“And your slaves, both men and women…shall prophesy”

By artist, Scott Erickson. (Click on the picture to visit his blog.)

[This is the third and final reflection on the Joel text and the Pentecost story in Acts 1-2.]

“And your slaves, both men and women slaves . . . shall prophesy.”

In the ancient world, there were people who held the top of the social echelon and those who remained at the bottom.  On the lowest rung were slaves.

Slavery was the result of various social situations.  Some slaves were conquered enemies; others became slaves out of necessity.  In many cases, it was an inherited caste or one brought about by indentured service.

Some slaves were treated with high esteem, while many more were treated poorly–branded on the forehead, denied shoes and proper clothing, torn asunder from family systems.

Whether pampered or scorned, God’s Law clearly established that many slaves could not participate in worship at Temple if they had been maimed or disfigured.

For the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, this presented a poignant hindrance.  Eunuchs were slaves, but they were also disfigured by one of the most humiliating acts of the ancient world, castration.  By castrating a slave, a royal administration could entrust him with serving concubines or keeping finances worry-free.  High positions required such unfettered loyalty.

According to Deuteronomy 23, however, a eunuch could not enter worship in the Temple court.  That a eunuch–or anyone else with an inability to marry or have a family–could not procreate made him a particular social pariah unworthy of any community whatsoever.  Outcasts, twice removed, as it were.

This was true for the Ethiopian eunuch; and by the time we read about him in Acts 8:27, we find him returning home from Jerusalem.  He went to worship, but was turned away because of his plight.  The Spirit sent Philip to intercede and share the Good News nevertheless.

When Philip reached him, the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53:7-8.  This resonated with the eunuch: Like him, the promised Messiah would be “slaughtered” and “humiliated,” excluded.

Philip explained that all people–slave or free–had a place in God’s Kingdom regardless of their situation or sexual stigma, the eunuch asked why he couldn’t be a part of this new Christ-movement.

Perhaps the eunuch had in mind a promise three chapters later in Isaiah 56:3-5, which foresaw a time when even eunuchs would join God’s kingdom.  So, if nothing kept the eunuch from being baptized, then nothing kept him from preaching.  According to legend, the Eunuch was the first missionary to the African continent.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul argued that, in Christ, anyone can preach the Good News of God’s new inclusive agenda ushered in by Jesus’ death.  Ethnicity, social status, and gender could not keep anyone from participating in the Great Commission (3:28).

In fact, the powerful post-Pentecost text in Acts 8 did more than blur lines in ethnicity, class, and gender.  It was, additionally, a parabolic declaration that all people can become Spirit-filled prophets.

In a recent edition of the Christian Index, the editor-in-chief opined that a recent conference on sexual ethics hosted by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was a sign that emerging, non-traditional family units limited the integrity of the Gospel.*

He went so far to imply that the conference’s organizers might be “apostates” because of their role in reflecting on who God may commission to spread the Gospel.  But the editor’s name-calling is simply another form of exclusion, a lowering of another’s status to the next rung down–an act of violence in and of itself.

If the very people the Temple excluded in Jesus’ time were the very people whom God empowered to be prophets of God’s new, inclusive economy of salvation, then what does that say about what God may be doing with those on the margins today, many of whom are committing suicide or falling away from the very church in which they long for safe refuge?

Like the eunuch so long ago, many people on the margins of our society–humiliated as they are by those in power and privilege, like editors of major Baptist newspapers–“may not make up the structure of the institutional church, but without them the body of Christ is hopelessly maimed and dismembered” (Wendy Farley).*

Like sheep led to slaughter, indeed; but prophets nevertheless.


J. Gerald Harris, “Activist judges, living documents and evolving convictions,” The Christian Index (31 May 2012), p. 4.

Wendy Farley, Gathering Those Driven Away (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), 5.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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