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Does the Bible condone slavery?

HomeChristianity and the BibleDoes the Bible condone slavery?

In a word, no.

Of course, slavery is mentioned in the Bible, so let’s look at the context. There were three kinds of slavery in vogue at that time:

The Bible never condones the taking of slaves.

However, since slavery in one form or another was a fact of life for many, the proper treatment of slaves is addressed. The language of the New Testament can be difficult in this situation. As an example, let’s look at the Greek word DOULOS: it can be translated either “slave/servant” or “brother”, depending on the context in which it’s used. The servanthood model in Scripture sometimes makes it difficult to differentiate between service rendered as you or I would do it, and servitude as rendered between a “master” and a “slave/servant”.

Either way, you won’t find a passage where slavery is promoted…and the passages where slavery is mentioned treat it as a simple fact of life, but not necessarily preferable. There’s no question about this when we read 1 Timothy 1:9-10:

We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers.

Slave traders are listed here as lawbreakers and rebels. If the Bible promoted slavery, this passage would not exist. As we know from studying the Old Testament and ancient Israelite culture, indentured servitude was typically beneficial to both parties and was temporary. The regulations in the Bible provided protections for those who were unable to care for themselves.

Along those lines, Matthew 10:24-25 is interesting: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.” In this case it appears that the slave is likened to an apprentice. Matthew 18:26 shows a slave claiming to be able to repay a debt…something that true slaves would be unlikely to do. They probably wouldn’t be in debt unless they made money, and wouldn’t be able to repay a debt without income, either. The same passage shows that slaves had the freedom to roam about.

Matthew 24 shows that slaves weren’t simple laborers, but were often put in charge of a master’s entire household. Matthew 25 speaks of throwing out a worthless slave…suggesting that it was the slave who lost the benefit of the relationship, not the master. Luke 12:37 shows a master serving his slaves…an odd relationship indeed, if you make the mistake of assuming that they were held against their will in the manner of modern slavery. Luke 19 shows a master giving money to slaves and leaving on a trip, telling them to “do business” with the money. In John 15:15 Jesus tells His disciples that He no longer would call them slaves, but friends. I could go on and on, but there’s no need.

Clearly, slavery of the type occurring in our era was not condoned in Scripture…but servitude was a fact of the day, and appears to have been beneficial to both parties. Combined with the fact of translation that can confuse “brothers” with “slaves”, it’s easy to make the mistake of believing that the Bible condones slavery when it clearly does not.

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