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Early Church, Church Fathers, Slavery, Paul, New Testament


This paper looks at the church’s handling of the issue of slavery in the period before Constantine and the official recognition of Christianity. The time period is important because Christians had no political authority to end slavery, assuming they wanted to do so. Thus, the aim of the paper is discover how the Church as an institution alleviated the conditions of the slaves and how slaves were treated in the church and examine the relationship of slave to master in the church. This will be accomplished by examining certain doctrines of the faith church leaders applied to these problems as well as ancient understandings of what Paul had written and how it fit into their world and social context, which was the social context of the Bible itself. More specifically, by examining Paul’s letter to Philemon, Ignatius’ Epistle to Polycarp, and the Didache, the paper argues that the early church, using a Scriptural model, worked within its circumstances to ameliorate slaves’ material conditions, to bring all classes of people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to ensure that, within the church, all people were treated as equals.