New Testament on Slavery

tss-baseball.jpgSince we’re on the topic, I find Murray Harris’ statements helpful. Harris is professor emeritus of NT exegesis and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In his book, Slave of Christ, He writes:

“… let us not overlook the obvious fact that Christianity did not create enslavement but inherited a deeply entrenched system of slavery. Along with almost all other contemporary religious movements, Christianity accepted slavery as an inevitable part of the social and economic status quo, without questioning or trying to justify its existence. …

Even slaves did not envision a slaveless society. None of the slave revolts during the period 140-70 BC, ending with the fall of Spartacus in 71 BC, aimed at the abolition of slavery as an institution, but only at the securing of freedom for the slaves actually involved in the rebellion. Indeed, when rebel slaves were successful in gaining their freedom, they promptly embraced the ideals and pursuits of their former owners and so perpetuated the status quo! …

But the New Testament acceptance of the status quo should not be equated with endorsement of the status quo with respect to slavery. Toleration is not the same as approval. Apostolic directives about the conditions of slavery should not be read as approval of slavery as an institution. Moreover, the silence of the New Testament writers with regard to any explicit approval of slaved should not be converted into what one writer calls ‘the clear teaching of Scripture’ [in endorsing slavery].”

- Murray J. Harris in Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ (IVP: 1999) pp. 61-62.

HT: two friends & a key

Biblical slavery and American slavery

I thoroughly enjoyed the DG conference this weekend. It was great to meet up with old friends I have not seen in a while and to meet those of you I’ve only known electronically.

I want to post a few of the interesting quotes from the conference. The first is a sobering one from the second and final MacArthur message. He was speaking on the importance of the word doulas (slave) in the New Testament and letting the hard reality of its meaning land on us today. Here is what he said:

“Here we have a massive, dominating New Testament paradigm for understanding our relationship to Jesus Christ. When you say doulas (slave) and then you say kurios (master) everybody in the Greek culture at that time knew exactly what you were talking about. There is no such thing as kurios without doulas. No such thing as a master without a slave. If you don’t have slaves, you’re not the master of anybody. If you are the master you have slaves. …

In the ancient world this was the most demeaning term possible by which to identify yourself. Freedom was everything. They would have stood with Braveheart and screamed, ‘Freedom!’ They understood the value, the virtue, of freedom and they mocked slavery. …

What did it mean to say you were a slave? The difference between a servant and slave was that a servant was hired for a job and paid. A slave was owned. To be a slave means: (1) you were bought; (2) exclusive ownership; (3) total availability and obedience without question; (4) subject all your life to an alien will; (5) dependent on your master for all your provision and all protection; (6) and your master determined the final disposition of your life as to punishment or reward. … In the ancient Greek world there was somewhere between 10-12 million slaves. Everyone knew what it meant. When you said you were a slave of Jesus Christ everybody knew what that meant. You think they had a Lordship controversy then? I don’t think so!

The Bible does not condemn slavery. The Bible does not condone slavery. It just borrows it as the perfect metaphor to picture a Christian’s relationship to the Lord. For you have been bought with a price, you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold but with precious blood of Christ (1 Cor. 6:20 and 1 Pet. 1:18-19). …

I was talking about this a few weeks ago over in North Carolina (Wake Forest University). And a gracious guy stood up and said, ‘You know, I come from the African American church and I’m not sure this would go over real big – this slavery idea.’

I said, ‘I can understand that.’

I was down in the South, in the office of Charles Evers – the brother of Medgar Evers – when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. [Later] I was in Jackson, Mississippi with some leaders and they actually put me in a car and took me to Memphis into the building where James Earl Ray shot him. I climbed up on the toilet to look through the window where he held the gun. I know these people, I’ve known them through the years and ministered there. I understand all the pain and agony of that in the past.

But I said to him [the man at Wake Forest], ‘For you that’s a memory, for the people living in the New Testament that [slavery] was now! That was their reality.’”

- John MacArthur, Desiring God 2007 National Conference; Certainties That Drive Enduring Ministry, Part 2 (Sept. 29, 2007)

A slave beaten … a Son killed: Illustrating the weight of Sin (John Owen)

“To see a slave beaten and corrected, it argues a fault committed; but yet perhaps the demerit of it was not very great. The correction of a son argues a great provocation; that of an only son, the greatest imaginable. Never was sin seen to be more abominably sinful and full of provocation, than when the burden of it was upon the shoulders of the Son of God. God having made his Son, the Son of his love, his only begotten, full of grace and truth, sin for us, to manifest his indignation against it, and how utterly impossible it is that he should let the least sin go unpunished, he lays hand on him, and spares him not.”

- John Owen, Communion with God from The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth), 2:96.