Saint Paul and Slavery:

From 1 Cor 12:13, it seems that slavery is to be abolished straightaway (cf.Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11). However, slaves are commanded to be good slaves (Col 3:22). Paul also warns the masters to be “just and fair to their slaves”(Col 4:1). Although as Christians both the master and the salve are now [1]brothers[1] in Christ, yet both of them retain their social status (cf.1 Cor 7:17, ‘lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him and in which God has called him’; see also vv.20a.21-22). Yet,in v.20b Paul does advise who is a slave: “But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity”. In other words, the situation of his calling, whether slave or freeman, does not stand in the way of a Christian’s faith and of his service to the Lord. In the above verses, Paul throws light on the relative significance of the social position in which one finds oneself in view of being a Christian. The Gospel of Christ does not have the form of a new social programme nor does it overthrow the existing order by force or violence. Rather, it enters into the existing social structure as a leaven and changes the human hearts, from which all unjust structures flow. A renewal of social relationships will come from this new perspective of man in Christ. It comes not as an exploding dynamite, but as the salt or leaven of the Kingdom of God (Mt 5:13;13:33),which must be of deep, radical social significance.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, it is clear that this re-forming (perestroika) and re-orientation (glasnost) is from within–this is the heart and purport of Paul’s social ethical paraenesis. Slavery was an integral part of the ancient world. Christianity did not attack slavery through violence–it would have been useless and disastrous. Emancipation was bound to come through constant conscientization and inner transformation.


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