Paul and the Python Girl -- By: John Byron

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 41:0 (NA 2009)
Article: Paul and the Python Girl
Author: John Byron


Paul and the Python Girl

(Acts 16:16–19)

John Byron*

The theme of the current series is “The tears of the Oppressed” with a specific focus on human trafficking. This is a topic that we rarely are asked to consider. The practice of kidnapping, selling and exploiting human beings reminds us of slavery which we often equate with a bygone era in our nation’s history. Legalized slavery in the USA was dissolved well over one-hundred years ago and we have a new president to demonstrate just how far we have come from those dark days in our nation’s history. But the fact is slavery has always existed in human history and while it may no longer have the approval of the government the chains of slavery, literally and metaphorically, are just as secure on the lives of human being as they were at any other time in history. Today slaves cannot be identified simply by their skin color, ethnic origin or the places we find them working. In this new era of slavery, the oppressed and exploited are all around us but more hidden. We may pass them on the street and not even know who they are much less that they are a victim of the modern crime of human trafficking.

When I was asked to speak on this topic from a New Testament perspective I admit that I was struck by what I felt was the impossibility of the task. As one who has written two books and a number of essays and articles on the topic of slavery in the New Testament, I have found it more and more difficult to demonstrate how the Bible undermines the claims of the slaveholders. Apart from a passing criticism of slave-traders in 1 Timothy 1:10 it is difficult to identify any criticism of slavery in the New Testament.1 In many cases the Bible has done more to perpetuate slavery than to eradicate it. This became even clearer to me last year as I worked on a chapter examining African-American responses to Paul and slavery. The Bible was one of many tools that white masters used to keep the enslaved in their oppressed state.

On the other hand, I began to wonder if there is a way that the Bible, although bound by time and culture, can speak to us on this subject. As I prepared for today I read the recent issue of the seminary’s publication “The Table” and was introduced to a world that I was not conscious of. As I watched the video from the ministry Love 146 in chapel I was confronted with the human face of the crime. As I continued to think about modern day slavery and the fact that it disproportionately affects young women, many of those children, I began to think about stories ...

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