I am glad that this passage is in the New Testament, not because of the subject matter for the purpose of intent, but because it serves to show, how some things change with time and culture. Because Paul included a reference to slaves in this passage, which in no way indorses slavery as moral or valid in any society, this passage indicates that other topics relevant to today are to be treated equally in light of cultural change. The fact that this passage is in the Holy Scripture also shows that the theory of “infallibility” is suspect among some fundamentalists. Of course, some fanatics hold true to the literal interpretation here, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Arian Resistance. We all know about them.
Such a passage leans heavily on reason and tradition, the other two legs of the stool we Episcopalians rely on to interpret the Wisdom of God. We understand that it is not reasonable to hold anyone in bondage, and that human trafficking is immoral. So why would Paul write the way he has?
I think the answer goes to simple logic. You cannot change a civilization over night, and Paul knew that. I think that Paul reasoned that before Romans and Greeks, and Persians for that matter, would change their minds about owning someone else, they first had to come to accept Jesus Christ and His teachings, and that would take a long, long time. In Paul’s day, Creaser was god on earth, just as Pharaoh was god on earth in Egypt. Those leaders demanded that people worship them, and not the God of Jesus Christ, the one true Creator. So how could they accept a moral judgement from such a God as Jesus Christ when they did not even believe in him, when in fact, they persecuted those who followed Him? Therefore, Paul reasoned that he must give the only godly advice he could to the culture of that day, because revolutionary change was a long way off. He hints at this at the end of the passage – “…there is no partiality with God…” All people are equal in the sight of God. This is not the only place Paul states this. Check out Galatians 3:28 _
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul was doing well during his missionary journeys, when he wrote most of his letters. I believe he was in a political process to try to undo some of the cultural practices that were inhumane, such as slavery. Those things took time then, just as they do today.
Another important factor to look at is hermeneutics (how we interpret passages) and the exegesis of the passages (their contextual meaning). You may want to look at a paragraph from my essay on sexuality at http://angelrave.net/Documents/Sexual%20Identity%20And%20Orientation.doc .
Cultural circumstances always come into play in historical content of a written document. Slavery was already a cultural normality in the pagan cultures prior to the emergence of the ministry of Jesus. It was something to be dealt with. This is what Paul is attempting to do in this passage. Instead of condoning it, he is trying to encourage all to focus on living a life after God, to get their priority on the creator first, which could lead them and guide them to truth. At the foundation of that truth is a life of goodness, which is a fundamental practice of the Franciscan.