|Question or Topic||Scripture|
One of the arguments currently appearing in the media to encourage Christian acceptance of homosexual relationships is this: "The apostle Paul did not condemn slavery as it was practiced in the Roman Empire but today we recognize that slavery is an inhumane and inappropriate institution. Attitudes have changed and Paul's was wrong. The apostle Paul condemned homosexuality. Today we recognize that it is an acceptable alternative life-style - attitudes have changed again for the better and Paul's was wrong on this count too. Thus, Paul's authority on the matter of homosexuality is discredited by his acceptance of slavery." How do we address this argument? Why did Paul condone the practice of slavery in the Roman Empire?
|1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10|
The first thing that we need to recognize is that Paul was not expressing his own opinion on these matters. He spoke under inspiration and when we challenge his views, we are challenging the authority of God. God's authority is absolute and it does not change from generation to generation. Thus, the position of the Scriptures on homosexuality is not subject to change along with the changing values in society. Such relationships are an abomination to God; they are clearly listed as behavior that will keep those who practice them from the Kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10)
Now to turn to that part of the question that concerns slavery - why is it not condemned in the word of God in no uncertain terms?
To answer this question, we need to place slavery in context in the human experience. Almost every society, including our own, has had different classes emerge. Today, for example, we have a "middle class," those described in the Scriptures as having "neither poverty nor riches." We may travel "first class" in the better seats at the front of the plane. In earlier societies, these "class distinctions" were more marked. Wealthy landowners had their own servants. At that time (before unemployment insurance, social security and Medicare)- it was not necessarily a disadvantage to be a bondservant to a wealthy landlord. If the landlord was benevolent, he provided for his servants, looking after them even into their old age and in times of illness. Many of the parables of the Lord Jesus are based on such a relationship between the "Goodman of the house" and the servants in his charge. (Luke 12:41-48; 14:15-24; 15:17-19; 16:1-13; 19:12-27; 20:9-16) In its most extreme form, this relationship between the householder and the servants took the form of slavery - when the servants were in bondage, indentured for life to the master of the house, owned by him without any rights of their own.
In patriarchal times certain members of the household were "bond-servants" and others were members of the family. There were rights and privileges for the family members that were not available to bondservants. The greatest single difference was that family members were heirs of their lord's estate but the bondservants had no entitlement to it. Under the Law of Moses, Israelites could not be taken as bondservants, but those of Gentile nations could be. (Leviticus 25:44)
Those Israelites who were taken into a household as hired servants were assured of gaining their liberty in the year of jubilee and they had the right of redemption - that is, they could pay money to gain freedom again. An Israelite could voluntarily choose to become a hired servant for his entire life. (Deuteronomy 15:16,17). In Old Testament times, most of those who were in the position of bondmen were those who were taken captive in war. Such a fate befell many of the people of Israel who survived the fall of Judea to the Romans in A. D. 70 - as the prophecies foretold, they were sold as slaves. (Deuteronomy 28:68)
The Bible condemns abuses against bondservants in the most emphatic terms (Leviticus 25:53) but it does not explicitly condemn the practice of a householder having servants. Those who traded in slaves (the meaning of the term "men-stealers" in the KJV translation of 1 Timothy 1:10) and those who exploited them (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1) were both soundly condemned in the writings of the apostle Paul.
Why did the word of God not demand the freedom and rights of all men? God has revealed a system by which freedom will be granted to all that believe and obey, not simply a freedom from the oppression of one's fellowman, but a greater freedom. We have the hope of being freed from the curse of sin and death, being granted eternal life in God's Kingdom.
God has intervened in the course of history to provide deliverance from slavery - the feast of the Passover each spring commemorates the release of the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. The Scriptures teach that "in Christ" there is neither bond or free - that is, class distinctions do not matter in the service of Christ. (Galatians 3:28)
The Scriptures emphasize that the status or rank of an individual in this life will have no bearing on his judgment by Christ - there will be no respect of persons. In fact, the teaching of Christ is that we should not be anxious over our "class" when we are called to Christ: "Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; Likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant...Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." (1 Corinthians 7:21-24). The important thing was not whether brethren were bond or free but how they used the circumstances of their calling for the glory of God and the service of Christ.
It was not God's purpose that His servants would fight (John 18:36) - they would not fight to oppose the tyranny of men nor seek to bring about changes in human society through violent revolution. Thus, the institutions of the Roman Empire were taken as they were. This lack of opposition by force does not mean that God approved of the form of government in practice by Rome. Similarly, the fact that Paul accommodated those who believed in slavery as it was practiced in the Roman world does not mean that he or God condoned the institution. The word of God provided ample instruction for regulating the relationship between masters and servants, to prevent abuse and inhumanity.
The practice of having servants is in an amoral relationship. It is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It depends on the form that the relationship takes. An abusive, exploitative, froward master is as displeasing to the Lord as is a bondservant that is unfaithful, dishonest and unwilling to work. With homosexuality it is not so. It is intrinsically an immoral relationship - there are no circumstances in which it can be construed as good. It is abhorrent in all forms and at all times and contrary to the law and will of God.
The practice of masters having servants over the course of human history has taught the human race many lessons. Many figures occur in the writings of Paul; Sin is depicted as the master slaveholder and all those who yield to him as his slaves. We have a choice as to which master we will serve - whether of Sin unto death or Obedience unto righteousness. (Rom. 6:16)
One of the great ironies of the human experience is that most men, when given the choice between slavery to sin and freedom in Christ, choose slavery. Homosexuality itself is a form of slavery; it is slavery to the exercise of the passions of the flesh rather than to the will of God. Thus, the comparison to slavery, which modern apologists for Christian toleration of homosexuality are making, is not wise.