My friendship with Jorie is an unlikely one. We met through the promotions department of Cedar Fort Publishing during the promotion of my new book. Jorie is the owner and author of a popular blog: www.jorielovesastory.com. She agreed to review my book and participate in the blog tour. We’ve had many provocative exchanges since that first email.
Jorie quickly recognized that my book was a LDS perspective on early Christian attitudes about conversion to the Gospel. For the first Christians, they thought of their personal conversion as enslavement to Jesus Christ. Her first question for me was how could this relevant to a non-LDS Protestant. My response seems to have been enough to persuade her to review the book AND invite me to contribute a guest post to her blog.
It was a great pleasure to write this piece for Jorie, since it’s helped us to forge a better understanding of how much we share in common–in spite of our different religious traditions. Thanks Jorie!
The following post was originally published on May 12, 2015 at Jorie Loves A Story
I recently read about a 2014 poll on religion, which states that 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. It’s a remarkable statistic in an America that feels more divided than ever. Issues of race, nationality, social status, political affiliation, gender and sexual orientation seem to increasingly dominate our conversations. This has a tendency to leave us feeling like we share nothing in common with anyone. But within this survey is a statistic that gives me hope. This poll indicates that 4 out of 5 of us share one very important thing in common: Jesus Christ.
Still, Christians in America come in more flavors than you’ll find at Baskin Robins (217 denominations to be exact based on this source). That makes for a lot of differences in the details of how we conceptualize Jesus Christ, not to mention how we worship him. Is there any unity of belief? The answer is a resounding yes. Whether you’re Catholic, Southern Baptist, Methodist or Mormon, we all agree on these fundamental tenets of the faith:
- God is our Heavenly Father
- Jesus is the Son of God
- Man has been alienated from God by sin
- God loves us in spite of our sin
- God gave Jesus to atone for our sins
- By faith in Jesus Christ man can be saved and inherit eternal life
Even still, it would be difficult to find a single passage in the Bible that we could all agree on which represents a mission statement for of Christianity. I feel the one that comes closest are words that Jesus used himself, recorded in The Gospel According to St John:
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (John 17:3, NIV).
The way Christians come to know God, differs based on their religious tradition. But a large part of knowing Jesus comes from studying his life. Virtually every Christian denomination urges its members to individually study the life and teachings of Jesus on a regular basis. For this we must go to the Bible. But the Bible is not a contemporary document. It was written in Greek almost two thousand years ago and then translated into dozens of English translations.* Translational nuances give each version of the Bible its own perspective and biases. Is there any wonder why there are so many Christian denominations?
This basis of my new book Enslaved to Saved: A Metaphor of Christ As Our Savior came into being when I encountered one of these translational nuances in my personal study. While reading the Bible (I use the King James Version) I noticed at tendency for Paul to refer to himself as the servant of Jesus Christ. Having been impressed by this detail, I looked up the word servant in my Bible Concordance to better understand what the original biblical texts were saying. In doing so, I was astounded to find that in the original Greek language that these Epistles were written, Paul described himself as the slave of Jesus Christ.
It proved to be somewhat of a game changer for me. Everyone knows that slavery is bad. It is one of the darkest stains on the history of human cruelty. Its repercussions persist for generations beyond its abolishment, and it continues to be a source of shame and resentment in our country. Yet, the Bible seemed to be speaking of slavery in such a matter of fact way.
As I looked further into this I found that the doctrine of slavery to Jesus Christ was extremely common in the writings of the New Testament. Yet this message is whitewashed from many English translations of the Bible. When the Bible was first translated into English during the early 1600s, translators selected words to maintain established social order in the United Kingdom. They could hardly have the Word of God endorsing slavery in such a vocal way. As a result, the word servant was adopted—a kinder, gentler form of service compared to slave.
I felt like I had made a discovery that significantly changed my perspective on how the Apostle Paul viewed himself in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. He thought of himself as Christ’s slave. I expanded my study to see if this perspective was shared by other early Christians and was completely amazed. This idea was pervasive and part of a much larger theme in the New Testament than any one person or epistle.
Why would something so horrific as slavery be such a common theme in the writings of the New Testament? This question became the impetus for my book. I realized that there are many important reasons why this message would resonate with early Christians.
Firstly, the institution of slavery was a part of everyday life in the first-century Roman world. In fact, slavery had always been part of everyday life back to the time of the patriarchs. Slavery to God was part of the identity of the Jews. The children of Israel had been enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. But God miraculously liberated them through Moses and the people then became his slaves (Leviticus 25:55). Over the course of their history, the Northern Kingdom was enslaved by Assyria followed by the enslavement of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. When liberated by Cyrus, the Jews returned to their homeland. Though now free once more, they retained an acute awareness of themes of enslavement by oppressors, and liberation by God, to whom they were forever slaves. Accordingly, there are extensive teachings in the Old Testament and Law of Moses about slavery. Furthermore, we find many references to slavery in teachings of Jesus Christ.
Since Christianity sprung from the roots of Judaism, it should be no surprise that these themes would be present within the early Christian community as well. Instead of enslavement to Pharaoh or Babylon, Christian leaders taught that men were enslaved to sin. The good news of the Gospel was how Jesus Christ ransoms those enslaved to sin, and in the process becomes a new master to them as he sets them free. They taught that true freedom comes to those who voluntarily subject their will to that of Jesus Christ and remain faithful in this service.
Anciently slavery was a condition that was worse than death, and associated with utter hopelessness and loss of control. Yet enslavement to Christ was paradoxically esteemed to be an essential element of conversion that brought joy, freedom and eternal life. By illustrating this metaphor from the context in which the New Testament was originally written, my book helps the reader gain a new perspective about Jesus Christ. This perspective strives to improve the reader’s relationship with their Redeemer, and inspire them to more completely surrender their will to His.
*I counted 222 modern English translations of the Bible.