Thursday, November 05, 2009

to this you have been called

    Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2
A slave did not have the status of a free man, did not have protection against detention or any kind of physical punishment from their master, did not have freedom of movement or freedom to earn money.

Some slaves lived within the family, and due to their education or race, they were respected and even friends, eventually gaining freedom. Some slaves were branded, wore an iron collar, slept in chains and worked in gangs. Some were galley slaves, chained to the seats where they toiled out their lives.

The slaves of ancient Greece and Rome were overwhelmingly prisoners of war, or the children of a slave woman. (The father could be anyone.) If a soldier knew that he was losing in a battle, he might kill himself rather than be taken as a slave.

The most noted difference between a free man and a slave is that the slave could be flogged.

A female slave had no right to resist intercourse with her master or any males of the household. It was not considered adultery if the master slept with her. Her children belonged to him anyway. A female slave could not gain freedom or buy her own freedom on her own. She could only become free if she were the partner of a male slave who was being freed.

A female slave had no rights over her body, or her children, no hope of independance, and could not protest being used as a prostitute.

I find that the book of Ephesians does not uphold marriage between a man and a woman, but only between a male citizen and a female citizen. It is not about the sacredness of the male-female union but only about the inviolable rights of the master of the household.

Yes, there is a discussion of how Christians conduct themselves within the cultural context, but there is no defense of this context.

Are slaves indeed called by Christ to be beaten?


Timo S. Paananen said...

"[T]he book of Ephesians... is not about the sacredness of the male-female union but only about the inviolable rights of the master of the household."

Writing this sentence in the margins of my Bible. Jay Williams agrees with you in his new essay "Christianity and Slavery" - recommended reading if you haven't already noticed it.

J. K. Gayle said...

Sue, Thanks for the startling post!

Timo, thanks for the recommendation of Williams's essay.

Carolyn Osiek has done much work in researching the female slave (neither much protected by Paul's or Peter's guidelines to slaves and masters nor at all considered in their guidelines to wives and husbands) in the context of the early Christian household.

A Woman's Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity with Margaret Y. MacDonald and Janet H. Tulloch;

"Female Slaves, Porneia, and the Limits of Obedience," in Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, edited with David L. Balch

Anonymous said...

WOW. That was a thought-provoking post. I've wondered that, but yet never really allowed myself to "go there," if you will...

Then that essay, Timo, that you linked to. Wow.


Kristen said...

I cannot agree with Williams' essay. He skips the entire idea of accommodation (God working within the structures of the culture He was speaking to) in order to espouse the culture within which the New Testament was written, as if the culture itself were of God. He ignores the many examples of civil disobedience (particularly in the Book of Acts, and by Paul and Peter most notably) that balance the message of "obey earthly authorities" that they also teach. He appears to mistranslate a passage to slaves that I have always seen translated more along the lines of "Rather, if you can attain your freedom, choose that."

Jesus' message was not that ordinary folk are to be slave-minded, in order to uphold power structures-- his message was that even the person in the highest place was to serve others. Look at the things he said to the Pharisees and to Herod! Biblical teachings appear to me to subvert human authority structures with the teaching that all are equal-- which is why so many totalitarian governments have feared the Bible and Christianity.

In short, Williams seems as much wed to the idea that the Bible's cultural assumptions should be commandments to us, as the fundamentalists are. There is much within the Bible that he seems to ignore in order to set his viewpoint forward-- not least of which are Paul's mention of women as his "co-workers," "benefactors," etc.

He can think what he wants-- but I don't see the Bible as a slave-mentality book at all.

Kristen said...

I should qualify, though-- it's not that I think Williams is so much saying that the Bible's cultural assumptions should be commandments to us-- it's that I think he's saying the Bible's cultural assumptions cannot be separated from the Bible's timeless messages, and therefore the whole book is offensive and obsolete. But I think the cultural assumptions and the timeless teachings can indeed be separated from one another, and that doing so is not "picking and choosing" what to follow, as he says it is.

G said...

It is so hard for us to truly enter into the mind of another culture. In my egalitarian idealism I have tried for years to overthrow some of the rigid vertical social structures in the churches in Thailand that I see as oppressive. More often than not I end up feeling like I am seen as a crazy prophet cooking food with shit. I believe that in the Bible are points of light that direct us, but the writers of the scriptures were at the same time also slaves of their culture. On the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaims of the new kingdom order where doulos and doule will equally be spokespersons of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks of some kind of erasing of distinctions between race, status and gender in the Galatian letter. I prefer to see these two records as examples of points of light but the instructions of Paul found in the letter to the church in Ephesus or the words attributed to Peter in the so named epistle, as unfortunate accommodations to the dominant cultures of that time, Greek, Roman, and even that culture that grew out of the Old Testament scriptures. Yet, without any such accommodation they would have possibly lost a dialogue with the larger society. I am torn with the conflict of my own cross-cultural situation every day. Do I refer to the local king as god which is proper? Do I use the title “great father” when I speak to Buddhist monks? Do I let people continue to call me Ajan, the equivalent to rabbi? Do I allow people to refer to themselves as “little mouse” when they address me? I think it is only honest to see the sexism and social inequality that is evident in the scriptures. That does not disqualify the value of the scriptures as divine revelation, but it does not at the same time mean that there is no room to progress to a better way and develop a culture that gives respect to all persons equally.

Lydia said...

Slavery is NOW against the law in this country so those who would dare keep a slave are disobeying the civil authorities and subject to the consequences. Same with spouse abuse. It is against the law.

But when I think of what scripture is teaching us all as followers of Christ to be servants to one another and HIS bondservants...can you imagine the witness that would be to the world if every single professing believer followed that admonition? Every single Christian serving one another? Putting others first?

Anonymous said...

"Do I allow people to refer to themselves as “little mouse” when they address me? I think it is only honest to see the sexism and social inequality that is evident in the scriptures."

I think of the scandal Jesus Christ caused with single women following Him around from town to town. Mary pouring perfume on Him, sitting at His feet learning, His meeting with the Samaritan women, etc.

It was a SCANDALOUS Gospel.

Kevin Knox said...

One of your best and most persuasive, Suzanne. You found the heart of an offensive analogy without offending. Powerful.

Don said...

It is exactly due to the ability of some to claim the "plain meaning" of the slave verses to be unjust that I believe there are 2 ways to view the ones in the NT, what I call the surface meaning and what I call the deeper or latent meaning.

It is important to see the slave verses in the OT as heading towards justice in their culture and that God takes people and peoples step by step into the Kingdom. A slave had no rights in the surrounding cultures, with the Hebrews they had some rights.

In the NT things get trickier, as they say. Paul, etc. wrote things that can be interpreted to endorse slavery, esp. on a surface reading.

For example, some can read Philemon as an endorsement of a fugitive slave law, and antebellum slaveholders DID read it this way. But most today would agree that the subtext is Paul asking Philemon to free Oni.