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Social Justice and the Legitimacy of SlaveryThe Role of Philosophical Asceticism from Ancient Judaism to Late Antiquity$

Ilaria L.E. Ramelli

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198777274

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198777274.001.0001

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The New Testament, Jesus, and the Enigma of Paul

The New Testament, Jesus, and the Enigma of Paul

Scriptural Background for Patristic Positions

(p.101) 2 The New Testament, Jesus, and the Enigma of Paul
Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines New Testament positions on slavery and poverty. Galatians 3:28 argues against the social, gender, and ethnic inferiority theorized by Aristotle. Paul may have embraced the Stoicizing view of slavery as ‘morally indifferent’. Philemon and its interpretations are examined. 1 Corinthians 7:24 may exhort slaves to take advantage either of the opportunity of being emancipated, or of their servile condition. The evolution of prescriptions to slaves and masters in the ‘disputed Paulines’ and to slaves in the ‘Pastorals’ and 1 Peter, is highlighted. These reflect a trend to preserve slavery and women’s submission. Jesus’s teaching about service, about the poor as blessed, and against wealth discourage slave ownership and accumulation of wealth. Revelation is critical of human trafficking; the Gospel of Thomas reflects Jesus’s sayings against wealth. Acts’ description of the Jesus movement as sharing all goods is shown to converge with Lucian’s depiction of second-century Christian communities.

Keywords:   New Testament positions on slavery and poverty, Jesus, Paul, slavery as ‘morally indifferent’, ‘disputed Paulines’ and ‘Pastorals’, 1 Peter, Revelation, Gospel of Thomas, Acts, Lucian

  • In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,
  • neither slave nor free, neither man nor woman;
  • for all of you are one single person in Christ Jesus.

(Paul of Tarsus, Gal 3:28)

  • You cannot serve both God and mammon.

(Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13)

Together with, and more than, ancient philosophy and the Old Testament and Second Temple and early rabbinic Judaisms, the writings that eventually made up the New Testament represent the main basis for subsequent patristic positions toward the issue of the legitimacy of slavery and of social injustice resulting in the poverty of many people. This is why these texts, which often are problematic and liable to divergent interpretations—especially in the case of Paul—deserve to be studied carefully.

The Meaning of Galatians 3:28: Paul against Aristotle? And the Secret Revelation of John

Paul, a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, at first was hostile to the Jesus movement, but after a mystical experience he became the most active proclaimer of Jesus’s message and resurrection to the Diaspora Jews and the gentiles.1 In a letter of (p.102) undisputed authenticity, in a passage that probably originated in a baptismal context, Galatians 3:28, he forcefully asserts that ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither man nor woman [Gen 1:27]; for all of you are one single person in Christ Jesus’ (οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην‎, οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος‎, οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ‎, πάντες γὰρ ὑμεῖς εἷς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ‎).2 This proclamation was repeated by him, with some variations, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, and later echoed in a letter that was probably composed by an imitator of Paul, Colossians 3:11.

Now, this would appear to be a total reversal of Aristotle’s theorization of racial, juridical, and gender superiority ‘by nature’: (1) Greeks superior to barbarians, that is, non-Greeks, by nature, which from a Jewish perspective becomes Jews superior to non-Jews by nature; (2) free people superior to slaves by nature; (3) men superior to women by nature. It is indeed worth remarking that, albeit this is generally never noticed, in Galatians 3:28 Paul, more or less intentionally and consciously, is actually turning Aristotle’s theories upside down. Aristotle’s ideas, directly or indirectly, might seem to be the main target of this verse of Paul’s. For Aristotle theorized (1) the ethnic superiority of the Greeks over barbarians, regarded as inferior by nature; (2) the superiority of freeborn people over slaves, regarded as subhumans by nature; and (3) the gender superiority of men over women, also regarded as inferior by nature and ‘naturally’ ruled by men, just as animals are naturally ruled by humans and ‘natural’ slaves are ‘naturally’ ruled by their masters.

But Paul claims that in Christ there is nobody who is naturally inferior, whether due to slavery, or to ethnicity, or to gender (precisely Aristotle’s three categories of humans who are supposed to be superior or inferior ‘by nature’). Paul was not jejune of Greek philosophy, and especially of Stoicism.3 Now, as I have highlighted in the first part of Chapter 1, the Stoics did not share (p.103) Aristotle’s ideas about the inferiority of women and slaves ‘by nature’. Paul, however, in his verse does not appeal to the Stoics as an authority to overthrow Aristotle’s theory of the purported ‘natural’ superiority of men over women, free over slaves, and Greeks over barbarians (‘Judaized’ into the superiority of Jews over non-Jews), but he appeals to Christ. In Christ, that is, in the Christian church and society, these supposed superiorities and inferiorities must disappear. Not many patristic thinkers took this Pauline passage seriously, but those who did, such as Gregory Nyssen, brought it to its logical consequences with regard to the illegitimacy of slavery as well as to the ordination of women, as I shall point out in later chapters.

Partial parallels to Galatians 3:28, in its three components of racial, social, and gender identity, can be found in other authentic letters by Paul. For both the ethnic and the social aspect, one can think of 1 Corinthians 12:13 on Jews and Greeks, and slaves and free, as forming one and the same body and nourished by the same spirit. For the ethnic aspect, three passages come to the fore: 1 Corinthians 9:22, with the idea of ‘becoming all for all’, Greek with the Greeks and Jew with the Jews; Galatians 6:15, on circumcision and lack thereof as irrelevant to salvation; and Romans 10:12, on the lack of distinction between Jews and Greeks in Christ. Parallels concerning the third aspect, namely the irrelevance of gender differences in Christ, are mostly to be found in early Christian texts outside the New Testament. One is the Second Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, an early second-century homily in which a saying of the Lord concerning the coming of the Kingdom is reported: ‘when the two will be one, the outside like the inside, and the male with the female neither male nor female’ (12.2). The second text is the Gospel of Thomas, which reports a similar dominical saying on the coming of the Kingdom: ‘when of the two you will make one, the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you will make male and female one and the same being, so that the male is not male and the female not female’ (22.3–5).

Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 was probably inspired by Jesus. Both Jesus and Paul may have intended to counter ideas such as those later expressed in the rabbinic morning prayer, Tefillat Shaḥrit. The praying man praised the Lord ‘because you have not made me a gentile…you have not made me a slave…you have not made me a woman’ (Tosefta Ber. 7.18). Paul’s formulation, in particular, comes remarkably close to the rabbinic text, which, in turn, displays the very same discrimination categories theorized by Aristotle: ethnic-racial, social (precisely with respect to slavery), and gender-related.

Thus, Paul in Galatians 3:28 proclaims the equality of Jews and Greeks (ethnic equality), of slaves and free (social equality), and of men and women (gender equality). Some Jewish Christians, such as the Ebionites, denied the first, saying for instance that only Jews could be Christian priests. This is attested by Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 1.1.12: the Ebionites thought that (p.104) sacrifices had to be offered only by Jews, the race of Israel. But Galatians 3:28 implies that non-Jews, slaves, and women can be priests as well as Jews, free people, and men, and indeed non-Jews, slaves, and women were ordained in the first millennium.

From Jewish–Christian milieux such as that of the Ebionites, the Qur’an too issued, according to recent research;4 here too one finds the denial of Galatians 3:28. The inequality between men and women, free people and slaves, and among humans in general appears to be insisted upon in several places and sanctioned as wanted by God. For example, sur. 6.165 and 43.32: God raises some above the others, that the former may subject the latter; sur. 16.71: God has favoured some over the others and ‘those who have been favoured do not give the gifts of God to their slaves, so as to become equal with them. Should they deny the benefits of God?’; sur. 16.75: ‘God gives the example of a slave, the property of another person, capable of nothing, and of a man to whom We have given an excellent gift…are they equal? No, thanks God. But most of them do not know.’5 Though, of course, the most enlightened Qur’anic interpreters have found, and can find, exegetical ways around this, just as, for instance, Origen found exegetical ways around biblical violent narratives or divine anthropomorphisms.

Interestingly, besides Paul’s, another reversal of Aristotle’s theory of the natural inferiority of women and slaves, which go together in Aristotle’s prejudice, seems to be found in the Secret Revelation of John. This text, often categorized as ‘Gnostic’, seems to have been composed in Greek some decades after Paul’s letters, in the second century CE, possibly in Alexandria, and offers a rereading of Genesis in the light of Plato’s Timaeus.6 Here, as Karen King notes,7 Jesus tells John that the demiurge’s attempt to punish Eve by subordinating her to Adam is contrary to God’s will: ‘He adds concerning the female that the male should rule over her, for he does not understand the mystery which came to pass from the design of the holy height’ (SRJ Berlin Codex 22.4–5; transl. King). Eve is overtly declared to be wiser than the demiurge, Yaldabaoth, a kind of caricature of God the Creator (SRJ Berlin Codex 20.27). The author, whoever he or she was, reread the Genesis myth in the light of Plato, and not in that of Aristotle.

Despite Paul’s declarations in Galatians 3:28, at any rate, social and gender differences were far from being abolished in ancient Christian thought and life. Patristic exegeses of the proclaimed abolition of gender discrimination in Christ are often ambiguous and in practice largely ineffective,8 with a few exceptions such as Gregory Nyssen, as we shall see in the following chapters. (p.105) As for slavery, this institution too survived for many centuries in the history of Christianity, and was even defended by some Christian thinkers—albeit, again, with felicitous exceptions among ascetics, as I shall show later on.

The Letter to Philemon and its Diverging Interpretations: What Was Paul’s Own Praxis?

Paul performed manual labour and stated in Philippians 3:8 that he had ‘suffered the loss of everything’ (τὰ πάντα ἐζημιώθην‎).9 He is generally not regarded as having been served by any slave of his own—although we shall see that this point is contested—just as Jesus and John the Baptist were not, as far as we know from the available sources. The Gospels speak of a slave of the high priest and many other slaves, but not of any slave of Jesus, who was rather served/assisted (διακονεῖν‎) by his disciples, not unlike the elder Therapeutae. Jesus insisted that he was on earth in order to serve, not to be served, and that his followers should serve as well.

Yet, Paul does not seem to have actively fought for the elimination of slavery—though we shall see that the scanty evidence is not entirely clear and is rather controversial—probably also because in his view the end of the world and the Lord’s second coming would happen rather soon. This perspective is not too different from the imminent eschatology proclaimed, for instance, in 4 Esdra, according to which ‘this aeon is hastening swiftly to its end’ (albeit 4 Esdra, unlike Paul, probably post-dates 70 CE).10 Against such an eschatological framework, Paul’s priorities obviously lay elsewhere. This is why in 1 Corinthians 7:20–4 he basically counsels believers to maintain the social condition they had before adhering to the Jesus movement, because, according to his explicit motivation, the free are Christ’s slaves and the slaves are set free in Christ.

I shall return to this passage soon. First it is necessary to consider a brief letter, Philemon, that is entirely devoted to an issue that concerns slavery. Like Galatians and 1 Corinthians, this is certainly an authentic work by Paul. The apostle, styling himself ‘a prisoner for Christ Jesus’, addresses Philemon as his ‘beloved fellow worker’ (1), an expression that in Paul usually denotes the apostolic work of spreading the Gospel. The same description is reserved (p.106) for Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke in the final greetings (24). Paul also addresses Apphia, perhaps Philemon’s wife, Archippus, and all of their house church.

After a praise, from v. 8 Paul puts forward his request to Philemon concerning Onesimus, whom he calls his child (10), since during his imprisonment Paul has become his spiritual father, having converted Onesimus to faith in Jesus. Paul could command Philemon (9), presumably because he had converted him too; this is why he states that Philemon owes to him even his own self (19). However, Paul prefers to appeal to Philemon. So he is sending Onesimus back to Philemon (12), presumably with this very letter, even though he could have directly kept Onesimus with himself, for service during his imprisonment (13). Probably because now Onesimus too belongs to the Jesus movement, Paul can remark that, while formerly he was useless to Philemon, now—with a pun on his name—Onesimus is useful to both Philemon and himself (11). Paul promises that he will repay whatever Onesimus might owe to Philemon (ἐγὼ ἀποτίσω‎, 19).

The identity of Onesimus as a slave of Philemon is indicated at v. 16: ‘He was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave [δοῦλον‎], but more than a slave, as a beloved brother [ἀδελφόν‎], especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord’. The meaning and implications of these expressions are highly debated. What is clear is that Paul sent Onesimus back to his owner, although he called him ‘my heart’ (12) as his spiritual son.11

Ulrike Roth has suggested that Onesimus was also a slave of Paul, who owned him jointly with Philemon in the same association (κοινωνία‎).12 If the apostle was a slave owner himself, this would be consequential for his whole attitude toward slavery, and would place him more squarely within the socio-political framework of the Roman Empire,13 where slaves seem to have made up one-third of the population, at least in urban areas.14 Early Christian interpretations of Philemon and of Paul in general, at any rate, do not represent Paul as a slave owner—probably also because he worked to support himself—or Onesimus as his slave. Onesimus himself appears again in Colossians 4:9 among those active in evangelizing, and Ignatius of Antioch, Ephesians 1.3, claims that he knew Onesimus personally and depicts him as (p.107) a person of ‘indescribable charity’. Another interpretation of κοινωνία‎ is offered by Peter Arzt-Grabner, who reads κοινωνία τῆς πίστεως‎ as a company of both faith and trust. He thinks that Paul asked Onesimus to become a trustworthy slave, and Philemon to include Onesimus in κοινωνία‎.15

It is also debated whether Onesimus was a fugitive, which is not explicitly stated in the letter. This view is still upheld by several scholars,16 in part on the grounds that runaway slaves were common in antiquity. Other scholars have proposed, for example, that Onesimus asked Paul to serve as an intermediary on his behalf with Philemon, with whom he had troubles, as he hoped for emancipation.17 Or else, he might have been sent by Philemon’s house church to Paul with an offer during his imprisonment, but Paul kept him for some time; he wrote to Philemon to explain this and sent Onesimus back in hopes that Philemon would set him free and send him again to Paul.18 On this hypothesis, Onesimus was a slave, but no runaway.

Allen Callahan argued that Onesimus was not even a slave, but was Philemon’s brother,19 whereas Scott Elliot suggested that Philemon sent Onesimus to Paul as a gift, but Paul refused the gift.20 Murray J. Harris regards Onesimus as a runaway slave—the traditional interpretation—who has absconded with some of Philemon’s money or possessions, and rejects John Knox’s position that Onesimus was a slave of Archippus, mentioned in Philemon 2. Harris deems it likely that Philemon received Onesimus back, as Paul had recommended.21 Catherine Hezser also accepts the traditional view of Onesimus as a runaway slave: he escaped from his master Philemon and met Paul in prison; Paul was willing to baptize Onesimus and receive him into the community, but returned him to Philemon, asking the latter to manumit Onesimus. This manumission, however, would be an act of kindness rather than an obligation.22

It is worth noting that if Onesimus was a slave who had sought refuge with Paul, the latter, according to Deuteronomy 23:15–16, was not allowed to return him to Philemon. Yet, this is exactly what Paul did. What is even more crucial to the present investigation, at v. 16 Paul’s words may be (p.108) interpreted as an exhortation to Philemon to liberate Onesimus, since Paul urges Philemon to receive Onesimus as ‘more than a slave, as a beloved brother both in the flesh and in the Lord’. In the Lord all Christian slaves were brothers of their owner, but not ‘in the flesh’. With this addition Paul may have suggested that Philemon should set Onesimus free,23 all the more so in that at v. 19 his words might be interpreted as an offer to pay for his manumission: ‘I will repay it’.

This interpretation, if correct, would be perfectly consistent with Paul’s declaration in Galatians 3:28, that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, as well as there is neither man nor woman. On so scanty and ambiguous a basis, however, certainty cannot be reached. I have indicated that the same letter has even been interpreted as denouncing Paul as a slave owner himself. To complicate the picture, there is only one other passage that deals with juridical slavery in Paul’s authentic letters; all the others come from letters that are attributed to him but are probably, or certainly, not by him.

Other Pauline, Deutero-Pauline, Pseudo-Pauline, and Pseudo-Petrine Passages on Slavery

I have already mentioned 1 Corinthians 7:17–24, the paternity of which is undisputed. Here Paul again parallels circumcision, that is, ethnic origin, and juridical slavery or freedom as unimportant or indifferent, as in Galatians 3:28. If one has been called to faith in Jesus while circumcised, one should keep the marks of circumcision; if one has been called while uncircumcised, one should not seek circumcision, since what matters is neither circumcision nor lack thereof, but keeping God’s commandments (19). Paul recommends that everyone remain in the state in which they were called (20), which applies to both circumcision and slavery. Thus, if one was a slave (δοῦλος‎) when called, one should not mind, but ‘if you can gain your freedom, rather avail yourself of the opportunity [μᾶλλον χρῆσαι‎]’. This translation, however, is not the only one possible. Literally, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι‎ means ‘use it’, and it is unclear whether one should avail oneself of one’s condition of enslavement (in the following sense: ‘even if you can become free, rather use’ your being called while enslaved) or of the possibility of obtaining freedom.24 Paul motivates his sibylline exhortation by observing that a person who was called to faith in (p.109) Jesus as a slave is a freedman of the Lord, and a person who was free when called is a slave (δοῦλος‎) of Christ. Paul concludes his argument by urging his addressees not to become slaves (δοῦλοι‎) of humans, since they were bought with a price, obviously by Jesus Christ. The problem here is to determine whether he is speaking of juridical or of spiritual slavery; in the whole paragraph he seems to mix the two planes.

While Leviticus 25 states that the Jews could not be slaves of anybody because they were slaves of God, Paul—who surely had that chapter in mind—insists that Christians are the slaves of Christ if they are juridically free, and are freedmen of Christ if they are juridically slaves. Their situation ‘in Christ’ is the reversal of their juridical, worldly state (Paul would say, their state ‘in the flesh’). Indeed, Paul, who was juridically free, constantly describes himself as a slave both of Christ and of his fellow Christians. In 2 Corinthians 4:5, he declares that he is ‘a slave’ of the Corinthians ‘because of Jesus’ (δούλους ὑμῶν διὰ Ἰησοῦν‎);25 he also presents himself as a slave of Jesus in Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, and Galatians 1:10, as Jude is described in Jude 1:1. In Titus 1:1 Paul is called a slave of God, like James in James 1:1 and Peter in 2 Peter 1:1.26

What is more, Paul insists on Christ’s assumption of slavery by means of his assumption of humanity (Philippians 2:7), and in this connection Paul recommends humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη‎), after the model of Christ (Philippians 2:3).27 Everybody is advised by Paul to keep the ethnic and social condition one was in when one became a Christian—Gentiles need not be circumcised to follow Jesus, and slaves need not be manumitted—also because Paul was convinced that the end of the world was drawing near. This is why he did not fight for the abolition of slavery (unless the above-mentioned controversial passage in Philemon suggests otherwise). But he apparently advised slaves to avail themselves of the opportunity of manumission if possible, although, as I have mentioned, this interpretation is very doubtful. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Paul’s references in this passage seem to switch from juridical to moral/spiritual slavery and freedom, and vice versa. When he speaks of being a slave or free when one is called, and trying to be manumitted, he is almost certainly referring to juridical slavery and freedom. But when he speaks of being slaves of Christ or freedmen of Christ and of having been bought by Christ, he means spiritual slavery and freedom. Christ liberates people from enslavement to sin and the devil; being a slave of Christ is as good as Abraham’s being a slave of God in Philo (see the second part of Chapter 1). (p.110) It is remarkable that Paul calls himself not ‘a slave of God’, but ‘a slave [δοῦλος‎] of Jesus Christ’ (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Galatians 1:10). However, there is no contradiction between the two formulas, since for Paul Christ is arguably God, or at least ‘in the form of God’ and ‘equal to God’ (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων‎…ἴσα θεῷ‎, Philippians 2:6). Enslavement to Christ is therefore good, like enslavement to God. When Paul warns his readers not to become slaves of humans (v. 23), he seems to be speaking of moral slavery rather than juridical slavery. Being a moral slave of humans is negative and is opposed to being a slave of God. On the contrary, being a juridical slave of a human being ‘counts for nothing’ (οὐδέν ἐστιν‎, v. 19).

Paul indeed stresses the good of voluntary self-enslavement to God—already praised by Philo and by Scripture itself, as we have seen—and to one’s neighbour.28 This is what Paul himself states in 1 Corinthians 9:19: ‘For though I am free [ἐλεύθερος‎] from all humans, I have made myself a slave to all [πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα‎], that I might gain all [πάντας‎]’. The variant reading πάντας‎ is confirmed, not only by a part of the manuscript tradition, but also by the quotation of this very verse of Paul by Porphyry, or a Porphyrian anti-Christian polemicist, reported by Macarius of Magnesia Apocriticus 3.30: ‘Although I am free, he says, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might gain all’.29

However, from the viewpoint of juridical slavery, Paul—at least according to the most widespread interpretation—advises Christian slaves to endeavour to be manumitted if possible. Interestingly, this is something that disappears from all other pieces of advice addressed to slaves in deutero-Pauline and pseudo-Pauline epistles. Likewise, the authentically Pauline principle that in Christ there is no difference between men and women (Galatians 3:28) will disappear entirely from the deutero-Pauline epistles, such as Colossians and Ephesians, and the pseudo-Pauline epistles, such as the so-called Pastoral Epistles, or at least 1 Timothy and Titus.30 In these letters, indeed, a reaction (p.111) against women’s leadership in churches is also evident and goes against Paul’s own prescription and practice. These letters may even have spawned a heresiological genre.31

So, the recommendation concerning the manumission of slaves disappears from Colossians 3:18–4:1.32 Here, the Pauline author advises wives to be submissive to their husbands and children to obey their parents, with the reciprocal recommendation to husbands to love their wives and to parents not to provoke their children (3:18–21). Then he recommends that slaves (δοῦλοι‎) obey their earthly masters in everything out of fear of the Lord; for ‘you are serving [δουλεύετε‎] the Lord Christ’ (3:22–4). Again, in reciprocity, owners are urged to treat their slaves justly and fairly, knowing that they too have a Master in heaven (4:1). The recommendation of submissiveness to their owners for slaves clearly pairs the recommendation of submissiveness to their husbands for wives. Neither of these is in the spirit of Paul’s Galatians 3:28, but much more in the spirit of Aristotle’s theorization of the ‘natural’ inferiority of slaves and women, which the real Paul, as I have argued at the beginning, seemed to counter. At least, here there is still a recommendation for masters—again parallel to that for husbands—which will disappear altogether from the pseudo-Pauline letters.

Also, while in 1 Corinthians 7:20–24 Paul coupled being the slave of Christ with being juridically free, as I have pointed out, the author here (3:23–4) couples being the slave of Christ with being a juridical slave of humans. This implicitly identifies the owner with Christ. And while Paul referred to spiritual slavery, stating that all Christians were liberated by Christ and should not become slaves of human beings, here the discourse lies exclusively on the juridical and social plane. Finally, while Paul probably exhorted slaves to pursue their own manumission when possible, here there is no mention of a change of legal status.

Exactly the same prescriptions to slaves—paired again with the recommendation of obedience addressed to children (Ephesians 6:1–4)—are also found in Ephesians 6:5–8, another deutero-Pauline letter, which uses the very same expressions.33 In both Colossians and Ephesians, prescriptions are not only (p.112) addressed to slaves, but also to their masters. The latter are advised to treat their slaves with justice and fairness, to do them good, and to abstain from threats. Things worsen still in the so-called Pastoral Epistles.

Among the ‘Pastorals’, 1 Timothy and Titus are surely not by Paul, while doubts exist about 2 Timothy, as mentioned. Now, it is precisely in 1 Timothy (6:1–5) and Titus (2:9–13), the certainly pseudo-Pauline letters, that the prescription is given to slaves to obey and revere their masters, without even any longer a counter-prescription to masters themselves, let alone the advice to slaves to seek manumission if possible. This is in line with the larger Graeco-Roman world, in which also faithfulness (fides/πίστις‎) was expected of slaves toward masters, but much less so viceversa;34 there was scarce or no reciprocity. In both 1 Timothy and Titus, the concern about the reputation of Christian groups among other people imbued with traditional Graeco-Roman social expectations is paramount: ‘Let all who are under the yoke of slavery [οἱ ὑπὸ ζυγὸν δοῦλοι‎] regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed’ (1 Timothy 6:1); ‘Bid slaves [δούλους‎] to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to be refractory, nor to pilfer, but to show entire and true fidelity, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour’ (Titus 2:9–10).

Indeed, just as it is the case with the prescriptions against women, so also the prescriptions against slaves in 1 Timothy and Titus are dictated by the same concern about public opinion, namely, what Graeco-Roman society would think about the Christians. So in Tit 2:5 it is likewise prescribed that women should be ‘submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited’. Hence the need to conform to ‘pagan’ social rules concerning slavery and the subordination and domestication of women. The submissiveness of slaves and women alike, which elicited such anxiety in the author(s) of the Pastorals, was obviously pivotal to households, as was that of children (see Malachi 1:6: ‘a son must honour his father and a slave his master’). Likewise, James Kelhoffer has argued that an early Christian document such as Second Clement, which is chronologically close to the deutero- and pseudo-Pauline epistles, adapted the Roman patron–client relationship, applying it to the relationship between Christ as patron and the believers as clients, who owe him a ‘repayment’ (ἀντιμισθία‎).35 This unbalanced relation is not so different from the deutero-Pauline Ephesians’ model of Christ as husband and the Church as wife.

(p.113) A similar trend and worry about acceptance in Graeco-Roman society is evident in another letter ascribed to Peter: 1 Peter 2:15–23.36 To the concern about silencing those who may speak evil of Christians (‘it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men’, 15), another motivation is added here that regards specifically the submissive behaviour of slaves and even their exhortation to suffer unjustly—their undeserved suffering will imitate the suffering of Christ: ‘Servants [οἰκέται‎], be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly [πάσχων ἀδίκως‎]…because Christ also suffered for you…when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly’ (18–23, RSV). As in the Pastorals, here too no reverse prescription is found that addresses masters. Even if Christ has suffered unjustly also for slave owners, and not only for slaves, only the latter are urged to suffer unjustly. Thus, the author of 1 Peter seems willing to perpetuate domestic violence against slaves.37 While in the Pauline corpus the word for ‘slave’ is δοῦλος‎, here we find οἰκέτης‎, but the author, in this case too, is undoubtedly addressing slaves.

Slavery as a Stoic ‘Indifferent Thing’ for Paul?

Besides the explanation I have already offered concerning Paul’s relatively imminent eschatology, it has been suggested that Paul did not actively support the abolition of slavery also because in his view juridical slavery was probably a matter of moral indifference in the Stoic sense: it was an ἀδιάφορον‎,38 like circumcision, social class, ethnic identity, gender, and so on. The main advocate of this thesis is Will Deming, who has argued for it especially on the basis of 1 Corinthians 7:20–23.25–38.39

As I have mentioned, Stoic influence on Paul’s thought is recognized by scholarship—perhaps not always without some exaggerations, but in principle (p.114) it is certainly possible that Paul knew the concept of Stoic ‘indifferent things’ (ἀδιάφορα‎) and reworked it. If Paul embraced the Stoic view regarding slavery, it would follow that to his mind slavery was to be conceived as neither a good to be chosen, nor an evil to be avoided, since good is only virtue and what is related to it, and evil is only vice. It is moral enslavement to passions that is evil; juridical slavery is an adiaphoron. But it is an adiaphoron to be rejected if the opportunity presents itself, at least according to the most common interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21–22 (see above in this same chapter). Therefore, in this case slavery would not be a ‘preferable indifferent’ to be elected, according to the Stoic classification, but a ‘non-preferable indifferent’ to be avoided.40

I have some more doubts concerning marriage, which Deming also presents as an ‘indifferent thing’ for Paul. In 1 Corinthians 7:1 he states that it is good for a man not to touch a woman, and presumably also for a woman not to touch a man. Paul then explains that because of the temptation to immorality, he allows people to marry, but ‘by way of concession, not of command [κατὰ συγγνώμην‎, οὐ κατ‎’ἐπιταγήν‎]’, because he wishes that all were as he himself is (6–7).41 Paul only permits marriage by concession or excuse: these are the meanings of συγγνώμη‎ applicable here; his first choice and recommendation is celibacy. To the unmarried and widows, Paul further says that it is well for them to remain single as he is, but if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry, since it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion (8–9). The justification he gives for this concession is not the perpetuation of humanity—since he is convinced that the end of the world is relatively imminent—but rather a moral reason: maintaining self-control, ἐγκράτεια‎, a key virtue in the ethical system of Hellenistic moral philosophy (9).

This is mainly why I doubt that for Paul marriage is really an indifferent thing, neither good nor evil, since Paul explicitly says that what is good is in fact not to marry (though he does not claim that marriage is bad, only that celibacy is better). And this is also why the prescription of marriage in the Pastoral Epistles, purportedly stemming from Paul, is in sharp contrast to Paul’s own teaching, as has been abundantly noted.42 After all, neither Jesus (p.115) nor Paul seems to have been married, even if many of the apostles, men and women, were. This specific point, however, does not directly bear on the issue of the position toward slavery and social justice held by Paul and the other authors and protagonists of the writings eventually collected and edited as the New Testament. But it does bear on the issue of ascetic tendencies. Let us now turn to the question of slavery and social injustice leading to poverty in the rest of the New Testament.

Other Possible Clues in the New Testament Outside the Epistles

In the New Testament, several Gospel parables have slaves as protagonists—just as do many rabbinic, and especially midrashic, parables, in which the slave owner is often a king—and likely reflect, to some extent, the society from which they stem.43 But they cannot be treated as historical documents, nor do they express any judgement about slavery. They simply represent God metaphorically as the master of all humans.44 In other New Testament books, too, slaves feature regularly.45

As for Jesus himself, neither he nor his parents or relatives, including the Baptist, are portrayed as slave owners. Even if Jesus in the Gospels never says that slavery should be abolished, nevertheless he is clear that his followers should serve rather than being served, and he himself gives the example by performing a typical slave’s task such as washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1–15). This message of service was to be taken up by many Christians, sometimes with heroism. Eusebius, HE 7.22 reports a letter by Dionysius of Alexandria, which highlights the local Christians’ commitment to service to the sick on the occasion of a severe plague in 262 CE, even to the point of dying of contagion. According to Richard Cassidy, the Johannine foot-washing scene, in which Jesus serves his disciples—specifically called his slaves (δοῦλοι‎)—as though he were a slave himself, implicitly discouraged the purchase of slaves. ‘In principle, slavery must disintegrate when Christian masters begin to wash the feet of their slaves’; John’s account ‘begins to subvert the contemptible slavery (p.116) upon which the empire was based’.46 As Mark 10:44–45 puts it, ‘whoever wants to be the first among you, will have to be the slave [δοῦλος‎] of all. For the Son of the Human Being did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life for the liberation of many’.

On the other hand, in John 15:14–15 Jesus says to his disciples that he calls them no longer slaves, but friends (φίλοι‎), if they do what he commands. The slave (ὁ δοῦλος‎) does not know his master’s business, but Jesus calls his disciples friends, because he has made known to them all that he has learnt from the Father. This opposition between being friends of God and being slaves of God finds a perfect parallel in Jesus’s contemporary, Philo: ‘The wise person is a friend [φίλον‎] of God rather than a slave [δοῦλον‎]’ (On Soberness 55), although Philo himself elsewhere evaluates positively being a slave of God, which is typical of the purified soul (On Cherubs 106), as we have seen in the second part of Chapter 1. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to have described herself as ‘the slave [δούλη‎] of the Lord’ (Luke 1:38), the same expression that Aseneth uses in the Jewish, or perhaps Christian, novel Joseph and Aseneth, an expansion of Gen. 41:45, 50: ‘Be kind, o Lord, to your slave’ (17.10).47 And Mary soon came to be described with ascetic traits in Christian literature, especially in the Protevangelium of James, which characterizes her through a focus on the purity theme.48

Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth read Isa 61:1–4, where God says that he has sent his anointed one to proclaim freedom to those enslaved; Jesus declares that he is the one sent to do so (Luke 4:16–30). This enslavement is primarily enslavement to sin, but can be also captivity, slavery, oppression. The reference to ‘the year of grace of the Lord’ indicates the liberation prescribed by the Law in the seventh year for Jewish slaves. According to Lyndon Drake and Douglas Oakman,49 Jesus also opposed debt slavery by exhorting people in parables, and especially in the Lord’s Prayer, to remit debts, quite literally, not just as a metaphor for the forgiveness of sins. For David Balch, Luke-Acts exhorts the proud urban rich to be humble and form one community with the poor.50

(p.117) Another passage outside the Gospels and the Pauline corpus, Revelation 18:13,51 far from suggesting that slavery is an ‘indifferent thing’, sounds like a condemnation of slavery understood as the buying and selling of humans. The author is describing the ruin of Babylon the courtesan, which is generally assumed to represent Rome—the Apocalypse was probably written after the Jewish war and the fall of Jerusalem.52 Merchants are depicted as lamenting this ruin, because nobody will buy their goods anymore. Among the goods that they buy and sell there are also σωμάτων‎, καὶ ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων‎, ‘bodies, and souls of humans’. Within this picture, the traffic of humans (which comes at the end of a long list of goods sold by merchants to Babylon the harlot) is presented in highly negative terms. Interestingly, the same expression, ‘buying souls’, precisely in reference to slavery, is already attested in Plato, Hippias minor 375C: ‘and buying the souls/lives of the slaves [τάς γε τῶν δούλων ψυχὰς κεκτῆσθαι‎]’.

This does not mean that the author of Revelation fought for the elimination of slavery as an institution, but the association of slavery with the execrated empire certainly casts a very negative light on it. In Judaism too, however, which is the cultural context inside which the author of Revelation was writing, slavery was institutionalized, as I have shown in the second part of Chapter 1, although ascetic circles such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae rejected this institution altogether. It would be interesting to know whether the author of Revelation had some acquaintance or connection with these circles, although this question cannot be answered with certainty.

As has been pointed out, Jesus himself is not reported to have said much about legal slavery, apart from telling slave parables and not being represented as a slave owner, and we therefore have had to turn to Paul and other New Testament texts to glean some information about attitudes toward legal slavery. But there are some sayings of Jesus, transmitted by the synoptic gospels, which deal with wealth and poverty in a rather unambiguous manner. (p.118) One is Jesus’s warning that one cannot serve God and mammon at the same time (Matthew 6:24), which casts money as an idol against God. In Qumran literature (1QS 6.2; 1Q27 1.2.5; CD 14.20) and in Targumic literature, both Aramaic mamonah and Hebrew mamon—unattested in the Hebrew Bible—generically indicate riches and money.

The second saying of Jesus against wealth is his prescription to his apostles not to take any money with them in their work of evangelization. This injunction is transmitted by all the synoptics: ‘Do not acquire any gold or silver, not even copper for your purses’ (Matthew 10:9; Mark 6:8; Luke 6:3). The third saying comforts the poor: ‘Blessed are the poor; for the kingdom of heavens/of God belongs to them/you’ (Luke 6:20; Matthew 5:3). While in Matthew those who are declared to be blessed are ‘the poor in spirit’ (οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι‎), in Luke the qualifier ‘in spirit’ is absent. Those who are blessed are the poor altogether.53

The syntagm ‘in spirit’ is likewise absent from Jesus’s no less famous utterance against the rich, in all three synoptic versions: ‘It is easier for a camel [or: a big rope] to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25).54 Consequently, to the young rich man he says that perfection consists in selling whatever one possesses and following Jesus (Luke 14:33).55 This injunction will become crucial in patristic reflections on social justice and the divide between rich and poor. As we shall see, stricter interpretations will face more relaxed ones. According to Matthew Ringe, this parable should not be seen merely as a straightforward critique of avarice, but should be read in the light of sapiential texts which relate possessions with death; it was engaging a Second Temple conversation about possessions and death.56

Paul, in line with Jesus’s recommendation, in 2 Corinthians 6:10 presents himself as ‘poor’ (πτωχοί‎) and ‘possessing nothing’ (μηδὲν ἔχοντες‎), like the members of the Qumran community who designated themselves as ‘the poor’.57 In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul describes Jesus as ‘made poor’ (ἐπτώχευσεν‎, as a human being) from rich (πλούσιος‎, qua God)—although the latter passage seems to refer more to spiritual than to material poverty and richness. Πτωχός‎, not πένης‎, is indeed the key term in the New Testament, taken (p.119) over also by many patristic authors.58 And Jesus’s parable of the workers in the vineyard has been regarded as a ‘social utopia’.59

What is more, the self-identification of Jesus is clearly with the poor and suffering, rather than with the rich, in Matthew 25:35–40: Jesus is in every person who is hungry, thirsty, in need of clothes, ill, or imprisoned. Those who help the poor will be rewarded in the eschatological judgement, which will bear on deeds; the others will be punished. An imitator of Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:10, declares greed for money (φιλαργυρία‎) to be ‘the root of all evils’.60 Many ascetic Fathers will echo and cite this statement in support of the election of voluntary poverty.

A negative view of wealth is also manifest in the second-century sayings gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, logia 63 and 64. The former concerns the rich man who intends to amass wealth, but dies that very night. The latter throws a bad light upon those who are invited to the Lord’s banquet but ask to be excused because they have to attend to their business and wealth. Here Jesus concludes that ‘Buyers and merchants will not enter the places of my Father’. Both of these logia have clear parallels in the canonical gospels. Helmut Koester even thinks that they represent a redaction that is closer to the original than that found in the canonical gospels.61

In Acts 2:44–6 and 4:32–6, passages which exerted a remarkable influence on patristic thinkers,62 the first-century members of the Jesus movement are represented not exactly as possessing nothing, but as holding all possessions in common (ἅπαντα κοινά‎, 2:44; πάντα κοινά‎, 4:32) and sharing food as well as worship. The individuals sold their possessions, lands, and houses and brought the revenues to the apostles. This money was then distributed to all, according to their needs, so nobody among them called anything their own property, and nobody was indigent (ἐνδεής‎, 4:34). This point is emphasized so strongly by the author of Acts that he confirms the principle with the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the couple who withheld a part of their wealth for themselves: they were punished for this by a God-sent death (Acts 5:1–11).63 Notably, the commonality of possessions is associated by the author of Acts (p.120) with the idealized description of the Jesuan community as being ‘one heart and one soul’ (4:32) and ‘unanimous’ (2:46). No specific mention is made in either passage of slaves possibly sold and held in common.

Very interestingly, second-century Christians are likewise ascribed commonality of possessions by Lucian. In Peregrinus 13, he observes, referring to Peregrinus, that every magician, every charlatan, and every man capable of taking advantage of circumstances was able to exploit the Christians and become rich at their expense, as these were simple and gullible people and held all things in common (ἅπαντα κοινά‎, the same expression as in Acts 2:44).64 Whether the last remark derives from direct knowledge of second-century Christian communities or from the reading of the Acts passages or others, or even just from hearsay, is difficult to establish. What we know from many other sources, including patristic homilies, letters, and treatises, is that among the ancient Christians there were rich people and slave owners, as we shall see in the next chapters.


(1) On Paul in his Jewish and Graeco-Roman context see Murphy-O’Connor, Paul; Harrill, Paul.

(2) For the probable baptismal context, in the light of the incorporation in the Christian community and Christ’s body, see De Boer, Galatians, 245–7. Cf. Cameron, ‘Neither Male nor Female’, who examines women’s leadership in early Christianity from the viewpoint of a classicist. For a contextualization of Gal 3:28 within first-century CE ideas see Neutel, Cosmopolitan Ideal, who interestingly situates Gal 3:28 within first-century discourses about the ideal community. But she interprets ‘neither male nor female’ as a rejection of marriage (ch. 4) and not of gender discrimination, as an anti-Aristotelian, Stoicizing perspective would instead suggest.

(3) See Engberg-Pedersen, ‘Stoicism’; the influence of Stoic ethics on Romans 12–15 is argued by Thorsteinsson, ‘Stoicism’; the Stoic influence on 1 Corinthians 7 and Romans 1 by Huttunen, ‘Stoic Law’. On Paul and Stoicism see also Cosmology; Ramelli, ‘Philosophen und Prediger’; Ramelli, ‘Dieu et la philosophie’. According to Timothy Brookins, a certain degree of philosophical training, especially in Stoicism, induced the wealthiest members of the Corinthian community to read Paul’s message in the light of Stoicism (see Brookins, Corinthian Wisdom). According to Reiser, Sprache, Paul reflects Stoic ideas weakly; he speaks of ‘die schwachen Nachklänge stoischer Gedanken bei Paulus’ (95), and thinks that Paul was not directly acquainted with Stoic thought, but only knew it vaguely through Hellenistic Judaism. Likewise he thinks that Paul’s knowledge of Hellenistic rhetorical formation is ‘wohl indirekt’ (70). Doubts are expressed in a review article by Mitchell, ‘Style’.

(4) See, e.g., Crone, Qurʾānic Pagans, chs 9–10.

(5) Gallez, Messie, 301, suggests that ‘most of them’ means most of the Christians.

(6) See King, Secret Revelation, 177–238; Pleše, Poetics.

(7) King, ‘Reading’, 532–5.

(8) Kloos, ‘In Christ’.

(9) Paul worked when preaching in new cities, but also received financial assistance from the communities he had already established, according to Briones, Financial Policy.

(10) Chester, ‘Ethics’, explains that the NT for the most part has eschatology-driven ethics over against societal norms, rather than an ethical assimilation to the standards of the surrounding culture. This is true of Paul, much less of pseudo-Paul (Pastoral Epistles).

(11) See, e.g., Botha, ‘Hierarchy’. Garnsey, Ideas, 176–7 does not take into account the scholarly debate on the identity of Onesimus and the Letter to Philemon; however, his concise discussion is excellent.

(12) Roth, ‘Paul, Philemon’. Glancy, ‘Use’, even suggests that there is no evidence that Paul considered the sexual exploitation of slaves as πορνεία‎ and prohibited it.

(13) Paul has traditionally been deemed uncritical of the Roman Empire due to Rom 13:1–7, but recent scholarship has pointed to hidden criticism in his letters. For a critical assessment of this scholarship see Heilig, Hidden Criticism?

(14) Harrill, Manumission, 11–67; Klauck, ‘Roman Empire’, 75.

(15) Arzt-Grabner, ‘How to Deal’.

(16) E.g. by O’Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 266–7; Petersen, Rediscovering Paul, 264; Walt, Paolo, 389–90.

(17) Lampe, ‘Sklavenflucht’: Onesimus was a slave, but not a runaway; Barclay, ‘Paul, Philemon’; Dunn, Colossians and Philemon, 301–4; Osiek and Balch, 174–7.

(18) Winter, ‘Observations’; White, Jesus, 194–7.

(19) Callahan, ‘Philemon’; Callahan, Embassy. Contrast Mitchell, ‘Chrysostom on Philemon’.

(20) Elliot, ‘Thanks’. Kreitzer, Philemon, offers a survey of scholarship (1–18), and especially in chs 3–6 reports the debate on these various interpretations: Onesimus as a runaway, an asylum seeker, a slave from Colossae, or a brother of Philemon. See also Johnson, Onesimus, which proposes a postmodern reading; also a useful survey of past scholarship is provided in the first essay by Demetrius Williams; Spataro, ‘Portrait’.

(21) Harris, Colossians and Philemon, esp. 207, 209. On Philemon and the whole NT see Harrill, Slaves in the New Testament; Harrill, ‘Slave Self’.

(22) Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 270. See also Jeal, Exploring Philemon.

(23) So Fitzmyer, Philemon, 113–16. Byron, Paul and Slavery, also addresses interpretations of Philemon.

(24) Discussion in Fee, Corinthians, 315–20; Harrill, Manumission, 74–5; Thiselton, Corinthians, 553–9; Byron, Paul and Slavery, 92–3.

(25) The very association of the idea of service to Christian ministry is a development of this kind of notion. See Bonney and Cimosa, ‘Sviluppo’. On Paul’s self-description as a ‘slave of Jesus Christ’ within the reality of slavery in his day see Bryant, Paul and the Rise.

(26) Aichele, Jude and Second Peter, esp. ch. 3, makes the (not unproblematic) suggestion that Jude’s reference to Jesus as Master and the letter’s author as a ‘slave’ was meant literally, whereas the same expression in 2 Peter 1:1 was meant metaphorically.

(27) See Becker, Demut.

(28) On Paul’s self-designation as slave of God see Martin, Slavery; Byron, Slavery Metaphors.

(29) Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὤν‎, λέγει‎, πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα‎, ἵνα πάντας κερδήσω‎. Likewise, in 1 Cor 9:22, ‘I have become all to all, in order to save all [πάντας‎]’, the reading πάντας‎ is attested by a whole class of Greek mss., in Priscillian, in the Syriac Peshitta, and in the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate: ut omnes facerem salvos/ut omnes salvos facerem. This is also Origen’s reading in his echo of Paul’s words in Commentary on the Song of Songs (C.Cant.) 1.4.30: perfecti quique omnibus omnia fiunt, ut omnes lucrifaciant, ‘all those who are perfect become all to all, in order to gain all’.

(30) It is generally acknowledged that the ‘Pastorals’ are pseudepigraphic, be they all by the same author or not. An exception to this opinion is Gourgues, Timothée–Tite (reviewed by J. Murphy-O’Connor, RB 116 (2010) and M. Quesnel, Science et Esprit 62 (2010) 472–6). He argued that, while 1 Timothy and Titus were not composed by Paul, 2 Timothy is probably authentic, at least about three-fifths of it. Indeed, impressive parallels have been detected between 1 Timothy and Titus and Hellenistic moral philosophy, most recently with Hierocles the Stoic’s doctrines of oikeiōsis, kathēkonta, and ‘contraction of circles’ (Ramelli, ‘Pastoral Epistles’; ‘1 Tim 5:6’). Analogously, it is only in these two letters, and not in 2 Timothy, that the U-turn against women’s church leadership is found (see, e.g., Fiore, Pastoral Epistles, esp. 71–9; Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory, 233, 266; 168–204 for Paul’s opposite praxis; Mitchell, ‘Gentile Christianity’, 124).

(31) Smith, Guilt, argues that Christian heresy catalogues were not so much rooted in Greek doxographic accounts, as in the pseudo-Pauline epistles.

(32) On this passage see also Osiek, ‘Female Slaves’; MacDonald, ‘Slavery, Sexuality’. Garnsey, Ideas, 177 treats this as Paul’s own letter (‘in the letter to the Colossians Paul introduces additional elements’), although it is a disputed Pauline letter.

(33) Martinsen, ‘New Life’, sees in this passage at the same time an idealized vision of slavery and a conforming to Graeco-Roman household standards. On this and other ‘domestic codes’ in the NT see Lührmann, ‘Haustafeln’; Harrill, Slaves in the New Testament, 113–15; Glancy, Slavery, 142–3.

(34) See Morgan, Faith, 51–5.

(35) Kelhoffer, ‘Reciprocity as Salvation’, who builds on Neyrey, ‘God, Benefactor’ and Osiek, ‘Politics of Patronage’ and ‘Diakonos and Prostatis’.

(36) On which see, e.g., Balch, Wives, esp. 96 for the lack of reciprocity in the advice, here given only to slaves.

(37) See Fitzgerald, ‘Missionary Practice’, 30–1.

(38) Jaquette, Discerning, reviewed by Will Deming, JBL 115 (1996) 758–60. The presence of the Stoic concept of Law in Paul has been argued for by Huttunen, ‘Stoic Law in Paul?’, who also compares Epictetus’ notion of adiaphora to Paul’s doctrine. Paul’s taking over Stoic ethics is also advocated by Thorsteinsson, ‘Stoicism as Key’.

(39) Deming, ‘Indifferent Things’. On the valorization of ‘preferable indifferent things’ to select and ‘appropriate acts’ (καθήκοντα‎) among adiaphora in Middle and Roman Stoicism and the connection between καθήκοντα‎ and Stoic οἰκείωσις‎ in Musonius and Hierocles, contemporaries of the NT, see Ramelli, ‘Transformations’; Ramelli, Hierocles, esp. introductory essay. On Stoic attitudes toward slavery see Manning, ‘Stoicism and Slavery’.

(40) Deming, ‘Diatribe Pattern’.

(41) On ancient and modern debates about Paul’s marital status see Eastman, ‘Epiphanius’; Ramelli, ‘Colleagues of Apostles’. D’Angelo, ‘Family Values’, notes that the Augustan laws made marital probity central to moral and political discourse in the first century. Paul cites the sixth commandment in Romans, where he grants it first place in the second pentad, and reads it as prohibiting all unions and acts that contravened good sexual mores. But Paul never cites it when he advises his communities on sexual morality. Instead he supports his argument for freedom from the law in Christ.

(42) Bibliography on this point is huge. I refer only to Huizenga, Moral Education, who examines the Graeco-Roman moral-philosophical instructions for women by comparing the Pastorals and the Pythagorean letters. The Pastorals adopted nearly all of the ‘pagan’ aspects of this curriculum, supplementing them with theological justifications drawn from Pauline literature. See also Ramelli, ‘1 Tim 5:6’ and ‘Pastoral Epistles and Hellenistic Philosophy’.

(43) On Jewish society in the time of Philo and Jesus see Regev, ‘Flourishing’.

(44) On slave parables in the NT see Weiser, Knechtsgleichnisse; Crossan, ‘Servant Parables’; Goodrich, ‘Debt Remission’, also with relevant literature. Rabbinic slave parables are found especially in amoraic Midrashim and partially also in Tannaitic Midrashim and in the Tosefta. On these see Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 346–62. On slavery used metaphorically in the NT and patristics up to the early fifth century see Combes, Metaphor.

(45) E.g. the slave girl in Acts 16:16, as a pendant to slave owner Lydia in the same chapter: see Kartzow, ‘Complexity’.

(46) Cassidy, John’s Gospel, 117–23, quotation from 123.

(47) According to Nir, Joseph, this narrative was composed by a Christian, to persuade polytheists to join Christianity: Aseneth symbolizes the ‘Church from the Gentiles’, Joseph Christ, and their marriage the marriage of Christ to the Church. For Joseph and Aseneth as ancient novel, even including comical features, and its importance for the study of Jewish identity in the Hellenistic-Roman world, see Standhartinger, ‘Humour’.

(48) Vuong, Gender and Purity.

(49) Drake, ‘Prosbul’; according to Oakman, Jesus, Debt, 41, 117, Jesus’s agenda against debt slavery was ‘revolutionary’. On the economic background of Palestine in Jesus’s time and its relevance to his message, see Freyne, ‘Galilee and Judaea’, 47.

(50) Balch, Ethnicities.

(51) This passage was suggested to me as relevant in an informal conversation in August 2012 in Bern by Reinhard Feldmeier, to whom I am grateful. Feldmeier, Macht, remarks that the NT distinguishes a power that seeks to domineer and exploit (as this verse in Revelation denounces in the case of human trafficking in slavery) and a power that is employed to do good, esp. chs 1–2.

(52) See, e.g., Lupieri, Commentary; Bauckham, Theology; Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation; Kowalski, Rezeption. This dating is generally maintained also by scholars who regard the Apocalypse as a letter, such as Karrer, Johannesoffenbarung. Most scholars accept the traditional dating by Irenaeus, AH 5.30.3: the latter part of Domitian’s reign. See Yarbro Collins, Crisis, 54–83; Yarbro Collins, ‘Book of Revelation’. Callahan, ‘Language’, 468–9 considers the author of the Apocalypse to be a victim of Domitian’s persecution, as does Ramelli, ‘Satira IV’. A slight shift afterwards is postulated by Taeger, Perspektiven, according to whom the Apocalypse, which is due to the ‘Johannine tradition’, was written at the beginning of the second century and criticizes the empire. According to Rossing, Rapture Exposed, the Apocalypse, at the end of the first century, aimed at comforting the oppressed believers by announcing the end of unjust Roman rule. See also Friesen, Cults.

(53) See, e.g., Benyik, ‘Money’; Pecsuk, ‘Πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι‎’, 305: ‘πτωχοί‎ must be real poor people, whose material poverty is experienced in a spiritual realization of their pro-God existence. In light of this, the Lukan version can be taken as an original record of what Jesus had said and Matthew only found it necessary to clarify or sharpen it, but he never “spiritualized” it.’

(54) On this saying see Clark Kee, ‘Rich and Poor’.

(55) On Luke’s attitude toward wealth see Petracca, Gott; Balch, Ethnicities; Kramer, Lukas.

(56) Rindge, Rich Fool. Ringe also offers a history of the parable’s interpretation from Clement of Alexandria to modern scholars, with a useful overview of patristic exegesis (ch. 1).

(57) See 1QpHab 12:3, 12:6, 12:10; 4QpPs 37.

(58) On the terminology of poverty in classical and Hellenistic Greek see Galbois and Rougier-Blanc, Pauvreté. On poverty in the NT: Armitage, Theories.

(59) See Avemarie, ‘Gleichnis’.

(60) Zamfir, ‘Love of Money’, thinks that the author rehearses contemporary topoi about the dangers of wealth and its appropriate use, in order not so much to demonize it as to encourage euergetism.

(61) Koester, ‘Gospel of Thomas’, 125. On the other hand, attempts to reconstruct an ‘original’ text of the NT have been questioned in recent philology; see, e.g., Epp, ‘Multivalence’; Epp, ‘Textual Criticism’; Porter, How We Got.

(62) On the reception of this model in patristics see Boulnois, ‘Communauté’; Longenecker and Liebengood, Engaging.

(63) For this episode as an example of ‘tragic historiography’ in Acts, with the motif of ‘greed for more’ as the cause of ruin, see Lee, Luke-Acts, ch. 3.

(64) Καταφρονοῦσιν οὖν‎ ἁπάντων‎ ἐξ ἴσης καὶ‎ κοινὰ‎ ἡγοῦνται‎, ‘They despise all goods in the same way and consider them all common’ or ‘hold all of them in common’. See Ramelli, ‘Lucian’s Peregrinus’; Bremmer, ‘Peregrinus’ Career’.