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In the first century, families were presided over by fathers who could do whatever they pleased in their homes. Rome had a law called patria potestas, which meant “the father’s power.” Men who were Roman citizens were given absolute rights over their families. By law, the children and the wife were regarded as the patriarch’s personal property, and he could do with them what he wished. A displeased father could disown his children, sell them into slavery, or even kill them if he wished. When a child was born, the baby was placed between the father’s feet. If the father picked up the baby, the child stayed in the home. If he turned and walked away, the child was either left to die or sold at auction. Seneca, a contemporary of the apostle Paul, described Roman policy with regard to unwanted animals: “We slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge a knife into a sick cow. Children born weak or deformed we drown.” Things are not much better today, are they? Millions of unwanted babies are aborted each year. Children have become a disposable commodity in our society, just as they were in Rome! But the Bible calls Christian fathers to a different standard!
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