Russell and Duenes

the apostle paul was OK with slavery like modern liberals are ok with honor killings.

with 2 comments

The apostle Paul is often called many nasty names: Bigot, homophobe, misogynist, and a propagator of slavery. It is certainly true that the New Testament nowhere makes a frontal assault on the institution of slavery. An unsympathetic reading of the NT epistles – to which many are prone – would say that Paul has no problem with slavery, what with his command to slaves to “obey your masters.” But I got to thinking. Paul is writing from a certain culture and background, just as we speak from a certain background and culture. And Paul was speaking into a particular culture as well, a culture in which slavery was overwhelmingly accepted and practiced. I myself have no doubt that Paul was opposed to slavery, but his desire was for the long-term goal of overturning the entire institution, and he must have been very wise as to how such an overturning would take place. In his judgment, it would not take place by commanding his readers to rebel against their masters.

We should not be so quick to judge. There are many in the west today who would like to see the overturning of the way women are treated in much of the Arab Muslim world; yet among our liberal “heros,” we find nary a soul, including our president, who is willing to make a full frontal assault against honor killings, female circumcision, full length burkas and the like. Hmm. I wonder why that is? I’ll leave aside cowardice as a reason for now and assume that most liberals in the west who want these things overturned judge that it will best come about through some other forms of advocacy than a full, explicit assault on those Muslims who practice violence against women. Could it be that trying to shout down Arab Islamic misogyny will only bring reprisal and blowback, rather than the desired end of such barbary? Could it be that the reasoning behind the “tepid” moral denunciations (if one could call them denunciations at all) we hear from western liberals come out of the same reasoning that Paul used with regard to slavery back in the first century? No one can know for sure, but it’s worth pondering. And it’s worth a little humility and caution in making unwarranted judgments about the apostle, just as I’m sure that modern liberals don’t want judgments made about them.


Written by Michael Duenes

September 17, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Duenes, Islam

2 Responses

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  1. Keep in mind that Paul had no knowledge of “chattel slavery,” or hereditary slavery as practiced in the U.S. It is quite clear that the majority of slaves in Paul’s day was either captured in war or indentured servants who sold themselves into slavery for a time of 5-10 years. The war captives were released at various points, but by no means were their children or family involved in the continuation of indebtedness. As for those who sold themselves into slavery, at the end of their indentured period, the “slave” would be released from their commitment and gain land or a stipend fee. What was a prevalent occurrence was that these indentured “slaves” would not work hard because all they had to do was put in their allotted time and their reward of property or money would await them. Paul is requiring that these slaves work for the end goal that they sold themselves into. Chattel Slavery, practiced in the U.S., did not exist until Portugal began to use the hereditary model in the late 1400s. Paul had no conception of the model of slavery we know to be such a brutal and racist system.



    September 18, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    • Point well made, though it doesn’t detract from my overall point, which is that whatever the form of slavery Paul knew, we ought not to fault him for his strategy in dealing with it at the time, just as I ought not to be so hard on those who don’t want to make a full attack on Islamic treatment of women, though the parallel is not total. Good clarification on slavery in the first century, for the record.



      September 19, 2009 at 6:10 am

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