Sunday, 25 September 2011

John Byron on Slavery Language in the Bible

This got quite a bit of press from bibliobloggers last week, but I’ve only just managed to catch up with it.

Byron takes his cue from a clip of a discussion by members of the ESV Bible translation committee on how to translate ‘slave’ in the Bible. Byron’s comments are less addressed directly to that discussion per se, and more helpful on slavery in the Bible more generally.

The main thing I came away with was the sense that, as Byron puts it, ‘being a slave was rarely, if ever, a good thing’ – in both the Old and New Testament periods. I mention this only because of a tendency I have sensed in recent discussions to present Roman slavery in a positive light (especially as compared with, say, the forced slavery of particular races of people that we are familiar with from more recent history). As Byron says, however, ‘it is important to remember that slavery, in whatever form or time period, is not a positive experience for the enslaved’.

Of course, this makes Paul’s reference to being a ‘slave/servant of Christ’ all the more significant, with Byron suggesting that ‘in those places where Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ” he means a slave that is “owned” like a chattel slave, not a servant’.

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