Hello everybody, and welcome in to episode 177 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading the book of Philemon today and our focus is on Does the Bible Encourage or Allow Slavery? We are a daily 10 minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Thanks for listening! Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast! Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan\
Another controversial topic today, but it is one that we can’t dodge or overlook, because the entire focus of the book of Philemon is all about slavery or servitude. You might have noticed that I sometimes use the ESV translation on this podcast, and the reason for that is often because the ESV translates the Greek word ‘doulos’ as ‘bond-servant,’ rather than as ‘slave.’ I think that is an important distinction, though the CSB and other translations that use slave for the word doulos are not exactly wrong. The trouble is that the way the New Testament of the Bible seems to talk about doulos is NOT the same thing that is brought to mind in most Western countries, particularly the United States, when the word ‘slavery’ is used. Much of the American/English system of slavery was built on kidnapping, and was race-based – white people oppressing and kidnapping and enslaving black people. This was not at all what servitude in New Testament times was like, and it wasn’t even what the kind of slavery/bond-servanthood spoken of in the Old Testament was like either. Indeed, even the Old Testament forbade that kind of kidnapping based slavery – it was punishable by death:
16 “Whoever kidnaps a person must be put to death, whether he sells him or the person is found in his possession. Exodus 21:16
It is true that the Old Testament allowed certain forms of slavery of the Israelites over conquered nations. A friend of mine named Lamar speculates that this was allowed for the same reason that God allowed Old Testament husbands to write a certificate of divorce for their wives – hard-heartedness. I think he is correct there, but I need to say that cruelty and kidnapping were never condoned scripturally – Old or New Testaments. It is also true that New Testament writers tell servants to submit to their masters, and also command masters to be gentle and good to their servants. This might seem to be an implicit or inferred approval of slavery, but I don’t think it is for two reasons. First, because the doulos/bond-servant nature of what is spoken of by New Testament writers seems to be a far cry from the type of chattal slavery practiced in many Western nations in recent centuries. So, I don’t read those passages as approving slavery, but as approving the kind of master-servant bond that was practiced in the first centuries – which, again, was quite different from the abominable and wicked enslavement of the African peoples practiced in more recent centuries. AND because there are books like Philemon, and passages like the below that condemn slavery and encourage people to get away from slavery.
Indeed, in 1 Timothy, Paul condemns slave trading entirely, calling it contrary to the gospel:
9 We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral and males who have sex with males, for slave traders, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me. 1 Timothy 1:9-11
We also have 1 Corinthians 7:21, in which Paul encourages those in servanthood/slavery to gain their freedom if possible, “21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)”
As well, we know that the early church was made up of many people – rich and poor, Greek and Gentile, male and female, slave and free…and Paul writes that all of those in the church who are free are actually slaves to Christ, and those who are slaves in an earthly sense were actually freedmen in the eyes of the Lord:
For he who is called by the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called as a free man is Christ’s slave. 1 Corinthians 7:22
Further, we have the book of Philemon, which is a plea from Paul to Philemon to release Onesimus from his state. Let’s read it now, and see how Paul gently and politely, but really quite firmly, applies pressure to Philemon to release Onesimus from servitude.
Let me close with some powerful words from Lactantius, an early Christian teacher, writer and apologist, who lived in the 200s-early 300s:
“God, who produces and gives breath to men, willed that all should be equal, that is, equally matched. He has imposed the same condition of living on all. He has opened wisdom to all. He has promised immortality to all. No one is cut off from His heavenly benefits.… In His sight, no one is a slave; no one is a master. For if all have the same Father, by an equal right we are all children. No one is poor in the sight of God but he who is without justice. No one is rich, but he who is full of virtues.For this reason, neither the Romans nor the Greeks could possess justice. For they had men differing from one another by many degrees: the poor and the rich, the humble and the powerful, private persons and the highest authorities of kings. However, where all persons are not equally matched, there is no justice. And, by its nature, inequality excludes justice.… However, someone will say, “Are there not among you some who are poor and others who are rich? Are not some servants and others masters? Is there not some difference between individuals?” There is none. Nor is there any other cause why we mutually bestow upon each other the name of brothers, except that we believe ourselves to be equal. We measure all human things by the spirit, not by the body. Although the condition of our bodies is different, yet we have no servants. For we both regard and speak of them as brothers in spirit and as fellow-servants in religion.… Therefore, in lowliness of mind, we are on an equality: the free with the slaves and the rich with the poor. Nevertheless, in the sight of God we are distinguished only by virtue.… The person who has conducted himself not only as an equal, but even as an inferior, he will plainly obtain a much higher rank of dignity in the judgment of God. Lactantius, circa 305 AD,
Bible Memory verses for the month of June: Daniel 6:23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to take Daniel out of the den. When Daniel was brought up from the den, he was found to be unharmed, for he trusted in his God.
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