• Slavery is common today, and was common during Jesus’ time, both Greeks and Romans had very many slaves
  • Slavery has been practised by most peoples over most times
  • Why does Jesus not speak against slavery? Why does he not work to abolish it?

Slavery in the Old Testament

In the Law: limitations to slavery but no outright prohibition

  • Regular release of bonded labor, only foreigners can be kept (Deu 15:12-18)
  • Laws protecting the vulnerable, the widow, orphan, alien and poor (Deu 24:19-22)
  • Time-limitation to debt (Deu 15:1-3)
  • Sabbath rest for workers (Deu 5:14), safety on the job for workers (Deu 22:8)

Use of the ‘slave concept’ in New Testament

‘Slave’ is a person’s appropriate position towards God:
  • “He has helped his slave Israel”  Luk 1:54
  • Simeon “now you are dismissing your servant in peace” Luk 2:29
  • “Paul, servant of God”  Rom 1:1
  • “we are … slaves, we have done only what we should have done” Luk 17:7-10

Jesus himself became a slave:

  • “Jesus being found in human likeness took the form of a slave”  Php 2:7

‘Being a servant’ is used as a model for leadership:

  • Not so with you; rather the leader must become like one who serves”  Luk 22:26
  • “the son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mth 20:28

Again: Jesus is the ultimate model for a slave … and therefore the ultimate model for a leader. Jesus – as does God – rightfully claims his slaves’ complete obedience.

  • “no slave is greater than master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also”   Jhn 15:20

But Jesus doesn’t leave slaves to be slaves:

  • I do not call you slaves any longer … but I call you friends”   Jhn 15:15
  • “so you are no longer a slave but a child, … also and heir”   Gal 4:7

The slavery concept is used of everybody:

  • everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin”   Jhn 8:34
  • Do you not know that you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin (> death) or of obedience?”  Rom 6:16
  • for people are slaves to whatever masters them”  2 Pet 2:19
  • “no slave can serve two masters”  Luk 16:13
  • Jesus interacts with slaves & masters. Example: healing centurion’s slave   Mth 8:6
  • Jesus tells many parables mentioning slaves
  • He shows the reality of slavery to sin which affects all people
  • But he is not addressing slavery, a social evil of his day! … Why?

Slavery addressed in the NT letters

Eph 6:5-8, Col 3:22-24 “Slaves, obey your masters with fear & trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ … not only while being watched … but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord, not to men.”   

1 Tim 6:1-2 “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed”  

Tit 2:9-10 “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters … they are not to talk back … but to show perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior”   

1 Pet 2:18-21 “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference not only those who are kind but also those who are harsh … if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’ approval. For to this you have been called, …Christ also suffered for you”  

 1 Cor 7:21-24 “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person … just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ … In whatever condition you were called, there remain with God.” 

  • Is God then for slavery??
  • God gives also corresponding commands to masters:

Eph 6:9 “And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality”  
Col 4:1 “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly… you also have a Master in heaven”   

Principles on slavery

  • Neither Jesus nor Paul:
    • directly speak against slavery
    • agitate or take action directly
    • encourage slaves to disobey or run
  • Jesus and Paul rather:
    • affirm a slave’s equal value
    • command to submit to masters and be faithful workers
    • encourage to use their situation for God
    • do not think situation as more important than attitude
    • hold masters accountable also
  • Paul – on a personal level – works actively against slavery:
    • the letter to Philemon asks for freedom & forgiveness for a slave
      “… so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother … let me have this benefit from you in the Lord”   Phm 16, 20
  • Paul respects Philemon’s right to his slave yet appeals to his free will (no force)

What can we learn?

  • Stirring discontentment, agitation, revolution or change by force is not God’s way
  • Injustice does not give me the right to act outside the law
  • God’s focus is not so much on ‘situation’ as on ‘right attitude within situation’
  • Do not blame the situation, use whatever situation faithfully
  • Do not agree with false view: slaves have equal value
  • We must believe, live, model and teach God’s view: “There is no longer Jew or Greek there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28, Col 3:11
  • Social change is slow! Patience is needed.
  • Actively lay foundations of truth in a society > change will come
  • Change does not come by outside pressure and force but by inside transformation & free will
  • Examples: 
    • William Carey              … abolition of widow burning, child marriage
    • William Wilberforce   … abolition of slave trade and slavery