A Week in the Life of a Slave, By John Byron
A Week in the Life of a Slave
  • Length: 168 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: July 02, 2019
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 2483
  • ISBN: 9780830824830

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"I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me."

These words, written by the apostle Paul to a first-century Christian named Philemon, are tantalizingly brief. Indeed, Paul's epistle to Philemon is one of the shortest books in the entire Bible. While it's direct enough in its way, it certainly leaves plenty to the imagination.

A Week in the Life of a Slave is a vivid imagining of that story. From the pen of an accomplished New Testament scholar, the narrative follows the slave Onesimus from his arrival in Ephesus, where the apostle Paul is imprisoned, and fleshes out the lived context of that time and place, supplemented by numerous sidebars and historical images. John Byron's historical fiction is at once a social and theological critique of slavery in the Roman Empire and a gripping adventure story, set against the exotic backdrop of first-century Ephesus.

"There's no one better to take us into the daily plight and experiences of a first-century Roman slave than John Byron, who has distinguished himself as a specialist in this area through two important academic books and several articles. Here he blends expertise and imagination together in a winsome invitation into the lives of Paul, Philemon, and, most importantly, Onesimus, the slave whose coming to faith challenged Philemon to live up to his own."

David A. deSilva, author of Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt

"We underestimate the power of a well-told story in order to reconstruct the historical drama of the New Testament. John Byron shows himself not only to be a fantastic storyteller but a creative scholar who provides cultural insights into Paul's world that we would not otherwise understand. We follow the slave Onesimus as he leaves his home, meets Paul, and eventually becomes a Christian leader renowned in Asia Minor. Any student studying the New Testament will find this book both riveting and a rich invitation to enter the New Testament world."

Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament, Calvin Theological Seminary

"John Byron has written an imaginative and historically informed novella about slavery in the ancient world, specifically in the early church. He takes you into the story of Paul, Philemon, Onesimus, the cities of Asia Minor, and the plight of slaves. It is filled with information about the ancient world, living conditions, gods and deities, travel, and what it was like to be a slave in the first century. Byron is one person I know with the knowledge of Greco-Roman slavery and the literary brilliance to make a book like this both fun to read and genuinely educational. A must-read!"

Michael F. Bird, lecturer in theology at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

"In the New Testament, Paul's letter to Philemon is rather small—a mere page or two. But Byron has managed to reveal a massive world of Paul's imprisonment, busy ministry work in the Lycus valley, broken relationships, new friendships, and the messy reality of life in first-century churches, full of both mundane problems but also great beauty and grace. Learning through story is a gift for the learner, and Byron is an excellent teacher."

Nijay K. Gupta, associate professor of New Testament, Portland Seminary

Read an Excerpt


1. Ephesus: The Interview
2. Laodicea: The Report
3. Ephesus: Paul in Prison
4. Colossae: The Flight
5. Ephesus: Life as a Slave
6. Laodicea: The Pursuit
7. Ephesus: Attending Church
8. Colossae: The Freedman
9. Ephesus: Slave of Christ
10. Laodicea: The Decision
11. Ephesus: Discussing the Law
12. Ephesus: The Letter
13. Colossae: Home
14. Ephesus: Epilogue
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John Byron

John Byron (PhD, University of Durham) is professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. He previously served as a lecturer of New Testament and Greek at the University of Durham, as a teaching assistant at Jerusalem University College and as a youth pastor at Fountain of Life Christian Fellowship in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Desiring to serve both the church and the academy, he enjoys teaching at churches and seminars and frequently travels around the world to teach and research. He participates in Ashland Theological Seminary's Tel-Gezer project, which allows groups to tour Israel and excavate ancient sites. Byron's research and writing interests include New Testament and Christian origins, the Pauline epistles, history and literature of early Judaism, rewritten Bible, slavery in antiquity and archaeology and historical geography of Syro-Palestine.

His books include 1 and 2 Thessalonians (The Story of God Bible Commentary), Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry, Recent Research on Paul and Slavery and Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism & Pauline Christianity. Byron's research has been recognized with several honors and widely published in academic journals. He has served the Eastern Great Lakes region of the Society of Biblical Literature in many roles, including vice president, president, executive secretary, and chair of the non-canonical Jewish and Christian writing section. He was also elected to membership in the Studorium Novi Testamenti Societas in 2012.