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Did Jesus endorse slavery?


This parable of Jesus was used as a proof that he did endorse slavery. For Jesus holds out the obedient slave as an example to us, it was said. Is this interpretation correct?

Suppose one of you has a slave who returns from the fields after ploughing or minding the sheep, will the owner say to him: ‘Sit down now and have your meal’?
Will he not more likely say: ‘Get my supper ready. Tidy up and serve me while I eat and drink. You yourself can have your meal afterwards’?
Will he be grateful to his slave for doing what he was told?
In the same way, when you have done all you have been told to do, say: ‘We are only slaves. We have done no more than our duty.’ Luke 17,7-10

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Interpreting Scripture Correctly



First Observation


Parables and comparisons are like artistic representations in which we have to distinguish between the main assertion of the representation and artistic details.

We can illustrate this observation best at the hand of an example. In John 20,11-18 we read:

"Mary (of Magdala) stood at the tomb weeping . . . She turned round and saw Jesus standing . . . She thought he was a gardener . . . Jesus said to her: 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew: 'Rabboni!', which means 'teacher'."

Artists have depicted the scene in various forms.

Mary wears a heavily embroidered damask robe and a white cap. Jesus wears a red mantle and holds a spade. We see a castle in the background.
Mary wears a red robe and nothing on her head. Jesus is dressed in a white tunic. He wears a sombrero-style hat.
Jesus, wearing a white tunic and red hat, holds a spade. A pruning knife is stuck in his girdle. Mary is dressed in a brown garment and has a veil on her hair.
Mary wears a crimson robe and a white scarf. Her shining black hair falls freely over her shoulders. Jesus is dressed in his funeral sheet.

When we compare such artistic representations we are not in the least upset by the lack of agreement between the artists. We know that none of them wanted to present an accurate picture of what Mary of Magdala was wearing or of Jesus' dress. We instinctively understand the limited scope of the artists. They just want to depict the encounter between Mary and the risen Christ. The details have a purely subsidiary function.

The same distinction we should apply to images created by parables and comparisons.

The teaching scope of Jesus' parable of the humble slave

Now look at this video again (click on start arrow):

Teachers use images to present their message in an attractive form. But their scope is limited. They just want to teach the message.

So we need to distinguish:

      • the substance from the illustration
      • the teaching from the details
      • the message from the external form.

      © John Wijngaards


The texts in our course Interpreting Scripture Correctly were written by John Wijngaards in 2009. Part of the contents is based on his earlier publications, in particular:

  • Background to the Gospels (New Delhi 1970),
  • God's Word to Israel (Ranchi 1971),
  • Handbook to the Gospels (Ann Arbor 1980),
  • Historicity in the Old Testament (Bangalore 1983)
  • and Together in My Name (London 1991).

Illustrations in the video clip by Jackie Clackson.

Correct Interpretation. Principle 1 Correct Interpretation. Principle 2 Correct Interpretation. Principle 3 Correct Interpretation. Principle 4 Correct Interpretation. Principle 5
Correct Interpretation. Principle 6

Correct Interpretation. Principle 7   Correct Interpretation. Principle 8   Correct Interpretation. Principle 9   Correct Interpretation. Principle 10