The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Dear Prime Minister, Jesus Christ is Lord: A response to Rudd’s comments on Q&A 2nd September, 2013.

In response to a Pastor insisting on a biblical view on marriage from Jesus’ words “ a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (quoting Genesis 2:24), the PM said,

 “Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St Paul said in the New Testament, “Slaves be obedient to your masters.” And, therefore, we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US war.”

A number of Christian commentators have already made responses. I want to make two comments I haven’t seen made yet: A historical comment, and a redemptive comment.

The PM’s citation of the Bible comes from two places: Ephesians 6:5, and Colossians 3:22. Firstly, at a historical level, what was this ‘slavery’ that Paul was referring to? Are we really to imagine African chain gangs labouring away under a hot sun in the southern parts of the United States of America? 

Slavery in the Roman Empire was an integral part of life. And no doubt it could be brutal. Slaves from the north and west of the empire were often given the most difficult tasks, and worked in chain gangs. But this was not always the case. The preference was for slaves from the east, who would go on to be household servants, teachers, librarians, accountants, and estate managers. It’s estimated that 85-90% of the population of Rome and the Italian peninsula were slaves. These slaves were granted many rights. Slaves were able marry, and accumulate money to purchase their freedom and start their own business. Slaves also held other prominent positions in the community such as artisans, architects, physicians, administrators, philosophers, and grammarians. To equate Roman slavery with the American slave-trade is to be irresponsible with history.

Secondly, at a redemptive level, why does Paul even raise the issue of slavery. By these words, is Paul endorsing the ownership of human beings by other human beings? In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul seems to be encouraging slaves to gain there freedom. Presumably, this means to buy their freedom, as we also have Paul sending a slave back to his master with letters of commendation (Philemon 1:8-19). Paul can’t be endorsing slavery as we might imagine it. So what is Paul endorsing? Paul is endorsing a gospel-shaped life – a Jesus-centered life. Paul lists a number of positions in life including wives, husbands, children, and fathers that are to comply to such a life. The thing to take away from this passage is Jesus Christ is Lord no matter what your life situation is. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re a slave or a free capitalist. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re a part of a democracy or under a dictatorship. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re an employee or an employer. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re straight or gay. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re young, old, sick, healthy, disabled, able, educated, uneducated, married, single, whatever!! Even if you’re a historically irresponsible, Bible-twisting public servant, Jesus Christ is Lord.

There is one other position Paul mentions that I have deliberately left out until now. And how disappointing it is that those who wish to disparage the Bible can’t even be bothered reading a few more lines on to appreciate just how radically different the Jesus-centered life is. “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5). The Bible never accepts the brutality that comes with slavery, but seeks to transform it, as surely as it seeks to transform any life situation. This doesn’t mean the Bible endorses slavery, but it does seek to minimise it’s impact.

The concern here is, wherever we are in life, we are to respond to the grace God has lavished upon us. Firstly, as general providence as God gives us food to eat, clothes to wear, places to stay, and things to enjoy. Secondly, as a special providence in saving us by the forgiveness of our sins through the death and resurrection of His only son, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

THAT, Prime Minister, is the fundamental point of the Bible.

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September 4, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Jason,
    Thank you for your valued and well thought out Biblical response.

    Comment by Marie Slough | September 4, 2013 | Reply


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