Slave — (Hebrew): Ebed; (Greek): Doulos – (chattel slaves of Athens)
Ancient Palestinian slavery was acceptble. In fact, there were varying degrees of slavery. There were the slaves who were the property of their masters. There were those who were hired slaves (much like a butler or cook) who came and went as they pleased, and also most likely one of the more coveted jobs in this time in history.
Also, its important to remember that Paul actually breaks Torah when he encourages Onesimus to return to Philemon.
“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee.”
“He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)
By doing this, Paul was probably hoping that Onesimus would be freed. Even though Paul broke Torah, he had the intention of the liberation of another person in mind. I think we might have to come to realize that there may be times where we might need to break ‘rule’s for the liberation of others. We might have to go against the ‘objective’ truths to find the truth behind it. We might have to look beyond the majority to see the voice of the minority shouting behind it. We have to choose the voice of the oppressed even over the voice of reason sometime.
Paul was attempting to redeem the word behind the meaning of slave as something that is positive, yet when he speaks of slavery he isn’t talking about or to hired slaves, he is speaking to those who are property of someone else. In a culture where slavery is acceptable, this is still offensive, but not as it would be offensive in our culture now where any type of slavery is directly looked down upon and even acted against. ‘This midrash says that the opening word of Genesis, Bereshith, ‘ in the beginning,’ means Torah for Judaism. The connotations of ‘child ‘ and ‘workman,’ relate to the biblical tradition of the ‘Servant (ebed) of Yahweh.’ So, maybe we need a new word…
To be a slave in the first-century meant your life was in the hands of your ‘lord’ or owner. he told you where to go and how to get there. you were living under their grace and depended on their charity. but even moreso, you were vulnerable. your very existence was hanging on a thread that they were holding. the word itself connotes child, a helpless yet curious adventurer who is willing to try anything once or more even!!!
So maybe ‘curious adventurer’ might be a better phrase. it gives the idea of someone who is willing to selflessly yet intriguingly run with God. one who is willing to try new things. its a partnership with God. the moment we use slave as an acceptable term for our relationship is also the moment we accept that God is intent on oppressing us. that we have no voice in any part of our relationship. but if we accept the above, our heads might have an easier time to wrestle with such a concept rather than coming to a full conclusion. except that slavery isn’t at all acceptable for any reason even if scripture seems to accept that. something must be done.