Paul, Slaves, and the Church: How the Gospel Creates a People Passionate for Love and Justice

museum of the bible

In Washington, D.C. the Museum of the Bible has an exhibit tracing the impact of the Bible on slavery, and the impact of slavery on the Bible. Tragically, as the artifact above reveals, slave holders invited God’s judgment on themselves (see Revelation 22:19), in order to control their slaves and defend their institution of slavery.

In another exhibit, Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves/Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ”)  is cited as one verse among many that were used out of context to control God-fearing slaves. In reading this verse by itself, you can see how it could be misused to do horrendous damage. But how should we understand this verse? Did Paul condone slavery? Are his words to be ignored, rejected, or attributed to some cultural blindness of his day? Why didn’t he speak against slavery?

To be sure, questions like these need answering. But denying the veracity of God’s Word, as some like to do, is not the answer. Rather, we need to understand Paul’s words in their historical context and how his commitment to the gospel both liberated individuals from slavery to sin/death/hell and, in time, led to emancipation for slaves across the Mediterranean.

To get at his historical context, lets consider two questions:

  1. What did slavery look like in first century Ephesus?
  2. What did Paul think of slavery?

By getting a handle on these two questions, it will help us understand Paul’s words and how his witness shows how far pro-slavery Christians deviated from God and his Word. At the same time, by considering Paul’s unswerving commitment to the gospel, we will see how that message (alone) forms a foundation for all genuine pursuits of love and injustice, liberty and emancipation. Indeed, by understanding more clearly the way the gospel works, we can see more clearly the wisdom of God, the goodness of Paul’s words, and the reason why he, as God’s chosen apostle, addressed slaves and their masters as members of Christ’ church, rather than a class of people suffering under an unjust system. Continue reading

The Future Orientation of Salvation in the New Testament

samuel-zeller-358865When you think of “salvation” is it a past, present, or future reality?

If we let Scripture shape our thinking and the answer we give, it is surely all three. The elect of God have been saved (past tense) when they received and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8). At the same time, those who have been saved are also being saved (see 2 Corinthians 2:15) and one day will be saved (Romans 13:11).

This way of thinking is not uncommon in biblical Christianity. As it is often framed, Christians are saved from the penalty of sin (past), the power of sin (presence), and will be saved from presence of sin (future). Each temporal aspect is true and cannot be divided from the other, but are they of equal stress in the Bible? Does Scripture place greater prominence on one aspect of salvation above the others? I believe so.

In seminary I read the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance by Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday. In their book, they show how the New Testament emphasizes a future orientation for salvation. That is to say, while salvation is a past, present, and future reality, it is the future aspect that is most often described and discussed.

This revelation surprised me, and I bet I’m not alone. Protestants are people who like to hear testimonies of someone “got saved.” We say things like: “At youth camp, 15 teens were saved.” And we like to ask questions like: “When you were saved?” All in all, while we may know that salvation has a future orientation, that is not the emphasis most evangelistic Christians seem to put on it. And that, I believe, is a problem. Continue reading

Six Biblical Evidences for a Covenant in Creation

covenantA few years ago, Crossway Books began a series called Short Studies in Biblical Theology. These books are wonderful introductions to various topics on biblical theology. So far they have included,

Most recently, I read Tom Schreiner’s book on covenant, where in 120 pages he unpacks in plain language the biblical covenants from the covenant in creation to the new covenant in Christ. While the whole book is worth reading, I found his discussion on the first covenant a helpful introduction to God’s with mankind mediated through Adam, what some have called a creation covenant.

Six Evidences for a Covenant in Creation

On this disputed understanding of Genesis 1–2, Tom Schreiner summarizes six reasons for seeing a covenant in creation. While his work does not delve into the technical aspects of the debate, his clear presentation should give the reader a strong biblical case for seeing God’s creation in covenantal terms.

Here is a summarized version of his list with a few reflections on his points. Continue reading

Biblical Theology: Word-driven, Kingdom-focused, Christ-centered

One month into my blogging at Via Emmaus, I have begun to consider, what is the overall aim and purpose of my writing. Why do I take time to sit at an impersonal computer screen and write thoughts that may never be read? If they are read, will they simply be deconstructive arguments against the fallen world in which we live, or will they be something more constructive and positive? Will they simply respond to events in the world at large and my world in particular, or will they endeavor to offer something substantive? Will they be an exercise in simply cataloging ideas from my studies at Southern and the array of weekly readings I am assigned, or will they offer anything fresh? Will they be a follow-up to lessons I have taught and/or sermons that I have preached, or will they consider other relevant matters of biblical thought? Well, perhaps they will include some or all of these elements, but as I have thought about it this week, I think the focus is becoming more clear. And my hope is to consider more intentionally a Word-driven, Kingdom-focused, Christ-centered Biblical Theology and how this vision of redemptive history and the gospel call intersects all of life.

Prior to coming to SBTS, Biblical Theology was a subject matter that I enjoyed and considered often. Since arriving in Louisville in 2004, it is something that has grown and developed–perhaps more than any other area of discipline in my academic life. Taking classes with Drs. Russell Moore, Thomas Schreiner, and Steve Wellum has stimulated this kind of thinking; reading books by these professors along with works by Graeme Goldsworthy, Edmund Clowney, Wiiliam Dumbrell, Geerhardus Vos, and others many has contributed significantly to this growing passion. Biblical Theology and its intersection with the church, ministry, and daily living is something that interests me greatly and something of worthy of greater consideration.

For instance, most recently a friend of mine mentioned how he currently serves in a position of administration at an evangelical school. It is something that he enjoys as he continues his education, but it is not something he sees himself doing forever. Similarly, I am working in a position of administration at Southern Seminary. And in hearing his thoughts, which resonate with mine, the thought(s) arose: What is a biblical theology of administration? How does administration fit in the plan of redemption and in the world that God created? How does a school administrator at a divinity school carry out the Great Commission? In what ways can my daily service be improved by a biblical understanding and vision of administration? In short, what does the Bible say about administration? Who were administrators in the Bible? Certainly Joseph, Daniel, and the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6 served in such a capacity. Who else?

All that to say, thinking biblical-theologically about all these things helps me understand the life that God has given me, the world in which I live, and the nuanced application of how I can participate in the Great Commission, and how we together are to do church and proclaim the gospel. These are all things that interest me and hopefully will receive much more specific attention on this website. As the old adage goes, if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time. So in opposition to this danger, I take aim at thinking more about Biblical Theology and writing more intentionally about the subject.

May the Lord Jesus Christ be pleased to allow such conversation, discussion, and reflection on his all-wise plan of redemption–according to his Word, about His kingdom and His church, and for the glory of His name.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss