Gender, Slavery, and Technology: The Shaping of the Early Christian Moral Imagination
We think of sexuality as something natural that all human beings possess. Even when we acknowledge a range of sexual behaviors and attitudes, we tend to assume that these remain stable across time and across cultures. Therefore, when it comes to sexual ethics—our beliefs about the moral principles governing sexuality—we may allow for a wide spectrum of values and opinions, but we also see these as addressing the same issues in every time and place. It is not surprising, then, that when we read the New Testament, we suppose that Jesus and the first Christian leaders faced the same sort of sexual questions that we do today. Christians, who accept the Bible as a moral authority or at least see it as an ethical guide, expect its sexual teachings to be relevant to their lives and their society in the twenty-first century because they think that their sexuality and questions about sex are not really different from those of Christians in the first century. It may be troubling, especially to Christians, that sexuality and our attitudes toward it vary greatly in different historical periods and cultures. The New Testament is a historical document, written at a particular time in a society that held very different assumptions about what was obvious and natural about sex. One crucial element in the sexual lives and thinking of people in the ancient world was the all-pervasive fact of slavery. This is something that most of us would like to ignore, and Christians are likely to insist that New Testament sexual ethics were not founded on the acceptance of slavery.
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