Slavery in the Bible


In modern society the practice of slavery is deemed completely immoral and has been almost entirely abolished in every country, yet God seems to support slavery in the Bible. How could God support one of His creations being the property of another of His creations?


There are quite a few references to slaves and slavery in both the Old and New Testament. Just one example will suffice – from Exodus 21:2: “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything”. Slavery – always with the caveat that slaves be treated well by their masters – was part of Old Testament and New Testament social life. Not only Paul, but also Jesus Himself, regarded slavery as a natural part of life, and slaves or servants are featured in several of Jesus’ parables. For instance, in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), a man owing money to a king is sold, along with his wife and children, as slaves in order to repay the debt, but his debt is cancelled when he begs for mercy. Jesus told such stories to illustrate God’s relationship to man as a relationship between a master and his slaves.

To answer the question, it is obviously good that slavery has been generally abolished. However, the Bible makes the point that there is nothing wrong in one person serving another, as long as that person is well treated. If we think about it, we all “sell” ourselves to others in our daily life – principally by doing work for others, which we don’t always find enthralling, and for people who don’t always appreciate our service. In some of his letters, Paul describes himself as a bondservant (slave) of the Lord – and he is obviously willing to be that for Christ. Having the attitude of a servant or slave moves us to be humble and not to assert ourselves, and these are Christian virtues which, by the grace of God, are developed in the circumstances (often menial) that God puts us in. Such a circumstance may even include slavery to a cruel slave-owner (as happened to John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace”). No cross, no crown.

We are all created by God, and, no matter what happens on earth, we remain God’s property, for Him to do with as He pleases.

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