No longer a slave : manumission in the social world of Paul
The Roman Empire was a slave society. New Testament and Early Christian scholars have long recognized that slaves formed a substantial portion of the earliest Christian communities. Yet there has been extensive debate about manumission, the freeing of a slave, both in the wider context of the Roman Empire and more specifically in Paul’s context. 1 Cor. 7:20-23 is a key passage for understanding both slavery and manumission in Pauline communities, as well as Paul’s own thoughts on these two contentious issues. The pivotal verse is 1 Cor. 7:21. The majority opinion is that Paul is suggesting slaves should become free, i.e., manumitted, if they are able. In order to better understand this biblical passage and its social implications, this project explores the various types of manumissions operative the Roman world: the legal processes and results; the factors that galvanized and constrained manumissions; the political and social environment surrounding manumission in Corinth during Paul’s ministry; as well as the results of manumission as it relates to Paul’s communities. Finally, the project returns to the passage in 1 Cor. 7:20-23 and offers a new interpretation.