Thursday, March 15, 2012

New Atheism...Same Old Confusion

According to the Huffington Post Black Voices, not only have the Harrisburg, PA. American Atheists taken the time to spread utter lack of biblical understanding, but they did it in the most racially offensive manner possible.

This billboard which has since been torn down, was hoisted in PA's most racially diverse neighborhood, by them who believe in Charles Darwin's "Origin Of The Species by Means Of Natural Selection: The Preservation Of Favored Races In The struggle For Life." (Hear atheist Richard Dawkins invoke the name of God as he struggles to remember the title of what he calls the most import book ever written) 

Correction Of A Horrible Social Appeal

Supposedly this was done in protest to the PA, House's declaration that 2012 be the "Year Of The Bible". However it turned into a victimization of the neighborhood in a sense. American Atheist Harrisburg director, Ernest Perce V, said that he feels that if there are any victims, that he is one as well because he has received multiple death threats as a result of the billboard's short debut. (Ya Think Ernest???)

Quite naturally there was and has been since quite a backlash from the billboard display. As stated not only was it torn down, but it has also sparked the ire of many groups including that of the local NAACP as it could possibly be interpreted as hate speech. In the midst of a public "speech moderation" culture, this promises to remain an issue for quite some time. 

Correcting Erroneous Biblical Interpretations

Atheism, while playing on the intelligence of a busy and slightly less biblically and Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literate populace of modern times, has resurged with many already refuted, emotionally centered arguments claiming that biblical morality is outdated and that God is a moral monster. These sentiments are similar to many of the assertions that atheist Dr. Hector Avalos has argued in my "Friendly" internet debate with him HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Of course, the arguments along these lines, are intricate and as long as anything I've ever seen. One of the more recent attacks, previously refuted, is that the bible through the Apostle Paul endorsed the institution of slavery by encouraging slaves to be obedient to their masters rather than telling them to rebel against their "masters" I suppose.

The Type Of Slavery 

Although I won't do a full treatment on the various types of slavery mentioned in the bible, to begin, we must note that the first thing the critic does is usually apply the wrong type of slavery to the period and epoch of time. Obviously the American Atheists assume that all slavery was and is the same. The picture presented above represents what is called "chattel slavery". The chattel slave is an individual deprived of liberty and forced to submit to an owner who may buy, sell, or lease him or her like any other chattel. Chattel slaves had no kinship rights, no marriage rights, no personal legal rights relating to physical protection and protection from breach of contract, no freedom of movement, and no access to liberty. (J Burke "Slavery In The Bible")

Chattel slavery was not the primary method of slavery in 1st Century Rome. Certainly Paul would not have been instructing chattel slaves as they would not have been able to be a part of the church at Colossae or at Ephasus as we will see later. Chattel slaves had no personal freedoms as it seems both of the previously mentioned congregations did. I believe that the more appropriate form of slavery during that time was  some form of "vassalage slavery".

Vassalage slavery was more of an agreement between nations of people, one usually weaker and unwilling to fight for their freedom for whatever reason while the other more dominant nation asserted its privelidge to goods and people for whatever reason they desired. There was an exchange for services and tribute was given by the weaker people to the dominate nation in exchange for certain rights and order of protections.  In this form of slavery many individuals could eventually gain their full rights of citizenship and freedom under certain circumstances or after a certain term of service. This type of slavery was certainly servitude and hard labor, but was not as it was in the west or as pictured above.

A Biblical Understanding

I won't deal with the many Old Testament (OT) references and restrictions as it pertains to slavery. A much more indepth analysis can be found HERE. I will say however, that everything in the OT was a "shadow" to bring us to what we would find in the NT through Jesus. Since slavery was certainly the product of sin, and Jesus came to eradicate sin, by virtue of that in dealing with the problem of sin he also broke the bondage of slavery in all forms. Further, as Luke records, Jesus recounts his messianic mission reading from the book of Isaiah 61:1-2:

Luke 4:18 ~ "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,"

As you will see in this article, the institution of slavery, though a product of man's sin, was used by God to instruct and display what a relationship with God was like after redemption through the atoning work of Christ. From this perspective slavery is a only "type" and not an endorsement or a proscription of God.

Jesus later proclaimed that whom HE has set free is "free indeed" (John 8:36). The revelation here is that Jesus broke the bonds of all sin and the results of sin. Once again, slavery, as an institution, was included in the bonds of sin that Jesus would break and I believe he knew, understood and deliberately set forth the destruction of the institution of slavery by not only his words regarding freedom and setting men free, but also by and through his actions of redemption and substitutionary atonement.

To The Heart Of The Issue

The scripture in question is as follows:

Colossians 3:22 ~ "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:"

There are at least three things to point out when examining any scripture. They all begin with "C". They are CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT. 

First let's look at the context of the Pauline letter:

1- It was written to a church or a body of believers at Colossae which was a town in Asia Minor about 12 miles south of Laodicea and Hierapolis. The church seems to have been "preached out" by Epaphras (Col. 1:7) and Paul's letter delivered to the church by Tychicus (Col. 4:7)

Second, let's look at the content and context of the chapter:

1- Paul's narrative was written in reference to Christian polemic or practice. IE: this scripture was given in reference to the believer's everyday life and how one should conduct themselves in response to what Christ had done in one's life. This is established with the observance of the following instructions:   

The believer is to "seek" (Christ) v.1, "set" (our affections) above v.2, "mortify" (our members) v.5, "put off" (additional ungodly actions) v. 8, "lie not" (to one another) v. 9

These are encouragements to live right or holy. So it is clearly established that this instruction is dealing with the practical every day instruction of the lifestyle and practices of the believer. In short, the message is clear that believers are to live right,  interact rightly and in a holy manner in this present world.

Later Paul references various classes of individuals. He starts off by instructing the "wives"(to submit) v. 18, the "husbands" (to love) v.19, the "children" (to obey) v.20 and the "Fathers" (to not provoke his children) v.21. Then he references that the "servants" v.22 should "obey their masters according to the flesh in all things". Instructions in this regard are followed by instructions to the "masters" in Ch.4:1 to give and treat the servants fairly considering that the Lord is their "master".

This set of scripture and instructions also parallels Ephesians 6 which follows a similar pattern of "children obey" Ephes. 6:1, "Fathers provoke not", Ephes 6:4, and "servants" be obedient Ephes. 6:5, followed by instructions to the "masters" that they would be accountable for how they treat their servants considering that they too have a "master" to whom they must answer Ephes.6:9.

Notice in each case "masters" were referenced. If they were literal slaves that were a part of the church, then by virtue of scripture, there were also literal slave owners aka: "masters" who were a part of the church as well.   

Question: In Col. 3:22 is Paul talking to a group of slaves encouraging them to obey their slave owners? 

Third, let's look specifically at who was possibly being referenced in verse 22.

As stated, slavery was a common institution at the time of Paul's writing. It is said that as much as one third of the population of Rome, could have been slaves. Paul certainly DID NOT teach slaves to run away from their masters, although he did clearly teach that if there was a way out of slavery, it should be pursued. (1 Cor. 7:21). Some hold the position that Paul is speaking to slaves regarding their own personal safety, encouraging them to be as faithful and observant as possible so that they would not suffer undue punishment and even death. This is a sentiment which cannot be discounted and is certainly accurate. Could you imagine what would be said if Paul had advised that the slaves revolt and all of them ended up dead?  

Although each of these things are true, I believe that there is a much greater emphasis and point that Paul is making within the text. I'll attempt to prove and clarify my position in the following details:

A Broadened Perspective

There are 2 things we must first examine in order to get to the truth and intent of scripture. First, we must look at the word that Paul is using for "servants". It is a Greek word Douloi [δοῦλοι] This word is also an Adjective; Noun, Feminine; Noun, Masculine. A word study delivers the following information:
"doúlos (a masculine noun of uncertain derivation) – properly, someone who belongs to another; a bond-slave, without any ownership rights of their own. Ironically, 1401 /doúlos ("bond-slave") is used with the highest dignity in the NT – namely, of believers who willingly live under Christ's authority as His devoted followers."
Paul speaks of himself and Timothy in the same fashion, using the same word calling himself a "servant" or what can properly be interpreted as a "bond servant"  or slave in Philippians:

Php. 1:1 ~ "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:"

Paul also uses the word referring to Epaphras, (Col.1:7) in  calling him a "fellow servant" or Greek: "Sundoulos" [σύνδουλος, ου, ὁ] This word's root is in "Douloi" indicating one who is also a "bond servant" similarly under the same ownership. He also reveals, in Philemon 1:23, using the term "sunaichmalótos" [συναιχμάλωτος, ου, ὁ] that Epaphras is also one who is in physical bonds or imprisonment or one who is a "fellow captive" along with him.

Though Paul uses and applies the "Douloi" term to himself regularly and very clearly within scripture, this terminology is not exclusive to Paul, nor are the terms exclusive to the Pauline epistles. Peter uses the same term to describe himself as it pertains to his relationship with Christ and service to Christ as well:

2 Pet. 1:1 ~ "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:"

Once again we observe the use of "Douloi" as Peter Peter describes himself and his apostleship. So there is significant scriptural evidence that leaders of the church considered themselves to be "servants", "bond servants" or what is otherwise was translated as slaves in service to Christ. What's more, they also recognize that others, who serve Christ are also similarly situated as fellow bond servants or slaves, and distinguish the difference between those bound in chains and fetters while invoking the descriptive parallel of one "bound" in service to Christ.

How Does Paul Establish Or Communicate His Understanding?

Paul speaks of his redemption and service to the Lord in legal ownership terms. This is highlighted in his discourse to the Corinthians:

1 Cor. 6:19-20 ~ " 19-What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20-For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."

Paul communicates that the believer's body is under other ownership and is not their own. The believer has been "bought with a price". This is terminology used for the buying and selling of merchandise. In other words he is contrasting the believer's deliverance from sin, by faith in the atoning work of Christ, and their resultant service to him, to that of the service of a slave, making an analogy of salvation to that of a slave/master relationship which was easily understood during that time and period of existence. 

This concept rings true throughout Paul's theology. Later in the Corinthian narrative he instructs the Corinthian believers that, similar to himself, they too are "servants" (Douloi [δοῦλοι]) and delivers revelation to them regarding their relationship to Christ:

1 Cor. 7:21-24 ~21-Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. 22-For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. 23-Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 24-Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. 

Certainly Paul states that if one can be free, then one should seek their freedom from bondage. This is the NT message towards slavery and bondage in general and cannot be overlooked. He goes on to state however "he that is called in the Lord" (that is the believer) "being a servant" aka: slave, (this seems to indicate one who establishes relationship with Christ while they are in physical and literal bondage to a slave owner) is freed by the Lord. ("the Lord's freeman") In other words though one is in physical shackles (so to speak), when one has come to salvation, one is "free" in Christ. Consequently, he states that if one is "called being free" (a person that is a free man physically when they are saved) they become the "servant" or the slave of Christ at their salvation. He concludes with v.24 by stating that each man should "abide with God" no matter their physical condition or vocation bond or free.

Additional evidence regarding Paul's opinion of the institution of slavery and how it pertains to believers, exists in the book of Philemon. One thing we know about the book is that Onesimus is an escaped slave who converts to Christ. In Philemon 1:16 Paul instructs those to receive Onesimus in the following manner:

"Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?" 

Here we can now affirm that Paul uses the term "in the flesh" (other places "after the flesh") to indicate a literal physical slave/master relationship, or earthly servitude. It would seem that Paul's thought is that Onesimus should now, after his conversion, be received as a "brother" and not as a mere physical slave because of his service to both God and Paul during this time. Paul makes an appeal to the spiritual nature of Onesimus's keepers to free him from his former obligations. 

Applying The Final "C"

With all of these things as a foundation for our understanding, now we are ready to apply the final "C" or CONTEXT to the verse in question. We can assert the following:
  • Paul is delivering a polemic to believers at Colossae whether they are bond or free.
  • Bondage or freedom does not make one a better servant of Christ.
  • Paul clearly instructs, that if a slave can be free, they should be free, based on his instructions in 1Cor. 7:21, and his appeal and request in Philemon 1:16.   
  • Paul is delivering instructions to various classes of people and indivuals within and connected to the church at both Colossae and Ephasus with similar instructions.
  • Paul considers all believers whether they are bond or free, to be "slaves" of Christ having been bought and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
  • Paul elsewhere uses tradesman and slavery language to describe the relationship of the individual believer, himself, and others to Christ once they have been saved.
  • Paul teaches slaves, [both bond and free] how to faithfully observe their duties, so that Christ is glorified through their life at all times.
  • Paul at no point endorses the institution of slavery, he only instructs all men how to conduct themselves in every instance whether they are bond or free. 
Congruity and Consistency Of Thought:

My proposition is that in Colossians 3:22, Paul, was using the terminology of slave language  in a parallel fashion directing it towards believers encouraging them to a higher calling of God no matter what their current literal, physical condition was.  

Paul, as well as Peter, clearly identify both themselves and other believers as "servants" or slaves of Christ to be sure. Therefore, it would follow that Paul's statement in Colossians 3:22 draws upon his concept of being a "servant" or "slave" and the use of analogy and restatement to deliver the point to all believers. Though this does not exclude the fact that Paul is speaking to current vassal slaves, Paul however is playing on words, speaking also to fellow believers calling them all servants or slaves of Christ commending them to excellent service. 

This is similar to having a gathering of 9th grade students from various schools. Instead of addressing each individual school or class, one calls them all "9th graders" to bring them all together as a group to provide a shared set of instructions. Using the term "servants" Paul speaks to his complete audience of believers, both bond and free.

Possible Push-Backs:   

1-You're WRONG Burnett...They would have only believed in one God and Paul is telling them in Col. 3:22 to obey their "masters" not "master"!

This objection is absolutely correct but it does not change any of my assertions or the application of scripture. Paul states to obey the "masters after the flesh". As stated above, we can successfully argue that this statement pertains to earthly men as opposed to anyone in the spiritual realm or God.

If Paul was instructing a "slave class" of people, then he was telling them to obey their task masters as to safeguard and preserve their own lives. On the other hand, if Paul was instructing other free believers, telling them to obey earthly "masters" then this is in accord with Paul's teaching regarding obeying the law and magisterial powers and authorities. That instruction is found in the following narrative:

Romans 13:1 ~ "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."

Being a good servant of Christ also meant to abide by the law as it was established and did not offend the righteousness of God or violate his word and moral standards. So this objection is notable, but not effective.  

2- If God didn't want the institution of slavery he would have plainly condemned it. The scriptures are an endorsement of slavery?

Certainly not. The scriptures appear to be an endorsement for how one is to respond if one is in slavery and if one has slaves. In other words the scripture sets forth a plan of action no matter the condition that one is in. Fact is that God did not create men as slaves. Men, when sin entered in, made slaves of other men over time. God allowing such conditions to exist in no wise creates his endorsement of those situation. 

This type of objection is tantamount to saying that God endorses rape, war and famine because it is found within scripture. The condition of these things occurring does not indicate the "endorsement" of God. 

It is interesting to note, that every person who was under a slave construct, whether they were chattel or vassal slaves, were delivered from it. Israel was a nation under vassal service to Egypt. God delivered them from bondage. Jacob was under bondage and a slave to his father-in-law Laban...God delivered him from it. etc. Every time we see an institution of slavery within the bible we also observe the deliverance of God from the institution accompanied with God's instruction to his people to not observe the customs of those from which they (his people) had been delivered.

God used the institution of slavery to get his glory. However there is a great difference from there, to the assertion that God endorsed or somehow smiled on slavery as slavery was and is certainly an institution or the result of sin.


I hope that this has been helpful to those of you that have faced questions regarding this subject. When Christ said that he has come to "set" and "make" us "free", he demonstrated his rule over all institutions and establishments whereby men would be bound to evil and destruction. If scripture was instructing slaves on how they should behave themselves, it was also instructing "masters" on how they also should behave. Therefore, the instruction of God was delivered to all men for the edification of the body of believers and them that would follow the Lord in the beauty of holiness. This ultimately means that NO ONE is left out of the plan of God, whether they are bond or free for we are all ONE in Christ Jesus!


Special Notes Of Interest:

I have deliberately spent time in this article addressing the biblical position on slavery and what the bible actually teaches. However, we should note the following very serious information:

The organization estimates that there are over 27 million adult slaves world wide right now and an additional 13 million children. There are more slaves now than at any other time in history. Many of them work and exist in occupations where there is no obvious or open sign that they are slaves. In addition within America there are an increasing number of women targeted by pimps and others who are trapped in the sex slave industry. According to a 2009 CBS News 48 Hours report, there are an estimated 4,600 women in bondage as sex slaves within the United States.  

On 2/4/2012 one particular woman successfully rescue from her captors in Tulsa, Oklahoma said that she was forced to serve over 22 men per day. 

CNN reported the following regarding China's efforts to stop sex trafficking and slavery since 2009:

"Since the government launched a national campaign against human trafficking in April 2009, police have arrested almost 50,000 suspects, rescuing more than 18,000 children as well as some 35,000 women, the ministry said."

Slavery Exists & It Is Real.

1 comment:

  1. This slave issue in the bible pertains to a heavy emphasis on employment or what?


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