Monthly Archives: January 2020

Return of the Strong, not Strong-Arming, God: Four Kinds of Coercion From the Law

Edward Schroeder, devotee of Werner Elert, told J.A.O. Preus that God’s “immutable will” had to do with “God’s activity of judging and sentencing sinners that goes on and on,” and not the idea that “God’s rules and activities never change…” False — and let the dominoes, #FakeLutheranism, fall…

Bluntly put, Radical Lutheranism, otherwise known as #FakeLutheranism, is captive to two kinds of Satanic mimics of God’s law.


I had said not too long ago that I was going to do a post on three kinds of coercion and the other morning it occurred to me that I could do a post on four kinds of coercion instead!

This post, though heavy, will hopefully be clarifying for many, because I have asserted in the past that “the law of God cannot and must not be defined primarily in the sense of coercion (or wrath), as Werner Elert (and of course Gerhard Forde) insists that it be.”

I think what I have outlined below nicely lays out the issues at hand for serious Lutherans and other Christians as well.

First of all, I was inspired to write this post the other morning because I came across a line in R.R. Reno’s new book The Return of the Strong God’s: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West, that I think touches on the main concerns some Christians have about coercion (the Radical Lutherans figure in prominently here, but, given the most hated Bible verses in America, they are, of course, not alone). Here’s what is said in Reno’s new book:

If we vest our government with the power to organize society, we alienate our freedom to someone above us. There is great potential for abuse in this relationship, to say the least, and [Milton] Friedman makes the commonsense observation that “coordination without coercion’ is preferable to principles of social organization that require coercion. As Henry David Thoreau observed ‘The best government is that which governs least.’

Aristotle held a similar view, though he drew conclusions quite different from those of Friedman and the classical liberal traditions. Aristotle saw that a free society requires well-trained citizens that are habituated to seek what is just. The more virtuous the populace, the less coercion will be needed.” (p. 58)

Highly recommended, and highly anti-Radical Lutheran, reading.


And now, I give you four kinds of coercion…. (for some, it might be helpful to read this post along with this recent one, “God’s Relation to Kinds of Evil”):

Introduction: In the 1580 Lutheran Book of Concord, it notes at one point that the law need not “confuse the regenerate with its coercion” (VI:5). What does this mean? We need to unpack this, because, for the Christian considered in the concrete (i.e. according to the old and new natures), one kind of coercion from law makes sense in some contexts, and three other kinds of coercion never make sense.

All this said, the believer according to his new man never experiences instruction in the law as coercion. Period.  

It is the love of Christ, our Only Good and Strong God, which compels us!

CFL #1

This is especially true in the sense of the first kind of coercion that never makes sense for Christians vis a vis God’s law, which we will call coercion from law #1 (CFL #1). This is purely a psychological-sociological consideration of coercion, where the force of arbitrary threats alone is in view.

What do I mean, more specifically? This would have to do with one person insisting that another must do this or that not to protect or for any other good or purposeful reason, but primarily to establish one’s authority or even “hoped-for” domination…  In other words, letting someone know who is the boss!: “because I said so…” and “that is that!”…. The difference, then, has to do with threats of punishment that are truly made arbitrarily – and where, hence, offense would be taken precisely and only because of a violation of the Lawgiver’s arbitrary will

William of Ockham, effectively overturning much previous “knowledge”: “For Ockham, all talk of nature acting unconsciously for an end is pure metaphor… causal explanations of a mechanist sort alone are possible…. [he] opens the way to the purely empirical approach of Baconian science” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, p. 74)


This kind of concern seems to be everywhere these days as a consideration of power, force, and oppression dominate contemporary thinking and theorizing. That said, this concern in theology in particular (and arguably, this is where eventually the culture as a whole “catches the cold”) seems to arise from certain devotees of the “nominalism” of the 15th c. theologian and philosopher, William of Ockham… Very loosely, “nominalism” is the idea that languages do not necessarily deliver to us any ideas of enduring concepts connected with persisting things, but are rather first and foremost always about social conventions…

But how is that relevant to what we talked about above? Well, there was a long history of events leading up to Ockham’s thinking, and a pattern can be seen. The 11th and 12th century theologian Abelard, known for his adulterous affair with a student, contended that while intentions could be either good or bad, particular actions could not. Then, Duns Scotus became the first to argue that “[a]s Old Testament moral practice was preparatory, our present moral understanding may also be provisional, and for this reason God’s actual commands to us may differ from the Decalogue” (Holmes, Fact, Value and God, 71). Then, Ockham argued that if the world was not contingent, this would necessarily make God subject to any universal forms that were posited, and hence he desired to weaken all notions of “universal forms” through his innovative view of language…

CFL #2

This CFL#1 is the primary opponent of, and is to be compared with, coercion from law #2 (CFL #2), made out of concern for the beloved, as threats are made in coordination with [or in harmony with] everything that the Good Lawgiver has created (everything He makes is in accordance, of course, with His good character). In other words–and I am necessarily being very precise here in order to counter those who would attempt to fudge this–this form of coercion takes into account creation’s God-given intrinsic social and material limits/constraints, which are “built-in” for all creation trans-historically and trans-culturally, precisely in order to allow for things like trust, loyalty and love to grow.

Again, this talk of limits and constraint in the natural creation can be understood as coercion, even as the believer according to the new man never has the experience of feeling threatened or coerced. This explains not only how Adam and Eve could be told they would die without being threatened, but also explains how Jesus Christ, as true man, could grow in wisdom and knowledge by means of learning from men.

There certainly can be a difference in the attitude of the person issuing the warning! “You’d better watch out for this” vs. “Stop doing that or else.”

And here, quite possibly the most influential Lutheran theologian of the 20th century, Werner Elert—who I have criticized much and will continue to criticize in the future[i]—may actually offer a helpful perspective, at least helpful in the sense that it speaks to the needs strongly felt by contemporary materialists who come to realization that their beliefs are nonsensical….

“Nomological existence, being in the law (Rom. 3:19) or under the law (Gal. 3:23, 4:5), consequently also means that we are not at the mercy of an arbitrary authority, a blind fate, a chaos of accidental hit and miss; rather, with all other creatures, we too are subject to the lawfully ordered reign of God. Nomological existence, is, to be sure, existence in confinement, but the confinement need not be considered something negative, for as long as we are bound to this confined existence, it is also impossible for us to fall out of God’s order. Confinement, insofar as it represents being tied to something, is also security.” (14, Law and Gospel, translated by Edward Schroeder and published by Fortress Press in 1967).

Elert has more to say following this that is in fact wrong (see below), but at least here he makes a decent point.

That most all of the above is odious to our cultural and academic elites is probably obvious to most of us, but at one point in his book, R.R. Reno’s book drives this point home nicely:

[Italian “intellectual journalist” Gianni Vattimo says that] philosophy seeks ‘ontologies of actuality,’ which means outlining the context for philosophical discourse that makes sense [to the intellectual elites and vast majority of the population] here and now rather than discerning the permanent structures of human knowledge and experience. He does not argue that there are no such permanent structures, but he holds that seeking them invites metaphysical self-deceptions that get in the way of social progress.

One could say that Vattimo is a highbrow propagandist who engages in the politics of actuality. He does more than describe the current scene. He is a rhetorician who seeks to reinforce the post[-World War 2] consensus by making anti-totalitarian openness foundational. As a consequence, he serves as a reliable guide to the establishment sensibilities that predominate today. Vattimo is not a great thinker, but he helps us see the direction the intellectual winds are blowing (pp. 75-76).

Gianni Vattimo, whose “respectable” [today!] approach Reno explores.


CFL #3

Next, there is also a very subtle and Satanic mimic of CFL #2, which we will call coercion from law #3 (CFL #3). It says everything that CFL #2 says but also adds that not just some social practices, but creation’s social and material limits/constraints as a whole can gradually, and perhaps sometimes radically evolve, in accordance with the work of the Holy Spirit. In sum, this means that it is an illusion to think that creation has intrinsic “grooves” which persist trans-culturally and trans-historically.

Why do we do this? One reason, as I have noted in the past, we are at war with death, and it is indeed awareness of death (the wages of sin!) that, in part, fuels all that we are and do. We don’t like this finality, and want to believe that we can be more, go beyond this.

All men – the greatest and the least – are philosophers, involved in what Pierre Hadot (pictured) says involves “a total transformation of ones vision, life-style, and behavior.”

Perhaps we do this as “heroic individuals” (one thinks here of Nietzsche or Heidegger) or, more regularly, as communities… Piotr J. Malysz, in his article, “On Death, Dying, and Dying Well” (Lutheran Forum, Fall 2019), talks about how the late Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger, viewing humanity from an existentialist perspective (much like Elert above) saw human society as a whole as “a community in the face of death”:

[For Berger, society is] a collective articulation of a theodicy, through shared memory, ritual, and speech. Society is… an intentional undertaking that, through intellectual and material production, orders the physical world into a meaningful whole. So ordered, the whole, or what Berger calls the nomos, confronts us–as those who have been socialized into it–as an apparently inviolable and sheltering objectivity. Against its backdrop, underwritten, further, by appeals to the ultimate [that is, I believe, death and religion], we can then verify the meaningfulness of our lives, and the lives of countless generations before and yet to come. Berger, to be sure, stresses the sense of liberation that comes from ‘self-denying submission to the power of the collective nomos.’” (14, bold mine).

Peter Berger: A very Elert *and* world-friendly theory…

Again, one notes the distinct possibility here–with academic prowess like that of Berger’s–of falling off the other side of the horse…. where a kind of “nomological existence,” or “living by the law,” can take place without any consideration of trans-cultural and trans-historical laws (this, we also note, is very convenient for those who often do not, like Elert, find “traditional” confinement comforting but more often suffocating and limiting). And yet, in light of the testimony of the Scriptures, which has room for both changeable and unchangeable social and material constraints—and certainly givers clear direction as regards the latter—this kind of view never makes sense.

Clearly, this is also a view that has nothing to do with real law, that is the actual eternal law of God. This goes hand in hand with the recent three part series I wrote countering this, “American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good”

Also, please note this: The only reason we must speak about these matters in this particular way today is because of the Radical Lutherans who, perhaps unwittingly, are submitting to cultural currents at odds with Scripture (again, see that link right above). So for them, the law is almost exclusively understood by—and henceforth is defined in relation to—what it does in sinful man, not by what it is in its essence for man. When Elert says “…in the place of the coercive order of the law (and every law is coercive since it entails compulsion) there now prevails between us and God the freedom of the children of God (Gal. 3:23-4:7)” he does not speak, per Luther, about concepts and experiences that Adam and Eve would have been able to identify with at all…

“When Adam was first created, the law was for him not only something possible, but even something enjoyable. He rendered the obedience the law required with all his will and with gladness of heart, and did so perfectly.” — Martin Luther

CFL #4

So that brings me to coercion from law #4 (CFL #4), which is simply upholding coercion of the law #2 but also insisting that we do not do so out of knowledge, but fear and faith (note that to do this, however, would also be to chip away at the classical Lutheran definition of faith, which involves knowledge, assent, and trust).

This is another “Satanic mimic” of CFL #2 that disease-ridden Radical Lutheranism must cling to. Rightly concerned that Christians are not tempted to view God as performing CFL #1, as sinful human beings do, this view wants to embrace CFL #2 (not #3) even as it also wants to fudge on CFL #2 in the most subtle of ways.

True? “According to the Law the hope for reward and the fear of punishment are legitimate motives for the keeping of it.” — Werner Elert

Exhibit A here is from proto-Radical Lutheran Werner Elert. Here is a quote from him made in the context of discussing the classic Karl Barth-Emil Brunner debate from the 1930s:

…must it not be said that the law in fact also has to tell us ‘what we ought to do”? Do we not need divine commandments for our practical, societal, and political life? Yet this service, as we have already seen, the Decalogue can by no means perform for us. Emil Brunner, after extensive reflection and writing on the question of ‘what we ought to do,’ considers it necessary in his Justice and the Social Order to recur to natural law – and with respect to this question, this is a very noteworthy book. Precisely at those places where the decalogue touches upon human interpersonal relationships, it offers no prescriptions but only prohibitions. In his explanations of the commandments Luther elicited even from these prohibitions a positive side. But in his explanation of the words which accompany the First Commandment in the biblical text, and which he placed at the end of all the commandments, he gave an emphatic reminder that the Decalogue is a retributory law. This constitutes solid proof that he acknowledged no tertius usus without the usus elenchticus. But even if we could elicit from the Decalogue the desired information on all the practical questions of our life, the practical conclusions which we would draw form them would still be human conclusions, burdened with the same dubious character as all human decisions. The prohibitions on the Decalogue designate the danger zones in our life and in the life of society where evil threatens to break in, and indeed does break in, time and time again. Thereby they also designate the line of battle along which, according to Romans 13, the authorities exercise their official power to restrain evil. But whether God demands a government constituted in a particular manner, and which one that might be—this we are not told. No matter how eager we are to be obedient in our inquiry after the will of God at this point, the risk of decision is, ultimately, our own responsibility. All works that are performed in faith are ventures that entail a risk. With none of our decisions can we stand before God with the claim that any of them conforms to the law; as always our only hope lies in the promise of forgiveness (Law and Gospel, 46).

Note also this quote from his Structure of Lutheranism:

Only sinners belong to the Lutheran Church: not willful sinners, to be sure, but penitent sinners — yet always only sinners, who in this life can never be anything else …. What its members do or do not do, miss or do not neglect, in an ethical respect belongs in the domain of sociology and has nothing at all to do with the nature of the church. The evangelical human being is answerable for this, not the evangelical church. At best, the evangelical church is answerable indirectly, insofar as it owes the individual the gospel, which engenders his faith and thus becomes indirectly perceptible in the ethical dynamic (363).

(and see #15 here: That is some insidious stuff)

Elert knew why all of this would be appealing to American Protestants and even Lutherans:

The medieval church, however, laid claim not only to the position of religious mediator between God and men. She is, in her intention and in her structure, a creation resembling the state with a central authority (head) — the prototype of a totalitarian and authoritarian imperialism. She is authoritarian, because she tries to direct all the areas of life — political events, the entire social and economic order, and the family even on down to its most intimate transactions. She lays claim to compulsory power over all who want to be Christians, and she puts this into practice against all those who oppose her. She lays claim to a cultural monopoly and to a great extent she has it. Her goal is to rule the world. The Reformation was unsuccessful in completely setting aside this system, but it did succeed in cracking it open and making it null for a broad portion of Christianity (1953 Elert essay in Seminarian:

I don’t have time to go into all of the things that are either wrong or telling about these statements right now, but I hope you get the sense from a quote like that that something is not quite right, and that the apples and oranges are getting confused.  

The love of Christ [as *Creator* and Redeemer] compels us….” — the Apostle Paul.


In any case, when it comes to being practical about this (hey Matthew Garnett, take note!), Professor Peter Scaer pretty much shows us the way in a recent Facebook post called “The Future of Lutheranism”:

Today, we heard a stirring lecture from a Swedish pastor and church leader, a faithful man in a church of profound unfaithfulness. He noted how Bo Giertz was right. With the ordination of women, everything changed, including and especially the theology. What’s left in Sweden is not much, but a leftist social institution.

So also here. Our challenges are great in the LCMS. So far, we have held off women’s ordination. But, if we do not speak clearly about the theology of the Secular Left, we are doomed to the ash heap. Who will believe our talk about Christ and the church when we cannot take a stand on earthly marriage, or stand with those who do? Who will believe us when we say that Jesus is the Lord of Life, when we can’t muster up enough courage or gumption to walk and speak in defense of the unborn. Forget the God of creation, and throw away your catechism if you can’t say a word against the transgender gauntlet that denies such basic truth as male and female, and says nothing to protect the kids who are being used to promote such an agenda.

No, the gospel does not override the law, but instead, Christ fulfills it. And in that fulfillment of the law we see the new way of life into which we have been incorporated. The law, rightly seen is rightly loved, a positive fulfillment of God’s eternal will. The poison of radical Lutheranism threatens our enterprise, and must be vigorously resisted and exposed. If we do not take what are casually and mistakenly called social issues, we will not have a church to defend. It will all fall apart, and rightly so.

“The poison of radical Lutheranism threatens our enterprise, and must be vigorously resisted and exposed.”

Folks given to these matters: know your stuff. Yes, read Elert. But read even more the Scriptures, Luther, Chemnitz, and Gerhard.



[i] Elert looked at things like Genesis 1 as myth. Herman Sasse comments:

“… it is incredible how the modern dogmaticians themselves are unclear as to what this renunciation of the fall into sin means for all of Christian doctrine. W. Elert himself, who absolutely does not want to deny ‘that all sin is interconnected and that this interconnectedness points to a uniform source’ (Der christliche Glaube: Grundlinien der lutherischen Dogmatik, 2 nd ed. [Berlin: Furche, 1941], 320), demythologizes, as one calls it today, the sayings of Scripture concerning the fall in such a way that hardly anything is left. He criticizes ‘the old dogmaticians,’ because they, ‘following ancient teachers of the church, equate the snake with the devil…’”

Gerhard Forde would have been in complete agreement with Elert on this point, going so far to say that the Fall into sin really has no relevance at all (see this post for more detail).

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Posted by on January 30, 2020 in Uncategorized


God’s Big Tent (sermon text and video)


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”


“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the

earth.” — Isaiah 49



Brothers and sisters in Christ, Christians are different.

“For in [Christ Jesus],” Paul says to the Corinthians…, “you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge.”

Christians have had very important things revealed to them… unveiled… (actually, the book of Revelation means “Apocalypse” which means unveiling)

And it is no small thing!

Here on earth, being “in the know” about what is going on is something we all want. This might be one way that “knowledge is power” as they say….

It’s nice to know where we are going. It’s nice to know the plan. The mission. Maybe even the strategy or tactics…

Have you ever wondered why so many companies and organizations today have “mission statements”?

Well, Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable tells us that “The expression [‘mission statement’] is of American origin”

And that,

‘Mission’ here carries deliberate associations of vocation or even a religious calling, as well as simply denoting an intention.”

And here is another thought. Walt Disney Corporation’s mission might be ‘to make people happy’ and “Google’s mission might be ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’”, but what — especially if “mission statements” mimic religious callings — is God’s mission statement?

I personally think this is a fascinating question, and am still trying to figure out why no one has written a popular book on the topic (I might have to do it).

After all, we heard this morning, God definitely has His purposes. He definitely takes aim when in Isaiah we read of someone of whom…:

he made [] into a polished arrow

    and concealed [] in his quiver.

3 He [says to that one], “You are my servant,

Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

Based on that passage from Isaiah, it seems that in order to figure out any mission statement of our Lord, it definitely makes sense to look at what this servant said….

And, interestingly, we are told in the New Testament that this servant, who is the Messiah, is Jesus, and that He was remarkably specific….

Luke 9:51 sets the stage: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven”, we are told, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

Why? Well…

  • In Matthew 20:28 Jesus says, “….the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (see also Mark 10:45, John 13:1-17)
  • In Luke 19:10 He states, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
  • In Mark 2:1 He informs us: “”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (see also Luke 5:32 and Matthew 9:12)

And when He arrives at Jerusalem, as that appointed time approaches, we see His struggle with His mission….

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12)

And, of course, let’s not forget what Jesus said earlier in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This, my friends, is the core of the Apocalypse! That which has been unveiled by God… to us.

This is the plan… the goal… the mission.

Paul unpacks this a little bit more in the book of Ephesians:

7I[, Paul,] became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms….


Interesting. But why, we might wonder, must the plan unfold just like this?

Why did Jesus Christ have to come and die like He did?

As I noted a few weeks back, the answer is right there in John 3:16: because as fallen human beings, we perish…. We die.

Physically and spiritually.

The answer to the “why” is because of our sin and its weight, its heaviness.

Because the wages of sin is death. That sin, our sins, are really the only reason that you or I will die.

Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, and we, infected to the core as “children of wrath,” continue in their train…

Born without fear, love, and trust in God, we are a treasonous people, all of us.

So in order for us to be rescued, someone–and not just anyone–needed to take our place. To live the life we were called to live but did not. To pay the price for our rebellion.

In order to save us, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, had to die. There is no forgiveness, we are told, without the shedding of blood.

The heaviness of the world’s sin required the heaviness of not just any death, but God’s own death.

This morning we heard John the Baptist say,

“‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”[a]

John knew that this was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…. (not just God’s chosen poeple, the Jews!)

And how did he know this?

Because he knew the outlines of the plan. He knew the outlines of the mission.

With faith in the One True God, he had the knowledge, the wisdom, that the Old Testament brought him. 

John the Baptist was set apart because He knew and believed the prophecies about the Messiah, the miracles and mission that would set Him apart


Let’s look at that a bit more….

How does what we have spoken about above relate to what the prophet Isaiah was saying in that portion of the Old Testament text that I began this sermon with?

Well, let’s look at the passage again:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”   

God was not just interested in the Jews. He is not just interested in us. Not even just His church as a whole.

He desires that His salvation would reach the ends of the earth.

So, as Jesus said not long after crying out “save me from this hour” after entering Jerusalem, He also boldly proclaimed “When I am lifted up from the earth [point: there…] I will draw everyone to myself…”


And how, really, could we have ever thought it was about anything else?

Health and wealth?

Material prosperity?

Our best life now?

Our comfortable little social club church?

Or, even, slightly more spiritually, the salvation of the chosen few He’s preserving for the life to come?

No — “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob!”

He always wants more because He loves all men and women.

He wants the world!

And, why, this is even what the 10 commandments do! 

They proclaim His provision, His care, His goodness.

They exalt Him! As we heard the Psalmist say:

Many will see and fear the Lord

and put their trust in him.


None can compare with you;

were I to speak and tell of your deeds,

they would be too many to declare.

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—

but my ears you have opened[c]—

burnt offerings and sin offerings[d] you did not require.

7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—

it is written about me in the scroll.[e]

8 I desire to do your will, my God;

your law is within my heart.”

9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;

I do not seal my lips, Lord,

as you know.

10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;

I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.

I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness

from the great assembly.

Why obey with heart and mouth and life?

Why be different? Because we want, we pray, that we might, somehow, be able to communicate the words and deeds of our Lord Jesus…

The One who perfectly fulfilled the law for our sakes and brings us new life!

As Paul put it in the book of Philippians:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

The Psalmist delighted to proclaim God’s goodness to “the assembly”… How can we not want bigger and wider assemblies?

To go with a biblical image, our tent is too small!:

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.”


Just as Jesus gathered disciples during His earthly life, He still does today through the proclamation of His great deeds!

“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.”

This is such good news, you know?

Here, we should also think about the prophet Jeremiah saying “[God’s] word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

Or the Samaritan woman at the well! Saying to her neighbors “ He told me everything I ever did,” and many of them believing in him because of her testimony… (John 4)

Or the Apostles in the book of the Acts, filled with His Holy Spirit and saying “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Again, “Enlarge the place of your tent!”

This is why your Lord came.

He desired all people to come to a knowledge of the truth and came to seek and save all who were lost!

…to invite sinners from the East and the West, good and bad, to the feast!

Just remember these things when you hear that some pastor somewhere said something like “Its not your job to tell others about Jesus. That’s my job.”

He might be called to preach every week and be the public face, the visible figurehead, of the church’s message, but when any man says such things, does he sound much like Martin Luther when he says this?:

The Word of God is not yet as powerfully at work as it should be and as we wish it to be. We have no one else to blame for this than ourselves: We are too lazy to ask God for sharp arrows and burning coals. He commanded us to ask for his kingdom to come and his name to be hallowed, that is, we should ask for his Word and Christendom to increase and grow strong. However, because we leave things the way they are and do not ask earnestly, people are so lazy and the arrows are dull and tired; the coals cold and raw; and the devil does not fear us yet. Therefore, let us wake up and be eager. The time is now. The devil plays his dirty tricks on us everywhere. Let’s prove something to him for a change and rain on his parade. Let’s get our revenge, that is, let us ask God without ceasing until he sends us enough ready soldiers with sharp arrows and burning coals.

Ultimately, though, any pastor’s message to his people should not be any different that what the Apostle Peter says:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Deep down, every one of us as a Christian has a desire to be available to God, because there is at the very least a spark of this desire to tell others about Jesus

….at the very least the ones we care most deeply about.

Again, don’t let the world, the flesh, and the devil intimidate you..

Just remember a wonderful passage like John 3:16, which some have called “the Gospel in a nutshell”…


The church of God is the body of Christ, and we live from this message. 

It alone can impart true spiritual life. 

This is why we, especially us Lutherans, speak of the supreme importance of the Word and Sacrament which communicate this to us.

You see, we were originally created to dwell in the midst of our God, to be in His presence, to even participate, Peter tells us, in His divine nature.  

In this closest of fellowship with Him, we have true peace, true joy, true satisfaction, and now, in a fallen world, true comfort in the midst of suffering.

So much so that Jesus does not hesitate to claim, “I have come that they might have life… and to have it abundantly….”

The love of God in Jesus Christ is our daily bread, our food.

Why attend worship with other Christians?

Why, for this, of course!

And this place… what is it?

I think the best analogy I can muster is that this is a military outpost led by our King Himself.

It’s equipped with a dining hall, classrooms, and medical quarters.

Here, we gather together eat with one another, sit at our Commander’s feet and learn, and to rest and be healed as well…

….Until we advance to the next level.

Here we are nourished, challenged, comforted, and encouraged by the love our God has for His whole creation, especially man, the crown of His creation — that’s you and me!

Its here He speaks to us together as His children and, in a particularly personal act of communication, communion, even gives us His own body and blood!

To eat and drink with our mouths….


Of course that is easy to doubt…. What? Come on preacher, we aren’t medieval peasants you know!

Well, always remember what Isaiah says. He tells us that the Lord says of “the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel” that He was “the servant of rulers”….

The One who “was despised and abhorred by the nation….”

Always remember–better, live from the knowledge!–that our Lord, during His life, was not as impressive as some thought He should be.

In like fashion, things like the Lord’s Supper are mocked and despised.

But people don’t realize what it means for sinners to be in the presence of One so holy!

They don’t realize that He comes to us as He does–not in great shows of power but veiled, in simple and humble ways–so that we will not be completely terrified!


Undone…. like Isaiah.

Because we are sinners, such terror before the Unveiled God is fitting. Fear not the one who can kill the body, but body and soul in Hell.

And yet, what does He do?

He sends His servant to speak gentle and tender words to us: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That “you” by the way, is second person plural throughout our Epistle reading for today — Paul means to say this to everyone in the congregation he writes to…

And remember this: is this the Corinthians Paul is talking about! Do you know what they were like?

You want to talk about sinners? 

If anyone deserved to be terrified, we reason…–if anyone did not deserve to be comforted–it was them!

So what does the Apostle Paul know about the Corinthians that we don’t?

More like: what does He understand about God that we haven’t quite grasped?

No, Paul is much harsher with the law-fixated Galatians,* who had messed up the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ…. John 3:16 stuff…

The fact of the matter is that there must be something powerful and awesome among God’s people for Him to speak so hopefully about them!

And there is. 

Again, we know that just hearing the Word of God is nourishing. We listen and say “Amen – this is true” and we are sustained. Satisfied.

But we get cynical or we forget how good it is. We say, “Well, what good is it? How many sermons do I remember anyways?”

But how many meals do you remember from the past few months as well? And yet, they were good and necessary, weren’t they?

Don’t deny the word! Don’t cast it aside!

Christians, don’t let your kids, don’t let your relatives, don’t let your friends, don’t let your neighbors or even your enemies see you not caring about it!

Why the curtain of the Temple has been ripped!

And the Presence of God goes forth for the Nations!

So behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

And yours as well!

Jesus looks at us and says “What do you want?”

We say: “Teacher, where are you staying?”

“Come,” he says, “and you will see.”

He’s here. 

In the simple Words. 

In the Water, the Bread, and the Wine. 

Rich in mercy and wonder-working power. 

For you.

And yours.

And the life of the world.



*While Paul writes “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” at the beginning of his letter to the Galatians as well, it then takes a harsher turn, and Paul says nothing like he does in I Corinthians 1:4-9:

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Posted by on January 20, 2020 in Uncategorized


Could Christians Have Slaves in New Testament Times? Today?

Is it even appropriate to speak about context here?


I know that even the title of the post will offend some, but if we are going to take the Bible seriously, the answer is not as obvious as you might think.

First of all, when you hear the word “slavery,” what is the first thing you think about?

I know where my mind goes. Nevertheless, in the ancient world, for example, it was not uncommon for highly accomplished persons to sell themselves as slaves. Some commentators of the New Testament, for example, believe that when Paul writes:

“Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.

…that last sentence is written particularly in order to discourage Christians from selling themselves into slavery! Their security was in the Messiah Jesus Christ, and not any earthly master! He would take care of their every need, and make them those who could increasingly help others!

“For all we can tell, enslavement and the slave trade constituted the principal means of geographical and (both upward and downward) social mobility in the ancient world.” — Scheidel


With this picture in mind, one can benefit greatly from watching the following short videos.

The first features the Christian pastor John McArthur, as, speaking about slavery, he maintains that “the Bible never condones mistreating anyone – not even an animal.” The second video features the evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem, as he argues that if the King James version of the Bible had translated a word in I Timothy 1 “enslavers” instead of “manstealers” (just kidnapping?) it would have changed the course of history (keeping in mind the work of Katherine Gerbner, I am not convinced that Grudem is correct here, even though it might be comforting to imagine this).

I’d also recommend, by the way, Pastor Jordan Cooper’s very helpful blog post on slavery, which appropriately begins,

“In the age of 140 character arguments and memes, we have sometimes lost the ability to structure a coherent argument to argue for any particular ideological position, and, instead, simply throw out short pithy statements to defend our particular perspectives…”





At the same time, as many of us know, even in Bible times many people undoubtedly did not want to be slaves! First and foremost here, we might think about what is arguably the most important story of the Old Testament. That is the Exodus, where God delivers his people Israel from slavery through the prophet Moses!

Then why, we might wonder, did God not speak more forcefully against slavery in the Old and New Testaments? Why does he, presumably in both, allow for slavery where one has been taken as a captive of war (note that scholars like Walter Scheidel basically argue that the Romans went to war at times in order to attain slaves)? Why does he not have his Apostle be more forceful with the Philemon in his efforts to make Onesimus free?

A completely unguided process?: ““Roman slave society stands out for the crucial importance of the direct link between Roman campaigning and slaving: to a much greater extent than other slave-rich systems, Roman elites relied on their own military forces to procure a captive labor force.” — Scheidel


I don’t have really good answers to these questions, and it is something I expect I will continue to wrestle with. In my series of posts about not recognizing all the ways that God is good, I stated the following:

“… the civil laws of the nation of Israel were specifically created for Israel, in order that they might be a showcase of sorts to the nations. Many of these laws were only “good” not in that they offered the closure of retributive justice, but in that they simply offered a weak and temporary restraint vs. evil, or “damage control.” And also note that “good” laws regulating divorce, for example, would not only have been absolutely inconceivable in Eden, but are also singled out for His disdain! Nevertheless, note that even as God “hates divorce,” He initiates it in the O.T. vs. His people. Contrariwise, also note that God never indicates that other kinds of things that could only be “good” in light of sin and/or the fallen world—like polygamy or owning others as property for example—are things that He hates, even if should not think for a minute that he likes them either.

Right after that quote was the following picture and caption:

How hard can they get? We don’t want to know.


In sum, I think that we severely underestimate how evil the hearts of men are or how bad things can get in the world. This passage from Isaiah comes to mind (chapter 3):

“I will make mere youths their officials;
children will rule over them.”

People will oppress each other—
man against man, neighbor against neighbor.
The young will rise up against the old,
the nobody against the honored.

A man will seize one of his brothers
in his father’s house, and say,
“You have a cloak, you be our leader;
take charge of this heap of ruins!”
But in that day he will cry out,
“I have no remedy.
I have no food or clothing in my house;
do not make me the leader of the people.”

And this one (chapter 4):

In that day seven women
will take hold of one man
and say, “We will eat our own food
and provide our own clothes;
only let us be called by your name.
Take away our disgrace!”

In such times, one might evidently find something like polygamy – or perhaps even being captured as a slave – to be a blessing.

Now, with all of this said, do not think for a minute that I am saying that any Christian should defend slavery as it was enshrined in the laws of the United States of America. It was wrong on a number of levels, with the most grievous one being that from the beginning it was a race-based institution. One’s skin color became the determinant of whether or not one was to be a slave. If you were in the group that had darker skin, you were “born to be a slave”.

When C.F.W. Walther, the 19th century founder of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, said that the United States government should “see to it that these godly rules [in the Old Testament about slavery] are observed, especially by authority,” I understand him to be making a quite forceful case against American slavery. Among the Old Testament passages Walther lists, one of them speaks about the death penalty for those who “mansteal” or enslave. “This we consider to be the true task,” Walther goes on to say, “of each Christian who lives in a land where slavery is lawful.”


So Walther did not call for the abolition of slavery, but the abolition of non-biblical slavery, which, admittedly, many would consider no abolition at all! Surrounded by many cultural and social pressures telling you that American slavery was fully biblical, what do you think you would have done?


As an American, its hard to avoid or not think about this issue and what it meant for Christians in the past and what it means for Christians today. That is why, at one time, I did a thorough exegesis of Ephesians 6:5-9, and I present it below for further thought and meditation:

Slave and Slavemaster, Unsettling Archetypes of Christ


 “The masters are not only types of Christ in his Lordship over the church but also in his submission to the heavenly Father.” – Tom Winger (670)

 “You are therefore to show favour to others, as ever you expect to find favour with him.” – Matthew Henry (718)

“…to him slaves are as precious as kings” – John Calvin (George, 397)


Smoothed Translation of Ephesians 6:5-9

Slaves, heed 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 wholeheartedly. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does he will receive this back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

And masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.


Surprisingly, understood in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, the concept of slavery has a lot to teach the Christian.

Consider that when it comes to our work in this world, there is, in spite of what our eyes might see, great meaning in absolutely everything that we do. As Christians we should recognize that we do not just have “jobs,” but rather “callings” – “vocations”! And the Apostle Paul says that even slavery should be understood as a calling from God! (see I Cor. 7) As human beings do what they are good at, enjoy doing, just do what “needs to get done”, or even serve as slaves, everything they do can be “acts of faith and worship….for the true Master” (Lincoln 426). And, doing it all “for the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17) means that we serve and work “as God’s masks” for the sake of our neighbors. Heil puts it like this: as we are caught up in this love and will of God “all things…grow to him, who is the head, the Christ (4:15), and thus further the plan of the will of God to unite under one head all the things in the Christ (1:9-10; cf. 1:1, 5, 11)” (268)! In short, we now exist, as did and does our Lord Jesus Christ, “for the life of the world.”

And consider Jesus Christ. Even as the Son of God came to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18), He did so by submitting Himself to His Father’s will, taking the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7) and being crucified, which was the punishment typically used for slaves and foreigners (Phil. 2:8). Paul, undoubtedly with Christ’s work lodged in his mind, calls himself the Lord’s δέσμιος, or prisoner (see, e.g., Eph. 3:1 and 4:1), and also does not hesitate to call himself and all Christians God’s slaves (δοῦλοι). In I Cor. 7:22, for example, he touches on both heavenly and earthly realities when he writes, “he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a slave of Christ”. In short, as the biblical commentator Peter Williamson puts it: “To be a slave of God and Christ is a great honor (I Kings 8:53; Neh 10:30; Dan 9:11; Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Titus 1:1; Rev 2:20; 10:7; 19:2: 22:6)” (185). Getting to the heart of the matter, he says “Christians can be called slaves of Christ because they were purchased by his blood (I Cor 6:19-20; 7:22; Rev 5:9) and belong to him” (Williamson, 185).

In sum, both the slave and the slavemaster are archetypes and icons of Christ (see Winger, 688-696), and contain for us this core message: by becoming a slave, Christ freed us from the truer and deeper slavery – our willing captivity to sin. Of the Israelites’ bondage to Egypt in the Old Testament, Winger says “their God had not simply set them free, but he had purchased and won them for himself” (690). The same, of course, is true for us who have been freed by Christ from the greater enemies – sin, death, and the devil. Because of His merciful descent and subsequent ascent in victory, we are caught up into His life as it becomes fully ours and ours his. And now, starting with marriage and continuing with children and slavery, “every relationship is transformed by discerning its typological character” (Winger 604). Every relationship is meant to “direct hearts and minds back to Christ, to unveil the eternal purpose of God that lies behind these divinely instituted earthly estates” (Winger, 605). As regards slavery, the message is particularly powerful: in Christ we willingly and gladly embrace everything our master commands us as we now find true freedom, a freedom for the life of the world.

But, oh, it seems to us today, what a price-tag comes along with these glorious truths! Why, for example, does the Bible not call slavery a sin? This is just one of the questions that will be indirectly explored as Ephesians 6:5-9 is unpacked (the author will, like every commentator he examined, begin and end each section of the paper in accordance with the traditional verse divisions handed on from the 16th c.). As will be seen, Paul is by no means saying that slavery as it has been practiced in the world is in accordance with God’s original plan or is not to be ultimately overcome. Before beginning our exegesis and more fully making this case however, let us first examine the variants that occur in this passage.


In verse 5, the order of the words “κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις” varies in some significant manuscripts, including papyrus # 46. The given text, however, has the Greek Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus in its favor. Whatever the case may be, all indications are that the meaning of the text remains the same. In that same verse, the word τῆς is also omitted by Sinaiticus and some minuscules, another variant which evidently would have few if any possible interpretive implications. Verse 7 is also missing the ὡς in some manuscripts (D2, K, L, etc.), which would have the effect of “rendering service” not “as to the Lord” but “to the Lord” without consideration of the slavemaster. Again, the textual reasons for making this change are not strong. Finally, in verse 8, the 27th (and 28th) edition of the Nestle-Aland text starts as “εἰδότες ὅτι ἕκαστος ἐάν τι ποιήσῃ ἀγαθόν,” citing Vaticanus and the Latin manuscript “d” as its only witnesses, whereas the SBLGNT edition edited by Michael W. Holmes has ὃ ἂν in the place of the ἐάν τι. The fact of the matter is that, in the place of the “ἕκαστος ἐάν τι” found in the 27th edition, there is a wide variety and confusing tangle of phrases used here in a variety of less significant mss., e.g.: “εκαστος ὃ ἐάν,” “εκαστος ἐάν,” “ὃ εκαστος,” and “ὃ ἐάν τι εκαστος” (and including the ποιήσῃ in the controverted phrase, the 28th ed. produces three additional variants!). What is found in the SBLGT edition (again: “ἕκαστος ὃ ἂν) is attested to in a number of Greek Codices including Alexandrinus, D, and F (Sinaiticus is missing the and transposes the other two words), as well as several miniscules, and would be translated “knowing that whatever good anyone does”. What is found within the 27th edition would be translated “knowing that if ever anyone does good,” rendering what amounts to an identical reading. Either is acceptable, though this paper chooses the text in the SBLGT edition.

Fearful and Sincere Obedience to Earthly Masters – as to Christ!

Οἱ δοῦλοι, ὑπακούετε τοῖς [a]κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου ἐν ἁπλότητι τῆς καρδίας ὑμῶν ὡς τῷ Χριστῷ,

“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…”

The early church father Ambrosiaster writes that in fulfilling this command by faith,

“…this will have the effect of inciting all the more the minds of unbelievers toward the worship of God. They will see by our behavior that our religion is both righteous and humble. Then, as masters see their slaves become more educated and more faithful in rendering service, they will see with what light reins true religion exercises governance in human affairs. So, when servants for their part notice the increased kindness of their masters they will be similarly moved to more avid faith” (Edwards, 193).

Without a doubt, words like these raise eyebrows in 21st century Western—and especially us American—Christians. What does Ambrosiaster—and the Apostle Paul!—mean? Here, some information on the background context will perhaps be of some real help to us.

First of all, what we have here in Ephesians 6:5-9, and in fact from 5:22 until 6:9, is a Haustafel, that is a “household code,” which was common in the Greco-Roman world.[1] Second, as Theodoret writes, Paul addressed slaves here because they were everywhere in the early church (Edwards, 193). In fact, the Roman economy was based on slave labor with as many as one third of the population participating.[2] Importantly, slavery was not based on race; rather “people became slaves by owing debts they were unable to repay, by being captured as prisoners of war, or, most commonly in the first century, being born slaves” (Williamson, 185).[3] Furthermore, both the status—as slaves could be physicians, architects, scribes and teachers there was no “slave class” (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 327, in Merida, 159)—and the “living conditions of slaves varied depending on their work and the status of their masters” (Williamson, 185). Arnold notes that many also received education from their masters, were paid for their work, and “a great number of slaves could both expect to be released by the time they were thirty years old” and gain Roman citizenship (420-421). Lionel Casson talks about how this was especially true of the slave who did “white collar” work (Merida, 160). Nevertheless, slaves has few actual “rights” they could legally claim; considered the property of their masters, they had “no legally sanctioned marriage or family bonds” (they could not legally keep their own children born to them while slaves, and could be separated from spouses), could own no property[4] (Arnold, 422), and their lives were literally in the hands of their masters (Williamson, 185).[5]

Given the socio-economic context, it is readily apparent that some slaves might be provoked to be “duplicitous, resentful, and cunning” (Arnold, 422), and yet Paul, amazingly to us, writes as he does. What surprises us however is not the same thing that would have likely surprised his original audience. In a homily on Ephesians 6:5-8, Chrysostom states that though slaves are “last in dignity and rank,” Paul nevertheless “addresses them at great length,” and urges patience to them in their “brief earthly submission.” “Given the context of Roman slavery,” Arnold argues, it is Paul’s willingness to address slaves at all that is remarkable (422)![6]

Chrysostom goes on to say that “Whatever power their masters might have remains transient and brief and subject to the vulnerabilities of the flesh. All that is carnal is fleeting” (Edwards, 193). Thielman adds that the term “σάρκα” in this passage “subtly communicates that there is another ‘master’…, Christ himself, whose authority is greater than that of any ‘fleshly’ master” (405). Paul therefore, according to Chrysostom, does not make “this-worldly promises” to them, but rather “soothes their wounded souls” by instructing them to love wisdom and “point[ing] them directly to the world to come” (Edwards, 193).

The “Golden-Mouth” even goes so far as to make the case that Paul—in what, by our modern Western standards, would appear to be a colossal failure of “privilege-checking”—is attempting to identify with and become a “brother of servants, living himself the servant life, as they live.” Since Paul understands his task in “relation to the Son of God,” he is “not his own master.” Having also pointed out that wives are only called to “reverence” their husbands while slaves are also called to serve “in sincerity of heart…as if serving Christ!”—thus “heighten[ing] the expression”[!]—Paul, Chrysostom says, makes the case that the ministry is that much more powerful to “those who are already servants, more than to those who are free men” (italics mine):

“How much easier do they learn the life of obedience in their reverence for God.[] They are not entering into a lower status but into the highest status when they learn how to yield to their neighbor, how to become meek and how to be humble” (Edwards, 194).

If that does not give us enough shock to our systems, in Reformation times, Heinrich Bullinger says slavery, like owning wealth and other possessions, “is lawful” (i.e. in accordance with God’s law) even as Calvin states that they are now, that is in Reformation times, paid (George, 395). Christians, per Wolfgang Musculus, are “required to obey their earthly Lords,” save doing evil for them, according to Lancelet Ridely (George, 396). Calvin says that in Paul’s day some of the worst people were coerced by the threat of punishment, and that the Apostle distinguishes Christian slaves from these (George, 395). In general, “the way to handle the problems of servitude,” per Erasmus Sarcerius, is to remember that God both submitted to servitude and is “the author of it” (George, 396, italics mine). Matthew Henry curtly says that “[c]ivil servitude is not inconsistent with Christian liberty” (717).

At this point, perhaps with our heads left spinning in disarray, a brief exegesis of the passage is in order. When it comes to the slave-master relationship, the passage begins by addressing slaves first. Here, Paul, connecting “everything to the idea of headship” (Chrysostom), follows up the passages occurring immediately before this one where he urges, for example, wives to respect their husbands and children to “obey their parents in the Lord” (Edwards, 195). In connection with this, Thielman notes that the phrase “with fear and trembling,”[7] is used a few times in Paul’s letters (Phil. 2:12, 2 Cor. 7:15, I Cor. 2:3), each time, it appears, recognizing not fear of physical punishment, but rather the “subordinate and weak position that one occupies with respect to others” (405). Williamson tells us that “fear and trembling” refer to reverence before God or to the human beings God has placed in authority (see 2 Cor. 7:15; Phil. 2:12) (184), and Bruce informs us that “[t]hey were not to tremble lest anything unpleasant might happen to themselves, but lest their Lord’s name should be brought into disrepute through them” (123, 1974).

As regards slaves obeying “ἐν ἁπλότητι τῆς καρδίας,” Thielman notes that when “integrity” (ἁπλότητι) is coupled with “heart” (καρδίας) it indicates an “inner sincerity”: “there should be no division between the quality of the labor produced and that attitude of the one who produces it” – “with undivided service” as J.B. Lightfoot translates it (Bruce, 400, 1984; see Titus 2:9-10 here as well). Finally, as regards the “as to Christ” (ὡς τῷ Χριστῷ) at the end of this verse, Williamson notes that “this is a very high standard,” and that Paul repeats this idea three times in as many verses (184). “Why should slaves, obliged to serve against their will, give their masters whole-hearted service?,” he asks, before giving the answer: “Christian slaves in Ephesus were slaves of Christ” (184, 185).[8] Contra Thielman and Merida[9], Winger says of this phrase that the master plays a typological role: “This means not simply ‘as if you were serving Christ [contrary to fact],’ but ‘because you are serving Christ” (667, italics and brackets his)….  “heeding [lords/masters] is heeding Christ the Lord’” (673, italics). F.F. Bruce gets to the heart of why this is happening: “’….the fear of Christ’ in Eph. 5:21…will teach them to show due reverence and respect to their earthly masters” (400, 1984).

Before the World but in the Lord’s Will by Faith

μὴ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοδουλίαν ὡς ἀνθρωπάρεσκοι ἀλλ’ ὡς [b]δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ ποιοῦντες τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐκ ψυχῆς 

“…not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart…”

Arnold translates the term rendered “eyeservice” (ὀφθαλμοδουλίαν), perhaps a neologism coined by Paul, as “serving to be seen” (423). Thielman adds that the term “apparently appears here and in Col. 3:22 for the first time in extant Greek literature (as a search of the TLG confirms),” and says there is little doubt about what it means since Paul in both places uses the term with the phrase “people-pleasers” (ἀνθρωπάρεσκοι) (406). At the same time, Winger sees this term as being contrasted with the phrase “sincerity of heart” and says that it “more likely implies a service that is external, formalistic, and lacking honesty, but most important, lacking faith. It is the sacrifice of Cain in comparison with Abel’s (Heb 11:4)” (667, italics his). Of course, “serving to be seen,” and an insincere, faithless, external and formalistic service can easily be thought of as going hand-in-hand.

People-pleasing was despised even in Jewish literature just prior to the New Testament: “may the flesh of those who try to impress people (ἀνθρωπάρεσκων) be scattered by wild animals” (Pss. Sol 4:19; see also 4:1, 7, 8; Ps 53:5 [52:6])” (Arnold, 423).[10] In contrast to this, Christians should, with the “purest of motives” (Arnold, 423), “attend[] faithfully and conscientiously even to those duties which no one sees but God” (Stoeckhardt, 253). When Paul calls himself a slave of Christ in Galatians 1:10, he does this with a view to “contrast[] this with the notion of pleasing people” (Lincoln, 414). Matthew Henry and Arnold respectively bring things together for us: “A steady regard to the Lord Jesus Christ will make men faithful and sincere in every station in life” (717). For, “their ultimate indenturing is to Christ alone…they are ‘slaves of Christ’” (423). As Winger puts it, these earthly slaves should not see their earthly relationships “as definitive of their personhood, value, or self-identity,” for they are among those who are purchased by and baptized into Christ (667).[11] To switch metaphors, they are enlisted and conscripted for service to the Lord.

Looking at the second part of this passage and foreshadowing the themes Paul goes on to cover, Ambrosiaster says that as slaves serve God by serving their earthly masters, “they look toward the day of judgment, when all will be requited and all brought to final justice” (Edwards, 194). “ἐκ ψυχῆς,” or “wholeheartedly” in modern language, literally expresses “from the soul,” meaning “the part of the person that thinks and plans” (Arnold, 424). This, of course, hearkens back to the words of Deuteronomy often echoed by Jesus: “to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 10:12) (Arnold, 424). Chrysostom is in harmony here as well, pointing out that the goal is not merely to “serve sincerely and do nothing wrong,” but to so “with all one’s might,”  “out of ardor, not from necessity” or compulsion (Edwards, 194).

With the world’s idea of status and position in mind, he even goes so far as to say that “If you serve freely in this way, you are not a slave. If your service comes from your free choice, from good will, from the soul and on account of Christ, you are no slave” (Edwards, 194, italics mine).

Slavery to Christ: Audience of One

7 μετ’ εὐνοίας δουλεύοντες, ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις,

 “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men….”

Arnold gets us off to a helpful start here in this section, noting that the term εὐνοίας, according to BDAG, refers to “a positive attitude exhibited in a relationship” and is often translated “good will.” F.F. Bruce quotes J.A. Robinson, noting that “’with good will’… suggests a ready willingness, ‘which does not wait to be compelled’” (124, 1974). Interestingly, though it is quite common in Koine Greek, the term appears in the New Testament only here (Arnold, 424).[12]

Arnold says of the present participle “serving” (δουλεύοντες) that it is related to the main imperative that “serves over this entire section, ‘obey’ (ὑπακούετε) (424)[13] Here, Thielman is helpful, noting that Paul is saying that obedience to masters should “arise from their inner commitment to the Lord” (407). Matthew Henry says that “this…will make their service easy to themselves, pleasing to their masters, and acceptable to the Lord Christ… There should be good-will to their masters, good-will to the families they are in; and especially a readiness to do their duty to God” (717). Arnold wisely notes that “this way of thinking about their service will enable them to overcome the temptation to judge the motivations of their earthly masters, which might lead them to lose heart and serve begrudgingly” (424). Again, as noted earlier, Ambrosiaster has evangelism in mind, going so far to say that slaves who do this “may also tend toward the salvation of the master” (Edwards, 194).

Bringing everything together for us today, perhaps Williamson sums things up best when he rhetorically asks: “since Jesus will compensate [slaves—who ‘did not agree to their servitude’—]for whatever they do…how much more ought employees to do good work for those whom they have agreed to serve?” A similar modern application, he points out, can be made to modern employers. (187)[14] Arnold also rightly notes that “Paul’s instructions—all having to do with attitude, manner of service, and motivation—have equal applicability to a variety of authority relationships” (432).

Beyond Tit for Tat – the Divine Reward Irrespective of Privilege

εἰδότες ὅτι [c]ἕκαστος, ὃ ἂν ποιήσῃ ἀγαθόν, τοῦτο [d]κομίσεται [e]παρὰ κυρίου, εἴτε δοῦλος εἴτε ἐλεύθερος.

“…knowing that whatever good anyone does he will receive this back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 

This passage begins with the causal participle εἰδότες, and gives the reason for the clause which just preceded it. Arnold notes that “since the preceding clause… is a summary of the entire section (6:5-6) the motivation of receiving blessing is also tied to the main admonition of the section (‘obey’) and thereby relates to the whole series of thoughts on how to serve” (424) (again, note footnote 12). As he goes on to point out, the indefinite “something” (τι) (found in the 27th and 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland text) can also be translated ‘any’ and suggests that every single good deed that is done will be taken into account by the Lord” (424-425).

Arnold notes that the word Paul uses here (κομίζω) is not his usual word for receive, that is λαμβάνω, but rather a word “that implies receiving something as a recompense or reward” (425). Thielman expands here, stating that Paul now “gives the reason why the obedience that slaves give their masters should arise from the inner attitude of goodwill he has just described.” It is not likely mundane rewards provided to increase productivity and cooperation, but rather “the eschatological reward” or “repayment” described in biblical passages like 2 Cor. 5:10 (407-408).[15]

Speaking of this “eschatological treasure,” Winger goes so far to say that:

“…whereas a slave has no right to expect a reward from an earthly master to whom he simply owes his service, God is a gracious God who rewards both slave and free equally (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), sometimes in accord with what they have done (Mat 16:27; Rom 2:6), sometimes despite it (Ps 103:10), but always as he alone sees fit (I Cor 12:11). The slave can expect to be treated like a free man (and the free man like a slave!)” (669, italics his).

Here, Winger clearly implies that these heavenly rewards—not the reward of heaven per se, or salvation—are meant to comfort earthly slaves with the knowledge that their obedience, their labors, are not in vain. [16]  Wolfgang Musculus, writing during the Reformation, hits on the same theme here: “…the apostle is not proposing to turn Christians into bounty hunters, or to plant in them a servile trust in their own merits or to put God in our debt” (397). That said, what else should be added to Winger’s statement “a slave has no right to expect a reward from an earthly master”?

One recalls the Apostle Paul’s words from I Cor. 6:7: “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” Applying this kind of attitude to the issue of slavery, Paul is basically saying that while earthly masters may not notice and appreciate their slaves’ labor as they should—in this sense, the slave literally “has no right” before the master’s will—the Christian slave can rest assured that the Lord will be better than that[17] – for He is not only our Master, but our Father! As Matthew Henry says “God will certainly reward thee for the meanest drudgery” that is done from a sense of duty and with an eye to himself” (718). Stoeckhardt also notes the Lord’s regard for the “little guy’s” labors: “The Lord will at last also duly reward the labor of servants, which is often so little esteemed among men” (252). Finally, Bruce notes that this passage would “encourage a Christian slave to work cheerfully and zestfully even for a master who was unreasonable in his demands and impossible to please; …from Christ…his thanks would come” (124, 1974).[18]

In other words, even though we are always “unworthy servants” before the Lord—particularly when it comes to being worthy to simply stand in His presence—He is not the “hard man” wicked servants accuse him of being (Matt 25:24). Rather, the blood-bought, Spirit-wrought good works done in us—and that are also done by us in Christ—please His heart. Come the last day He will indeed say “Well done!” and give us far, far more than we might even anticipate – even as we humbly confess that we have “only done what was asked of us” (Luke 17:11). To say the least “[t]his [passage] would come as an encouragement to slaves, whose freedom was often limited merely to the attitude toward what they were commanded to do, and it would come as a warning to masters, who may have thought of themselves as free to do whatever they wished with their slaves” (Thielman, 408).

Again, all of this master-slave-talk seems particularly jarring and perhaps even wrong to us. And as we can begin to discern from the discussion immediately above, there are good reasons why this is the case! Speaking further to this, Theodoret notes that “slavery and mastery are categories that are confined to this present life.” When we “pass on from here,” he says, “these distinctions will no longer apply” as “nothing will be based on social status, such as slave or master, but on virtue and vice” (Edwards, 194). The final section of this paper and the conclusion will now deal with this level of nuance in increased detail.

The Gentling of Earthly Masters for Christ’s Sake

Καὶ οἱ κύριοι, τὰ αὐτὰ ποιεῖτε πρὸς αὐτούς, ἀνιέντες τὴν ἀπειλήν, εἰδότες ὅτι καὶ [f]αὐτῶν καὶ ὑμῶν ὁ κύριός ἐστιν ἐν οὐρανοῖς, καὶ προσωπολημψία οὐκ ἔστιν παρ’ αὐτῷ.

“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.”

The participle “εἰδότες” (knowing) indicates that the reason masters should behave as Paul commands is because they to have a Master in heaven. Paul is briefer in his instruction here, saying simply that masters should do the same thing to their slaves that they have done to him. Snodgrass certainly goes far beyond Paul’s words here when in his Ephesians commentary (324) he argues that these “ethics move beyond the Golden Rule…to treating others as we would treat our Lord” (in Merida, 163). Snodgrass is a bit of an exception here though, as, per Thielman, “most interpreters claim that Paul merely intends to instruct masters in a general way to treat their slaves as well as their slaves should treat them.”[19] In other words, the command is simply another way of “urging masters to treat their slaves justly and fairly (Col. 4:1)” (408).  Attempting to take a very nuanced position which takes into account our discomfort surrounding these passages, Thielman approvingly quotes Meyer (1880:318) saying “[t]there is doubtless no approval[20], but at the same time no disapproval of the existing slavery in itself” here (see also Winger, 687).

How does he defend this interpretation? First, he rightly points out that Paul here is emphasizing the Old Testament theme that God is “an impartial judge.”[21] This was used by early Christians to “demonstrate the theological legitimacy of the gospel’s reach across ethnic lines from Jews to Gentiles” (see Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34-35) but here “applies the same principle to the differences in social standing, with the effect that there is no differences between slave and master when both are in the presence of the Lord (cf. Gal. 2:6; Col. 3:25)” (410).[22]

Second, contra Matthew Henry[23], Theilman argues that Paul is depriving masters of “the primary means of slave control in antiquity…violence was the primary foundation of the institution.” (409)[24] One might well argue that violence from the strong – over and against the concept of the “rule of law” (think here of the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard) – is the foundation not just of slavery but of most human political rule on earth. For example, Stoeckhardt, who acknowledges that “[Paul urges slavemasters to] cease the usual habits of masters to control servants by fear,” (252), also notes how the commentator Meyer quotes Seneca himself attempting to counter the world’s rather brute hierarchy[25] (translating the Latin for us):

“O you, to whom the ruler of sea and land | Has given unbounded right o’er life and death, | Abate your inflated, swelling pride; | All that a lesser subject fears from you, | ‘Gainst you a greater lord shall threaten; | All power is subject to a weightier power” (253).

Or, as Matthew Henry would put it, applying this insight to God: “you will never be a match for him, though you may be too hard for your servants” (718).

Thielman’s conclusion then, dealing with the present participle ἀνιέντες (“give up”) that indicates what the Christian slaveholders’ manner ought to be, is very interesting indeed:

“Paul’s advice to believing slave masters subtly undermines the whole system of slaveholding. Slave-owning believers are, in a sense, to submit to their slaves (5:21), serving their slaves in the same way they desire their slaves to serve them. The threat of violence is impossible in such an arrangement, and without the threat of violence, the whole system will theoretically collapse.[26]

Williamson also adds further support here, noting that the Christian teaching about the “creation of human beings in God’s image, the oneness and equality of all in Christ, the commandment regarding love of neighbor (Lev 19:18; Luke 10:27), and the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31; also Matt 7:12) inevitably undermined slavery’s foundations” (186). Along the same lines, Witherington points out that specific term προσωπολημψία, or “partiality,” “seems to have appeared for the first time in Greek literature in the NT (cf. Rom. 2.11; Col. 3.25; Jas. 2.10).”[27] It might come from the Hebrew idea of “lifting the face,” meaning (rather ironically, it seems) to show a way of elevating a person’s status and honor (342-343).

All this said, earlier church commentators did not go as far as Thielman here, even as men like Chrysostom were more than eager to talk about how the divine economy is different from the one found on earth:

Society arrangements, like laws made by sinners, acknowledge these distinctions of classes. But we are all called to accountability before the law of the common Lord and Master of all. We are called to do good to all alike and to dispense the same fair rights to all. God’s law does not recognize these social distinctions” (Edwards, 195, italics mine).[28]

The early church commentator Theodoret also notes the “order in which [Paul] gives his injunctions,” and states that it is “worthy of admiration.” Marriage, which precedes childbirth, is addressed before he addresses fathers and children. “Finally,” he writes, “he has set forth his instructions to servants and masters. This arises from the social environment, as distinguished from those arrangements that come about under the laws of nature” (Edwards, 191-192, italics mine).

What can we make of things then here? It seems that Thielman is right to see Paul undermining slavery (Merida makes a similar case, see 163-165) even as he overstates his case somewhat when it comes to how Paul does this. [29] In accordance with Winger’s comment about “the oxymoron of ‘mutual submission’” (669, see also 639-646), Marcus Barth states that “it is only on the basis and after the model of the Servant-Messiah that Paul expects the enthusiastic acceptance of subordinate positions (Philip 2:3-11). The kind of service he suggests is unimaginable except rendered ‘in the Lord,’ ‘to the Lord,’ and in confidence in the Lord’s judgment” (757-758). Lincoln helpfully adds that “the ‘love patriarchalism’ of this passage….recognizes yet transcends the existing social structures” (427). Getting back to the specific content of this passage, Arnold writes:

“it is doubtful that Paul is directing saying here that masters should serve their slaves….nevertheless, the notion of not ‘lording it over’ (κατακυριεύω) and of having a servant’s heart toward the slaves could well be on Paul’s mind. This would be consistent with Paul’s introduction to this section, ‘submitting to one another in the fear of Christ’ (5:21)” (425).[30]

In sum then, Thielman is right that this passage highlights the failure of Christians to live out its radical implications, but, significantly, it is a failure not only on the masters’ part, but on the slaves’ part as well.


Interestingly, it appears, contra many modern claims, that the issue of slavery has been treated rather consistently in the church. Slavery was an unquestioned and universally practiced institution when Paul wrote and still exists today. And yet, in the Bible we see what appears to be a gradual working for its elimination. In addition to what has already been discussed, we see passages condemning slave trading (I Tim 1:8-11, see Ex 21:16 also), Old Testament commands to free Israelite slaves (see Deut 15:12-15), Paul’s insistence that slaves should attempt to improve their status (I Cor. 7:20-21), the assertion of full membership in the body of Christ (Col 3:11), the clear – albeit quite polite – nudgings to Philemon to free his Christians slave Onesimus (15-17, 21), and the lack of any theological justification of slavery (where there is one for marriage: Eph. 5:21-33). Again, the fact that Paul would even directly address slaves was completely unprecedented.

In the meantime however, slavery, like marriage, fatherhood, and sonship, is a “launching pad of the Gospel”: first, we see that both slaves and masters should cry out to the Lord who gives them “the true, spiritual release” (Winger, 692, italics his) from the “deeper, truer slavery” (Winger, 693) now—sin, death, and the devil[31]—and will make all things right in the end. Second, as regards the practical implications for our lives in this world, the reality of slavery “serves as an opportunity for Paul to draw back the veil of ‘mystery’ (5:32) to disclose that the earthly master is a representative of the Lord God himself and the earthly slave is subordinate to him in the way of Christ to the church” (Winger, 689)  And as Winger reminds us, putting our focus on faith in the One that overcomes the world, “True freedom is a freedom of the heart, a hidden quality that no earthly lord can take away” (688).

What this means though of course is that practical implications are, to this or that degree, inevitable: in the Lord Jesus Christ, slaves are “only on loan, so to speak, to the human master,” and “the master’s actions cease to be those of one who has absolute authority over another human being” (Witherington, 341, 339, italics mine). Of course, here we think about what Lutherans have called the two kingdoms, or two realms. Unfortunately, going into more detail about how Christians should think about the elimination of slavery today in light of contemporary politics—recognizing that Paul’s intent was never to “indict [masters] for having slaves” (Panning, 212, italics mine)—goes beyond the scope of this paper. I close by repeating a simple message I shared from a recent tweet, which occurred to me while writing this paper: “Men of the West once freed slaves – even politically – in Christ. They now, spurning the Master, enslave themselves in vice.”



Works cited

Barth, Markus. Ephesians 4-6. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974.

Bruce, F.F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2008.

Arnold, Clinton E. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2010.

Edwards, Mark Julian, and Thomas Clark Oden. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Fowl, Stephen E. Ephesians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012.

Gaebelein, Frank E., and James Dixon Douglas. Ephesians ; Philippians ; 1 and 2 Thessalonians ; 1 and 2 Timothy ; Titus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.

George, Timothy, Carl L. Beckwith, Gerald Lewis George, and John Lee Thompson. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011.

Heil, John Paul. Ephesians: Empowerment to Walk in Love for the Unity of All in Christ. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

Heine, Ronald E., Origen, and Jerome. The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 6. New York: F.H. Revell, n.d.

Lincoln, Andrew T. Ephesians. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1990.

Panning, Armin J. Galatians, Ephesians. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.

Merida, Tony, David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida. Exalting Jesus in Ephesians. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2014

Peterson, Eugene H. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

Stöckhardt, George. Ephesians. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1987.

Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

Thomas, and Matthew L. Lamb. Aquinas Scripture Series. 2, 2. Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1966.

Williamson, Peter S., and Mary Healy. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2009.

Winger, Thomas M. Ephesians. St. Louis, Miss: Concordia Publishing House, 2015.

Witherington, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007.



[1] Keeping in mind the entirety of the book of Ephesians, Winger is keen to emphasize that “despite its legal appearance,” Paul’s Haustafel “is more concerned with promise and blessing than with obedience, reward, and punishment” (675). It is just this kind of reality that the author tried to bring out in the paper’s introduction.

[2] Arnold writes: “Before the Roman era, slavery was practiced in Greece and throughout the ancient Near East from the earliest times” (419). He also noted in that 2010 commentary that, “by some estimates there may be as many as 27,000,000 people held as slaves throughout the world today” (431).

[3] Arnold also notes “a smaller number of slaves resulted from the rescue of abandoned infants….” (420).

[4] Snodgrass says the opposite in his Ephesians commentary (327) (in Merida, 159)

[5] Williamson goes on to state: “Slavery in the Roman Empire was not a benign institution, but it was nevertheless more humane than the European and American enslavement of Africans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries” (185). On the other hand, Arnold, quoting Bradley from his Slavery and Society (178-179), says: “The bare record of fact shows that Roman slaves, like those in the Americas, were bought and sold like animals, were punished indiscriminately and violated sexually; they were compelled to labour as their masters dictated, they were allowed no legal exisitence, and they were goaded into compliance through cajolery and inimidation. They were the ultimate victims of exploitation” (421). Clearly practices and attitudes concerning slavery in the Roman Empire varied widely; the previous assertion should also be compared with the more favorable description of Roman slavery provided by Lincoln (415-419).

[6] Witherington sums up P.T. O’Brien saying “Exohorting slaves directly as moral agents is remarkable since normal Greco-Roman household counsel was directed only to the master” (340). In his Slave Systems (215), Westermann helps us see why: “The instittion of slavery was a fact of Mediterranean economic life so completely accepted as a part of the labour structure of the time that one cannot correctly speak of the slave ‘problem’ in antiquity” (Lincoln, 415, italics mine).

[7] Arnold: “It is probably going too far to say that the words suggests that slaves should obey their masters with a foreboding terror and dread…the Christian slaves should obey out of ‘deep respect and fear’” (422).

[8] He also states: “Christian slaves fulfill God’s will and serve Christ by serving their masters even though their work has no explicit or Christian or ministerial dimension and even though they did not chose this service” (185).

[9] Thielman states: “[i]t is not that the master represents Christ to the believing slave, but almost the opposite: the master is factored out of the equation and replaced with the Lord” (406). Merida memorably says: Paul calls slaves to “transfer masters, even if they could not transfer jobs” (164).

[10] Thielman is keen to counter modern commentators like Harrill (2006) who suggest that this passage is about Paul exercising “a subtle power play designed to get more and better work from slaves” (407). Against this, he states that the ideal of acting sincerely and in accordance with one’s convictions was held in both Greco-Roman and Hellenistic Jewish ethics, and so it is no surprise that Paul would say this in respect to slave’s conduct as well.

[11] Arnold has a very nice section which hearkens back to the first paragraph of this paper, and is worth quoting in full: “[Christians] belong to someone who has far greater authority and far more honor than any human slave owner or even the emperor himself. As slaves of Christ, they serve someone whom God has exalted high above any earthly or heavenly power (1:20-23) and through whom God will reign over all of creation (1:10). These Christian slaves belong to and serve the greatest master of all. Their status and honor is thus ultimately derived from belonging to Christ and not their human masters. (423)

[12] Thielman further notes that this was a virtue that was valued among slaveholders. He cites scholars who note wills that indicate, for example, that slaveholders at the time of their death would release “slave bodies” for their “goodwill (εὐνοίαν) and affection.” More: “Perhaps recognizing that this could be difficult because of the innate injustice involved in the institution of slavery, Paul urges slaves to consider their obedience as rendered ‘to their Lord…’ rather than to human beings” (407). This is a pragmatic argument (see fn. 8).

[13] Winger is again quite helpful here, forcefully and convincingly arguing that the word “heed” is a better translaton, as the word ὑπακούετε in fact denotes a “subordination of the ear.” Obedience to commands is certainly a result of this, but so is trust in, and recepton of, promises (655,656). Winger also interprets these imperatives as being subordiante to the imperative πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι in Ephesians 5:18: “be filled up in the Spirit” as well as Ephesians5:21: ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ (being subordinate to one another in the fear of Christ) (654). He also emphasizes not so much about “chains of commands,” but “chains of blessings,” arguing for Christ’s subordination to the Father also according to His divine nature as well as the fact that children “stronger, more vigorous, more intelligent, richer and more powerful than their parents,” (and hence, of more value by worldly standards) for instance, are still expected to be subordinate to them throughout their lives (639-646).

[14] Winger notes here however that “the modern workplace environment of employer-employee is fundamentally different from the master-slave relationship…[t]he difficulty…in aplying slavery language to the modern workplace is that the typological argument that is so fundamental to Paul’s words cannot be easily applied. The modern preacher cannot expect his hearers to see the workplace as an ongoing proclamation of the Gosple in the way Paul preaches marriage and home in Ephesians 5 and 6” (696).

[15] Arnold also notes: “Paul uses [this term] also in Col 3:25 to refer to the consequences that will be faced by the unrighteous. This suggests that Paul is trying to give believing slaves an eschatological perspective on their present condition” (425).

[16] Winger is concerned to emphasize that the “reward” in the parable of the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) is the same (669, fn 75), and that “the Colossian parallel (Col 3:24) to [this passage] inserts the term κληρονομία, ‘inheritance from the Lord].’” Indeed, “an inheritance is never earned but simply received” (668, fn 75), as Winger claims, nor do good works “itrinsically and on their own merit deserve[] a payment by way of reward” (668, italics his). That said, it is again worth noting however that this passage’s main purpose is not, as in, e.g., Romans 1-5, the justification of the sinner before God, but rather to encourage Christian slaves in this world that the good work they do, undoubtedly in the Lord and by His strength, will not be in vain, forgotten, etc. Encouragement and comfort is largely in view here.

[17] Hence Winger: “…one might infer [from the Ephesians passage and I Timothy 6] that Christian masters ought not take advantage of their Christian slaves. That is to say, they ought not assume that their slaves must serve without reward, purely out of love, or necessarily go beyond the call of duty simply because they are fellow Christians. The masters, in imitation of their heavenly Father, ought to love their fellow Christians unconditionally” (689).

[18] Chrysostom agrees, pointing out that while many unbelieving masters do not “keep faith,” compensating as they should, slaves should nevertheless not seek to retaliate, but rather “be fully confident about their ultimate compensation” – for “God is watching these transactions.” Bringing to mind the previous passage examined (“as to the Lord…”), he states that “If your master receives good from you but does not treat you fairly, you do well to serve him all the more earnestly” (Edwards, 194). After all, as Witherington reminds us the “divine arithmetic is done differently than human arithmetic, for God plays no favorites” (341). As Thielman writes “The Lord… is not really a slave master. He makes no distinction between slave and free, but rewards both groups on the final day not according to their social status but according to the good they have done” (italics mine, 410).

[19] Thomas Aquinas does not go so far as he simply says that “as servants act from the heart and with a good will, so also should you act” (233). F.F. Bruce looks to Colossians 4:1 here (“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” [ESV]), saying that masters should not “adopt a hectoring or browbeating attitude,” but should “treat them fairly, rendering to them ‘that which is just and equal’” (124, 1974). Stoeckhardt states “[t]he masters are to treat their servants with that interest in their welfare which they expect the servants entertain toward their masters. They are to treat their servants with kindness and consideration” (252).

[20] Thielman notes that even more recent commentators like Glancey (2006:144-145) and Harrill (2006:90-92) have argued that the passage attempts to provide theological support for the institution of slavery (404). It is not difficult to see how one might arrive at this conclusion and stop here. Aquinas, after all, is only willing to say “[i]t is as though he were saying: You are fellow servants [under God], and hence you ought to behave well towards them” (234). Calvin simply states that “God only allows masters what is consistent with the law of love….Paul reminds them…they are also indebted to their slaves and therefore owe it to them to treat them fairly” (George, 398). Matthew Henry only speaks of being just to slaves, and showing “the like good-will and concern for them” (718). Musculus says “[masters and slaves] must treat the others with honesty and good will…as though they were not dealing with other people but with Christ…making everything they do more honest and acceptable to God,” even as he also insists that Paul is not interested in “obscuring their difference in status but rather confirming it” (George, 398).

[21] See, e.g, Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Sir. 35:12-13; Jub. 5.16; 21.4; 30.16; 33:18; T. Job 43.13.

[22] Jerome, for example, concurs that before God, we all stand as equals before His Holy Law, writing that “if [one] has served as a lowly one in the household, he will be judged justly according to his responsibility.” Furthermore, God “will judge by deeds, not status” (Edwards, 195).

[23] Henry says that Paul’s point to masters is that servants are made of the “same mould with yourselves,” so don’t be “tyrannical and imperious.” He also says, however, that  ἀνιέντες should simply be understood as Paul talking about “moderating threatening” (718).

[24] Williamson notes that: “In the Greco-Roman world masters often controlled their slaves through fear” He quotes O’Brien (Ephesians, 454) saying: “Owners were known to threaten beatings, sexual harassment, or selling male slaves away from the households with the result that they would be parted forever from their loved ones” (187).

[25] Thielman notes that physical abuse of slaves was “occasionally criticized, but even then the concern was typically with the harm that excessive wrath might do to the master rather than any feeling of pity for the slave (W.V. Harris 2001: 317-36).” (409) J. Albert Harrill points out that Seneca the Younger, while urging kind and humane treatment, still argued for the need of moderate floggings (Arnold, 421). In A.D. 61, a Roman lawyer named Gaius Cassius Longinus said the following of slaves: “the only way to keep down this scum is by intimidation” (Tacitus, Annals 14.44, in Arnold, 426).

[26] He goes on to state: “This is the only option consistent with the anthropology and soteriology of Eph. 1-3. If every believer had been previously dead because of sin, and if the cross has torn down not only the wall of sin between every believer and God but also the wall between every believing Gentile and Jew (2:14), then the wall between slave and free also has to crumble” (410). In harmony with Thielman’s remarks about threatening, Calvin also says Paul “expressly forbids” threats – “a sign that masters were treating their slaves like animals”. Masters should realize that the slave “will be just as important to him as that of the greatest king [on the day of judgment]” (George, 398).

[27] Winger notes that Deut 10:17; 2 Chr 19:7, and Job 34:19 all show that God shows no partiality (“a defining characteristic of his just and gracious nature” [671]). Other N.T. texts showing the same are Acts 10:34-35, Rom. 2:9-11, I Pet. 1:17, Eph. 6:8-9, Col. 3:25. Clearly, as regards His own demanding, punishing, rewarding, etc. God insists, quite firmly and repeatedly, that He doesn’t “play favorites” (and “appearances” matter not here – see, e.g., James 2:1-9).

[28] Chrysostom maintained that slavery had its roots in avarice and insatiable acquisitiveness, and is “not the original human condition,’ but has “stolen into human life.” “This horrid thing was begotten by sin”… we have “insulted nature by this system” (Edwards, 195).

[29] For example, regarding the Ephesians 5:21 passage mentioned above by Thielman which exhorts believers to submit to one another, he unpacks this argument by pointing out that the early Christians believed those in authority “should adopt the role of slaves with respect to those under their authority (Mark 10:41-45; Matt. 20:24-18; John 13:1-17; cf. Luke 12:37)” (409). While there is surely much truth here, those interested in the full story—not only interested in asserting their own power!—will point out that the corresponding ideas of hierarchy and subordination, though muffled in their sinful effects on account of their being understood in Christ, are nevertheless persistent realities. Those “in charge” are simply urged to have hearts eager to serve others and not themselves.

[30] In a footnote, Arnold notes that Yoder Neufeld in his comentary on Ephesians (p. 274) thinks that “do the same to them is a functional equivalent to the call for being subordinate to each other” (425).

[31] Or, as Winger reminds us: “the spirit of the air and the elemental forces of this world (Eph 2:1; 6:12)..” (693).



Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Uncategorized


Does the Bible Teach Us Life is About Survival?

Author Dan Davies, on where our fear lies: “The drive to avoid humiliation is often more powerful than the survival instinct.” True? Significance for “spiritual survival”?


In the past, speaking about the then-very-popular Jordan Peterson, I said:

“One highly significant aspect of Peterson’s program is that the goal of the morality he speaks of is oriented towards earthly survival – not just of individual, or perhaps, even one’s group, but ultimately encompassing humanity more broadly. In sum, everything about our morality – absolutely everything – must come to be seen through this controlling lens.

Some might be thinking: “Isn’t this what Christianity is all about though? Being good to gain God’s favor in this world, surviving vs. ones’ enemies, and to be able to survive His final judgment?” Actually, no. In fact, this is a total perversion of Christianity, which ultimately works in the world for one’s neighbor’s sake from a place of peace with God. In Him, we have survived our sin, our first and second deaths, and the oppression of the demonic, and hence have nothing to fear — even in a fallen world racked by suffering.”

While I am not the biggest fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was certainly right to say: “Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation, and a fighting attitude is therefore not a commandment by God established by the original creation.” And yet, at the same time, I also wrote an article I titled as provocatively as I could: “How Darwin Helps Us See the Truth: Life is About Helping Our Neighbor Survive”… and you can check that piece out to see what approach I was taking there.

“Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation…” — Bonhoeffer, in his “Bethel Confession”.


Well, matters of survival were on my mind again the other morning as I reflected on Piotr J. Malysz’s recent Lutheran Forum article (Fall 2019) entitled: “On Death, Dying, and Dying Well”.

In my view, here is one of the most moving parts of his article, where he speaks about the actions of the “renowned Polish-Jewish educator and children’s fiction author Janusz Korczak” during World War II:

“At the wars outbreak, Korczak was an orphanage director in Warsaw. When the orphanage was forced to relocate into the ghetto, Korczak had the entry door permanently locked and all the downstairs windows bricked up. Moreover, as deportations to gas chambers were turning from rumor to reality, Korczak (in [Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt] Bauman’s words) ‘reputedly opposed the idea of closing the orphanage and sending children out to seek individually a chance of escape which some might (just might) find. He might have reckoned that the chance was not worth taking: once out of their shelter, the children would learn fear, abasement and hatred. They would lose the most precious of values—their dignity. On several occasions, we should add, the Polish resistance offered Korczak sanctuary outside of the ghetto’s walls, but he repeatedly refused to abandon the 200-or-so children in his charge. Eventually, in early August 1942, the German soldiers came to collect the orphans and the orphanage’s personnel. Korczak led the children to the deportation square, the children dressed in their best clothes, each carrying a satchel and a favorite book or toy. Here Korczak is reputed, again, to have refused to leave the children when an SS officer in charge of the Treblinka transports—and it turned out, Korczak’s admirer—offered him an escape. He would stay with the children to the end (8).

There is evidently a 1990 Polish movie about this man and this incident, which ended up being quite controversial and not very popular. As I read this article though, I also thought of the seemingly more well-known film Of Gods and Men.

Of Gods and Men (2010)


Clearly, I think that Janusz Korczak was a very caring and brave man and is worthy of our deepest respect and admiration. And yet, when I think of his goodness vis a vis our Lord’s, I remember that we are not told that anyone, on earth or heaven, offered Him a way out…

Truly, his Enemy’s forces were wholly unmoved by true love and still are so unmoved, determined to stop at nothing but the obliteration of the Prince of Peace and His people.

And here is where I must confess that I would have respected this man even more had he been able to do something even greater. For example, what if he had also had the foresight, wherewithal, and connections to evacuate all of the children from Poland and get them to an even safer space? Or—even better—what if he had secretly worked with the opposing military to somehow enable a heroic rescue mission—and in the process completely incapacitated those who sought to do harm to the children? (perhaps with also sparing the one who offered Korczak escape, like Rahab the prostitute did to the Israeli spies!).

I guess in order to pull something like that off you need to be God or something.

In the controversial ending of the Korczak film, the children of the orphanage are saved by an unseen hand, which, sadly, did not really happen.



And so the article, along with my previous articles about death and survival, really prompts further reflection.

We should know that to cry out to God for our own sakes – that we might spiritually survive – is something that would have been unthinkable in Paradise.

All, after all, was meant to be so much more! As I put it in a recent sermon:

In the beginning, God provided for everything that our first parents needed. They were told that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, and this would have also included the mysterious Tree of Life…

This was Paradise! Set to live forever with God in the very good creation that He had made, they lacked nothing. Without suffering, pain, and thorns, they really did “have it all”.

No true enjoyment or satisfaction would have been denied them, for all their desires were in line with all that God had made.

Everything was fit to purpose, “in the groove,” and it would have been, to say the least, a glorious time of feasting, fellowship, naming and playing with the animals, dancing, singing and shouting, loving and baby-making, all in sheer innocence, pure pleasure, and great joy.

When we hear the Apostle Paul say of heaven that “no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him,” it is no stretch to say that we should also think something similar about Eden as well!

In Eden, surviving—either in the presence of our neighbors or in the presence of God—would have never been a reason to depend on God! To look to Him for help! To grasp Him and cling to Him! To run to His arms that He might carry us!

“Survival” would not have been our concern at all. We would not have needed to call upon Him for salvation

Nevertheless, we are in the shadow of Genesis 3.

““For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…”” — the Apostle Paul


So, the fear of the Lord…

  • the recognition that we cannot survive His wrath…
  • that death is ours’ and our loved ones’ ultimate desert…
  • that it may be the last enemy to be destroyed but it’s also our wage…
  • that we only live when we begin to hate our lives…

…is the beginning of knowledge…

The world, as Malysz puts it “struggles with life for the sake of life…” We, on the other hand, cry out to Him for our life and the lives of those we love – that we may survive and immortally BE – and BE GLORIFIED – with Him.

“[H]e has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” — 2 Peter 1:4


This calling out to Him for this then…

  • though it is not sum and substance of the Christian life
  • though it would have not been “good” were it not for the fall
  • though it was not originally intended from the beginning

…is, of course, no sin, but the very will of God.



Note: I changed a sentence above to clarify what I wanted to say in the post.

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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in Uncategorized