Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An Interesting Perspective on the "Slavery" Passages

I have read the "slavery" passages numerous times in the New Testament and have always wondered just what to do with them. They are Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18-25.

I have been teaching through Titus during Wednesday evening Bible study and I came to 2:9-10 yesterday evening. After the first reading, I had initially relegated it to the "we'll give this a run-through" passage, kind of like an epistolary benediction or opening greeting. Of course, I then nearly concluded that, given that slavery is no longer a norm in American life, there is no real, ready application except in employee/employer relationships. That would be the natural place to go. However, as I really studied and prayed that God give me a fuller picture, this quote from a commentary caught my attention. And it changed my whole perspective on how to interpret these passages.
It is unfortunate that many teachers or preachers have applied Paul’s teaching on slavery in his epistles to the employer/employee relationship in modern economies. Such applications dilute the tremendous power of the Gospel as seen within the dark and unjust institution of slavery. The focus of Paul’s teaching with regard to Christian slaves must not be missed. Against the bleak hopelessness of this system of bondage, the Christian slave’s devotion to the Gospel and resulting godly attitudes and actions serve to make attractive in an unparalleled way the ultimate freedom that is only realized in Christ (Hayne, New American Commentary: 1,2 Timothy, Titus 308)
I taught Titus 2:9-10 completely different after reading and thinking through this quote and applied it to the sum total of the Christian experience; anywhere a Christian finds himself under authority. The slave-master relationship should characterize the Christian life and just as a Christian slave should yield unquestioning obedience to his master, so the Christian should yield unquestioning obedience to his Master, Jesus--and this characteristic will manifest itself in all relationships where a Christian is under authority--even to an unbeliever.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing a great point!

I think this highlights the need for a Gospel centered exposition as opposed to man centered. We are so quick to proceed to a contemporary application that we overlook the deeper and more significant truth of a passage. I'm not against practical application, but I believe it is secondary to what the passage tells us about God and the Gospel. Application that proceeds from that will be more appropriate and effective.

Tony said...

Thanks, Cameron. I appreciate the positive comment. I am growing every day in my understanding of the Bible, and were it not for standing on the shoulders (at times) of other "more learned" people, I would go nowhere. The Spirit however is the ultimate guide, and I am learning to trust Him more every day to "lead me into all truth."

Thanks again!

Karma Shuford said...

I have always heard the employer analogy of this passage as well. I think part of the break down there is that slaves typically didn't have a choice to remain a slave (it is my understanding that in Bible times a person could sell himself into slavery, but more modern times slaves are usually taken by force). I do have a choice about where I will work.

For that reason, I think your approach was much more applicable, Tony. The "problem*" with it though, is that requires me to be submissive to those in authority of me, and I don't always do so well with that. :/

(*not problem as in "your analogy is wrong," but problem in that "I really don't want to do that.")

Tony said...

My interpretations aren't infallible by any means but this seemed a much more natural understanding of the passages. The slave/master, employee/employer dichotomy has always seemed strained and overtly modern--almost making it mean what we want it to mean.

Thanks for commenting!