Per Caritatem

One in ChristAs I stated in the previous post, the current piece deals with the issue of slavery in the New Testament and both were written by yours truly, Cynthia R. Nielsen.  Unfortunately, I did not receive any submissions to the series dealing with the contested letters of St. Paul and the household codes.  I have not studied those letters in depth and thus am not entirely sure as to how they relate to St. Paul’s uncontested letters and the passages therein dealing with slaves and the Christian community. My underdeveloped hypothesis is that the NT captures glimpses of different and competing Christian voices  in the early church reacting to perhaps a perceived threat regarding the Christian freedom St. Paul advocated, for example, in his epistle to the Galatians.  I certainly welcome comments related to that intertextual interpretive issue.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to this series by way of posting essays and commenting on the posts.  There are still several guest posts to come, so please continue to be part of the conversation.

***

As is well-known, St. Paul, in his very short letter to Philemon,[1] devotes significant space to the master/slave relationship. Some scholars have concluded that in his letter to Philemon St. Paul’s position on slavery has changed and changed for the better in comparison to his exhortations to slaves in 1 Cor 7.[2] But has he altered his view in any substantive way?   Perhaps not, if we keep firmly before us the fact the specific appeals regarding the recently converted Onesimus are directed at Philemon, St. Paul’s friend and co-laborer in Christ (Plm 1). In contrast, there is no indication that the slaves addressed in 1 Corinthians had exclusively Christian masters.  Rather, it is more plausible to suggest that at least some, and perhaps even most slaves whom St. Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians, had non-Christian masters.[3] In Philemon, then, what we have is an impassioned plea to a mature Christian leader to enact in this world the kind of relationships that will characterize the age to come.

As Brown observes, “[t]he letter, designed to persuade, is astute, with almost every verse hinting at something more than is stated.”[4] Apparently, Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, had been converted by St. Paul during the latter’s imprisonment (Phlm 9-10).  St. Paul addresses Philemon as a Christian brother and one whose life and works had been a great source of encouragement to him (Phlm 4-7).  Now that Onesimus has been brought into union with the living Christ, St. Paul challenges Philemon to recognize Onesimus’s new status in Christ, not simply in a “spiritual” inner sense, but καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ ἐν κυρίῳ (“both in the flesh and in the Lord,” Plm 16, NRSV).  In other words, pace Nietzsche’s complaint that Christianity has an exclusively “other-worldly-world” focus, new life in Christ necessarily involves socio-political ramifications.  Thus, St. Paul, in a pastoral and caring manner, encourages his fellow brother in Christ, Philemon, to embody this Gospel in his relationship with Onesimus.  Consider, for example, the strong emotional language Paul employs to urge Philemon to action, “I am appealing to you for my child [in the Lord], Onesimus” (v. 10, NRSV); “if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (v. 17, italics added, NRSV); “Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (v. 21, italics added, NRSV).  Acknowledging the strong rhetorical flavor of this letter, we may reasonably conclude that St. Paul expected Philemon to manumit Onesimus—to receive him “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Plm 16, NRSV).[5] Even if one were to concede that St. Paul to some degree participated in the cultural blindness of his day by not directly speaking against slavery as an institution (and in part due to his strong apocalyptic convictions), nonetheless, he does call the Christian community to a different standard, as it were, to kingdom values.

Many scholars, of course, are quick to point out that slaves were the economic backbone of Roman society.  For instance, Bartchy writes,

[i]n such an economic context it was virtually impossible for anyone to conceive of abolishing slavery as a legal-economic institution.  To have turned all the slaves into free day laborers would have been to create an economy in which those at the bottom would have suffered even more insecurity and potential poverty than before.[6]

Though this is no doubt true historically speaking, arguments along these lines have been employed (and sadly enough by Christians) to justify slavery as an institution.[7] As I shall contend in the concluding section, Christians ought to see slavery[8] as a consequence of the fall and, hence, as completely un-natural and inconsistent with God’s ideal for human beings and with human ontology (viz. as free beings).   Bartchy goes on to say that neither Jesus (nor the Twelve) nor St. Paul owned slaves.  By example of their own lives, both Jesus and the pioneers of early Christianity issued a challenge to the “early Christians to conceive of themselves as living already among themselves in an alternative social-legal environment.”[9] Through God’s activity of calling into being these “alternative households,” that is, Christian communities in which the slave/master relationship is relativized and slavery to Christ (the ultimate suffering, foot-washing Servant) is the only form of servitude that will continue into the eschaton, we see the Gospel and St. Paul’s exhortations to kingdom living issuing a threat to the economic structure of Roman society.[10]

Notes


[1] With Sampley and Witherington, I conclude that 1 Corinthians was composed in Ephesus in the late fall or early winter 53-54 AD. Cf.  Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” p. 777.  Sampley presents his case for this early dating based on Paul’s travel information given in 1 Cor 16:5-9.   In this passage, Paul announces his plan to visit Corinth after a stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, a Jewish festival that occurs fifty days after the second day of the Passover celebration (p. 776).  This has led some scholars to postulate that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians “in late fall or winter, leaving time for the pre-Pentecost, remaining work in Ephesus to which Paul alludes by the metaphor of the ‘wide door’ opened him there (1 Cor 16:9)” (p. 776).  The question then becomes, which late fall or winter?  According to Sampley, if one gives credence to the Acts 18 account of Paul’s missionary activity (vs. 22-23), coupled with the time needed to secure his mission in Ephesus, one may posit an early date for 1 Corinthians, ca. late fall or winter 53-54 AD (pp. 776-77).  Witherington also opts for an early dating (53-54 AD) of 1 Corinthians, pointing to the evidence of the inscription found at Delphi mentioning Gallio’s name, which corroborates with the Acts 18 account and thus allows us to establish a date for Gallio’s service in Corinth (50-51 or 51-52 AD) (see, Conflict and Community in Corinth, pp. 71-73).   With Brown, I hold that Philemon was also composed in Ephesus in 56 AD, approximately two to three years after 1 Corinthians. See, Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 507-8.  Felder opts for Rome as the place of composition and a later date as well (ca. 61 AD).  If Felder is correct, my overall argument is not diminished and perhaps even strengthened.  See, Felder, “The Letter to Philemon,” p. 884.

[2] Cf. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 506-7.

[3] Witherington concurs. Cf. Conflict and Community in Corinth, p. 183.

[4] Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 505.

[5] As Lewis highlights, it is curious that Paul introduces himself in this letter as a “prisoner of Christ,” rather than a “slave of Christ” (Phil 1:1) or a “slave” and “apostle” of Christ (Rom 1:1) (Lewis, “The Philemon-Paul-Onesimus Triangle,” pp. 240-41).  In this letter, Paul is clearly appealing to Philemon as a friend and fellow brother; thus, he refrains from imposing apostolic authority.  Perhaps he avoids the title “slave of Christ,” because his aim is to persuade Philemon to manumit Onesimus and to en-flesh the eschatological reality of Christian relationships that characterize the next aeon in the present aeon.

[6] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 546.

[7] Cf. Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine, p. 156, footnote 3.

[8] That is, human ownership of other human beings in which those owned are considered as “things” and property of their masters.

[9] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 546.

[10] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 546.  Witherington has similar comments, cf. e.g., Conflict and Community in Corinth, p. 185.

 

One-in-Christ-229x300The post below as well as the one which shall follow deal with the issue of slavery in the New Testament and were written by yours truly, Cynthia R. Nielsen.  Unfortunately, I did not receive any submissions to the series dealing with the contested letters of St. Paul and the household codes.  I have not studied those letters in depth and thus am not entirely sure as to how they relate to St. Paul’s uncontested letters and the passages therein dealing with slaves and the Christian community. My underdeveloped hypothesis is that the NT captures glimpses of different and competing Christian voices  in the early church reacting to perhaps a perceived threat regarding the Christian freedom St. Paul advocated, for example, in his epistle to the Galatians.  I certainly welcome comments related to that intertextual interpretive issue.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to this series by way of posting essays and commenting on the posts.  There are still several guest posts to come, so please continue to be part of the conversation.

***

As many commentators observe, Corinth was a religiously diverse city of considerable socio-economic import. The Corinthian church was a microcosm of the social structures of the larger culture.  “There was no middle class in the Greco-Roman world.  At the top of the pyramid were a few rich persons who were, therefore, automatically persons of power and status.”[1] This reflection of the larger culture is indicated in 1 Cor 1:26, where St. Paul states that few of the saints at Corinth were wise according to worldly standards (σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα), few were powerful (δυνατοί), and few were of noble or high birth (εὐγενεῖς). Thus, we can reasonably posit that most in the church at Corinth were of low birth (perhaps slaves), weak or lacking in worldly power (perhaps women, who, in a patriarchal society, generally occupy subordinate socio-political positions), and unsophisticated, non-philosophical individuals (those whom the world considered“foolish”).  To these no-bodys (τὰ μὴ ὄντα, literally, “things that are not,” italics added) by worldly standards, St. Paul speaks words of immense encouragement:  “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Cor 1:27-28, NRSV).  Yet, to those few in the Corinthian church who were wise, powerful, and high born, St. Paul’s words are meant to convict, to urge them back to God’s system of values, which in the eyes of the world is weakness and foolishness. St. Paul then informs the Corinthians of his purpose by reminding them who they were and who, by God’s gracious call, they now are in Christ:  “so that no one (πᾶσα σὰρξ) might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:29-30, NRSV). As we shall see, St. Paul’s exhortation in this opening chapter to the Corinthian believers to relate to one another in a way that recognizes their mutual equal status in Christ is a theme permeates the letter as a whole and has particular bearing on our focus passage, 1 Cor 7:20-24.

1 Corinthians chapter 7 falls between St. Paul’s admonitions regarding lawsuits and sexual immorality and his directives concerning food offered to idols.  More specifically, chapter 7 consists of St. Paul’s responses to particular questions, which the Corinthians had raised and sent to him by letter on an earlier occasion (1 Cor 7:1). The focus of the present essay centers on St. Paul’s teaching regarding slaves in 1 Cor 7:20-24. Before explicating the more controversial aspects of my translation and interpretation of this passage, a few preliminary remarks are needed.

The Gospel for St. Paul necessarily affects one’s relationships with others, and, hence, ipso facto affects the broader socio-political sphere.  A believer’s redemption in Christ involves not only the vertical dimension (God and humans) but the horizontal dimension as well (humans and other humans).  In fact, the horizontal, socio-political dimension is precisely where the radical transformation resulting from one’s redemption is embodied and displayed to an on-looking world, for good or for ill.

Though many New Testament scholars often highlight the positive ways in which slaves in the Roman world were treated—some received an excellent education, others gained greater economic security than poor, free-born individuals—nonetheless, slaves were still considered legally the property of another person.  As S. Scott Bartchy observes, “a slave was a res, a thing, a chattel to be owned, bought, and sold.”[2] In addition to this de-humanizing reification, a slave could not enter into a legal marriage, could not represent himself or herself legally, could not inherit, and was subject to physical, sexual (particularly if a female but not excluding males) and other abuses by his or her master.[3] With these very concrete, tangible realities in mind, St. Paul wants the slave to understand who s/he is and to whom s/he now belongs.  Those who currently find themselves under the yoke of human masters are in actuality ἀπελεύθεροι κυρίου (v. 22), who have been “bought with a price” (v. 23), the shed blood and broken body of our Lord.  St. Paul, as one who knows what it is like to be concerned for his own safety and the well-being of others, to be beaten, to be despised and humiliated, is no doubt acutely aware of the daily hardships endured by slaves and exhorts them not to allow their current status as slaves consume them such that they forget who they truly are in Christ.[4] Yet, in the very same breath, he encourages them to seize their freedom, should they be presented with such an opportunity (v. 21).

As a pastor and fellow sufferer for the sake of Christ, St. Paul exhorts these slaves not to allow the cares of this (presently fading) world to consume them, causing them not only to lose sight of their Christocentric identity and mission, but perhaps also to lose hope.  Thus, for those slaves who are not presented with the opportunity to obtain their freedom (manumission was clearly not in their power to decide, as they were not considered persons under Roman law, and consequently, had no legal rights),[5] St. Paul wants to encourage them with the truth that in Christ they have been freed from the bonds of sin, and in Christ their status before God is not less but equal to their (free) fellow-Christians.

St. Paul likewise urges various other groups of believers at the church in Corinth (the married, unmarried, widows, virgins, 1 Cor 7:25-39) not to allow the understandable, legitimate concerns of this life to distract them from their kingdom callings. These exhortations as a whole must be interpreted in light of St. Paul’s strong apocalyptic conviction that the “present world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31). In fact, 1 Cor 7:25-31 is permeated with eschatological language, which reflects St. Paul’s belief in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., he expected the parousia to occur during his own lifetime).  For example, in the pericope immediately following our focus passage, he speaks of the “impending crisis” (1 Cor 7:26), stresses that the “appointed time has grown short” (1 Cor 7:29), and, as just mentioned, describes the present structure of the world as “passing way” (παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, 1 Cor 7:31). With St. Paul’s apocalyptic and eschatological views in mind, we are now in a position to discuss my translation and interpretation of 1 Cor 7:24.

In 1 Cor 7:24, St. Paul states, “[o]n account of this, brothers and sisters, before God, let each person, while finding himself in the situation in which he was called, so remain” (ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη, ἀδελφοί, ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ).  St. Paul has made use of an inclusio to frame this passage; yet, he has also varied his original theme.  In 1 Cor 7:20, we read, ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ᾗ ἐκλήθη, ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω, whereas in verse 24, we find two substitutions, (1) ἐν ᾧ for ἐν τῇ κλήσει and (2) ἐν τούτῳ for ἐν ταύτῃ.  Are these variations significant?  More specifically, do the substitutions in the second parallel passage serve both to establish the inclusio structure and yet simultaneously function as a prelude to the explicit eschatological themes in the pericope which immediately follows (1 Cor 7:25-31)? I contend that verse 24 does serve this dual purpose, as it creates an organic connection between the two passages (1 Cor 7:20-24 and 1 Cor 7:25-31)—passages, which must be interpreted in light of St. Paul’s apocalyptic and eschatological concerns and emphases. Moreover, emphasizing the temporal dimension of 1 Cor 7:24 helps us to make sense out of St. Paul’s exhortation in verse 21 (μᾶλλον χρῆσαι, “by all means, take advantage of it,” that is, of gaining your freedom).  If we fail to take into account St. Paul’s strong apocalyptic orientation, then his instructions that follow regarding marriage, re-marriage and celibacy can easily be misconstrued as “nay-saying” (Nietzsche) and as espousing a disparaging view of embodiment and life in this world.  In light of St. Paul’s knowledge of the OT teaching affirming the goodness of creation, his high view of the Incarnation, his teaching on the sacraments as a means for sanctification in this life, and his firm belief in our embodied state in the age to come, the principle of charity demands that we seek a more this-world-friendly interpretation.

Wrapping up my exegetical discussion of this pericope, to what does the “this” refer in the phrase which I have translated, “on account of this” (ἐν τούτῳ, v. 24)?  In verse 23, St. Paul commands the currently enslaved believers not to become slaves of human masters. Why?  Because they have been “bought with a price” (ἀγοράζω (agorazō),[6] Christ’s blood, whose value infinitely outweighs any monetary amount offered for the purchase of a human being.  Consequently, the only true Master for a Christian is Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy of devotion and unyielding submission.[7] The Christian community then must exhibit kingdom relationships to the on-looking world—relationshipscharacterized not by the arbitrary, self-serving, exploitative standards of unregenerate human beings, but by mutual respect and recognition of the equal status of all believers before God.  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28, NRSV).

In the next post in our series, I shall bring the 1 Cor 7 passage into dialogue with St. Paul’s letter to Philemon.

Notes


[1] Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” p. 814.

[2] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 544.

[3] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 544.  Bartchy acknowledges that slaves were considered property and things; yet, he seems at times to present an overly romanticized view of slaves in the Greco-Roman world, emphasizing the varied roles slaves had, depending on to whom they belonged.  Bartchy adds that slaves in the NT period constituted   a “logical” and a “juridical” class but not a social class (p. 544). I find this a somewhat confusing claim.  If such were the case, why would the apostle Paul feel the need to address gender and social status issues, as he does in our current passage as well as other crucial texts such as Gal 3:28?  For a less romanticized view of slavery in the Roman period, cf.  Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity.   Cf. also A.A. Rupprecht’s discussion of the use of the ergastulum to house slaves who worked in chain gangs (“Slave, Slavery,” in The Dictionary of New Testament Background,  p. 881) and J.A. Harill’s comments on the severity of the physical torture of Roman slaves by means of the flagellum (“Slavery,” in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 1125).

[4] It is also worth highlighting that in 1 Cor 7:18-19, two verses immediately prior to our focus passage, Paul relativizes the circumcised verses uncircumcised distinction.  Thus, we have in close proximity two of the three distinctions annulled in Gal 3:28:  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).  In light of Kenneth Bailey’s thesis that women in the Corinthian church had misconstrued Paul’s message and were engaging in anti-male sexism, perhaps the absence of the relativization of the male-female distinction in Christ was purposed by Paul. If so, once again, the cultural-historical and occasional nature of the letter must be stressed, and one must resist a “timeless truth” application of Paul’s commands to women in the Corinthian church (e.g., in 1 Cor 14:34-36) to our contemporary, ecclesial situation (cf. Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 6ff.).

[5] Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth, p. 184.

[6] The same verb is used in 1 Cor 6:20, where Paul exhorts the believers to, glorify God with their bodies, since they were “bought with a price.”

[7] The following goes beyond my competence, but I propose it as “food for thought.”  In contrast with the Covenant (Ex 20:22-23:33) and Deuteronomic (Dt 12-26) Codes, the Holiness Code in Lev 25:39-55 explicitly forbids the enslavement of fellow Hebrews, as they are God’s “slaves,” whom he delivered from Egyptian bondage (Lev 25:42).  Is it possible that Paul has Lev 25:39-55 in mind and is engaging in a Christocentric variation on an OT theme?  That is, just as the Hebrews were commanded by God not to re-enslave their fellow Hebrews because God himself had delivered them from the hands of their oppressors and made them his slaves, so too Christians, using Paul’s language, are slaves of Christ, having been bought with a price, Christ’s blood, and ideally are not to be the slaves of other human beings.  Brown, for example, notes that Paul “betrays his Jewish roots” in his outcry against the sexual immorality condemned in 1 Cor 5:1-2; “for marriage within such a degree of kindred was forbidden by the Mosaic Law” (Lev 18:8; 20:11) (An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 518).  Sadly, American slaveholders in the South appealed to Lev 25 to justify their proslavery position, claiming that just as God permitted the Hebrews to enslave other people groups, so too, they, as God’s chosen people, have a divine sanction to enslave African Americans (cf. Martin, “The Haustafeln,” p. 215).

 

I recently read John M.G. Barclay’s excellent essay, “Neither Jew Nor Greek:  Multiculturalism and the New Perspective on Paul.”  In the first major section,  Barclay provides a clear concise overview of the main players of the New Perspective on Paul (henceforth, NPP). His sketch begins with Krister Stendal’s groundbreaking essay, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” moves to E.P. Sanders’ notion of “covenantal nomism” as presented in his book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and then turns to James D.G. Dunn’s contributions via his commentaries on St. Paul, viz., “his explorations of the social aspects of Paul’s critical engagement with Judaism” (202).  Particularly important given our post-Holocaust existence is the fact that the NPP scholars are sensitive to the unfortunately marred history of Christian scholarship and its participation in anti-Semitism.One in Christ

The second section of Barclay’s essay is devoted to a discussion of the social and ideological background of the NPP.  Here the major subdivisions include the following, all of which characterize the NPP’s methodological stance: (1) a self-conscious theological respect for Judaism, (2) a turning “from an individualistic to a communal reading of Pauline theology” (i.e. Bultmann’s existentialist Heideggerian-inspired readings are out), (3) a concern for multiculturalism and difference.

The third section focuses on Daniel Boyarin’s reading of St. Paul as expressed in his book, A Radical Jew:  Paul and the Politics of Identity.  Barclay finds Boyarin’s engaging, insightful, sympathetic and attentive to St. Paul’s unique role in the Christianity; yet, he finds Boyarin’s reading at times to miss the ways in which St. Paul’s works might be applied fruitfully to our current concerns with multiculturalism and difference.

The fourth and final section of the essay involves a more sustained discussion of St. Paul and multiculturalism.  It is here in the first part of this final section that I want to linger.  Barclay opens by drawing our attention to the fact that “[a]ll Jews in the Graeco-Roman world were affected to some degree by the dominant Hellenistic culture” (209).  Given that Hellenization had a variety of inflections, Barclay offers a helpful distinction between “acculturation” and “assimilation.”  The former speaks of the “adoption of Hellenistic speech, literary forms, values and philosophies); the latter refers to “social integration into Hellenistic society” (209).  A Jew fluent in high Greek might be acculturated but not assimilated.  What bound Jews together most intimately were social and religious practices such as

aniconic monotheism (the refusal to participate in non-Jewish religion), the male mark of circumcision (which among other things, limited marriage relations), the dietary laws (which restricted social intercourse) and the observance of the Sabbath (which affected employment relations).  Such customs defined Jewish difference:  they created social boundaries between Jew and Greek, even where the two might otherwise speak the same language and employ the same though-forms.  Greeks who wished to become Jews (as some did), needed to adopt precisely these social practices to achieve full integration into the Jewish community (209).

Part of what made the apostle Paul so controversial was his proclamation that Gentiles need not embrace these social practices to be full members of the Abrahamic covenant.  Rather, through faith in Christ, they too could enter into intimate life with YHWH and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Gentiles, of course, must manifest this new life in their actions, and St. Paul did exhort them to live free of idols—in line with Jewish custom and a requirement so to speak of monotheism.  However, St. Paul “did not allow the other three ‘social markers’ [i.e. dietary laws, circumcision and required observance of feast days] to characterize the common life of believers] (210).  On this point, Barclay states,

[i]n this sense Paul preached to Gentiles a partially ‘dejudaized Judaism’ and attempted to create church communities which were multiethnic and multicultural:  in Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek’ (Gal. 3:28)” (210).  Contra Boyarin, Barclay claims that St. Paul was not engaging in a spiritual or allegorical interpretative move—he was “not reaching behind Jewish particulars to some abstract ‘essence’ or disembodies ‘ideal’:  he was placing alongside the Jewish community another which was equally physical and embodied in social reality.  To be sure, he can relativize circumcision by claiming that what counts is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6), but that faith and love are designed to take extremely practical shape in the life of a community (Gal. 5:13-6:10).  Similarly, he will not allow the Roman churches to define themselves by distinction in food or drink, but the ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ which he puts in their place (Rom. 14:17) are meant to have immediate impact on their common life, not least in their common meals (Rom. 14:1-15:6) (210).

Consequently, Barclay believes that Boyarin is wrong to conclude that St. Paul engages in an allegorical hermeneutic on these points in order to locate a common human essence.  Instead, according to Barclay, St. Paul seeks “to enable an alternative form of community which could bridge ethnic and cultural divisions by creating new patterns of common life” (210).  In sum, St. Paul’s aim is not to “eradicate” or “erase” cultural differences, but to “relativize” them (211).  He continues to respect Jewish customs (circumcision) and to hold the Jews in high regard, especially given their function in salvation history (recipients of the covenant and the Torah).  Christ was after all a  Jew, and we must neither forget nor attempt to downplay his Jewishness;  yet, He is “now the Lord of both Jews and Gentiles, who call on him in faith on the same terms, whatever their cultural identity” (211).  St. Paul is free to draw from both the Jewish and Greek traditions in order to translate the Gospel more effectively into various contexts to people of diverse ethnic, religious, and socio-cultural backgrounds.  “No one’s culture is despised or demonized, but by the same token none is absolutized or allowed to gain hegemony” (211).

 

Does a study of the NT itself show that that the apostles unequivocally believed that Christ’s return was imminent in their lifetime?  Is it the case that as a result of this belief, the apostles and their early followers lived a radically devout life of prayer, contemplation etc. and likewise de-emphasized “worldly” (for lack of a better word) endeavors?  Although this interpretation has been at times accepted and promoted by the Church, I am not convinced that NT itself sustains such a position.    It seems to me that one could make a strong case for a development of the early Church’s view on eschatology within the Pauline letters themselves.Apostle Paul by Rublev

As current Pauline scholarship emphasizes, St. Paul’s eschatological orientation was rooted in his Jewish, Pharisaic past.  Christians were not the only ones who looked forward to the resurrection of the dead and a final judgment—the Pharisees did as well.  Their position was rooted in the OT, in God’s promise of a glorious future (e.g., 2 Sam 7, Isaiah). St. Paul, already operating within this Jewish eschatological, apocalyptic framework, reinterprets the schema in light of the Christ-event.  That is, with the death and resurrection of Christ—the key Christian eschatological event and new “hermeneutical lens”—the future age is in part brought into the present.  Put slightly differently, in the Christ-event and the experience of the Holy Spirit, God’s followers experience prolepticly the future age.  So the eschaton of Jewish expectation had already arrived, but it is arriving in two stages:  stage one is the Christ-event, the first coming, and the second coming is the second stage.  Hope then becomes the fundamental virtue connected with the Christian eschatological vision.  This hope is not a fleeting, sentimental hope, but a hope grounded in the reality of the Christ-event.  In short, St. Paul has transformed a traditional Jewish eschatological schema Christologically—the eschaton has become partially present now, and the gift of Spirit is God’s assurance of better things to come (2 Cor 5:5).

With this brief background in mind, I can return to my claim of development or a revised eschatological view within the NT, particularly in St. Paul (the undisputed letters) and other “Pauline” texts.  Most NT scholars today consider 1 Thessalonians to be the first of St. Paul’s epistles (c. 50-1 A.D.).  An interesting way to read the letter—not “the” way but a way—is to focus on the triad of theological virtues mentioned twice in the letter.  The triadic order in this letter, in contrast to, 1 Corinthians 13 where we have faith, hope and love, is faith, love and hope.  The last item in the list becomes thematic and is related to the specific epistolary occasion of the letter.  (For example, the Corinthians had all kinds of divisions within their community; they were puffed up with pride etc. and needed to be reminded about the importance of love).  The situation is quite different in 1 Thessalonians.  In this letter, hope is thematized and is closely related to eschatology, as eschatological themes permeate the letter.  As a pastor of a newly formed (mostly) Gentile flock, St. Paul wanted to communicate to this fledgling Christian community the importance of eschatology to the Christian life.

There are many examples from the epistle that I could cite to show that eschatology  is a major theme of the letter.  However, let me mention two very important passages.  First, 1 Thess 1:9-10, which reads:

For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming (NRSV).

Here we may infer that St. Paul was likely addressing a largely Gentile Christian audience, as he states that they “turned to God from idols.”  This, of course, would not apply to monotheistic Jews who had “converted,” as they already worshiped the true and living God, YHWH. Then St. Paul mentions the second coming (“to wait for his Son from heaven”) and the “wrath” to come—again, eschatological themes.  Scholars have postulated that verses 9-10 are perhaps a summary of what St. Paul preached when he first visited Thessalonica.  So he is reminding these new Gentile converts of what he taught them previously.  Since they did not have an eschatological framework (as the Jews did), they needed to be reminded of the significance of eschatology for Christian existence.

Second, we have 1 Thess 4:13-5:11, which is the eschatological “heart” of the letter.  Here St. Paul is addressing concerns of the local community.  Because some within their community have died, questions have arisen regarding the status of dead Christians.  Was there something wrong with them?  Are they second-class? Etc. These questions then naturally raise concerns about the parousia.  Perhaps this early group did in fact have an imminent expectation of the parousia.  If so, they were now unsure as to the status and meaning of fellow Christians who had died prior to the parousia. St. Paul has been made aware of their concerns and is responding to their questions in this letter.

The literary framing of the letter is by way of the aforementioned triadic inclusion of faith, love and hope (the first instance occurs at 1:3 and the final instance at 5:8).  Then if you turn to the middle, exhortation part of the letter, you find an incomplete triad at 3:6.  Here St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians regarding their faith and love, but hope is not mentioned.  Why?  The Thessalonians are struggling with this Christian virtue, and St. Paul as a pastor wants to encourage them.  He tells them specifically grieve, but don’t “grieve as others who have no hope.”  The resurrection and the coming parousia[1] are sources of Christian hope, and St. Paul wants them to draw from these sources and to encourage one another with them.

Here I enter into highly “problematic” territory, but philosophers tend to do this, so here I go!  The authorship of 2 Thessalonians, of course, is disputed.  There are, in my opinion, very good arguments on both sides.  Given that I am not a NT scholar etc. etc., my personal view regarding the authorship is open—perhaps it was St. Paul, or perhaps it was written by a later Pauline follower under the pseudonym, “Paul.”  Either way, what interests me is the development of the eschatological views presented in 2 Thessalonians.  Here, particularly in chapter two, “Paul” addresses concerns of false reports that “the Day of the Lord” has already occurred.  “Paul” denies that it has come and says that certain signs must happen prior to the end (2 Thess 2:2-9).  (How does one reconcile this claim with the statement in 1 Thess 5 that the day of the Lord will come like a “thief in the night?”).  Likewise, in 2 Thess “Paul” exhorts rather sternly those in the community who have stopped working (3:6-15).  Why have they stopped working and are now idle?  Presumably, because they believe that the end is near; thus, “furthering” their career is pointless.  There is, however, no clear indication in the text for that inference.  Nonetheless, given the eschatological themes linking 1 and 2 Thess, it is a plausible suggestion.  At any rate, it does appear that some kind of revision has taken place regarding the imminent return of Christ.  The parousia could still happen at any time (now only following certain “signs”), but a space has opened for the possibility that the event may occur in the distant future, a future beyond the life-span of the early Christians.

I’d really like to hear from my NT scholar friends and readers.  Please send your thoughts/comments!

Notes


[1] Regarding the parousia, Thessalonians seem to have many questions—questions that focus on orderings of end time events; see, for example, 4:14-15 where St. Paul’s response indicates that he was responding to some very specific questions.

 

In this final section, I shall address from a theologico-philosophical point of view claims (1)-(3) and (5) of the opening division of my essay [Part I].  In article 1 of Ord 4, d 36, q 1, John Duns Scotus, in stark contrast to most of his ancient (e.g., Aristotle) and early medieval predecessors, argues that slavery (as described by Aristotle in bk. I of the Politics)[1] is incompatible with natural law, “not good but bad for the slave,” and is introduced “only by positive law.”[2] Scotus further states that there are only two instances in which this kind of slavery can be just:  (a) voluntary servitude (e.g. to pay a debt), and (b) in the case of hardened criminals who might otherwise harm themselves or others.  Yet, he is quick to qualify his claim regarding (a) voluntary servitude, as it still may go against the law of nature. Scotus’s argument is rooted in his view of the will as a self-determining active power.  A sufficient explanation of his view of the will is beyond the scope of this essay; however, for our purposes, I shall present his position in broad strokes.  According to Scotus, both natures and wills are active powers, yet the two are distinguished in terms of the mutually exclusive modalities in which they operate (i.e. natures operate necessarily and wills operate contingently, that is, freely).  If one claims that the will acts necessarily,[3] then it ceases to be a will and is transformed into a nature.  For Scotus, the will cannot be determined from anything outside of itself, lest it cease to be a will and hence, forfeit all claims to acting as a moral agent.  A person who acts necessarily and hence cannot act otherwise cannot justly be held to be morally responsible for his or her actions. Consequently, to willingly reduce oneself to the status of property-a position that could justly be occupied only by an animal or an inanimate object given Scotus’s distinctions-is according to Scotus “foolish.” It is to attempt, as a being created with a free will, to act as if one were an un-free, determined nature.  Freedom, for Scotus, is an essential component of our humanity and is part of what it means to be created in God’s image.  Thus, any endeavor to nullify that freedom, whether voluntary or involuntary is a violation not only of God’s design for human beings but also of the very ontology of human beings as well.  Lastly, to Scotus’s philosophical-theological arguments against slavery, we may add a further theological point:  the introduction of slavery is a consequence of the Fall.[4] Using Gordon Wenham’s phrase, slavery is not “creational-ly ideal.” In Gen 1:26-30, God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the animals, plants and the created order as a whole, excepting one another of course.[5] Adam was not commanded to dominate (or enslave) Eve, nor was Eve to dominate (or enslave) Adam.

In sum, Scotus’s condemnation of slavery as inherently unjust, coupled with the Augustinian theological claim based on Genesis that slavery is a result of the Fall and does not reflect God’s telos for human relationships, provides us with substantive building blocks for a case against (1) the charge that owning human beings and treating them as property is morally acceptable to God, (2) that slavery is a “natural” state of at least some human beings (Aristotle), and (3) that slavery is compatible with natural law.

As we have seen with the 1 Cor 7 passage [Part II, III], careful exegesis demands attentiveness to the occasional, as well as, the historico-cultural context and apocalyptic vision of the early church.  Failure to do so has resulted in shameful, inhumane, sub-Christian treatment of African Americans under the banner of Christ and by way of specific appeal to St. Paul’s writings.[6] Each new generation of Christian thinkers and activists must confront the particular moral and ethical issues of their day, which requires wisdom, seeking truth wherever it can be found (whether in divine revelation or elsewhere), and instruction from the Holy Spirit working through his people in the context of the church, “not by appeal to a previous blueprint by Jesus [or the New Testament writers] for the church.”[7] Such an approach requires wisdom, which is, of course, never easy but always worth the struggle.   To the question, should Christians today actively seek to eradicate slavery-the practice of reifying human beings and reducing them to the status of property-I answer with a resounding “yes.” For the Christian today, I see no moral imperatives in Scripture compelling support for the institution of slavery.   Just as Paul called the Christian communities of his day to live out its kingdom values, we too must live and act in such a way that challenges the injustices of society.  Our historical and cultural situation is of course different from that of Paul and the early church.  Nonetheless, the Church would do well to reflect on Paul’s subversive strategies, to recall Scotus’s condemnation of slavery, and to work towards developing a position in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II, in which the enslavement of human beings is once and for all condemned as an “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum) act.[8] The faith and eschatological-ly grounded hope of our African American brothers and sisters serve as an exemplar for all Christians of striving for justice and standing for the dignity of all human beings.  Will we follow with an appropriate response of (active) love?

Bibliography/Works Cited/Consulted

Aland, Barbara, Aland, Kurt, and Black, Matthew et al. The Greek New Testament, 4th ed., Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993, c1979.

Augustine.  De civitate Dei, ed. and trans. R.W. Dyson.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Bailey, Kenneth E.  “Women in the New Testament:  A Middle Eastern Cultural View,” Theology Matters Vol. 6, no. 1 (Jan/Feb 2000):  1-11.  [An online version of this article is available at:
http://www.cbeinternational.org/new/pdf_files/free_articles/kebaileynt.pdf ].

Bartchy, S. Scott. “Slavery,” in Vol. 4, Q-Z of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, eds. Geoffrey W. Bromiley et al. (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1988):  539-46.

Brown, Raymond E.  An Introduction to the New Testament. New York:  Doubleday, 1997.

Felder, Cain Hope.  “The Letter to Philemon,” in Vol. XI of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000): 883-887.

Finley, M. I.  Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology. New York:  Viking Press, 1980.

Garnsey, Peter.  Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine. Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Glancy, Jennifer A.  Slavery in Early Christianity. Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2002.

Harrill, J.A.  “Slavery,” in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid (Downer’s Grove:  Intervarsity Press, 1993):  1124-27.

Hays, Richard B.   First Corinthians. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

Lewis, Lloyd A.  “An African American Appraisal of the Philemon-Paul-Onesimus Triangle,” in Stony the Road We Trod:  African American Biblical Interpretation. (Minneapolis:  Augsburg Fortress Press, 1991):  232-246.

Martin, Clarice J.  “The Haustafeln (Household Codes) in African American Biblical Interpretation: ‘Free Slaves’ and ‘Subordinate Women,’” in Stony the Road We Trod:  African American Biblical Interpretation. (Minneapolis:  Augsburg Fortress Press, 1991):  206-231.

Rupprecht, A.A.  “Slave, Slavery,” in The Dictionary of New Testament Background, eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downer’s Grove:  Intervarsity Press, 2000):  881-83.

Sampley, J. Paul.  “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” in Vol. X of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002):  773-1003.

Witherington III, Ben.  Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1995.

Wolter, Allan B. (trans.) and Frank, William A. (ed.),   On the Will and Morality. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997.

Notes


[1] Scotus describes Aristotle’s view of slavery as found in book I of the Politics as that “according to which the master can sell the slave like an animal, for cannot exercise acts of manly excellence, since he has to perform servile actions at the command of his master.  {Addition:  And this servitude or enslavement is such that an individual loses all his legal rights to another person, which is something not to the good of the slave, but to his detriment, and this slavery is what Aristotle talks about when he says a slave is like an inanimate instrument, neither can he be good or virtuous.  This kind of slavery, as we said, is not good but bad for the slave, and therefore the Apostle says:  ‘Know that you are free and do not make yourself subject to any man’}” (Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, p. 325).

[2] Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, p. 325.

[3] The language used here tends to reify will.  When Scotus uses the term “will,” he means a person who possesses a genuine will that is free.

[4] Augustine likewise appeals to the Fall of Adam as the causal origin of slavery; however, he seems to employ this claim as a way to justify the continuance of the institution. “The first cause of servitude, therefore, is sin, by which man was placed under man in a condition of bondage:  a condition which can come about only by the judgment of God, in Whom there is no injustice.” Augustine, De civitate Dei, 19.15, p. 943. Cf. also Garnsey’s detailed analysis of Augustine’s position on slavery in Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine, pp. 206-19.

[5] Cf. also, Augustine, De civitate Dei, 19.15, p. 942.

[6] Cf. Cone’s discussion of slave catechisms produced by Christians in the Antebellum South, The Spirituals and the Blues, pp. 22-23.

[7] Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 331.

[8] In Veritatis Splendor, paragraph 80, Pope John Paul II states, “[r]eason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature ‘incapable of being ordered’ to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed ‘intrinsically evil’ (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that ‘there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object’ [Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (December 2, 1984), 17: AAS 77 (1985), 221; cf. Paul VI, Address to Members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, (September 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 962].  The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: ‘Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator’ [Gaudium et Spes, 27].”  http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0222/__P8.HTM (accessed February 25, 2009).

 

[Part I, Part II] Scholars, of course, are divided over the date and composition of 1 Corinthians and Philemon and disagree over the location from which each was written.  With Sampley and Witherington, I conclude that 1 Corinthians was composed in Ephesus in the late fall or early winter 53-54 AD.[1] With Brown, I hold that Philemon was also composed in Ephesus in 56 AD, approximately two to three years after 1 Corinthians.[2] As is well-known, Paul, in his very short letter to Philemon, devotes significant space to the master/slave relationship. Some scholars have concluded that in his letter to Philemon Paul’s position on slavery has changed and changed for the better in comparison to his exhortations to slaves in 1 Cor 7.[3] But has Paul altered his view in any substantive way?   Perhaps not, if we keep firmly before us the fact the specific appeals regarding the recently converted Onesimus are directed at Philemon, Paul’s friend and co-laborer in Christ (Plm 1).   In contrast, there is no indication that the slaves addressed in 1 Corinthians had exclusively Christian masters.  Rather, it is more plausible to suggest that at least some, and perhaps even most slaves whom Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians had non-Christian masters.[4] In Philemon, then, what we have is an impassioned plea to a mature Christian leader to enact in this world the kind of relationships that will characterize the age to come.

As Brown observes, “[t]he letter, designed to persuade, is astute, with almost every verse hinting at something more than is stated.”[5] Apparently, Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, had been converted by Paul during Paul’s imprisonment (Phlm 9-10).  Paul addresses Philemon as a Christian brother and one whose life and works had been a great source of encouragement to him (Phlm 4-7).  Now that Onesimus has been brought into union with the living Christ, Paul challenges Philemon to recognize Onesimus’s new status in Christ, not simply in a “spiritual” inner sense, but καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ ἐν κυρίῳ (“both in the flesh and in the Lord,” Plm 16, NRSV).  In other words, pace Nietzsche’s complaint that Christianity has an exclusively “other-worldly-world” focus, new life in Christ necessarily involves socio-political ramifications.  Thus, Paul, in a pastoral and caring manner, encourages his fellow brother in Christ, Philemon, to embody this Gospel in his relationship with Onesimus.  Consider, for example, the strong emotional language Paul employs to urge Philemon to action, “I am appealing to you for my child [in the Lord], Onesimus” (v. 10, NRSV); “if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (v. 17, italics added, NRSV); “Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (v. 21, italics added, NRSV).  Acknowledging the strong rhetorical flavor of this letter, we may reasonably conclude that Paul expected Philemon to manumit Onesimus-to receive him “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Plm 16, NRSV).[6] Even if one were to concede that Paul to some degree participated in the cultural blindness of his day by not directly speaking against slavery as an institution (and in part due to his strong apocalyptic convictions), nonetheless, he does call the Christianity community to a different standard, to, as it were, kingdom values.

Many scholars, of course, are quick to point out that slaves were the economic backbone of Roman society.  For instance, Bartchy writes,

[i]n such an economic context it was virtually impossible for anyone to conceive of abolishing slavery as a legal-economic institution.  To have turned all the slaves into free day laborers would have been to create an economy in which those at the bottom would have suffered even more insecurity and potential poverty than before.[7]

Though this is no doubt true historically speaking, arguments along these lines have been employed (and sadly enough by Christians) to justify slavery as an institution.[8] As I shall contend in the concluding section, Christians ought to see slavery[9] as a consequence of the fall and, hence, as completely un-natural and inconsistent with God’s ideal for human beings and with human ontology (viz. as free beings).   Bartchy goes on to say that neither Jesus (nor the Twelve) nor Paul owned slaves.  By example of their own lives, both Jesus and the pioneers of early Christianity issued a challenge to the “early Christians to conceive of themselves as living already among themselves in an alternative social-legal environment.”[10] Through God’s activity of calling into being these “alternative households,” that is, Christian communities in which the slave/master relationship is relativized and slavery to Christ (the ultimate suffering, foot-washing Servant) is the only form of servitude that will continue into the eschaton, we see the Gospel and Paul’s exhortations to kingdom living issuing a threat to the economic structure of Roman society.[11]

Before turning to the more theologico-philosophical section of my essay, we must address a lingering question concerning my translation of 1 Cor 7:24. To what does the “this” refer in the phrase which I have translated, “on account of this” (ἐν τούτῳ, v. 24)?  In verse 23, Paul commands the currently enslaved believers not to become slaves of human masters. Why?  Because they have been “bought with a price” (ἀγοράζω (agorazō),[12] Christ’s blood, whose value infinitely outweighs any monetary amount offered for the purchase of a human being.  Consequently, the only true Master for a Christian is Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy of devotion and unyielding submission.[13] The Christian community then must exhibit kingdom relationships to the on-looking world-relationships characterized not by the arbitrary, self-serving, power-oriented standards of unregenerate human beings, but by mutual respect and recognition of the equal status of all believers before God.  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28, NRSV).

Notes


[1] Cf.  Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” p. 777.  Sampley presents his case for this early dating based on Paul’s travel information given in 1 Cor 16:5-9.   In this passage, Paul announces his plan to visit Corinth after a stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, a Jewish festival that occurs fifty days after the second day of the Passover celebration (p. 776).  This has led some scholars to postulate that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians “in late fall or winter, leaving time for the pre-Pentecost, remaining work in Ephesus to which Paul alludes by the metaphor of the ‘wide door’ opened him there (1 Cor 16:9)” (p. 776).  The question then becomes, which late fall or winter?  According to Sampley, if one gives credence to the Acts 18 account of Paul’s missionary activity (vs. 22-23), coupled with the time needed to secure his mission in Ephesus, one may posit an early date for 1 Corinthians, ca. late fall or winter 53-54 AD (pp. 776-77).  Witherington also opts for an early dating (53-54 AD) of 1 Corinthians, pointing to the evidence of the inscription found at Delphi mentioning Gallio’s name, which corroborates with the Acts 18 account and thus allows us to establish a date for Gallio’s service in Corinth (50-51 or 51-52 AD) (cf. Conflict and Community in Corinth, pp. 71-73).

[2] Cf. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 507-8.  Felder opts for Rome as the place of composition and a later date as well (ca. 61 AD).  If Felder is correct, my overall argument is not diminished and perhaps even strengthened.  Cf. Felder, “The Letter to Philemon,” p. 884.

[3] Cf. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 506-7.

[4] Witherington concurs. Cf. Conflict and Community in Corinth, p. 183.

[5] Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 505.

[6] As Lewis highlights, it is curious that Paul introduces himself in this letter as a “prisoner of Christ,” rather than a “slave of Christ” (Phil 1:1) or a “slave” and “apostle” of Christ (Rom 1:1) (Lewis, “The Philemon-Paul-Onesimus Triangle,” pp. 240-41).  In this letter, Paul is clearly appealing to Philemon as a friend and fellow brother; thus, he refrains from imposing apostolic authority.  Perhaps he avoids the title “slave of Christ,” because his aim is to persuade Philemon to manumit Onesimus and to en-flesh the eschatological reality of Christian relationships that characterize the next aeon in the present aeon.

[7] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 546.

[8] Cf. Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine, p. 156, footnote 3.

[9] That is, human ownership of other human beings in which those owned are considered as “things” and property of their masters.

[10] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 546.

[11] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 546.  Witherington has similar comments, cf. e.g., Conflict and Community in Corinth, p. 185.

[12] The same verb is used in 1 Cor 6:20, where Paul exhorts the believers to, glorify God with their bodies, since they were “bought with a price.”

[13] The following goes beyond my competence, but I propose it as “food for thought.”  In contrast with the Covenant (Ex 20:22-23:33) and Deuteronomic (Dt 12-26) Codes, the Holiness Code in Lev 25:39-55 explicitly forbids the enslavement of fellow Hebrews, as they are God’s “slaves,” whom he delivered from Egyptian bondage (Lev 25:42).  Is it possible that Paul has Lev 25:39-55 in mind and is engaging in a Christocentric variation on an OT theme?  That is, just as the Hebrews were commanded by God not to re-enslave their fellow Hebrews because God himself had delivered them from the hands of their oppressors and made them his slaves, so too Christians, using Paul’s language, are slaves of Christ, having been bought with a price, Christ’s blood, and ideally are not to be the slaves of other human beings.  Brown, for example, notes that Paul “betrays his Jewish roots” in his outcry against the sexual immorality condemned in 1 Cor 5:1-2; “for marriage within such a degree of kindred was forbidden by the Mosaic Law” (Lev 18:8; 20:11) (An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 518).  Sadly, American slaveholders in the South appealed to Lev 25 to justify their proslavery position, claiming that just as God permitted the Hebrews to enslave other people groups, so too, they, as God’s chosen people, have a divine sanction to enslave African Americans (cf. Martin, “The Haustafeln,” p. 215).