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January 12, 2011

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Husband : wife :: parents : children :: master : slave?

That seems like a troubling parallel.

In the time of Paul, many viewed wives and children as property in a similar way as slaves were viewed as property. In this context is it revolutionary for him to write about "submitting one to one another" (Eph. 5:21).

The revolutionary implications of mutual submission is most evident in the Paul's advice to slave masters. After advising the slaves, Paul writes: "and you masters do the same things to them [the slaves]" (Eph. 6:9).

Paul's advice presupposes the existence of the system of slavery. At the same time, the advice Paul gives is grounded in principles that would over time undermine slavery.

These principles also undermine the ideas that children are the property of parents and that wives are the property of husbands.

Does the Gospel overthrow these social institutions or does it reveal that they are already overthrown?

David, it seems to me that: there is a sense in which the evil systems of the world are already vanquished “in principle” by Christ; and a sense in which they continue to exist and are to be ultimately destroyed at the end of the Great Controversy between good and evil.

It is also important to distinguish between, on the one hand, the God-given blessings of marriage, parenthood, and social systems; and on the other hand, the satanic distortions of wives, children, and slaves as property belonging to husbands, parents, and masters.

The gospel does not abolish marriage, but it undermines the concept of wives as property. The gospel does not abolish parenthood, but it undermines the concept of children as property. The gospel does not abolish the need for social systems, but it undermines the concept of slaves as property.

Is it we who behave in a manner which will make our society function properly by adopting wise habits for the proper care and feeding of husbands, wives, children and slaves or is it the Spirit at work in us that reveals that the social structures conjured up by this world are futile because they are still unable to create a utopian society? Are we in this world and of this world drawing the means by which to choose good over evil? If we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s we attribute to this world the reach of its grasp- futility and all which ends in dust. If we render to God what is God's we attribute the agency of true life and a joy that will not be destroyed. If only God is good then what is the good that we choose to do according to the virtues of this world? If like mathematical axioms and scientific facts we establish knowledge on what we develop then the product will always be what it has been . . . human = filthy rags. Your original questions are based on the author’s premise that Jesus and Paul worked within the “cultural constraints”. Are Jesus and Paul working within cultural constraints or do they render the cultural constraints the fetters of this world? Does Christ declare that we are of this world? Then why would He teach us to work like the world works? What if the message of the texts quoted is not a means by which we do good but the result of the Spirit of God working through us? The work will then not be bound within cultural constraints but reveal not only the futility of the cultural norms, but the true good that is done by God. Then wouldn’t Christ’s words be true that we will do greater things?

Isn’t Sin vanquished now? Isn’t it vanquished more than “in principle”?

David, I would say: (1) Sin is vanquished in principle by the personal victory of the resurrected Christ. (2) Sin is now being vanquished in the lives of believers through Christ. (3) Sin will be vanquished by Christ so that sin, sinners, and Satan will no longer exist.

I agree with you that Jesus does not teach us to work as the culture of the world works. He teaches us to be counter-cultural. That’s why Paul’s teaching undermines the concepts of wives, children, and slaves as property (which was then the cultural norm).

Like you, I don’t think Jesus and Paul were “constrained” by culture. But they did live and work in a specific cultural context.

With regard to the Spirit, I do not think that we have to choose between whether we work or the Spirit works. We can be workers together with God!

By comparing wives to slaves, it's crazy that any women who live by the bible would ever want to get married. Slavery does not sound like a very good principle of marriage. The bible God sure must not like women to much-to make them saves for all time. Even with a nice master, it seems kind of stifling to make none of your own decisions. To obey obediently, and do as your told. and if you are, your master may be nice to you.

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Memory, Meaning & Faith is a blog covering Christian history in light of contemporary issues.

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