“We consider passages on slavery, like those in the OT describing incest, as descriptive rather than prescriptive. That is, a passage instructing a slave to serve their master well is not condoning the system of slavery, but instructing us how to behave if we find ourselves in that situation. And yet, how much of the complementarian view is based on the very same kind of admonition? If, as I am constantly reminded at every Christian men’s event, submission passages imply that God’s design was for men to be above women, why then can we flip that on its head with the slavery passages? Two words … Double. Standard.”
Just some thoughts in response to my friend’s post. This is an important question – and one that is essential to look at Biblically, because we all tend toward our own theological system, we must go back to the Word and get our theology from God, not Calvin (or get our pastoral theology from Jesus not Calvin as one of my professors always says).
Restating the question: have we read passages in the NT as prescriptive when in fact they are only descriptive (specifically applied to passages on the wife/husband relationship in comparison with passages on the slave/master relationship)?
Some thoughts that might help us come to a right understanding, specifically of the slave vs. marriage topic:
I think a main difference between these two subjects is this: marriage was ordained (created) by God (Gen. 2:20-24), slavery was not (men thought it up themselves – though God used it).
Marriage is called a good thing and the one who marries finds favor with God (Proverbs 18:22) – and a excellent wife more precious that jewels (Proverbs 31:10). Never is slavery considered in this positive, affirming way.
And while both are used as pictures of our relationship to God (Rom. 6:18; Eph. 5:25) – marriage is never used as a negative example, while slavery is (we were slaves to sin–Rom. 6:17).
I also think (as Lee pointed out), that the difference of words used when the Bible refers to each is important – slaves obey, wives be subject, respect etc., husbands love.
When the Bible speaks of slaves obeying their masters it is always “as for the Lord” or “as to Christ” (Col. 3:23; Eph. 6:5)
In the same way wives are called to be subject to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22) But also some difference as it is referred as something that is “fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18).
There is a special relationship between the husband and the wife that does not exist in a master/slave relationship – mainly that if a husband loves his wife, the Bible states that he is loving himself (Eph. 5:28) – again rather than saying “as unto the Lord” it makes a direct comparison, “just as Christ also does the church” (Eph. 5:29).
The Bible never makes a direct connection with masters/slaves to Christ and the Church – it never states: “For the master is the head of the slave, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.”
This should tell us something is different.
Also, when arguing why women should be silent/not teach – Paul makes appeals for this relationship (that mirror the commands on marriage as discussed previously) he appeals to outside sources and non-cultural facts/data.
Appeal to “the Law” (1 Corinthians 14:34)
Appeal to “Eve” (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
Appeal to “angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10)
But never is there an appeal made for the existence of slavery or the relationships of slaves to masters.
I don’t think our perspective on the marriage relationship falls under the category of “taking passages as prescriptive that are really only descriptive” – but there might be others that we do.
I personally can’t think of any off hand – but I would be interested if anyone can give some examples.