Paul on Slaves

Note: The following guest post was contributed by Kyle Hendricks, a really bright guy that I met blogging. You should check out his site HERE

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Slavery is something we’ve been learning about here in America since we started school.  We learned about the horrors of the colonial American slave trade and how wrong slavery is in general.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone in America who does not think that slavery is a moral evil.  That is why pictures like the one below are so troubling.

billboard

To make matters worse, Paul seems to say the same thing in Ephesians

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling… (Ephesians 6:5)

It is unclear what this picture is supposed to convey since it doesn’t state an actual argument. But the intuition that I believe this picture is supposed to give the people that see it may be 1) Christians are inconsistent with their own beliefs, 2) Paul would have endorsed the slavery in colonial American history, and more broadly 3) the Bible commands something immoral. Christians claim to get their moral values from the Bible, but the Bible teaches values that are obviously outdated and evil.  Christians are, supposedly, being inconsistent because they claim to believe the Bible is the authoritative word of God, but they pick and choose what to follow and what not to follow.  The issue of slavery is something they choose not to follow.  People may also get from the word “slaves” and the African American man bound in the right that the Bible would fully support the horrendous institution practiced in colonial America.  The power in this picture is in the fact that we 21st century Westerners already have preconceived ideas of what “slavery” is, what “masters” are, and the relationship between masters and slaves. We then plug those ideas and definitions into the biblical text. My goal here is to significantly diminish the force of this picture by responding to these concerns.

Notice that the picture above is emotionally manipulative.  First, it uses a single sentence from the entire passage in Colossians without considering its context.  In fact, the statement in the picture isn’t even the entire sentence, which is strange considering they put a period at the end.  Second, the picture of an African American man bound by the neck gives off the impression that Paul is talking about or morally approved of this kind of slavery.  Many people are going to be emotionally swayed by this picture, but few will actually research it for themselves.  Does this passage endorse the kind of slavery that we think of today?  Not at all.  What Paul says to slaves here is an extension of what he teaches in 1 Corinthians.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Corinthians 7:17-24)

Paul teaches here that people should seek to live as best as they can in the circumstances they’re in.  The world is fallen, and some of us are not necessarily in the most ideal situations, but Paul calls Christians to live in obedience to God in whatever situation they’re in rather than fret about trying to get out of the situation.  Making our lives about getting out of our current circumstances can distract us from making our lives about serving God and being examples to the world.  This includes slaves.  Slaves certainly could seek freedom if they had the opportunity (v. 21), which would have been perfectly possible in the first century (1), but they were encouraged not to let that get in the way of living for Christ in the situation they’re in.  Some people were slaves when they became Christian, so Paul encourages them to be examples of faith to their masters.

Let’s look at Colossians 3 again in full.

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:22-25)

Paul has a slave’s character in mind.  A slave glorifies God by being a hard worker, just like any of us glorify God when we work hard in our jobs or circumstances.  This provides a good example for non-Christians to see and to be attracted to the faith.  Paul has the same thing in mind in Ephesians 6

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)

This does not mean that masters can mistreat their slaves.  After each of these passages, Paul tells masters how they should treat their slaves.

Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)

Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians 6:9)

Paul seeks to transform the relationship between masters and slaves. Even though they are masters, they have their own Master in Heaven, God.  Paul considers himself a slave to God (Romans 1:1(2), so Christian masters are also slaves to Him. God treats them well and will judge their actions against other people made in the image of God, so masters should treat their slaves as God treats them.  He even explicitly tells masters to stop threatening their slaves.  God cares about the characters of masters just as much as he cares about the characters of slaves.  Masters, if they’re Christian, are slaves to a good Master, so they should seek to be good masters of their own slaves.

In his shortest epistle, Paul appeals to Philemon that he accept back Onesimus, who likely ran away from Philemon, “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord,” (Philemon 16).  He tells Onesimus to “receive him as you would receive me,” (v. 17) and was confident that Onesimus would “do even more than I say,” (v. 21).  This is another example of Paul transforming the relationship between masters and slaves.

Paul also condemns slave trade.  In 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul lists “enslavers” in a list of sins that are “contrary to sound doctrine.”

Why didn’t Paul try to end slavery?  Why didn’t he tell Christian masters to release all of their slaves or tell Christian slaves to run away?  I think much of it is that Paul was more concerned with how Christians lived in their fallen situations than with overthrowing earthly institutions.  There’s also the fact that many freed slaves found it difficult to make a living, so they may have had a more stable situation under their master. (3)

So we see that Paul is against the mistreatment of slaves and taught that enslaving others is wrong.  His teaching that slaves should obey their masters and work hard for them is simply part of his teaching that all Christians should image God and be witnesses for Christ in whatever situation they’re in.  There’s also no indication from the Bible that this kind of slavery ought to be practiced in our society today, since these passages only address how slaves and masters ought to act rather than command that slavery occur.  When you consider all of this, what Paul says about slaves doesn’t come off the way the picture above is supposed to make us think.  The whole context diminishes the force of the picture.

(1) See chapter 11 of The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity by James S. Jeffers.

(2) The word translated “servant” in Romans 1 can also mean “slave”.  See here

(3) See chapter 11 of The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity by James S. Jeffers for more information on this.

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?

Note: This cross-post was written by J.W. Wartick, and was originally published HERE. I really encourage you to check out his site. 

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Bioethics is an expanding field with direct implications for our lives. Here, we’ll reflect on the possibility and implications of gene therapy and enhancement. While I was at the Evangelical Philosophical/Theological Society Conference in 2012, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk about this very topic, and that will be the focus of this post. Unfortunately, the speaker had been switched around and was not listed in the booklet that I have. Furthermore, I never caught the speaker’s actual name (I tried to write it down when he was introduced, and got Gary Alkins, though I have tried searching online for that and haven’t come up with it), so if someone knows what it is, please let me know. I’ll reference the speaker as “speaker” throughout this post.

The central relevant moral question under discussion was: “Should genetic technology be used to not only heal but also to enhance the human condition?”

A Vital Distinction

The most important aspect of this discussion is the distinction between gene enhancement and therapy. Gene therapy is the use of genetic research and information to cure illness. Speaking very hypothetically, suppose that we were able to discover the exact genetic code for illnesses like sickle cell anemia, isolate it, and replace it with a non-anemic code before a person was even born; that would be gene therapy. Genetic enhancement takes this a step further. It allows for modifying people genetically to enhance certain features such as physical strength, endurance, mental aptitude, and the like. It would, in a sense, create “super humans.”

Therapy

Using our knowledge of genetics for therapy, the speaker argued, is perfectly justified. We are called by Christ’s example to treat illnesses, and gene therapy can be seen as an extension of this. There was little time spent defending the moral permissiveness of gene therapy, as the primary question was whether genetic enhancement is morally permissible.

Enhancement

There are several arguments for genetic enhancement. These include:

1) The “natural lottery” argument: if we have the capacity to genetically enhance humans but do not, that means we are, effectively, just playing a genetic lottery to see if our children turn out well. Parents have a moral duty to act against the natural lottery.

2) We encourage environmental enhancement (i.e. seeking better education, putting children in brain-stimulating environments, encouraging sports for their physical well-being, etc.), why is genetic enhancement any different?

3) We already manipulate chemicals (caffeine, vitamins, etc.) for our well-being, why not genetics? In the end, what matters is human well being.

4) Genetic enhancement is simply the next logical step for humanity. If we agree that therapy is good because it stops genetic defects, should we not also hold that enhancement is good because it pushes people to fill their greatest potential.

Against these arguments, the speaker argued:

A) Genetic enhancement could never match the ideal outlined in these arguments, wherein every human being is enhanced on a number of levels. Instead, it would very likely increase the split between the haves and have-nots by allowing those who have much to increase their dominance over society. The haves could afford to continue enhancing and remain a kind of super-human society while the have-nots would never be able to catch up.

However, a possible counter-argument to this reasoning would be to note that there will always be people who are advantaged and people who are disadvantaged. It’s unclear as to how this should serve to undermine the moral base for genetic enhancement.

B) There is a great good in letting humans accomplish things which stretch their skill set. Think about the steroids controversy in sports. We intuitively know that those who used performance enhancing drugs had an unfair advantage over those who did not. Similarly, those who would be genetically enhanced would have an unfair advantage over those who were not enhanced in almost any conceivable area of human achievement.

C) What of bodily autonomy? Who’s to say that it is a good for parents to meddle with their children’s genes. What if a child does not want to be extremely strong, or what of their parents choose to give them giftedness in music, but they simply don’t like to do music? What if the children hate what their parents chose for them: hair color, eye color, etc.? Unlike the “natural lottery,” such attributes related to enhancement actually do have blame to assign to someone. Is there no bodily autonomy involved?

Enhancement and Theology

There are numerous theological issues involved in the debate over genetic enhancement. First, humans were initially created perfect. The fall has caused them to lose that perfection, but God’s plan is perfect and doesn’t require us to try to evolve back into perfection.

For Christians, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan comes in the New Creation. The notion that humanity needs a genetic upgrade reflects the worldview of naturalism. Christians do not hope in their own ingenuity but rather in God’s plan for creation. That does not mean we cannot get actively involved in healing, but it does mean that we do not need to violate persons’ humanity by enhancement. The assumption involved in enhancement is that our bodies are not good enough and that we need to improve them, but that is not a Christian notion. Although we are fallen creatures, that does not imply that we are creatures capable of getting out of our own fallenness. Furthermore, the notion that our bodies are not good enough is a type of gnosticism in which we devalue the material world that God created for us.

Evaluation

It seems to me that the arguments against enhancement are sound. In particular, the argument about the haves and have-nots seems effective. The argument from bodily autonomy also carries a great deal of weight. It seems to weigh against every argument that was brought to bear in favor of genetic enhancement.

It seems that if parents select for certain attributes, then parents can be held morally culpable for the genes their children develop. Thus, if the child dislikes an attribute, they could feasibly hold their parents responsible for that selected attribute. Interestingly, this may work both ways too: a child could hold their parents responsible for not changing an attribute. Yet this latter argument seems to make a mockery of parenthood, holding parents responsible for nature.

In the theological sphere, one may wonder whether someone could just as easily argue that because we were created initially perfect, a pursuit of bodily perfection could be viewed as a fight against the Fall and the curse. I tried to ask this as a question, but there wasn’t time at the end to get to all the questions. The speaker did an excellent job noting possible counter-arguments to their points, and I thought gave a very fair presentation overall. It seems that the best argument against genetic enhancement may be the bodily autonomy argument, but there are others besides that.

I’d like to know what your thoughts are on this topic: Do you think enhancement is moral? Why or why not?

Links

I have written on a number of other talks I went to at the ETS/EPS Conference. I discuss every single session I attended in my post on the ETS/EPS Conference 2012. I also discuss a panel discussion on Caring for Creation, and a debate between a young earth and old earth proponent.

What Bloggers Can Learn From Solomon

Note: This guest piece was written by Corey P. You should visit his blog, the Ink Slinger, for more great stuff.

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Prov. 20:18: “Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.”

On the surface, writing a blog post and going to war have little in common. It’s the principle that counts. Before setting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – you might consider picking the brains of those around you. Two (or three or four) heads are better than one. Professor Anthony Bradley of King’s College has a similar strategy, and he describes it this way: “(1) Test idea on social media, (2) listen to feedback, (3) blog it, (4) listen, (5) write article, (6) listen, (7) put in book.”

Prov. 15:28: “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.”

One click, and your thoughts are available for all the world to see – which makes it freakishly easy to forget the responsibility you have to weigh your words. Just because you can say whatever you want doesn’t mean you ought to, and just because you want to say something doesn’t mean you have something to say.

Many years ago, when I was first learning how to handle a firearm, my Dad would often remind me to “keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.” To offer a modified blogger-friendly version of that advice: keep your mouse off the publish button until you’re ready (and I mean really ready) to publish.

Prov. 18:13: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

This is an extension of the previous point. I realize how tempting it is to be “the first” blogger to write about something – the latest theological kerfuffle, for instance – and there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with being quick on the draw. But watch out. If a rumor catches your hear, remember it’s a rumor: don’t be hasty to give your opinion unless you have facts to back your opinion up. The world isn’t going to end if your response is a few days late, and you’ll save yourself quite a bit of embarrassment if you make an effort to get the facts straight beforehand.

Prov. 15:4: “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.”

If your posts have a reputation for being nasty and acidic, you’re doing it wrong. Speak the truth, and speak it boldly, but speak it in love. Obnoxious, spittle-soaked writing isn’t God-honoring, and it won’t gain you a steady readership. It’s generally pretty easy to tell when a writer is angry and looking for someone or something to stomp on. Who wants to stick around for that?

Prov. 27:17: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

Just as your spoken words have the power of life and death (Prov. 21:23), so do your written words. You use them to build up or tear down; encourage or discourage; advance the truth or advance a lie. The things you say (and the things you don’t) will make an impact: pray that it’s a good one, and work hard to that end.

Prov. 26:17: “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.”

Translation: don’t be a troll. If roaming the web stirring up strife is your idea of time well spent, it’s time for a heart check. There’s a world of difference between contending and being contentious, and there’s a world of trouble to be found in confusing the two.

Prov. 26:12: “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.”

Last but not least, nobody likes a know-it-all. The only people who never make mistakes are the ones who never do anything; so if you’ve written something in error, and someone calls you on it, don’t arch your back and spit. Consider the reproof. If there is justice in it, acknowledge the justice in it. Learn what you can, and do better the next time around.