Slaves of God and Christ : a traditio-historical and exegetical examination of slavery metaphors in Early Judaism and Pauline Christianity
Interpretation of the `slave of Christ' title and its background in Pauline literature has
commonly followed two possible avenues: 1) it is an honorific title found in the LXX
and borrowed by Paul from the Patriarchs, Moses, David and the Prophets; 2) it is an
adoption of imagery from the institution of Greco-Roman slavery illustrating that Paul
is in a similar relationship with Christ. Until now scholarship has focused largely on
Greco-Roman slavery and its possible influences on Paul. This thesis demonstrates
that Paul's metaphor of slavery should be located within the `slave of God' traditions
in Early Judaism rather than Greco-Roman slave practices. This is accomplished
through an examination of early Jewish Literature that identifies literary traditions
surrounding ancient Israel and Early Judaism's self-understanding of themselves as
the slaves of God. It is within this context that Paul's slavery language is interpreted.
Paul is not borrowing images from Greco-Roman society but is continuing in the
traditions of his Jewish heritage and interacting within a broader discussion of slavery
in Early Judaism. Christ is the paradigmatic slave of God. To follow Christ in loyal
obedience is the equivalent of being his slave and ultimately allows one to fulfill
obligations of slavery to God. On the individual level this occurs by imitating
Christ's pattern as the slave of God found in Philippians 2.6-11. In the context of the
Pauline community it is manifested when members enslave themselves to one another
in the same way that Christ enslaved himself to others. Thus, the Slave of Christ title
is not an abstract concept adopted from societal images nor is it an honorific title.
Slavery to Christ is Paul's understanding of how the Christ event enables believers to
fulfill their obligations of obedience as God's slaves.