In writing this I read and analyzed two pre-Civil War articles. The first article we will look at argues in favor of the continuation of slavery. The second article is written in response to the first and argues for immediate abolition. After looking at both articles we will look at the differences between the two articles.
My thesis is that some, like Buck, advocated for the continuance of slavery mainly based upon the belief that slavery was permitted because it was similar to the slavery permitted in the Old Testament. Others, however, like Pendleton, argued against slavery because they believed it was inherently dissimilar to Old Testament slavery.
In Favor of the Continuation of Slavery
Since “the subject is one of great moment in its moral, social and political bearings” Buck decided to write on the subject. “So that… [people] may be prepared to act conscientiously and intelligently, and have no occasion to repent of their action when it is too late to undo it.” So, it was “under… these considerations [that Buck] consented to prepare a series of articles.”
Buck says, “God approves of that system of things which, under the circumstances, is best calculated to promote the holiness and happiness of men; and that what God approves is morally right.” Buck then talks about the “nature and design of Human Governments.” He says, “In searching the divine record, therefore, we shall find that form of government which, under the circumstances, was best calculated to promote the moral and social happiness of the people, was sanctioned and approved by God.”
The first form of government was the patriarchal, which Buck gives a brief analysis of. Next he lays out what he sees as being established through his belief that God has a good purpose for human governments. First, he says, “God has beneficent and gracious designs to be accomplished in behalf of the human family.” Second, God is happy to use human and governmental instruments. Third, it is in accord with God’s infinite wisdom “to promote his beneficent and gracious designs in behalf of our lapsed and degenerate world.” Fourth, a very powerful and enlightened leader is best suited to bring about the good that God intends for humanity.
What do we learn about Onesimus?
Paul calls Onesimus his child, as he often does with converts, especially, it seems, those whom he had a special connection with through discipleship (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2).
Onesimus, had a common slave name, his name meant “useful.” Paul makes a pun here. He basically says, Useful was useless to you Philemon but now he is useful to both you and me (v. 11).
So, how was “Useful” previously useless? What did he do that explains the remark from Paul? He ran away from his master Philemon and likely stole money from him to pay for his voyage and new life. He used to be useless but not now, now Paul says, he is indeed useful.
We have already seen that Paul used a term of endearment by saying Onesimus was Paul’s child. However, Paul does not stop there. Paul says, in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, he is sending his very heart (v. 12). Paul has a deep bond with Onesimus, he has been helpful to Paul (the old man!) in prison. As Paul says, “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel” (v. 13). So, Paul is making the case that Onesimus, though once deemed useless, is indeed useful both to Paul and Philemon.
Onesimus, proves his new usefulness, as we’ve seen, by helping Paul. But not only that, he is repentant. He is willing to go back to Philemon his master, a bold step. In that day, slaves could be branded with the letter “F” for fugitive or “T” for thief (if they had a “gracious” master). Other masters may have their slave executed, perhaps even on a cross. There was a near contemporary of Philemon, a very wealthy slave owner, that was killed by a slave so in order to punish the slave and make an example all of the man’s slaves were killed; all four hundred of them (Hughes, p. 161-62). In fact, in Martin Hengel’s book Crucifixion there is a chapter titled “the ‘slaves’ punishment,” and in this chapter he tells about one occasion after a slave rebellion where there were six thousand slaves crucified (p. 55). Read More…
We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).
But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Read More…
At the time of the writing of the New Testament, in the Roman Empire, there were essentially three classes of people: The rich, the slaves (about half the population), and freemen. These “freemen” were free in that they were not owned by anyone, yet they often went hungry because of their “freedom.” Whereas, slaves sometimes had good masters and sometimes had bad masters.
Slavery in Rome was not what it was like in America 150 years ago.
“In Paul’s day, slavery was not based on race. Additionally, slaves had any number of duties and responsibilities, ranging from farming, mining, and milling to cooking, teaching, and managing. Furthermore, slaves were not infrequently freed from the shackles of slavery (a process known as manumission).
There is no mistaking the fact, however, that slavery in the Greco-Roman world was degrading, dehumanizing, and downright disgusting. Taken together, slaves were perceived and treated as property and were frequently subject to unimaginable punishments based on their maters’ malevolent whims. Indeed, Roman historian Cassius Dio tells of an especially cruel slave owner, Vedius Pollio, who had slaves who displeased him thrown into a pool of flesh-eating eels.”
So, what was slavery’s defeat? Harriet Beecher Stowe said:
“The Christian master was directed to receive his Christianized slave, ‘NOT now as a slave, but above a slave, a brother beloved [Philemon 16];’ and, as in all these other cases, nothing was said to him about the barbarous powers which the Roman law gave him, since it was perfectly understood that he could not at the same time treat him as a brother beloved and as a slave in the sense of [unconstitutional] Roman law.
When, therefore, the question is asked, why did not the apostles seek the abolition of slavery, we answer, they did seek it. They sought it by the safest, shortest, and most direct course which could possibly have been adopted.”
Paul’s system founded on Jesus the Christ—Jesus who came to serve and not be served—subverts any form of human oppression. So, we see Paul lays the necessary groundwork for the emancipation proclamation. The gospel has changed the basic structure of the way Paul looks at the world and it should change the way we see the world as well. Read More…
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)