Current opinion on 1 Cor 7:21 is that Paul addresses slaves in his Corinthian churches concerning their social status as enslaved people, instructing them whether or not to take freedom if they have the opportunity. Most now conclude that Paul did not require these slaves to remain in their calling (slavery) but advised them to “make use of freedom.” This reading, however, does not fully appreciate Paul's rhetoric in its Greco-Roman context or its reception among the Corinthians. Nor does it capture the social realities of slavery and manumission as both Paul and the Corinthians understood them. Paul's comments about slavery take on a different light if we recognize that both Paul and the Corinthians presumed that slaves would indeed take freedom given the chance, because slaves did not have a choice. This social reality, I will suggest, helps account for the rhetorical nature and the sociocultural context of v. 21, and in turn sets it within Paul's broader concerns in 1 Cor 7. The textured reading I propose is that Paul's comments, though rooted in the reality of slavery, do not advise slaves concerning slavery or freedom. Slavery or freedom as such are not at issue in 1 Cor 7. Rather, Paul uses a diatribal and hence primarily hypothetical argument about slavery and manumission for other instructional purposes, and this reflects the conventions of Stoic moral instruction on indifference.

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