I made a little headway in Michael Card’s book, A Better Freedom: Finding Life as Slaves of Christ. I’m about 1/3 of the way into it and it’s a nice little read. I probably shouldn’t give a critique of it just yet, but it does seem to be a little on the lighter side. That’s not a bad thing, as it’s nice to have a break from reading headier stuff that I have to read a few times as I try to understand it. Here are some more selected excerpts you might enjoy (these paragraphs are situated chronologically in the book, but not successively, so they don’t necessarily directly relate to each other):
From the very beginning the national identity of Israel was connected to slavery. In what amounts to the preamble to the Ten Commandments, God reminds his people, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). The very first block of legal mandates that precede the Decalogue has to do with the protection of slaves. Later in Deuteronomy 5:15 when the Ten Commandments are recited once more, God commands the people to remember the sabbath and to extend its sacred rest even to male and female slaves. They are to show such kindness because “you were a slave in the land of Egypt.” And in Leviticus 25:42, the reason God gives for forbidding that his people be sold as slaves is not that they are supposed to be free, but rather that they are his slaves.
When we enter the New Testament, we encounter a completely different world of slavery. The reason, put simply, is Rome. For most of its 982-year existence, the economy of Rome was heavily (some scholars say completely) dependent on slave labor. Early in its history, Rome’s many wars of conquest yielded millions of captives. Those captives were sold into slavery, which Dionysius of Halicarnassus referred to as “the most just means” since it was considered more humane to enslave captives rather than to execute them. This rationale gave shape to the Roman mindset toward slavery for centuries. The slave owner could always justify his ownership of another human being by saying, “We might have executed you in battle. Instead we graciously allowed you to go on living.” By this twisted logic slavery was seen as a kindness.
Slaves were despised as a class in Roman culture because manual labor was universally looked down upon. The goal of the value system of upper class Roman society was not to have a respected profession but to have no profession at all, to live a life of organized leisure. Jobs we hold in high regard today, such as doctors, lawyers and artists, were given to slaves in the first century.
The quotation above made me think of the global society we live in today.
To call someone a slave was regarded as a serious insult. However, ancient sources mention that it was better to be the slave of a rich man than a pauper who is owned by no one. An oft-repeated phrase was “A poor free man must yield way in the marketplace to a rich man’s slave.”
To fall on your knees, in the Roman imagination, was not a sign of worship but rather humiliation. The image of Jesus on his knees washing the disciples’ feet would have been offensive to Romans. This helps us enter the world of the first-century believer who knelt at services where they would wash one another’s feet and confess Jesus as Lord.
In our own time kneeling has fallen out of fashion in most evangelical churches. It is practiced primarily in liturgical congregations. As we lose the practice of kneeling for confession and prayer, we subtly move away from the image of the slave of Christ.
It is significant that archeologists [sic] have never verified sleeping quarters for slaves, which leaves us to assume that they were forced to sleep wherever they could find a quiet place. Slaves were vocale instrumentum, “tools that speak,” and nothing more.
To be a slave in the mines was the worst torture. John was condemned as a slave to the marble quarries of Patmos where it was assumed he would eventually choke to death on the marble dust. To be sentenced to the mines was to be sentenced to death. It is a miracle that John somehow survived, eventually returning to pastor in Ephesus.
I have never read about John’s potential experiences throughout his post-early-Acts lifetime, but all the cursory mentions of John that I’ve ever read of him being exiled on the Isle of Patmos make it sound like he was in some sort of semi-tropical resort for the elderly. There the key word is always “exile,” and that’s about all the explanation provided which isn’t an explanation at all. My imagination obviously filled in that gaping hole of understanding with an image that wasn’t based on anything historical or even logical.
The idea above paints the experience of exile more like a prison island with gulag-like conditions. This sounds more realistic and logical. I presume this comes from historical accounts of what Patmos was like rather than anything explicitly recorded in such accounts concerning John.
Any historical accounts would be dependent on copies that were made hundreds of years later which may call into question their factual reliability, though not necessarily so. I haven’t read much concerning this topic, so I can’t say any of this with much certainty. I have read that the earliest copies of at least some of Josephus’ writings in Greek from the 1st century date to A.D. 1,000 or later, and some existing portions of Latin translations date closer to A.D. 500.