Slavery and Radical Christianity

“Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference.” (I Peter 2:18)

This is a scandalous statement.  As 21st century folk, the notion that the Bible says slaves need to accept their lot in life seems wrong-headed.  But, I want to put this in context and then explode it to the 21st century.

  1. Peter says in 2:9 he calls the members of the church a “royal priest hood, a chosen race, God’s own people.”  Then he says, “live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a pretext for evil.”  The church is a royal priesthood, God’s own, a chosen race and imagine who was hearing this…slaves.  He then says, “you are free people, but use that freedom for good.”  That is the precursor to “slaves accept the authority of your masters.”  When somebody is disrespected they may say, “You can’t treat me that way, I am a grown ass man.”  I think Jesus would say, use your maturity for building up not tearing apart.  Use the wisdom of manhood to bring goodness into the world and don’t rely upon the strength to prop oneself up. 
  2. Peter begins this section of his letter to the church with slaves.  This section is called a “household code.”  The rules for the house.  This was a common piece of writing in the ancient world.  Most of the time it was written to men, free men.  It was a way to keep the house in order.  Everybody had to be obedient to the men.  But, this code was written for and to slaves.  It meant in the house/oikos of the church, slaves were members.  They were not property but they were people.  They were a chosen race, God’s own.  Slaves had value in the life of the early church and were equal to the leadership of the church.  There was still patriarchy, but 50 to 70 years into the life of the church they are dismantling the human institutions including patriarchy. 

If we are to live out this notion that even slaves are welcome as equals into the church what does that mean for the 21st century.

  • People with homes and property are God’s own and welcome to the church.
  • Children have a place of value in the church and need to be heard.
  • Women can have leadership as joint heirs.
  • Sexual Orientation does not revoke a person’s being a child of God.
  • Nationality and ethnicity are not factors to being in the chosen race.
  • Disabilities and Special Needs do not limit one being God’s own.

In our world, where one is born and their gender matters a great deal.  In China, people want male children.  In some places in the world being LGBTQ is a sign of shame upon the family and God does not preclude grace from anybody.  For Peter, the role of slaves and wives was important because the suffering they felt at being less than was what Jesus felt upon the earth.  Jesus was not recognized as God.  Slaves were not recognized as humans.  Women as equals to men. 

This gospel of Jesus Christ affirms the humanity of all people.  Imagine if we had such a high view of humanity.  If we viewed people as creations of God not as competitors who are trying to get ours, how might we change our relationships.  Jesus broke through a wall of heaven to get to us on earth.  He risked everything to connect with you and me.  How much are you willing to risk to be like Jesus and connect with those around you. 

  • That neighbor whose dog craps in your lawn. 
  • That crotchety teacher at school.
  • The brother who offended you several Thanksgivings ago.
  • The daughter who made a wrong choice of spouses.
  • The kids with the baggy pants.

All are human and worthy of your love, because Christ died for them.  Am I embarrassed by what the Bible says about slavery?  No!  It tells me that even the one’s who are merely property are children of God.


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