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There is a “tradition” of translating certain New Testament passages in ways that give seeming support to slavery. This began already with the Catholic, Latin Vulgate version. Many later translators have followed the pattern created by the Vulgate, and so, they have put into certain passages in the apostle Paul’s epistles wordings that might cause casual bible-readers to think that Paul supported slavery.
The question is, how should the Greek text of the relevant passages be interpreted? Really what was the apostle talking about? This article takes a closer look at that matter.
This is regarding the apostle Paul’s use of the verbs deô, “to bind”, and douloô, “to be bound”. Later in this article, it will be shown that in a number of passages where many translations make it seem that Paul was talking about slavery, he probably referred to the “marriage bond” and not a bond of slavery.
Here are two passages where it is clear that Paul used those verbs in connection with the “marriage bond”:
1 Corinthians 7:27 Are you bound [Greek deô] to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (HCSB, highlighting and comment added)
1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him leave. A brother or a sister is not bound [douloô] in such cases. God has called you to peace. (HCSB, highlighting and comment added)
In the Greek text of verse 27, the word for “bound” is the verb deô, in the form dedesai. In verse 15, it is the verb douloô, in the form dedoulôtai.
Those verbs appear also in such passages as 1 Timothy 6:1–2, Titus 2:9–10 and Ephesians 6:5–9. So, what about those verses? Was the apostle talking about the bond of slavery, as many translators have made it seem? Or, do even those passages refer to the “marriage bond”? There is more on this, later in this article.
This has to do with such passages as 1 Timothy 6:1–2 and Titus 2:9–10. In them, many translators have rendered the old Greek nouns kurios and despotês either as “master” or as “lord”. This has led many people to think that the apostle Paul was talking about “masters” in the meaning “slave owners”.
Here, it is good to know that in the old Greek culture, the “woman of the house” was called despotis or despoina, while her husband in his role as the “man of the house” was called despotês. Also: The wife was called kuria, and the husband kurios.
(Some think that the old Greek noun despotês came from the nouns domos, “house” [or deô, “to bind”], and posis which was used in such meanings as “spouse”, “mate”, “husband”.)
So, the nouns despotis/despoina and kuria, and despotês and kurios, were often used in the meaning “the woman of the house” (wife) respectively “the man of the house” (husband).
Later in this article, it will be considered whether the above-mentioned passages in Paul’s letters refer to wives and husbands, or to “slaves” and “slave-masters”.
Before going into the for this context relevant scriptures where many translators have put in such words as “masters” and “slaves”, let us first view a passage where it is obvious that Paul was not in favour of slavery, even though slavery is mentioned.
The apostle Paul wrote to a person called Philemon, about a man by the name Onesimus who earlier had been Philemon’s slave (let us assume, before Philemon was converted). We read:
Philemon […] 15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave; a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 And if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay; not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. (VW06, highlighting added)
So, Paul told Philemon to view and treat Onesimus as a beloved brother, and not as a slave.
Many translations of the New Testament contain wordings which make it seem that the apostle Paul upheld slavery. Here is an example of that:
1 Timothy 6:1 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine may not be blasphemed. 2 And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. (WBS, highlighting added)
Now, was Paul really talking about slavery, as that translation makes it seem? And, was he saying that slaves should honour those who enslave them? – Is it honourable to enslave others? Let us consider that passage and matter in more depth.
First, regarding the word which the above-quoted WBS renders as “masters”: The Greek text has despotas, a plural form of the noun despotês which in the old Greek language often referred to husbands. The wife in her role as “the woman of the house” was called despoina, despotis or kuria, while the husband as “the man of the house” was called despotês or kurios. – Consider also the context, the preceding chapter which records that the apostle noted, 1 Timothy 5:14, that he wished younger widows to marry again and to oikodespoteô, as the verb in the Greek text is – that is, “to run the house” (let us assume, while her husband took care of his work). So, regarding 1 Timothy 6 – it appears that the apostle was simply saying that married women should respect their husbands. Putting that in other words: The wife (despotis) was to “run the house” – oikodespoteô, 1 Timothy 5:14 – but she was not to “run” her husband (despotês).
Then, concerning what the above-quoted WBS renders as “servants under the yoke” – in the Greek text the wording is hupo zugon douloi. The preposition hupo meant such things as “of”, “by”, “under” and “with”. The literal meaning of the word douloi was “bound ones”. – Keep in mind the earlier quoted 1 Corinthians 7:15 and 27 which show how Paul referred to marriage as the wife and the husband being “bound” to each other (deô, douloô).
That accounts for the first and last words in the phrase hupo zugon douloi that we find in the Greek text of 1 Timothy 6:1. Let us take a closer look also at the word zugon and its use in old Greek. (Again, here the question is whether Paul was talking about wives and husbands or about slaves and slave-masters.)
The noun zugon (zugos) was related to the verb zeugnumi which meant “to join”. Zugos was used in many different meanings, among them “a pair” – also of persons: “A couple”, if you wish. When a man and a woman are united by a marriage covenant, they become joined together and form a pair, a couple. (By the way, the English noun “couple” comes from the Latin copula which means “a tie”, “a bond”.) Consider even these zugos-related words in old Greek:
In short, regarding the first part of 1 Timothy 6:1 – it appears that in the Greek text of that verse, the word despotas refers to husbands (cf. despotis, wife), and that the phrase hosoi eisin hupo zugon douloi, “those bound by the bond”, was a poetic expression which Paul used of the “marriage bond” between husbands and wives.
Then, let us consider the last part of that verse.
1 Timothy 6:1 […] that the name of God, and his teaching, be not reviled. (AND)
(“Reviled”: The Greek verb in question is blasphêmeô which simply means “to speak evil of”.)
Consider this: Had Paul been talking about slaves, that comment would not have made much sense. But, if the disciples did not keep their marriage- and family-situation in a respectable state, that might have caused outsiders to speak evil of them.
So, perhaps the translation should be something like this:
1 Timothy 6:1 Let those who are “bound by the yoke”, consider their husbands worth all respect, so that the name of God and the teachings will not be spoken evil of. 2 And, those who have believing husbands, let them not regard them lightly because they are brothers, but rather be submissive, for they are faithful and beloved, partakers in the good work. These things teach and exhort.
A note regarding verse 1, the words “so that the name of God and the teachings will not be spoken evil of” – the last part of Titus 2:5 contains a similar wording, clearly in regard to marriage- and family-matters. We read:
Titus 2:3 Older women […] are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (ESV01)
(Verse 5, “reviled” or “spoken evil of” – the Greek text has blasphêmêtai/blasphêmeô, just as in 1 Timothy 6:1.)
Again, and this is still regarding the last part of 1 Timothy 6:1 – if the disciples’ marriage- and family-matters were not in a respectable state, that might have caused outsiders to speak evil of them. The same, regarding Titus 2:4–5.
A note: 1 Peter 2:18 which is similar to 1 Timothy 6:1–2 and Titus 2:4–5, is considered later in this article.
Here is one of the “traditional” kind of translations of that passage:
Titus 2:9 Bondmen are to be obedient to their own masters, to be well-pleasing in all things, not speaking contrary, 10 not pilfering, but demonstrating all good fidelity, so that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things. (ACV)
The way that translation renders verse 9, makes it seem that Paul supported slavery or at least accepted it. How is it with that matter?
The Greek text of Titus 2:9–10 contains several words that are worth closer attention. Some of them (such as doulos and despotês) were discussed earlier. Right here, let us consider the verb nosphizomai which the above-quoted translation renders as “pilfering”. This is for the reason that if Paul really meant “pilfering”, then that verse could refer to slaves who steal from their masters. But, as will be shown below, the verb nosphizomai had many different uses and meanings.
First, let us note that the context shows that Paul was writing about the relationship between husbands and wives. Especially verses 4 and 5 make this clear.
Titus 2:2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (ESV01)
So, what about verse 9? – Several things indicate that just as verses 4–5 refer to the marriage situation, so do even verses 9–10. Here is a suggested translation of them, with notes regarding certain things in the Greek text.
Titus 2:9 Let the “bound ones” [married women [a]] be submissive to their husbands, [b] agreeable in all things, not argumentative, 10 not separating [c] but showing all good faithfulness, so that they may in all things adorn the teaching of God our Saviour.
a Verse 9, “bound ones” = married women. – This with husbands and wives being joined together by the “marriage bond”, and the different uses and meanings of the old Greek word doulos as well as related ones, was discussed earlier in this article.
b Verse 9, “husbands” – the Greek text has despotais, plural of despotês which, as was noted earlier, was often used of the “man of the house” (the husband), while the wife or “woman of the house” was called despotis or despoina (or kuria, while the husband was called kurios).
c Verse 10, “not separating” – Paul used the verb nosphizomai, in the phrase mê nosphizomeous. Above, that phrase was translated as “not separating”, but it must be noted that Paul’s meaning is not fully clear. It could also have been “not turning away” or “not being aloof”, or something similar. The verb nosphizomai (nosphizô) and the adverb/preposition nosphi could refer to such things as “turning one’s back on someone”, “being aloof”, “separating”, “abandoning”, and so on. Read on:
Many people, when they consider the Greek words of a given NT passage, use “biblical” Greek-English lexicons. It is important to understand such lexicons are limited and biased, and often severely misleading.
‘A Homeric Dictionary’ by Autenrieth defines the old Greek verb nosphizomai as “depart from”, “hold aloof from”, “abandon”. We find similar definitions in ‘Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott (Clarendon Press, 1889):
I. to turn one’s back upon a person, to turn away, shrink back, Hom.
2. to turn away from a person, c. gen., Od.
3. c. acc. to forsake, abandon, Hom., Soph.
II. after Hom., in Act., attic fut. νοσφιῶ: aor1 ἐνόσφισα: — to set apart or aloof, to separate, remove, Eur.:—metaph., ν. τινὰ βίου to separate him from life, i. e. kill him, Soph.; so, ν. τινά alone, Aesch.
2. to deprive, rob, τινά τι one of a thing, Pind.; also, τινά τινος Aesch., Eur.
3. Mid. to put aside for oneself, to appropriate, purloin, Xen.:— ν. ἀπὸ τῆς τιμῆς to appropriate part of the price, NTest.
b. but the Mid. is also just like the Act., to deprive, rob, Eur.
(The related verbs aponosphizô and dianosphizô had similar meanings. Those and certain related words could refer to both “being aloof” and “abandoning”, as well as to “embezzling” and similar. It is always the context that shows what is meant. – The words nosphi and aponosphi meant such things as “aloof”, “apart”, “afar”, “away”.)
The above-quoted lexicon-entries were included here, to make the point that it is quite clear that Titus 2:9–10 is not about “slaves who pilfer” as many translations make it seem. It appears that the apostle was talking about wives, noting that they should respect their husbands and not be “aloof” (or turn their backs on them, or separate). – Even the context shows that Paul was talking about wives and husbands, and not about slaves and slave owners. Again, we read:
Titus 2:2 that aged men be temperate, grave, sober-minded, sound in faith, in love, in patience: 3 that aged women likewise be reverent in demeanor, not slanderers nor enslaved to much wine, teachers of that which is good; 4 that they may train the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sober-minded, chaste, workers at home, [d] kind, being in subjection to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed [e] (ASV, note signs added)
d Verse 5, “workers at home” (house), Greek oikourgous as older texts have it. It appears that the apostle was simply saying that married women were to “run the house”, instead of being luxury wives who did nothing except ordering their husbands around. – In those days, wives worked at home, taking care of the whole household. That meant a lot of planning and work. There were no household gadgets (machines) or ready-made products. Most things were made and produced manually, at home.
e “Blasphemed”, Titus 2:5 – the Greek verb in question is blasphêmeô which simply meant “to speak evil of”. Again, if the disciples did not keep their family-matters in a respectable state, that could have caused outsiders to speak evil of them.
Even in Ephesians 6, many translations have wordings which might cause casual bible-readers to think that Paul supported slavery.
In other words: Many bible-versions have in Ephesians 6:5 such wordings as “bondmen, be obedient to your masters according to flesh”. Before going into other things in Ephesians 6, let us first consider what really is behind that translation in verse 5.
This has to do with the wording tois kuriois kata sarka in the Greek text. The part kata sarka means “according to the flesh”, but here the question is, does the part tois kuriois refer to husbands, or to “lords” in the meaning “slave-owners”?
As was mentioned earlier, in old Greek the wife or “woman of the house” was called kuria, while the husband or “man of the house” was called kurios. – But, what did Paul mean by that mention of “husbands according to flesh” (tois kuriois kata sarka)?
The explanation is that a married woman who had received the Holy Spirit, had a “husband according to the flesh”, but also a “husband according to the Spirit” (Jesus). This was because of the fact that when the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they became betrothed to Jesus, on the spiritual level – male or female, no difference, all of them together forming Jesus’ Bride. And then: It is said that in those days, a betrothal was a binding covenant regarding marriage. In other words: The betrothal was the marriage contract. And so, for married women who had received the Holy Spirit, Jesus was their “husband according to the Spirit”.
We cannot be fully certain of the exact meaning of each word in the Greek text of that passage, but here is a suggested translation of it:
Ephesians 6:5 Wives, [f] give ear to your husbands [g] according to flesh, [h] with “fear and trembling”, [i] in singleness of your heart, as to the Messiah; 6 not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as the “bound ones” of the Messiah, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 serving with kindness; to the Lord and not to men, 8 each knowing that whatever good one does, that is what one shall receive from the Lord, whether “bound” or “free”. 9 And husbands: [g] Do the same toward them, without threats, knowing that the Lord of you both is in Heaven, and that there is no respect of persons with him.
f Verse 5, “wives” – Greek douloi, literally “bound ones”; here taken to refer to the “marriage bond”. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:15 and 27 which were discussed earlier.)
g Verses 5 and 9, “husbands” – Greek kurioi, here taken to refer to husbands. Again, in old Greek the “woman of the house” was called kuria and the man kurios. (Also in the last part of verse 9, “the Lord of you both”, the Greek text has kurios.)
h “Husbands according to flesh” – this matter was explained above.
i Verse 5, “with fear and trembling”, Greek meta phobou kai tromou. What was this? It is obvious that Paul did not mean that wives were to fear their husbands. Perhaps that rhyming Greek phrase which Paul used here as well in a few other passages, was in New Testament times an idiomatic expression of some kind, not to be interpreted literally. But, Paul taught that wives should respect their husbands. – Please note that the NT teaches that even husbands are to respect their spouses, and love them. This includes Ephesians 6:9, above translated as “and husbands: Do the same toward them, without threats”. – It could also be that Paul referred to how Sarah acted when she “gave ear” to what her husband Abraham said. Even the apostle Peter mentioned Sarah in this kind of connection; the passage in question is quoted below.
Considering all of Paul’s letters, and the context in Ephesians chapters 5 and 6, it appears that he was talking about the marriage situation, even in the case of Ephesians 6:5–9. This can be compared with what the apostle Peter wrote to certain saints:
1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands […] 4 but let it be the hidden man of the heart, adorned with the incorruptible ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which, in the sight of God, is of great price. 5 For, in former times, the holy women also, who trusted in God, thus adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed [j] Abraham, calling him lord: and you are her children, if you do good, and fear no dismay. [k] 7 Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, bestowing honor on the wife as the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered. (AND, note signs added)
(1 Peter 2:18 is considered later in this article.)
j Verse 6, “obeyed” – the Greek text has hupakousen, hupakouô which meant “to listen”, “give ear” and so on.
k Consider even all of verse 7 (above).
A note: The Lord set the roles of husbands and wives slightly differently. Why he did this is not fully clear, but let us assume that that had to do with symbolism in regard to the relationship between Jesus and the saints who formed his Bride, and perhaps more. – Today, some people might not feel at ease with those things, partly because of the (male chauvinist) way some churches have interpreted certain passages in that context, and partly because the present-day western society has “values” which are different from those of the saints, and different from what Jesus and the apostles taught.
In short, regarding Ephesians 6:5–9: It appears that the apostle Paul was talking about men and women who were joined together by the “marriage bond”, and not about the bond of slavery.
There are also Colossians 3 and 4. The relevant passages in those chapters are basically about the matter which we find even in Paul’s letter to the saints in Ephesus. A more careful study shows that also in Colossians 3 and 4, the context is that of family and marriage, and not slavery.
Just as Ephesians 6:5, even Colossians 3:22 mentions “husbands according to flesh” (sarka kuriois). Earlier in this study, it was noted that a married woman who had received the Holy Spirit, had a “husband according to the flesh” and also a “husband according to the Spirit”, because the saints were betrothed to Jesus. (Again, it is said that in that in those days, a betrothal was the same as a marriage contract.)
There is no need to go into all the linguistic details in Colossians 3 and 4. Those chapters contain the same Greek words, or similar ones, as the passages that were discussed earlier, and, the context shows that Paul was talking about husbands and wives and families.
Even in the case of 1 Corinthians 7:21, the question is, was Paul talking about the marriage bond, or about the bond of slavery? – Let us check the wider context.
In verse 1, we find that the subject was marriage – whether or not to marry. Apparently, some saints in Corinth had written to Paul, expressing their view in regard to that matter. Paul replied to that, and told what his thoughts were. But, he also added that because of the saints’ situation in those days, it would best if the unmarried ones could remain in that state. We read:
1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. […] 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. […] 25 Now concerning the betrothed, [l] I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound [m] to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (ESV01, note sign added)
l Verse 25: The above-quoted ESV01 has “betrothed”, but the Greek text has parthenôn, “virgins”, referring to unmarried women.
m Verse 27 (and also 39), “bound” – the Greek text has the verb deô (in the forms dedesai and dedetai). It is said that the verb deô, “to bind”, was the basis for the adjective/noun doulos, “bound”, “bound one”. In verse 15, we find the verb douloô, “to be bound”, likewise used of the marriage situation – “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him leave. A brother or a sister is not bound [douloô] in such cases.”
Thus, when we in verse 20 find the words “let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called”, it is quite obvious that even that refers to those saints’ marriage status. (Verses 21 and 22 will be considered a bit later.)
What about verse 23? Many translators have put into it such words as “servants”, “bondmen” or “slaves” – an example:
1 Corinthians 7:23 Ye were bought with a price, become not bondmen of men. 24 Brothers, each man, in what he was called, should remain in this before God. 25 Now concerning the virgins I have no commandment of Lord, but I give an opinion, as having obtained mercy from Lord to be trustworthy. 26 I suppose therefore this to be good because of the present distress, that it is good for a man to be this way: 27 Are thou bound to a wife? Do not seek separation. Are thou free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (ACV)
As you can see, the context is about marriage, whether or not to marry. Verse 25 mentions virgins. Verse 27, “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek separation.” – So, does verse 23 refer to the marriage bond, or to the bond of slavery? Here is the Greek wording, with phrase translations:
timês êgorasthête (with a price you were bought) mê ginesthe (do not become) douloi anthrôpôn (literally “bound ones of men”, the actual meaning perhaps being “bound to men”)
In short, regarding the word doulos/douloi in the Greek text of verse 23 – as we know, the saints were on the spiritual level “bound” to Jesus, through their betrothal to him. More:
It appears that the words “you were bought with a price”, verse 23 and also 6:20, are an allusion to the old custom with “bride price”. This was in regard to the saints’ state of being (spiritually) betrothed to Jesus. They all together formed his Bride. Jesus had indeed paid a price – he gave his life for his Bride.
And so, here is a suggested translation of verses 20–21:
1 Corinthians 7:20 All should remain in the calling in which they were called. 21 Were you called when you were bound [married]? Do not make a problem out of that, and [even] if you would be able to become free, make instead use of it [of the marriage].
It is reasonable to assume that even here, Paul was talking about marriage status, just as in other parts of that chapter and in the last part of chapter 6. And so, he must have meant, “even if you could separate, make use of your marriage instead”. Clarification: This was regarding saints who were married to unbelievers. The context shows that – we read:
1 Corinthians 7:13 And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (NRSV, highlighting added)
More in chapter 7, here as the NKJV has it (even here, the apostle was talking about marital things):
1 Corinthians 7:26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none (NKJV)
Please note verse 27, the words “are you bound to a wife”. – Again, the question is, when Paul wrote about “bound ones”, verse 21 et cetera, was he talking about marriage status, or about slaves? In the wider context, Paul was talking about marriage. – Thus, a suggested translation:
1 Corinthians 7:21 Were you called when you were bound [married]? Do not make a problem out of that, and [even] if you would be able to become free, make instead use of it [the marriage]. 22 For, the one who was called in the Lord when bound [married], is the Lord’s “freeman”. And likewise, the one called “free” [unmarried], is bound to the Messiah. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bound to men. 24 Brothers, in whatever state each one was called, let each remain in that, with God. 25 Now, regarding virgins, I have no command of the Lord. However, I give my advice as one who has received mercy from the Lord and is faithful. 26 Things being as they are, I think that because of the present distress it is good for a man to be this way: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you without a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But, if you nevertheless marry, that is not a sin. And, if a virgin marries, she does not sin. But, that will lead to anguish, and I [want to] spare you [from that].
Again, the context is marriage. That is what that chapter talks about.
A note: In the case of 1 Peter 2:18 with its context, this matter is not quite as clear as in the earlier discussed passages in the apostle Paul’s letters. But, consider the following.
In 1 Peter 2:18, many bible-versions have wordings which make it seem that the apostle Peter supported slavery or at least accepted it. As an example of that, here is how the NASB95 renders that verse:
1 Peter 2:18 Servants [n], be submissive to your masters [o] with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. (NASB95, note signs added)
n “Masters” – the Greek text has despotais, plural of despotês whose literal meaning was “the man of the house”, the husband. (And again, the wife or “woman of the house” was called despotis or despoina.)
o “Servants” – the Greek text has oiketai which was related to oikos, “house”, and oikeô, “to dwell”. Oiketai could be seen as the plural form of either oiketis or oiketês. The former meant “mistress of the house”; the latter referred to slaves. ‘Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott (Clarendon Press, 1889) has this on the noun oiketis:
I. fem. of οἰκέτης, Eur.
II. the mistress of the house, Lat. matrona, Theocr.
In short: It may be that the word oiketai in the Greek text of 1 Peter 2:18 is the plural form of oiketis in the meaning “the mistress of the house” (the despotis or kuria). – If so, then the meaning of the first part of that verse is “wives, be submissive to your husbands”. And if so, then Peter’s point was that wives should be submissive, even in the case that the husband is not the best or wisest man on Earth. – Here, it is important to keep in mind that Peter also taught that husbands are to lovingly honour their wives and care for them, and be kind and courteous.
In chapter 3, we read:
1 Peter 3:1 […] wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. 7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. (NASB95)
So, how is it – was Peter continuing to discuss the same matter? That is, do both 1 Peter 2:18 and 1 Peter 3:1 refer to wives? It appears that it is so.
Concerning the New Testament passages (translations) where some have found “support for slavery”: A closer analysis of the passages in question, including the Greek text, indicates that the apostles Paul and Peter did not uphold or support slavery, or even refer to it, but wrote about marriage-related matters.
Please note that this was not a study on the role of women. The question of what role women had in the saints’ fellowships, and especially in relation to their husbands, is something for a separate study. And then, it is yet another question what bearing the saints’ customs and practices in that regard (we know very little about them) might eventually have on things in our present-day society and culture.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa091.htm
Matthew 25, the parable of the ten virgins. The five wise virgins, the five foolish ones, and the lamps and the oil. → rba060.htm
On the King James translation. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa030.htm
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga020.htm
What does the Bible say about authority? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority? Who can speak for God? → rsa060.htm
How the saints took care of the elderly and the poor. → rma071.htm
What does the Bible say about calling, election and sanctification? → rba020.htm
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