The Greco-Roman World and 21st Century USA: Differences in the Roles, Functions, and Status of Women, Children, Families, and Slaves.

In his essay entitled, “Slaves and Slavery in the Roman World,” S. Scott Bartchy explains that in the Greco-Roman world slave labor was the backbone that supported and maintained culture and society. Thus, a slave economy was promoted, “morally justified and regarded as normal.”[1] This is in stark contrast to 21st century USA where even the hint of slave labor is viewed as despicable and unacceptable. This is certainly due to the disturbing history of slavery during the early years of the USA. Understanding slavery during the NT era as well as during the early years of the USA, will help people better understand the issues regarding slavery and will help them understand the justice that God requires of his people in the new humanity.

Lynn Cohick, in her essay entitled ‘Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World,” explains that in the Greco-Roman world families were communally focused; however, the father had the highest standing within the family whether it be socially, legally or authoritatively.[2] Consequently, women were defined in relation to their husbands or other male relatives, and they were expected by society to act with modesty and with “fidelity to family, the state, and the gods.”[3] This also is in sharp contrast to 21st century USA where there is a large feminist movement that despises any sort of patriarchal ideals or any type of archaic roles and standards for women; however, the feminist movement is not the only reason for such differences in 21st century USA. The gospel and its emphasis on the new humanity in Christ where “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28 NIV) also impacts the roles, functions and status of women in 21st century USA.

Also, Cohick explains the differences in the views of children in the Greco-Roman world and 21st century USA. In the Greco-Roman world, children were valued in connection to their contribution to society, whereas in 21st century USA there are models of the stages of childhood development that guide parents in determining appropriate behavior and activities in society. Another differences is that in the Greco-Roman world the children’s primary caretakers were people other than their parents, whereas in 21st century USA the primary caretakers are the parents and other people take a supportive role. Lastly, while abortion is legal in 21st century USA, the Greco-Roman world was on a different level in their mistreatment of infants. Cohick writes, “If the newborn seemed strong and healthy to the midwife, she would present the child to the father for acceptance or rejection. If the father embraced the newborn laid before him, the child was raised in the house; if the father rejected the child, he or she was put out.”[4]


[1] S. Scott Bartchy, “Slaves and Slavery in the Roman World” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts eds. Joel Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 169.[2] Lynn H. Cohick, “Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts eds. Joel Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 179-180.[3] Cohick, “Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World,” 181.[4] Cohick, “Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World,” 184.