Slavery in the Bible: Introduction

03.21.17 | Culture, Featured Articles | by Rich Graham

    Slavery in the Bible…

     The entire topic of “Biblical slavery” is difficult to understand with our current context of slavery.  This is especially difficult considering the recent history in the United States with the importation of men, women, and children from other countries and they treatment they received.  Our national history and collective conscience has been tainted by that experience and is part of the current underlying definition of the word “slave” for us as Americans. Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22, 1 Timothy 6:1, Titus 2:9 and Philemon all discuss the topic of slavery and at no time is the idea of being a slave or having slaves discussed.  The obvious question of why was this tolerated by the church is a relevant and rational question to ask.  Instead, Paul focuses on the relationship of the slave to the master and the master to the slave.  So, one must conclude either our understanding of slavery is different than Paul’s, or perhaps he was addressing a different aspect of the relationship as his primary focus, or maybe both??? 


    Make no mistake – slavery in 2017 is alive and well.  Various organizations estimate 30-45 million people are enslaved today across the globe.  In situations very closely resembling the slavery of the early US history.  This type of slavery involves the treatment of people as property, restricts freedom and disregards God’s intention that all men and women are to be treated with dignity as we were all created in HIS likeness.  These people are typically forced into manual labor, sexual exploitation, child solders, etc.  Be aware – that at no time does the scripture endorse or justify this type of treatment from one human to another.


    Warren Wiersbe has a good summary of the situation regarding Paul’s comments about slavery:  “Nowhere in the New Testament is slavery per se attacked or condemned, though the overall thrust of the gospel is against it. Paul’s ministry was not to overthrow the Roman government or any of its institutions, but to preach the Gospel and win the lost to Christ. Certainly the results of his evangelism ultimately led to the overthrow of the Roman Empire, but that was not Paul’s main motive. Just as the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield resulted in the abolition of slavery and child labor, the elevation of women, and the care of the needy, so Paul’s ministry contributed to the death of slavery and the encouragement of freedom. However, he was careful not to confuse the social system with the spiritual order in the church.”  Warren Wiersbe – The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume 2 – Ephesians, pg. 55

    In the next article you I think you will find some good summary articles with references regarding the topic of slavery and how it was intended to be distinctly different than what we think today. I encourage you to read these, including the bible references, so that you can have a fuller understanding of what the Bible says in this matter.