ‘attractive’ (κοσμῶσιν, adornment, ornate) to their masters for the doctrine of God our Savior.

The follow up shows an impartial salvation that has appeared to all,[5] training them to renounce the world and live in ways that please God (v11-14). No one is to look down on us (v15).

1 Timothy 1:10

In this vice list (which begins in v9 and ends in v11), the author implicates many people as a result of their actions. This is in conjunction with the 10 Commandments. The ‘murderers’ (6th Commandment), ‘adulterers and sodomites’ (7th Commandment), and ‘slave traders’ (8th Commandment).[6] Paul lists these as “contrary to sound doctrine” (v10). What is curious in this brief analysis is that Paul has in mind Exodus 21:16, for which the penalty for “anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him…”[7] is death. This is coordinate with Paul’s Jewish unease with slavery, and indicates that he does consider some form of ‘slave-dealing’ as contrary to healthy doctrine.[8] Paul most probably still has false teachers in mind with this list.[9] While not entirely conclusive, this brief indictment shows that Paul viewed the trading of human beings as incompatible to “sound doctrine.”

1 Timothy 6:1-2

Why are slaves who are under the “yoke of slavery”[10] their masters[11] regard them as “worthy of all honor?” Simply stated, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.[12] While it is difficult to swallow this admonition, it is still important to realize that Paul is concerned with the church’s standing in society[13] (1 Tim 2:2 3:7). That is, if those in Christ haul off their yokes, this would be seen as a rebellion within the Greco-Roman context.[14]

Instead of a rebellion, Christian slaves are told to serve their Christian masters “all the more.”[15] Paul’s side comment[16] about all being “members of the church” implies a desire for unity within the community.

SUMMATION: Paul & Slavery

Paul - and his predecessors - in some sense significantly undermined the institution of slavery during his time. His influence upon subsequent traditions, who ransomed slaves, cannot be ignored. The terrible tragedy is that people would misuse Paul to shame the honor and dignity of African-Americans, especially in the name of God. While Paul can certainly be misused, we must remember that for his time, Paul was doing his best with an old world. While it is not enough for some of us, I do think it meant the world to people like Onesimus.


[1] This “submission” is not grounded in creation, respect or the husband’s authority. Rather, they are told to submit so that “the word of God may not be discredited.” This pattern of not bringing dishonor to God is a repeated emphasis throughout 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.
[2] Again, the reason is that an opponent “will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us” (v8).
[3] As with 1 Timothy 1:10, masters are given no exhortation.
[4] Gordon D. Fee, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, 190, notes that “slaves were often entrusted with buying goods and also often had a degree of private ownership.” This shows that if slaves had a degree of freedom that they were not to use it against their owners. Or, even, if they had no freedom, to still not steal.
[5] Notably, women and slaves are included in this.
[6] Fee, 46.
ἀνδραποδισταῖς”; see BDAG 76, LSJ 127-8. Philip Payne pointed this in out. Man and Woman, One in Christ, 274. Gordon Fee points out that many early rabbis considered the 8th Commandment to be opposing slave dealing. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, 49 additional notes 1:9-10.
[8] Much could be be said about the ἀρσενοκοίταις but that will have to wait.
[9] The notation of sexual improprieties and murderers could be a hint towards the activities of the various cults in the area. It is very likely that prostitutes and priests were close in the temples. While this does not excuse homosexual practice, it does show that Paul has such things in mind as a reason to indict them.
[10] Galatians 5:1.
[11] This would be Christian slaves and Christian owners, though the owner may not be a Christian. Christian slaves would likely be told to submit to their masters, regardless of religious affiliation.
[12] Fee suggests that slaves are still viewed as still “in the old social order.” 137.
[13] Indeed, that may be a key hermeneutical device to understand these household codes, especially in regards to slavery. Perhaps these are viewed as ad hoc. A key argument against this is that Paul is already an ad hoc theologian. While certainly true, an ad hoc admonition can still be applicable to a relevant modern situation.
[14] If history is any indication, the failed slave rebellion of Spartacus shows that a slave uprising would be crushed, and anyone who associated with it would likely suffer the same fate.
[15] Most probably, the masters here are Christians. The shift to the specific would indicate this, especially if masters in v1 are said to be “worthy of honor” so that God may not be blasphemed. If a Christian slave was disobedient or acting in a dishonorable way, it would follow that such slave masters would not view their religion in the highest opinion.
[16] Fee, 138, calls 6:2a an “ad hoc reason for this short section.”

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