The Epistle to Philemon: Receive Him.

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. (Philemon 17–18 (ESV)

Today’s text intimates what the issue was between Philemon and his departed slave Onesimus. It appears that Onesimus had stolen money from his master. The Apostle Paul was adamant that whatever Oneimus owed Philemon, Paul would repay.

It is at this point in our study that it would be good to examine the subject of slavery in the first century Roman culture. Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine Tabletalk provides helpful information.

“Slavery described in Scripture is not the same type of slavery practiced in America’s Antebellum Era. Slavery in ancient Israel and first-century Rome often resulted when debtors could not repay a loan. Unlike the ethnocentric slavery once practiced in the United States, the slavery Scripture knows of was not based, at least primarily, on biblically abhorrent ideas such as racial inferiority and kidnapping (Gen. 1:27Ex. 21:16). God’s condemnation of these foundational principles of American slavery renders that system wholly ungodly; thus, the attempt to justify the system biblically in days past was gross Scripture-twisting.”

“With the institution of slavery, we cannot assume Paul and the other biblical authors saw it as the ideal for creation just because their writings regulate the practice. Paul’s directions to Christian masters and slaves assume participation in slavery as it was known in the first century, and it did not automatically render one’s profession of faith invalid — if slaves were treated well (Col. 3:22–4:1Eph. 6:5–9).”  

“At the same time, the apostle regarded freedom from enslavement better than its alternative, for he exhorted slaves to seek liberty when they could (1 Cor. 7:21). First-century slaves regularly bought their freedom — they could save up gifts of money and land over time to pay for manumission. In the city of Rome, at least, most slaves could expect to be free by age thirty. We do not want to make ancient slavery better than it was, but the aforementioned reality alone reveals that it was more humane than American slavery, where freeing oneself from bondage was mostly a vain hope. Such differences also show it is naive at best to believe Paul would have said what he does about slavery if slavery as practiced in the American South was the slavery he knew. All these factors begin to show us why Paul takes the positions that he does on slavery”.

“Though Paul implies that Christian participation in first-century slavery was not always prohibited, the fact that slavery is not the ideal, coupled with his apostolic authority, meant he could order Christian slave masters to forgive and free slaves when appropriate. Paul could have appealed to His apostolic office when writing to Philemon, but he chose not to (v. 8).”  

More to follow. Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Soli deo Gloria!

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