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The New Testament finds many ways to depict the relationship of Christians and their Lord. They are his disciples, sons, daughters, and friends. But it is perhaps too little recognized that they are also his slaves.
Murray J. Harris sets out to uncover what it means to be a slave of Christ. He begins by assessing the nature of actual slavery in the Greco-Roman world and the New Testament’s attitude towards it. Drawing insights from this, he goes on to unfold the metaphor of slavery to Christ. Among the topics discussed are slavery and spiritual freedom, lordship, ownership, and privilege.
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“He forcefully expressed his preference to be introduced simply as ‘a slave of Jesus Christ’. ‘There aren’t many people’, he observed, ‘who are willing to introduce me as a slave. They substitute the word ‘servant’ for ‘slave’. In twentieth-century Christianity we have replaced the expression ‘total surrender’ with the word ‘commitment’, and ‘slave’ with ‘servant’. But there is an important difference. A servant gives service to someone, but a slave belongs to someone. We commit ourselves to do something, but when we surrender ourselves to someone, we give ourselves up.’” (Page 18)
“‘What makes slavery unique as an unequal relationship, is that it denies the slave any existence as a person independent from that which his master chooses to grant him.’ At the heart of slavery, ancient or modern, are the ideas of total dependence, the forfeiture of autonomy and the sense of belonging wholly to another. A slave lacked the power of refusal,55 in the sense that he knew that if he refused to obey his master, he would suffer dire consequences.” (Pages 44–45)
“That is, if the language of slavery is offensive, the offence would have been considerably greater for those who lived in societies where slavery was intrinsic than for us for whom slavery is simply an unpleasant and embarrassing memory.” (Page 45)
“3. An exclusive preoccupation with pleasing Christ.” (Page 143)
“But Christianity in its essence is concerned with the transformation of character and conduct rather than with the reformation of societal structures.” (Pages 67–68)
Combines meticulous scholarship and the careful unpacking of a biblical theme that is widely neglected. . . . A most valuable work.
—D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
I hope that you are familiar with InterVarsity Press’ series titles New Studies in Biblical Theology. . . . I would like to introduce it to you by previewing one of the volumes that has greatly impacted my view of the Christian life. I appreciate the help in working through the biblical data provided here by Murray J. Harris. I highly recommend this study to you.
—Jason Button, TheoSource
Murray J. Harris is professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.