can be hard to see.

Romans 16:8–16 (NKJV)

Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.

This list includes slaves. Urbanus and Stachys were both common slave names. Those who are of the household of Aristobulus and those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord, almost certainly included both family and servants.

Can you picture all these people greeting one another with a holy kiss? That sure doesn’t fit with my image of slavery. But the slavery that existed thousands of years ago wasn’t like the slavery that existed in the antebellum US.

Yes, slavery in Biblical times was often racial or national (“race” and “nation” were virtually synonyms back then anyway) but it still wasn’t the same. If it had been, Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt would have been impossible. Slavery was a normal part of life back then. Slaves and masters could live together as Christian brothers, giving and receiving holy kisses. Because everyone had grown up in that system no one saw anything wrong with it. They were used to it, so it didn’t bother them. War often ended with the annihilation of the losers. Enslaving the losers was downright kind in comparison.

It took our extreme version of slavery to open everyone’s eyes. Americans saw slavery’s evils in full blossom and started thinking about its ethical foundations. The Church birthed the abolitionist movement.

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble. — Theodore Parker, Ten Sermons of Religion, 1851

Is there some great evil we’re not noticing now? This gets tricky. The bad things we don’t object to might not just be things we’re neutral to; it can be things we think are good. Not long ago we couldn’t have imagined that hunting grey wolves to extinction was a bad thing. Now we can.

We think we’re so smart, but we’ve got a lot to learn.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.