Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Did Paul really command masters to serve their slaves?

By Pascal Radigue - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4966082
In Eph 6:5-9, Paul gives the following instruction:
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
What does Paul mean when he commands masters to “do the same things” to their slaves? Richard Bauckham (Cambridge) argues, “This can only mean: to render service to them, to serve them as slaves, as they do you.” Likewise, the Church father John Chrysostom explained the verse as follows: “[Paul] does not actually say, ‘do service,’ though by saying, ‘the same things,’ he plainly shows this to be his meaning. For the maser himself is a servant.”

Most scholars, however, find this interpretation simply impossible. Surely Paul could not have been commanding something so radical and countercultural! However, there are at least 4 strong reasons to conclude that the interpretation given by Bauckham and Chrysostom is correct:

1) This interpretation accords with the literal meaning of Paul’s words. Scholars who reject this interpretation are forced to conclude that Paul did not mean precisely what he said. 

2) This interpretation accords with the call for mutual submission with which Paul introduced the household code: “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (5:21).

3) This interpretation accords with the corresponding line of the parallel household code in Colossians: “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and equality” (Col 4:1). [As I argue in a forthcoming article for the Tyndale Bulletin, the common translation, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly,” is based on a misunderstanding of the Greek text.]

4) This interpretation accords with Paul’s teaching that Christians are to serve one another like slaves: “With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. ... Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave...” (Phi 2:3-7).

Notes: Bauckham, God and the Crisis of Freedom, 126; John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians 22.

Monday, March 27, 2017

How did the first Christians eat their food?

If you survey the English translations of Acts 2:46, there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this point:
  • Sharing their food with glad and humble hearts. (NET; also CHSB) 
  • They partook of food with glad and generous hearts. (RSV; also ESV, NLT) 
  • They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart. (NASB; also NIV) 
  • They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart. (NKJ) 
So which is it? Did the early Christians eat their food with humbleness of heart, generosity of heart, sincerity of heart, or simplicity of heart?

The problem here is that translators are unsure how to render the rare word ἀφελότης. However, this word is attested in a few places in the extant Greek literature, and it always means “simplicity.” Furthermore, the ancient Latin and Syriac translations of the Greek render the term with words that mean "simplicity." Modern translators evidently don’t think “simplicity” makes much sense in context, but as I argue in a recent article, Luke was influenced in this passage by Greco-Roman conceptions of a primitive utopia which valued simplicity and sufficiency over extravagance and luxury. Thus the use of ἀφελότης as “simplicity” makes perfect sense in this context (see page 36-37 for a detailed discussion on the translation of ἀφελότης).

As I reflect on contemporary culture, it seems that much of our eating involves anxiety and expense. Affluent moderns in the West seem increasingly worried about how their food will impact their health, and they are willing to pay more and more to ease their minds. Of course, health is a valid concern, but let’s not forget that it’s OK to eat your food with “gladness and simplicity of heart.”