We have a buffet of passages within this chapter to examine, and many of them are cans teeming with worms eager to be released. We could talk about miracles, the implications of Jesus’ statement that mustard-seed-sized faith is sufficient to make trees uproot themselves, and the historicity of Jesus’ own miraculous healings. We could talk about how after nearly two millennia, Jesus has not returned. We could talk about how Jesus’ parable in verses 7-10 apparently suggests that our posture toward God should be that of slaves. If we opened up any one of these cans, could we get all the worms back in the can by the end of the post? This is the risk you run when you open cans.
Pre-industrial agriculture is one of those aspects of the ancient world that I know next to nothing about. I have no hands-on farming experience, but I know enough about it to know I’m glad I don’t have to know about it. Plowing is hard work. Sowing is hard work. There’s a reason they call all the farm activity that gets done before sunrise “hell to breakfast,” and weeding the flower beds is about all the horticulture I can handle, thank you very much. If God had put me in the fifth century instead of the twenty-first, I guess I’d have to get my hands dirty and sweat out ten-hour days just to eat. But thank God I don’t.
We’re revisiting Titus 2 today, because I found some more things worth looking at and I’ve decided to milk this chapter for content. I figured I’d start by dredging out our old favorite, slavery in the Bible, because everyone likes that so much.
Today we return to our irregularly-scheduled trip through Titus, already in progress. Chapter 2 of Titus, much like 1 Timothy did with the offices of overseer and deacon, runs down the proper behaviors and character traits of the different sex and age groups in the church. He has instructions for older men, older women, younger men, and younger women. I noticed that the words “sensible” (2), “may encourage” (4), and “be sensible” (6, in this instance a single infinitive verb, literally “practice sensibleness”) all have the same Greek word as their root, σώφρων (sophron). I can’t help recalling Plato’s dialogue Meno, in which the titular Meno defines virtue as governance of the state for a man, governance of the household for a woman, and a different virtue for every category of human being, and Socrates takes him to task for not defining virtue but merely providing examples of different instances of it.
In what has got to be some kind of record, we’re still on Paul’s statements about slavery in 1 Timothy 6:1-2. Yesterday I made some introductory remarks on Biblical inerrancy and my own capacity for error, then took a look at the full scope of the Bible and its themes of liberation, concluding that the Biblical position is to oppose slavery. But we were left with the question: what do we do with Paul’s apparent condoning of slavery? If he’s positing that it’s God’s will for some people to own other people as property–what then?
On the whole, this All the Paul study has surprised me. I expected to encounter more friction between me and Paul; I’ve never been quite the Paul enthusiast that some of my church peers are. In my thirty-ish-year history with his writing, at times certain passages have struck me as too authoritarian, while others have seemed too theologically nebulous, too Greek, borderline pantheistic. But in tackling All the Paul here, while I’ve had to grapple with a few passages, on the whole I’ve been able to take something valuable away from each passage, dig up some good stuff and share it with you. And then Paul starts talking about slavery.
Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians with a return to that much-loved topic of circumcision. It may just be the cumulative effect of the whole letter, but this chapter strikes me as giving the clearest picture of his opponents and their motivations yet.
This chapter takes me back. My freshman and sophomore years of college, the leader of the campus Christian Fellowship was big on the first verse: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” You know how some verses you memorize deliberately, and some verses you end up memorizing accidentally just through exposure? The head of the Christian Fellowship was so big on this verse that I accidentally memorized it through exposure.
Tick off another verse for the Sara Groves Watch. When I read Galatians 4:7, I could instantly hear the line from the bridge of her song “The Word,” “We are no longer slaves, we are daughters and sons.” And if I had to pick a summary statement for this chapter, it’d be verse seven here: “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” It’s about being children of God.
Paul’s got a two-pronged argument here for those among the Galatians who would want to hang onto the Jewish law and insist that it’s necessary for salvation. He starts with a contrast between law and faith, similar to his arguments in the first handful of chapters from Romans, then moves into one based on chronology. But before we get into all that, I just want to note: the Galatians are by and large not Jews themselves! But they’ve bought into this false gospel from diehard Jewish legalists that being a Christian means getting circumcised and getting your kosher on and keeping the Sabbath. Which, honestly, strikes me as a serious feat of persuasion, getting predominantly Greek Gentiles to adopt the restrictive legal code of a minority religious-ethnic group that enjoys no particular popularity in the Roman Empire.