Biblical Absolutism

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Cal Beisner makes a sharp distinction between biblical slavery as found in the Old Testament and ungodly chattel slavery. In this he is quite right, and this distinction is one that I have made myself a number of times. But he then leaves out another category, which is in fact the only category that is relevant to the debate that is currently going on. That concerns the appropriate biblical response to ungodly and pagan forms of slavery. What do Christians do when they find themselves in an unbiblical society that contains slavery, and the slavery it contains is not the kind that we find laid out (and carefully governed) in the Old Testament? Suppose it is the kind of slavery that we saw in the American South, or the far worse slavery that was pervasive during the time that the New Testament was being written? What do we do about that? In short, what laws governed the case of runaway Onesimus? And what response did the apostle teach with regard to those pagan Roman laws? If we are biblical absolutists, then we must not apologize for what the apostles told us to do. And what the apostle Paul told first-century Christian slaves and slaveowners to do (both of them in the church together) is the instruction that Christians in our nation two centuries ago should have followed.

This does not make the apostles enthusiasts for this pagan slavery. Nor does it make me an enthusiast for the outrages perpetrated by those disobedient to the plain teaching of Scripture. But we must not register our disapproval of that disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture by adopting our own pc-disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture.

So here is a simple question for Cal to answer. What did St. Paul tell the Ephesian Christians who were slave-owners in a pagan system of slave-owning to do? And should they have done it?

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