In 1 Corinthians 7:17–24, Paul addresses the issue of slavery and early Christianity. Given the weighty social implications of Paul’s words about slavery not just for his first-century audience but also for subsequent readers, this passage has intrigued generations of academic and ecclesial interpreters. Many interpreters have ignored or prematurely resolved certain enigmas of the passage. The premature resolution of this ambiguity may be a form of interpretive tyranny where the text is conformed to the reader’s interests. Using the insights of history, social anthropology, and postmodernism, this study attempts to demonstrate that the complex and ambiguous features of this passage are not “problems” to be solved but rather inherent features of the text that reflect the fascinating religious and social dynamics of early Christian communities.
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Brad Ronnell Braxton is The Jessie Ball duPont Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Biblical Studies at The Divinity School, Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.