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Response to Lynn Dunston

by ~Steve on Sunday, February 22, 2015 1:41 AM
Although multiple topics were touched on over the course of several blog posts, my response is focusing on this question you raised re: Jesus uses of a slave / master relationship in a parable. Luke 17:7-10. 

Although multiple topics were touched on over the course of several of your blog posts, my response is focusing on this question you raised re: Jesus's use of a slave / master relationship in a parable. Luke 17:7-10. 

In your blog you asked: If a slave is not to be thanked but is only to obey commands, what does this say about the slave’s volition? Does she/he have any? 

and then you stated: By definition, a slave is normally understood to lack volition.

In response to this, I point out that slavery has a range of meanings and ancient servitude is qualitatively different from slavery of Africans in the 1600-1800's.

This definition of slavery is not consistent with many examples of slavery in the ancient world. We have examples of slaves with legal rights (Exo 21:20), slaves who can purchase other slaves (2 Sam 9:9-10) , slaves who inherit property (Abraham's slave, Eliezer), etc.  Slavery can be seen as varying degrees of loss of volition. You see wives taken from war captives as a form of sex slavery but you are not paying attention to the fact that it describes common practice of ANE marriages (and others) where a father would 'sell' his daughter to someone who wants her as a wife. How is this different? 

We also know that slavery in the Roman Empire was very different. Romans often freed their slaves (The Greco-Roman world of the New Testament Era, Jeffers, pg 229). In cities this often occurred by age of thirty upon which time they would become a freedman or freedwoman and attain citizenship making slavery more of a process to a better life than a permanent state. An abused slaver could appeal to a court to force their master to sell them. Both physical cruelty and lack of food brought about state intervention.

You said: In sum, can you provide me with evidence that demonstrates that NT slavery was not slavery and was only indentured servitude?

This question is part of the problem. There is no such thing as New Testament slavery. There was slavery in the society in which the New Testament arose but calling it New Testament slavery is tantamount to calling war of the time, New Testament war or calling divorce, New Testament divorce. Your description of the attitudes of some toward slavery in the first century do not indict the authors of the New Testament. 

In spite of this attempt to implicate by association, we have a lot of information about slaves in the New Testament era and all manner of slavery existed. Doctors, artists, and other skilled laborers were often slaves or ex-slaves that have purchased their freedom. (pg 19) and slavery could be a penalty for one convicted of a crime (pg 157). These instances can be similar to apprenticeships and serving time in jail for a crime. Life in slavery with a decent master could be more predictable and less demanding than that of a free person (Jeffers, pg 222).

You said: Can you demonstrate that the New Testament is not dealing with sex slavery?

The Roman culture undoubtedly had instances of sex slavery, as does ours. How does this become New Testament sex slavery? Jesus taught that looking on a woman with lust was adultery. (Matt 5:28).  Sexual promiscuity was warned against consistently. (Rom 13:13, 1 cor 5:1, 11; 6:13) and followers were encouraged to have only one wife or husband (1 Cor 7:2) contrary to the excesses of Roman culture. Since sexual promiscuity were cultural norms, these are unique attitudes. 

The New Testament attitude toward slavery was also in direct contrast to that of the Romans. Aristotle said that some men are by nature free and others slaves and for the latter slavery is both expedient and right. Paul, in contrast says there is no free person or slave as we are equal in the eyes of God and he shows no partiality. If you were a slave then try to gain your freedom (I Cor 7:20) and encourages the one slave owner that we know he addressed personally to do what is right regarding his slave so that he might have him back, not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 15-17). It is likely that Erastus, the Christian city treasurer of Corinth would have sold himself into slavery to get this position. A possible reason Paul reminded the Corinthians that they were bought with a price and should not become the slaves of men (1 Cor 7:23). 

Avoidance of immorality, equality regardless of both sex and social status are both ideas in the New Testament that run counter to the Roman society at large. There is no indication that any New Testament author is pro-sex slave and an immense amount of evidence otherwise. Being free from sexual immorality, having only one wife, and treating her with love (Eph 5:25, 28;Col 3:19) simply does not leave any wiggle room for a sex slave. The idea that the burden of proof is mine is quite a strange one but no worries. We have record of Christians setting slaves free from the beginning of the second century in spite of the Roman acceptance and dependence on it.

You said: Even if not based on race, ancient slavery was no less reprehensible than American chattel slavery.

Hunger and destitution are also a loss of volition and it may be worse than slavery. A person that sells themselves into slavery to avoid starvation has more freedom than the person that lies on the side of the road and starves. In this sense, slavery is a social safety net. People join the army now for similar reasons and end up in a contract that is a loss of volition. Slavery is not the only way to lose choices.

You said: According to your own words, then, a slave is an indentured servant. On one hand you want to keep indentured servitude separate as a category, but on the other hand you want to conflate it with slavery. Which is it? Is indentured servitude slavery or is it a separate category?

You are missing the point. The same word is used in a range of meanings. Indentured servant is within the range of meanings conveyed by the word slave. A slave can also be a different kind of slave. The Hebrew word is obviously used in a wide range of contexts as is the Greek.

This brings us to your actual question:

Would a good God employ slavery as a pedagogical tool?

There are two reasons why I feel that the answer could easily be yes.

1) The morality of any practice cannot be judged by its abuses. You have continually drawn on parallel accounts and your own imagination regarding what slavery could have been and undoubtedly was like for some. First century Rome had all forms of slavery and the morality of its practice would be dependent on the morality of those involved. War was a first century reality and wars are waged by both good and evil men.  Jesus could draw upon a war metaphor without condoning either the good or bad forms of it. Marriage, in our society often ends in divorce. Often times it involves adultery. This does not mean a) that marriage is an immoral institution and b) if it was, that using it in analogy condones the institution itself. Welfare (our replacement of slavery) could be both a good and an evil depending on how it is implemented. Using the idea of welfare in a metaphor does not condone all its abuses.

2) The use of a metaphor is not an agreement. A metaphor is used because it is a way to link one idea to another. The use of a common place institution like slavery was meant to convey an idea. In this case a very simple one. A servant who does only what he is told should not expect some special praise for it. Forgiving your brother who repents of some wrong doing is a command for the followers of Christ; it is your basic duty (Luke 17:4). Jesus demonstrates this same thing in the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16). He uses the analogy of a King and a battle (Luke 14) and it would be an error to suggest that he then must condone all the abuses ever conducted by a monarch, all the abuses of war, and shifty accountants. 

I could tell you the same parable using the hospitality industry where poor young women in our culture serve wealthy people and have no place at the same table. Sometimes, it is at Hooters where they are forced (by necessity of livelihood) to dress in skimpy clothes and are objectified and groped by drunken men. If I tell you a parable about a waitress, it does not mean I condone any of these things. In your post, you are suggesting that this is an exegetical exercise. In fact, it appears to me to be an eisegetical insertion of an agenda into the words of Jesus.

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