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New Boxes on Problematic Social Values in the New Testament

I have been posting some of the new “boxes” that will appear in the sixth edition of my textbook.  These boxes are meant either to raise interesting historical issues that are somewhat tangential to the main discussion or to broach complex issues without easy solution that are meant to force students to think for themselves.     I include two such boxes here in this post – the first is a new one for the sixth edition, but I thought it would be interesting to pair it with a somewhat related topic drawn from a post already in the fifth edtiion.  Both boxes have to do with the New Testament and social realities of its day – the early Christian approbation of the institution of slavery and Jesus’ teachings that run precisely contrary to what today we might think of as solid family values.


 Box 22.12  What Do You Think?

The New Testament and Slavery

 Many people who read the book of Philemon simply assume that Paul writes the letter in order to urge Philemon to set his slave Onesimus free.  After all, slavery is, and was, a horrible institution, and surely the apostle would have done everything in his power in order to try to abolish it.  Right?

Unfortunately, when you look closely at Paul’s letter, you will not find a word against slavery as an institution or any instruction for Philemon to set his slave – or any of his slaves – free.  How could that be?

As it turns out, slavery is…


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New Boxes Related to Literary Forgery and the NT
New Boxes on Jesus as God in the NT



  1. Avatar
    rivercrowman  October 30, 2014

    Bart, thanks for sharing these “boxes.” … Both of them are new to me, as I’m just a proud owner of your Third Edition.

  2. Avatar
    seamus  October 30, 2014

    One thing that has always bothered me was when Jesus told a brand-new disciple that he (the disciple) must leave immediately to follow Jesus, without making arrangements (or even saying goodbye?) to his wife and children. Presuming that the disciple was the breadwinner for his family, such abandonment put his family in almost certain poverty.

  3. gmatthews
    gmatthews  October 30, 2014

    Over the years I’ve recognized the same comments about Jesus concerning “family values”. Could these statements be viewed as a dismissive attitude towards marriage in general (in light of the coming kingdom, ie., his disciples and followers should be focused on the imminent arrival of the kingdom) and therefore a point in favor of Jesus not being married himself? He seems a tad hypocritical otherwise.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 31, 2014

      Yup, possibly so. That’s my take on it, any way. (Though he also opposes divorce for those who *are* married)

  4. Avatar
    Matilda  October 30, 2014

    Well, I think Jesus was/is part myth, part fable, part zealot, part nutcase. As for family values, the entire Bible is so anti family, anti woman, anti compassion, anti humanity, that issues like slavery and family values don’t even register on its ethical scale. God is too busy smiting and being angry that he has no time for family values. Jesus as his right hand man/son is too busy trying to enforce God’s will (i.e. Jewish law) that he just ends up angry, frustrated, and ultimately stifled.
    The part about Jesus and God being loving, and compassionate is just spin to satisfy the needs of the devoted.
    Any God or God Son combination who can watch people suffer and starve and then castigate them with eternal damnation- well I can’t believe in that kind of God.
    Jesus was a man of his day and in his day stoning was okay, slavery was okay, and devotion to an angry God was okay. There you have it- the gospel according to Matilda!

  5. Avatar
    fishician  October 31, 2014

    When you ask Christians about the Bible’s stance on slavery you invariably hear a song-and-dance about how Biblical slavery was really “slavery-lite” or more of an indentured servitude as if that was a good thing. I wish I would simply hear from believers “Slavery is a terrible thing and should never be condoned!” But because the Bible is so accepting of slavery as an institution believers can’t oppose it without opposing what their “inspired” Scriptures say. How sad. Glad I finally woke up to this hypocrisy.

  6. Avatar
    Jason  October 31, 2014

    So is all the tension in the “Family Values” box really set up between generations? Was Jesus just a mouthy punk in these instances-albeit the one that certain authority figures today would have us recognize as the first and last we should listen to?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 31, 2014

      A mouthy punk??? No, I don’t think so. His apocalyptic message would bring rifts to families. I don’t think this saying goes back to Jesus, but was formulated in the community that emerged in his wake, among people who had left their natural families to make the Christian family their own family.

      • Avatar
        Jason  November 1, 2014

        I guess the Lk10/Mt12/Mk2 examples make it seem as though this is a very generational conflict-look how it’s father vs. son, mother vs. daughter and daughter in law, old vs. new. It does kind of seem like the kind of internal story modern cults tell themselves to ease the transition from one dependency to another.

      • Avatar
        spiker  February 13, 2015

        This is intriguing. How would an apocalyptic “hate your family” fit with Honor thy Father and Mother or the sentiment of Man is lord of the Sabbath? I don’t think we can dismiss that He may simply have been inconsistent or conflicted: under normal circumstances sentiments reflected in Love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind and honoring your parents may have been compatible to the extent that you could do both but an increasing belief in the “immanence of the kingdom” eventually forces a conflict. This is first you have a complimentary set of sentiments that come into conflict later and MAYBE we have to look instead at different points in his life for consistencies.

  7. Avatar
    Kevin Nelson  October 31, 2014

    Philemon 21: “Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” I’ve always understood that as a diplomatic way of saying Philemon should free Onesimus–do you not think so? It sounds very consistent with Paul’s style of sometimes making demanding requests in a rather indirect fashion. For example, I’d compare it to II Corinthians 9:1–10, where instead of saying anything like “you MUST give” he says things like “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” And in the ancient world, asking someone to free their slave would have been a hugely demanding request. I think it would have been quite bold to make such a request at all, even indirectly.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 31, 2014

      No, I think if he wanted Philemon to free him, he would have said so. I think he’s asking him to give Onesimus to himself (Paul) as a gift, to serve him in his mission. He never expresses any opinion opposed to slavery.

      • Avatar
        Kevin Nelson  November 1, 2014

        Well, you’re certainly right that Paul nowhere expresses any opposition to slavery in general. But I’m not convinced by your interpretation of the letter to Philemon. So you think Paul would have been willing to say “you should free Onesimus” directly, but he wouldn’t have been willing to say “give me Onesimus” directly? Why the difference? The only thing Paul really asks Philemon to do directly is to welcome back Onesimus without punishing him, but it’s clear Paul is hoping for something more. One hint as to what that something else might be is in 15–16: “Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother.” Note the wording is not “no longer as JUST a slave” or anything like that.

        I think the flow of the letter also supports my interpretation. In 17–20, Paul urges Philemon to welcome Onesimus back without punishing him. Then, in 21, he makes his oblique request for “even more” (hyper ha lego). Freeing Onesimus would certainly go beyond merely refraining from punishing him. Giving Onesimus to Paul, on the other hand, would be a favor of a different sort–it would not be an extrapolation of “welcome Onesimus back.”

        Finally, it strikes me as strange for Paul to send Onesimus out on a possibly lengthy and difficult journey to Philemon, only to want him sent right back. If Paul wanted to keep Onesimus as his own slave, it seems more likely that he would have written to Philemon without sending Onesimus in person.

        My feeling is that Paul preferred for Christians not to keep other Christians as slaves, but he chose to press the point very softly. From our perspective today, of course we wish he’d made a stronger statement. On the other hand, if Christianity had become known as an anti-slavery movement, the imperial authorities would have become ten times more determined to crush it. Paul’s soft-pedalling of the issue may be understandable for that reason alone.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 1, 2014

          My sense is that readers today who find slavery abhorrent have difficulty understanding how an ancient writer of such high moral standing as Paul *also* would not have seen it as abhorrent, and so they read their abhorrence into the text. Ancient people simply didn’t think like us. Slavery was an accepted institution. Remember that in the later Pauline letters slaves are told to be fully obedient to their masters and masters are told, not to free their slaves, but to treat them well. No one urged them to be set free.

          • Avatar
            Kevin Nelson  November 2, 2014

            I agree, of course, that ancient people didn’t think like us. On the other hand, we know that Paul himself thought about a lot of things very differently than his own contemporaries did. Few people in the first-century Mediterranean would have expressed a sentiment like “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” It’s only one small step beyond that to say there should be no slavery in the church, though taking that step in practice would have been hugely difficult.

            It seems pretty clear that in Paul’s day, most Christians were people of modest means. I think only a few of them could have had slaves. If Paul had urged those few to free their slaves, the general answer would have been “no,” and Paul himself would have to have known that. He may have feared driving off key converts and causing dissension in the church. At the same time, he could have dropped careful hints with slaveholders he judged to be favorably inclined, which is exactly what I think he did with Philemon.

            I’m not sure which “later Pauline letters” you have in mind…are you thinking about Colossians and Ephesians? If you regard those as forgeries, I don’t think you can hold Paul himself responsible for them! Maybe you’re thinking of I Corinthians 7:21, “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.” But that’s hardly an endorsement of slavery–an exhortation for slaves to make the best of their situation is consistent with a preference for Christians not to have slaves at all. And I think he would only have mentioned the possibility of slaves being freed if he had taken that possibility seriously. It sounds like he didn’t want to tantalize slaves with the prospect of being freed, but at the same time he didn’t want to deny it very well might happen. So we have to ask: If there was a real possibility of Christian slaves being freed, why was that? If hints were circulating in the early church that it was best for Christians not to hold fellow Christians in slavery, then we have an explanation.

            It’s clear that Paul was prepared to tolerate quite a bit of behavior he regarded as less than ideal (“better to marry than to burn,” and so on). I think his attitude towards Christian slaveholding was just another example. I agree with you that it would be a vast overstatement to say he found slavery abhorrent. He probably regarded pagan slaveholding as not his concern at all (“What have I to do with judging those outside?”). More generally, he wasn’t terribly interested in any sort of overall social reform. After all, he believed the appointed time had grown short. But with regard to slavery specifically, I think he was at least moving in the right direction.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 2, 2014

            Yes, my point about Ephesians and Colossians is simply that within the Pauline tradition slavery was affirmed, not condemend.

      • Avatar
        simonelli  November 4, 2014

        In a way even Jesus has slaves in Ephesians 4:7-8 and verses 11,12. (NASB)
        I believe that these four verses should be read together omitting verses 9,10 because these two verses are a diversion inserted in a later date by the enemy of Christianity. You be the judge as you read them now: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, when He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men. (11-12) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” Just consider this: the apostles Peter, Paul, James, etc., all identified themselves in the epistles as bondservants of God, or prisoners of Christ Jesus, in other words “captives or slaves.”

  8. Avatar
    yes_hua  October 31, 2014

    As for slavery, there are two major apologetic (Christian and Jewish) dodges that I hear. The first is that Jewish slavery was not that bad, more of an employer/employee relationship. Then why does there need to be laws concerning what do if you have beaten your slave to death or only nearly so? We don’t make laws about acts that aren’t occurring (for the most part). The second, and my favorite, is that slavery was a major part of the culture so God wouldn’t have made a law to so upset their way of life. What??? That’s PRECISELY what God does. Rules concerning ritual and dietary purity, the abolition of child sacrifice, not visiting temple prostitutes, heck, not worshipping other gods–but Yahweh thinks that owning another human being as property is a fight he cannot win? Isn’t this what the “thou shalt not”s are supposed to do, change the culture? Am I wrong here or are the apologists admitting that God’s laws come from society and not the other way around? Good addition to the textbook, which I appreciate in a prior edition. Thanks for including the new boxes here.

  9. Avatar
    Richard  October 31, 2014

    It’s common knowledge that in the antebellum south, many slave owners had sexual relations their female “property”. No doubt, this happened in the first century to slaves who converted to Christianity, even by some Christian slave owners. The NT is silent on this subject though we know aspects of perceived sexual immorality were condemned. Was this subject ever address by post-NT writers? Or did the mind-set of the time assume this was the norm and part and parcel of obeying their masters “in everything”?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 31, 2014

      No, it’s not discussed in any ealry Christian source that I’m aware of.

  10. Avatar
    joks  October 31, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman
    Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-9, Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:18 all record Jesus’ adamant rejection of divorce.
    If we accept the fact that a two parent family is good for society, then wouldn’t this stand somewhat in opposition to
    the statement that Jesus was not that concerned with familial or societal institutions? Since divorce and remarriage are such a controversial topic in the Catholic Church, I would be interested in your answer to my questions above and also in why you think Jesus made such a strong statement on divorce.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 31, 2014

      He certainly was opposed to divorce. At the same time, he required his male followers to leave their spouses — and therefore not to provide any financial support for them; in other words, the families of his disciples, necessarily, would have been forced to live in abject poverty. How these two views can be reconciled, I don’t know.

      • Avatar
        simonelli  November 4, 2014

        Dr. Ehrman, There is not need to leave family to follow Jesus, But there is a devotional sacrifice of worship to God which is an exceptional way of self-denial to get closer to our Lord, for we read in 1Corinthians 7:32-38: “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;
        33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.
        34 And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
        35 And this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure SOME BELIEVERS FOR AN undivided devotion to the Lord.
        36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly towards his CELIBACY, if he should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let HIM marry.
        37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own BODY, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own BODY CHASTE, he will do well.
        38 So then both he who gives his own BODY in marriage does well, BUT he who does not give HIMSELF in marriage will do better.”
        As you can see, the last four verses 35-38, with the inserted Italics are the obvious restorations needed, which enable us to understand the connection and the true intended meaning of the previous verses of 32-34. Thus if any person, male or female, is willingly prepared and able to freely undertake the sacrifice of celibacy as their sacrifice of worship, that sacrifice is acceptable to God, this is confirmed in Matthew 19:10-12: “The disciples said to Him, ‘If the relation-ship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.’ But He said to them, ‘Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this let him accept it.’”

        • Avatar
          jcrowl  November 13, 2014

          Why don’t you take your spin elsewhere?

  11. Avatar
    Michael  November 1, 2014

    Recently of course there has been huge focus by the fundamentalist and others attacking homosexuals by quoting the Bible or by arguing it’s a choice of behavior. There are 4 main verses that get thrown around and a few others where the topic may or may not be male/male relations. All that hate and bigotry over a few verses, none of them spoken by Jesus.

    Meanwhile you have whole chapters in the OT dealing with slavery. The NT also gives support to it. I understand that there are grey areas in all of this. Racial Slavery was only one small piece of ancient slavery. None the less, the Bible still gives more support to an institution we only out grew in very recent history.

  12. Avatar
    Wilusa  November 1, 2014

    I’m not an apologist for Jesus. *But*…

    As I understand it, the only disciple specifically said to have been married was Peter. Could the others have been young unmarried men, free to traipse off with him precisely because they *didn’t* have any family responsibilities?

    Also, isn’t it possible that he really didn’t “call” them, but they attached themselves to him…perhaps, in some cases, when he tried to dissuade them?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2014

      Well, even though not every Jewish man was married, most were; it seems unlikely that Jesus could round up eleven who weren’t! And he does talk about his disciples having to leave their children to follow him (Mark 10:29 for example).

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  November 3, 2014

        I didn’t know about that. And when I think about it, I remember that Galileans in that era tended to marry young – the men, at about eighteen.

        But might there still be something to this possibility? Jesus – for whatever reason – had trekked down to Judea to hear John the Baptist preach. Might the apocalyptic ideas he brought back with him actually have been *new* – revolutionary! – in rural Galilee? If so, it might have been the *youngest* males who were the most open-minded, lapped up everything he was saying, and became disciples.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2014

          My sense is that apocalyptic ideas were pretty widespread at the time. The other problem is that there’s no evidence to suggest that his followers were all late teenagers or the like….

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  August 23, 2015

        Dr Ehrman

        have you read hector avolo’s book ” bad jesus” ?

  13. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  November 2, 2014

    For the sake discussion let’s say Philemon did free Onesimus. How would have Onesimus fared as a freed slave in his society?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2014

      Depends on what kind of work he could land. Sometimes slaves were much better off than free people.

  14. Avatar
    FrankJay71  November 3, 2014

    What about 1 Timothy 10? Slave traders seem to be condemned along with the sexually immoral and other sinners. Is there a nuance that distinguished slavery and the practice of slave trading?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2014

      I’m not sure which passage you’re referring to. 1 Timothy has only 6 chapters.

      • Avatar
        FrankJay71  November 4, 2014

        Oops. I meant 1 Timothy 1:10.
        From the NIV:
        ” for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine”

        The verse doesn’t specifically condemn slavery, but it seems to equate slave traders with other sinners.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 5, 2014

          Yes, I’m afraid that “slave traders” is not exactly what the text says. The word that is used ANDROPODISTOS is rare. Well, “rare” is a bit generous. So far as I know, it never occurs anywhere else in any Greek text. It is usually thought that a *similar* word refers to someone who is captured in war and made a slave. So ANDROPODISTOS may mean someone who takes a prisoner of war and makes him a slave. Or it may mean a “kidnapper.” Or something else. No one really knows. 1 Timothy would be saying that people like that (whatever “that” is) is unholy. But that would not apply to someone who simply has family slaves.

  15. Avatar
    simonelli  November 4, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman.. You are missing the obvious: one became a slave of another if he owed money to him; the modern day slaves are those who must repay a mortgage to a bank, and if you default they will sale the shirt off your back. Another way to became a slave to another, if the man has saved your life, that is how Russel became a slave in the film “Gladiator”. And then there are the slaves of the state: those were who committed small crimes, today we condemn criminals to hard labour. The prisoners of war also became slaves to make reparation for the damage they caused. In the last WW2. Japan, Germany and Italy had to pay reparation to the allied forces. Nothing has changed, look around in the world, we might have come to use a more humane system but the result is the same . Pay-up or else.
    Now, do I have to hate everyone of my family to be worthy of the kingdom of God: no, of cause not, it would be a contradiction of Christianity. So what is required from a would be Christian? The hate is not directed at the person, but it is directed at the fleshly nature in them, therefore you need to be kind to them in order to change them to the character of Christ. You must hate their character by presenting the other cheek.
    Professor, you look on those things with critical darken fleshly eyes: God is Holy let it be your light. Just saying.

    • Avatar
      jcrowl  November 13, 2014

      We really don’t need your propaganda..take it elsewhere please

  16. talitakum
    talitakum  November 5, 2014

    Regarding “family values”. It seems to me that the role of the father and his love for his sons looks important for Jesus – who calls God “abba”, tells the Parable of the prodigal son and uses father’s love for his sons as an analogy of God’s love for men. Also, he accuses those who don’t help their mothers and fathers with the “excuse” of Korban. In this perspective, could it be that the future kingdom is important without nullifying the positive values and the importance of family relationships?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2014

      Yes, there seems to be contradictory evidence from Jesus. Why does he tell his followres that they have to “hate” their father and mother if they are going to come after him? It is really difficult to reconcile all this.

      • talitakum
        talitakum  November 5, 2014

        Thank you, I appreciate the fact that, as an historian, you didn’t try to resolve the contradiction by saying that “hate” sayings are historical while “love” sayings are not… In my opinion, this is also more honest to the sources. Contradictions are apparently there – such as love and hate, peace and violence, good and evil. Do you think that such contradictions (which also the Gospel authors didn’t manage to easily reconcile) may possibly go back to Jesus, or are they due to our partial/limited reconstruction of the historical Jesus?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 6, 2014

          They *may* go back to Jesus. But my sense is that we simply don’t know enough to be able to decide which of these sayings are authentically his.

          • talitakum
            talitakum  November 7, 2014

            Chapeau! Thank you for your balanced and honest answer, as usual. My impression, beside the actual historicity of this or that saying, is that the overall “portrait” of Jesus that we can paint from our sources presents contradictions: I think that’s why we also have different “historical Jesus” reconstructions (cynic philosopher, millenarian/apocaliptyc prophet, rabbi, shamanic, zealot, etc.). While some of these reconstructions are definitely more plausible than others, in my opinion all of them have some good points and none of them can really resolve all contradictions. I think that historians should really resist temptation of trashing what doesn’t fit well with their reconstruction, acknowledging the fact that (a) our sources might be incomplete therefore we can’t resolve apparent contradictions, (b) any historical reconstruction of people of the past will always and necessarily be partial/incomplete, (c) some contradictions may actually exists as a product of our western rational mindset, while a 1st century Palestinian prophet may have had a different mindset 🙂

            Sorry for this lengthy comment – and many, many thanks again for spending some of your time to answer me.

  17. Avatar
    vinnyrac  December 6, 2014

    Just to add another dose of contradiction to the man Jesus, let’s recall that it was Jesus the compassionate who took pit on the Centurion’s servant/slave. We modern readers hope that the Centurion wanted his servant healed out of some sort of empathy/friendship bond and not because the stables needed cleaning. As for family values there’s the story of Jarius’s daughter who died and who JC raised from the dead. (Mark) What could be more family value than to want your children to be healthy and alive? That Jesus took pity on Jarius, the father, should hope to assuage the family values crowd. But then there’s still the sticky matter of that unresolvable issue of the Father sending his Son to die. I mean, what father in the world would NOT die in place of his son or daughter? A parent dies for the child, not the child for the parent. Name a parent who wouldn’t? A crack head/junkie perhaps? The list is short to be certain. Sorry family values peeps. It kinda starts an stops at the top, no?

  18. Avatar
    ftbond  June 12, 2018

    Dr Ehrman –

    in regards to your mentions of slavery in the NT:

    Do we know, historically, whether any of the slaves Paul was referring to were bonafide “slaves”, or could they all have been indentured servants?

    When Paul writes in both Colossians and Ephesians, he address both slaves and masters – as if perhaps both slaves and their masters are members of the congregations. And, considering the size of either congregation in the mid-50’s, I don’t find it difficult to imagine that he knew some of these people on quite a personal level. In other words, he’s writing to slaves and masters that he goes to church with.

    But, even if Paul is not addressing “masters and their slaves that go to church together”, it is interesting that he is addressing slaves at all — would slaves even have a right to go out of the house to congregate with a church someplace?

    I could see where indentured servants, which could also have been referred to as slaves, might be able to get out of the house, or off the property, to go spend free time with the youth group at the First Pentecostal of Ephesus, but, unless “slavery” (apart from indentured servitude) was an institution quite different than what I think it was, it does not at all seem like the slaves would really be given all that much freedom.

    Heres my point: If the slaves Paul is addressing in Col and Eph, and even in Philemon, were all indentured servants, then why on earth *would* Paul speak about abolishing *that kind* of slavery? Indentured servitude was a legitmate way of paying off debts. Speaking out against “slavery”, in some broad, and uncertain terms, would mean he was speaking out against indentured servitude (legit), those that voluntarily sold themselves into slavery to improve their social and/or financial status (arguable legit by todays standards), and – yes – the “real” slavery that might have resulted from, say, being a captured enemy.

    So, I’d like to know what you know *historically* about the slaves which Paul is addressing.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 12, 2018

      I’m not sure what you mean by “indentured servants.” What I think of that from modern times was something that didn’t exist in antiquity. The word used in Paul’s letters for these people is DOULOS — which means “slave,” someone owned by someone else. Slavery was a very widespread phenomenon in the Roman world.

      • Avatar
        ftbond  June 12, 2018

        The Jews had two classes of slaves – the Hebrew slaves, which could serve only six years, could own property, had full recourse (as did any Jew) before the courts, and so on – and these, I refer to as “indentured servants” or “debt slaves” (although even in Hebrew, the same word was used for this and the second class of slaves – “ebed”). The second class were the “foreign” or “Canaanite” slaves, and these could be “foreigners” who had sold themselves into slavery or, were “spoils of war”, and this was a more restrictive slavery, with no “guaranteed” time frame to their service.. (In other words, basically “slaves forever”)..

        I don’t know if the congregations of Col and Eph were largely comprised of Greek-speaking Jews, or, of Gentiles, or both, and I don’t therefore know if these particular slaves and masters might be Jewish slaves (indentured servants, or, debt slaves) and Jewish masters.

        I also don’t specifically know whether the cultures of Col or Eph had similar “rules” – such that a person might be a “slave”, but only temporarily, in order (for example) to pay off a debt, or, if anyone and everyone that was a “slave” was a slave on an essentially permanent basis.

        So, that’s why I was wondering. I just thought it odd that you’d either have slaves and their masters both going to church together, or, that there might be slaves that had “free time”, and could go meet with the church. If these were Jewish masters and Jewish debt slaves, then, it wouldn’t surprise me at all that they would congregate together.

        Of course, all this matters when one is trying to figure out why Paul didn’t call out “free the slaves!” when writing about slavery — perhaps those particular slaves were simply “debt slaves”, and by saying “free the slaves”, he’d actually be encouraging them from paying their rightful debt…

        In short – there’s no “trick question” here. No “gotcha”. I’m seriously inquiring to find out what you could tell me about those specific congregations, and whether in those cultures there might be temporary “debt slaves” that were merely working off their debts.

  19. Avatar
    Kakuzato  August 4, 2019

    I just bought this book, I don’t know which edition it is, because I bought it online and site didn’t mention it. Mine is published 16.9.2013.

    Also Bought The Bible Historical and literary Introduction.

    Recently I have been buying your books. Your view is very interesting and I like the way you write your books.

    Atm I’m reading A Brief introduction to the New Testament

    And “Whose word is it?” and “Did Jesus exist” are waiting their turn too on my shelf.

    I would like to buy a book about Gospels not included in the NT, but I’m not sure what I should buy. Currently I’m thinking of between “The Apocryphal Gospels” and “The other Gospels”. I don’t really know what is the difference between the two and which would be better to laymen. If you could be so kind and help me with this.

    Thank you

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2019

      If you read Greek (or Latin) (or Coptic) (or all three), you should get the Apocryphal Gospels. If not, The Other Gospels. The English translation is the same in both, and the introductions are not materially different, only longer and more complicated in Apocryphal Gospels. Happy reading! (The book where I talk a lot *about* the non-canonical materials is my book Lost Christianities)

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