Matt Hounslow's blog, and this article by Dorothy Lee on the Melbourne Anglicans website).
It got me thinking about the Biblical teaching on slavery - a subject I have looked at recently in 1 Peter and Ephesians. These thoughts came to mind:
The command for slaves to submit to their masters is found in both Ephesians (6:5ff) and 1 Peter (2:18ff). In the first century most slavery was parallel to imprisonment rather than the kind of chattel slavery we imagine from 18th century American History. Slaves may have been prisoners of war or bankrupts or other kinds of criminals. Many slaves were freed after their allotted time was complete. No doubt there was too much abuse of slaves, but this does not make the system an absolute wrong.
While Paul encourages Christian slaves to gain their freedom if they can (1 Cor 7:21) he also tells them to remain in the situation they were in when they were called. He sends runaway slave Onesimus back to Philemon (with the request that Philemon send the bill for his punishment to Paul and a hint that Philemon should let him go!) Slavery as such is never outright condemned.
What is condemned in the Bible is 'slave-trading' or kidnapping. (See 1 Timothy 1:10). If we recognise that most 'slaves' were kidnapped and / or sold illegally then this will give us the Biblical argument against institutional slavery.
A very helpful read on first century slavery (and the biblical imagery of slavery) is Murray Harris’ book ‘Slave of Christ’.
This is not to say that I am a supporter of modern slavery - in fact I pray and seek to do what I can to end such slavery - especially sexual slavery. If we define slavery as the denial of freedom and other 'rights' then prisoners fit into that definition - yet I don't hear many people arguing that imprisonment of criminals is wrong per se.
The significance of what I am saying is that I believe we cannot say that the Bible condemns slavery outright. Nor can we say that we condemn everything included under the Biblical category of 'slavery'. If this is so then we can't use the argument outlined above as a 'clincher' in the arguments on submission.
Interested in your comments . . .