The Bible and Slavery

By James M. Rochford

Does the Bible support slavery? Skeptics of the Bible often claim that it does. For instance, in their book What the Bible Really Says, skeptics Morton Smith and R. Joseph Hoffman write,

There is no reasonable doubt that the New Testament, like the Old, not only tolerated chattel slavery (the form prevalent in the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s time) but helped to perpetuate it by making the slaves’ obedience to their masters a religious duty. This biblical morality was one of the greatest handicaps that the emancipation movement in the United States had to overcome.[1]

How should believers respond to such claims? Does the Bible support slavery?

Old Testament “Slavery”

The term slavery is a loaded word in our culture—especially in the aftermath of antebellum slavery in the South. When we think of slavery, we think of lashing, kidnapping, rape, murder, and torture. However, slavery in the Old Testament (OT) was nothing like this. In fact, the term “Hebrew slave” is really a misnomer. An OT “slave” would actually be far more similar to a modern “servant” or “hired laborer.” John Wenham writes, “A form of slavery was tolerated in the Old Testament, but conditions were so strictly regulated that there should have been little practical difference between the treatment of a slave and of a hired labourer.”[2]

The OT civil laws were less than ideal (see “Tips for Interpreting OT Law”). God was “taking what he could get,” so to speak, while drastically improving the standards of the ancient Near East. Moreover, these laws were case laws—not universal moral commands. Many of these “slavery laws” were not commanded; instead, they were merely conceded. For instance, God doesn’t approve of stealing (Ex. 22:1), quarreling (Ex. 21:18), or polygamy (Deut. 21:15). But if these actions happened to occur, God had a repercussion for them in the case law (cf. Ex. 21:7). With these principles in mind, let’s study the subject of OT slavery.

1. Citizens of Israel sold themselves as servants voluntarily—due to poverty

(Lev. 25:39-40, 47) If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service 40 He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee… 47 Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family.

Note a few things about this passage: First, there was no such thing as “filing for bankruptcy” in ancient culture. Bankruptcy is a modern phenomenon. If you fell into debt, you needed to work it off. Second, this service was voluntary (“he sells himself to you”). Third, this was not for the profit of a slave trader; instead, it was because the person was destitute (“becomes so poor…”).

2. Debts were released every Seven Years

(Deut. 15:1-2, 7-8, 12-15) At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. 2 This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’S remission has been proclaimed… 7 “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks… 12 If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. 13 When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

In this passage, we learn a number of things. First, the ideal of Israel was no poverty. If you can help your brother, then you should. Second, however “if your kinsman… is sold to you,” you are to set him free on the seventh year. Remember, case laws are not ideal situations (“If your kinsman… is sold to you”). However, if someone is truly impoverished, the law prescribed that a person should hire them as a servant, but they were to release him after six years of service. Paul Copan writes, “Keep in mind that many—perhaps most—servants were young people who were parceled out by destitute parents to more prosperous families who would feed, clothe, and shelter them.”[3] Today, we might call this adoption—not slavery. Third, the Jews were supposed to be sensitive and empathetic to servants, because they had been slaves in Egypt (v.15). God heard the cries of the slaves in Egypt, and this is why he rescued them (Ex. 2:24). Fourth, if the antebellum South applied these principles in Deuteronomy 15, this would have virtually abolished slavery. The problem with the “Christian” slave-owners in the South was not that they were applying the Bible too much—but too little.

3. Servants could voluntarily stay on with their master

(Deut. 15:16-17) It shall come about if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; 17 then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant.

A servant could voluntarily choose to stay with his master—not because he was afraid of him—but because he loved him (cf. Ex. 21:5).

4. The poor were given free food to survive

(Lev. 19:10) Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.

(Deut. 24:20-21) When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

(Deut. 14:28-29) At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town… the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Many provisions were given to the poor in Israel. By modern day standards, we might call this welfare or food stamps. Provisions were made so that the destitute would not need to volunteer as servants (cf. Lev. 23:22).

5. The poor weren’t charged interest on loans

(Ex. 22:25) If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.

(Lev. 25:36-37) Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. 37 You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain (c.f. Ezek. 18:13; 22:12; Ps. 15:5).

When we contrast this with our modern standards, we find that ancient Israel was incredibly humanitarian. In our modern society, we find “check cashing” buildings often in poor neighborhoods, which keep people in the cycle of poverty. This thinking was considered sinful in ancient Israel.

6. Slaves were given considerable time off

Slaves participated in the religious holidays in Israel. Willard Swartley writes, “Servants took full part in religious ceremonies, all of which awarded vacation days, which in a 50-year period totaled 23 years and 64 days of time off (Ex. 20:10; 23:12; 12:44; Lev. 25:4-6; Deut. 12:11-12).”[4]

7. Kidnapping a man and selling him into slavery was a capital crime.

(Ex. 21:16) He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.

Hebrew scholar Walter Kaiser notes, “Kidnapping is not a property offense since no property offense draws a capital punishment, and this law is not listed under property laws. Instead, it is the theft of a human being.”[5] If this OT law was applied to the antebellum South, slavery would have been largely abolished (cf. Deut. 24:7, Amos 2:6; 8:6; 1 Tim. 1:10). How could slavery have originated or persisted in the absence of the slave trade?

8. Families were commanded to harbor runaway slaves

(Deut. 23:15-16) You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.

When we contrast this practice with the ancient Near East, we find stark differences. Paul Copan writes, “Hammurabi even demanded the death penalty for those helping runaway slaves.”[6]

9. Masters and servants had the same Master

(Job 31:13-15) If I have despised the claim of my male or female slaves when they filed a complaint against me, 14 What then could I do when God arises? And when He calls me to account, what will I answer Him? 15 “Did not He who made me in the womb make him, And the same one fashion us in the womb?”

Job believed that he would be called to account for how he treated his servants. Note: Job most likely lived before the nation of Israel existed (see Introduction to Job). Therefore, even in the most ancient of times, there was a sense of human dignity in the Judeo-Christian worldview for servants. Muhammad Dandamayev writes, “We have in the Bible the first appeals in world literature to treat slaves as human beings for their own sake and not just in the interests of their masters.”[7]

10. If a master injured a slave, they had to release them

(Ex. 21:26-27) If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. 27 And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

Concerning this section of Exodus, Kaiser writes, “This law is unprecedented in the ancient world where a master could treat his slave as he pleased.”[8] Again, if this principle was applied to slavery in the antebellum South, it would have largely destroyed that cruel and inhumane system.

11. Abusive masters received punishment

(Ex. 21:20) If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.

Clearly, these OT case laws were designed to help servants—not to hurt them. When we compare these regulations with the other ancient Near Eastern cultures, the contrast is unmistakable. Slaves were abused, tortured, and generally treated as subhuman in the surrounding cultures. Paul Johnson writes, “These dreadful laws are notable for the ferocity of their physical punishments, in contrast to the restraint of the Mosaic Code and the enactments of Deuteronomy and Le­viticus.”[9]


It is safe to conclude that the OT did not approve of chattel slavery. Bauckham writes, “The legislation accepts the fact of slavery but treats it as an abnormality to be minimized as far as possible.”[10] Moreover, as we read through the OT, we see that God even punished Israel’s kings for allowing chattel slavery. For instance, God punished King Ahaz for enslaving captives (2 Chron. 28:8-15), and Jeremiah spoke against the people not granting freedom to servants, as the Pentateuch requires (Jer. 34:8-20). Samuel’s argument about getting a king in Israel is based on the oppression of tyrannical kings in ancient Near Eastern culture (1 Sam. 8). By insisting on a king in Israel, Samuel argues that they would become the slaves, which would be clearly wrong (1 Sam. 8:17).

If the antebellum South applied these biblical principles, this would have virtually abolished slavery. The problem with the “Christian” slave-owners in the South was not that they were applying the Bible too much—but too little.

What about Slavery in the NT?

We now move to slavery in the New Testament (NT). Does the NT enforce slavery or call for its abolition? Skeptics often note that white slave-owners used Scripture to support slavery in the 19th century. For instance, in 1864, John Henry Hopkins wrote,

The Bible’s defense of slavery is very plain. St. Paul was inspired, and knew the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was only intent on bodying it. And who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God, and scorn the example of the Divine Redeemer, and spurn the preaching and the conduct of the apostles, and invent for ourselves a ‘higher law’ than [the] holy Scriptures? …Who are we to virtually blot out the language of the sacred record, and dictate to the majesty of heaven what HE shall regard as sin and reward as duty?[11]

While this might shock Christian readers, the NT authors do claim that slaves should be submissive. For instance, Paul writes, “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth” (Col. 3:22; 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9; Eph. 6:5). Likewise, Peter writes, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” (1 Pet. 2:18). How should believers understand these passages, and why do the NT authors seem to be passive in regards to slavery?

How should we interpret the commands for slaves to submit to their masters?

Whenever we interpret any text, we should try to understand the historical and cultural backdrop in which it was written. For instance, when Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, it was considered controversial, because it advocated friendship between a black man and white boy. However, because the book regularly uses the N-word in the book, today Huck Finn is considered to be a racist book by many public schools! In the same way, we need to interpret Paul’s commands in light of his first century context.

Slavery was an unquestioned institution in the first century

In ancient Greece, it was thought that the gods took away the dignity and value from a person he became a slave: “Zeus… takes away half his worth from a man, when the day of slavery comes upon him” (Homer, Odyssey 17.322-323.). By the 4th century BC, philosopher Aristotle wrote of slaves as subhuman. If one could hold an inferior in slavery, it only made rational sense to do so. He writes,

“[Slaves] are as different as the soul from the body or man from beast—and they are in this state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them—are slaves by nature… For he is a slave by nature who is capable of belonging to another—which is also why he belongs to another—and who participates in reason only to the extent of perceiving it, but does not have it” (Politics, 1254b).

Aristotle (4th century BC) described slaves as human property (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 5.6.8) and equivalent to a lifeless tool in the hands of a slave master (Aristotle, Politics 1.2.4-6; Nicomachean Ethics 8.11.6). Moreover, Diogenes Laertius (3rd century BC) writes that slaves were fated to be slaves: “They say that he was once scourging a slave whom he had detected in theft; and when he said to him, ‘It was fated that I should steal;’ he rejoined, ‘Yes, and that you should be beaten.’”[12] Thus, to philosophical thinkers in the ancient world, slavery was quite fatalistic and deeply embedded into the culture and worldview of the Greco-Roman world.

In the Roman Empire, roughly half of the people were slaves,[13] and chattel slavery (i.e. treating people as property) was an unquestioned institution. W.L. Westermann writes,

The institution of slavery was a fact of Mediterranean economic life so completely accepted as a part of the labour structure of the time that one cannot correctly speak of the slave “problem” in antiquity. This unquestioning acceptance of the slave system explains why Plato in his plan of the good life as depicted in The Republic did not need to mention the slave class. It was simply there.[14]

The first-century Stoic philosopher Seneca writes, “We maltreat them, not as if they were men, but as if they were beasts of burden… I do not wish to involve myself… to discuss the treatment of slaves, towards whom we Romans are excessively haughty, cruel, and insulting” (Seneca, Moral Epistles 47.5, 11).[15]

Was Roman slavery similar to antebellum slavery in the United States?

Yes and no. In both systems, slaves had no legal rights, slaves could be arrested on a whim, slaves needed to follow the orders of their masters, and slaves had to live where they were told.[16] Additionally, in both systems, slave masters physically and sexually assaulted their slaves (Juvenal, Satires 14.15-24). With this being said, and “as degrading as such slavery was, it must be realized that it was not the same as the slavery that existed in the United States.”[17] Several key differences should be noted:

First, Roman slaves “came from various nations and more than likely their appearance was no different from that of freedpersons.”[18] Antebellum slavery was based on skin color.

Second, Roman slaves could buy themselves out of slavery later (Iustiniani Digesta 40.12.7; 13.1). They were “under contract” until their time was up (Dio Chrysostom, 15th Discourse: on Slavery and Freedom 2.23). To buy one’s freedom, a slave needed to be at least 30 years old, he needed to be owned by a Roman citizen, and he needed to have manumission from his master (Gaius Institutes 1.17). Some freepersons voluntarily sold themselves into slavery.

Third, Roman slaves had access to food, clothes, shelter, and medical care, while freepersons did not (see Epictetus, Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus 4.1.37).

Fourth, Romans slaves had access to training and education. Some slaves became tutors to children (Gal. 3:24), while others became “professors of higher education (litterator, grammaticus, rhetor), and others, physicians.”[19] Indeed, Epictetus became a philosopher after being enslaved (Gellius, Attic Nights 2.18).

Should the early Christians have revolted against the institution of slavery?

How could the early Christians hope to topple such a stolid system of dehumanization? If Christianity called for immediate, empire-wide abolition, the Christian movement would have drawn the wrath of Rome. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, but this doesn’t justify the abuser (Mt. 5:39). The NT authors were “concerned that Christians not use their moral freedom in a way that brings condemnation on the infant church for subverting social order.”[20] Such a position would’ve resulted in widespread persecution and death.

This isn’t simply speculation; we find concrete examples of this at the time. For instance, when the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire in 66 AD, there was complete slaughter. Josephus states that the Romans killed 1.1 million Jews and enslaved 200,000 people,[21] and they decimated the Temple (70 AD). Eventually, the Jews were exiled from Israel (after the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 AD). Instead of pushing legal reform in the Roman Empire, the NT authors pushed for internal heart change for slave masters, who had come to faith in Christ. Moreover, the Spartacus revolt in 73 BC led to the 6,000 survivors being crucified. Rebelling against Rome was not a possible solution to defeating slavery.

The NT Strategy for Ending Slavery

While the NT authors didn’t explicitly call for an empire-wide abolition of slavery, they did weaken its foundations to the point that it eventually fractured and fell apart.

First, the NT decries slave-trading. Paul calls slave-traders “lawless and rebellious” (1 Tim. 1:9-10). The term “kidnappers” (andrapodistēs) means “one taken in war and sold as a slave… one who acquires persons for use by others, slave-dealer, kidnapper.”[22]  Thus the ESV and NIV have properly translated this word as “enslavers” or “slave traders.” If antebellum slavery had come to terms with this passage, slavery would have been largely abolished.

Second, the NT urges slaves to get their freedom. Paul wrote that slaves should get their freedom, if it was possible. He writes, “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so… do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:21, 23 NIV). However, the problem was simple: it usually wasn’t possible! While Paul desired the liberation of slaves, this wasn’t a realistic endeavor.

Third, the NT affirmed the worth and equality of all people. Aristotelian thought openly argued against the equality of all persons. According to Aristotle, women and slaves were weak, so they should be placed in submission. However, the NT disagrees because all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; Jas. 3:9), and God loves all people (Jn. 3:16; Gal. 2:20). This gave a worldview basis for undermining dehumanizing institutions like slavery. Thus, Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28; c.f. 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).

Did Jesus speak against slavery?

Critics of the Bible often claim that Jesus never spoke against slavery. For instance, in their book What the Bible Really Says, skeptics Morton Smith and R. Joseph Hoffman write,

Slave-owning was the order of the day and, so far as we are told, Jesus never attacked the practice. He took the state of affairs for granted and shaped his parables accordingly… If Jesus had denounced slavery, we should almost certainly have heard of his doing so.[23]

There is an immediate problem with this claim: Jesus did speak against slavery! He said that God had commissioned him “to set free those who are oppressed” (Lk. 4:18). Thus this criticism is patently false.

While Jesus didn’t speak on this topic often, he didn’t speak on many topics very often. He never addressed torture, rape, or incest. Thus this is an argument from silence. That is, while Jesus never addresses these actions, this doesn’t mean that he supported them.

Moreover, Jesus didn’t explicitly mentioned slavery, because it wasn’t popular in Israel at the time. Peter and Paul, however, mention slavery more than Jesus, because they were writing to Gentiles—not Jews. As we have already seen, OT slavery was not an oppressive system. Instead, it was humanitarian and lightyears ahead of its surroundings in the ancient Near East. Thus Jesus may not have spoken about slavery, because he never saw it as a major abuse in his historical and geographical setting. Other issues in his time were far more pressing. This would be similar to arguing that our President isn’t a good humanitarian, because he doesn’t speak on the topic of child labor laws. The President doesn’t give much “air time” to this topic, because it isn’t one of the major issues in our culture. Such an accusation would be unfounded.

The NT strategy to end slavery: God’s love

By spreading the message of Christ to slave owners, this gave a basis for slavery to be abolished. Without the life and worldview changing power of the gospel, slave owners would have no moral basis for change. This is why Paul urges slaves to submit to their masters: namely, so that they can reach their masters with the gospel.

This method is beautifully illustrated in the book of Philemon. Paul tells Philemon that he could command him to do what is right in forgiving Onesimus—his slave (Phile. 8). Instead, he trusts that Philemon’s moral convictions would cause him to show mercy on Onesimus (Phile. 14). He urges Philemon to take Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Phile. 16).

By affirming the equality and dignity of all people and the love of Christ for us, the NT authors attacked the moral foundations of slavery. This eventually brought down the giant edifice of slavery. Richard Bauckham writes,

[Slavery] was a form of oppression affecting virtually every dimension of life for both slaves and their masters. It could have been abolished as an institution only strong political action accompanied by radical restructuring of society and the economy and required widespread public support. Because early Christians could not and did not attempt this, they could be accused of tolerating slavery. But what they really did was to promote liberation from slavery in those dimensions where it was possible: in the psychological and immediate social dimensions. Even the slaves of pagan masters found a kind of liberation from the psychological dehumanization of the slave condition: they recovered the dignity of human equality in a community where they were treated as Christian brothers and sisters.[24]

In Christian history, we see this strategy in action. As historian Bruce Shelley writes, “Some Christians also held slaves but they treated them kindly and allowed them to have the same rights within the church as anyone else. At least one former slave, Callistus, became the bishop of Rome.”[25] Thus this strategy of bringing a Christian worldview to this horrific institution was the means through which God lit the long fuse that eventually toppled chattel slavery in the Western world. As one author explains, “If Paul does not make a full frontal attack on slavery, he is certainly putting a time-bomb under it.”[26]

Secular moralists did not end slavery—Christian moralists did

As a result of the spread of Christianity in the West, slavery was largely abolished. J. Gordon Melton details the events as follows:

The Clapham Sect was a diverse but influential group of evangelical Christian social reformers that emerged in England at the end of the 18th century. The group became best known for its support of William Wilberforce’s activity in Parliament to end British participation in the international slave trade… After several decades of work, the group was initially rewarded with Parliament’s passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, which banned the trade throughout the British Empire. Their efforts culminated in the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, which eliminated slavery throughout the British Empire. They were less successful in their efforts to eliminate slavery worldwide. Many contemporaries looked upon the Clapham Sect as a bunch of do-gooders whom they called pejoratively ‘the saints.’ In the light of history, however, the group has been looked upon as moral pioneers.[27]

In 1845, the issue split the convention, with Baptists in slave-holding states forming the Southern Baptist Convention. This separation occurred just as Baptists were in the midst of a concerted effort to convert African Americans in the South, both slave and free.[28]

Moreover, the first protesters of American slavery were Christians. Mark A. Noll writes,

The first known American protest appeared in 1688 from Quakers and Mennonites at Germantown, Pennsylvania… Such voices were very few and far between in the first century of British colonization.[29]

To the extent that a protest existed at this time, it was mounted by religious leaders.[30]

One of the most effective antislave agents was Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-1895), a convert under revivalist Charles G. Finney who worked throughout the 1830s and 1840s with equal zeal to convert and liberate America. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was the daughter of the revivalist and social reformer Lyman Beecher and the wife of a Congregationalist minister. Her immensely influential novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) exerted its great impact at least in part because the book was such a forceful summation of Christian revivalism, Christian domesticity, and Christian abolitionism.[31]

The major consequence of intradenominational strife over slavery was to weaken cultural ties between North and South. The result was a break at the Mason-Dixon line between not just large and influential religious bodies but also between significant forces for social cohesion.[32]

A deep longing for the millennium also played its part in heightening the stakes of sectional conflict. Visions of the End of the Age, when Christ would rule the world in a 1,000 year kingdom of righteousness and peace, drove revivalists and social reformers to unprecedented personal sacrifices in pursuit of converts and social righteousness.[33]

Thus it really isn’t fair for a skeptic to ask, “Why didn’t Christianity abolish slavery?” This is because it did eventually do so. Really, the only objection left is this: “Why didn’t Christians end slavery earlier than it did?” While we agree that Christians should have abolished slavery earlier, at least they led the way in abolishing it at all. Remember, it was not secularists who rose up against slavery in the Western world; it was Christians like William Wilberforce and Theodore Dwight Weld. At least within the Christian worldview, we have a basis for the equality of persons, because they are made in the image of God (Jas. 3:9; Gen. 1:26-27). However, under an atheistic worldview, what is the objective basis upon which we could have true human equality and liberation in this sense? (We have tackled this question in chapter 1 of our recent book Evidence Unseen: Exposing the Myth of Blind Faith).


Before we conclude, we must note that Jesus became a slave to all of humanity (Phil. 2:5-11)—just as he commands us to be slaves of others (Mk. 10:42-45). The God-man had all the powers of deity, and yet, he surrendered himself to torture, humiliation, and death, so that forgiveness could be procured for the world. Thus the One who calls on us to endure slavery for the sake of the gospel was the same one who became a slave to purchase the gospel for us. The same One who tells us to endure the suffering of slavery is also the same one who became a slave to us!

Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything that he didn’t do for us first.

Further Reading

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011.

Copan is the best reading on slavery in both the OT and NT. Read chapters 12-14.

Swartley, Willard, M. Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. 1983. Chapter 1: “The Bible and Slavery.”

Swartley brings together a number of abolitionist and pro-slavery thinkers from the 19th century to have a mock debate over four issues: slavery, Sabbath, war, and women. In chapter one, he cites the different perspectives that existed at the time to show how the debate unfolded. This isn’t a good apologetic for historical arguments. It mostly focuses on hermeneutics.

Martin, Dale. Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity. New Haven: Yale University, 1990.

Read Chapter One: “Ancient Slavery and Status.”

Bauckham, Richard. The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1989.

Read Chapter 7, “Exodus and Service: Freedom in the Bible.”

[1] Morton Smith and R. Joseph Hoffman, editors. What the Bible Really Says (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1989), pp.145-146.

[2] John Wenham, The Goodness of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974), pp.95-96.

[3] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), p.130.

[4] Willard Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. 1983), p.42.

[5] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Exodus,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 432.

[6] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), p.131.

[7] Muhammad A. Dandamayev, “Slavery (Old Testament),” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 65.

[8] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Exodus,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 433.

[9] Paul Johnson, Art: A New History (New York: HarperCollins, 2003) 33.

[10] Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1989), p.108.

[11] John Henry Hopkins, A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery, from the Days of the Patriarch Abraham, to the Nineteenth Century (New York: W.I. Pooley & Company, 1864), p.16.

[12] Diogenes Laertius. Life of Zenon (translation is by C.D.Yonge—1895). Book 7. Section 23.

[13] Vaughan writes, “More than half the people seen on the streets of the great cities of the Roman world were slaves.” Curtis Vaughan, “Colossians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 219.

[14] W.L. Westermann, The Slave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity (The American Philosophical Society, 1955), p.215.

[15] To be clear, these statements summarize the culture of Seneca’s time (4 BC to AD 65).

[16] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 801.

[17] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 801.

[18] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 801.

[19] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 802.

[20] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 184.

[21] Josephus, Jewish War, 6.3.201-213; 6.5.271-73; 6.9.420; 7.5.118; 7.5.138; 7.5.154. Some historians consider this to be an exaggeration, but regardless, the city of Jerusalem was completely decimated, along with its inhabitants.

[22] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 76.

[23] Morton Smith and R. Joseph Hoffman, editors. What the Bible Really Says (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1989), p.143.

[24] Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1989), pp.115-116.

[25] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language: Fourth Edition (Nashville, NT: Thomas Nelson. 2013), p.43.

[26] Lionel Swain, Ephesians (New Testament Message; Dublin, 1980), 99.

[27] J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, Religions of the World (2nd Edition). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2010, 737.

[28] J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, Religions of the World (2nd Edition). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2010, 92.

[29] Howard Clark Kee, Christianity: A Social and Cultural History (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991), p.625.

[30] Howard Clark Kee, Christianity: A Social and Cultural History (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991), p.625.

[31] Howard Clark Kee, Christianity: A Social and Cultural History (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991), p.690.

[32] Howard Clark Kee, Christianity: A Social and Cultural History (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991), p.691.

[33] Howard Clark Kee, Christianity: A Social and Cultural History (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991), p.691.