About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Bible And Slavery
people have wondered why the Bible doesn't come out and clearly oppose
slavery. Here's my very brief attempt to address this issue.
first mentioned in Genesis 9:25, has been an established practice in the
social order of man since the dawning days of tribal warfare.
God conceded that slavery would never be eradicated from humanity
so He regulated the practice in the Law of Moses to protect slaves.
Many of the Law's regulations were based on God conceding to our
sinfulness. They were a
matter of necessity; not God's will.
The divorce law of Deuteronomy 24:1 to 4 is another example of
this. God conceded that
couples would divorce (Matthew 19:8) so He instituted the law of divorce
to protect innocent divorced wives.
the following laws. "Your
slaves are to come from the nations around you" (Leviticus 25:44). "If
a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his
master" (Deuteronomy 23:15). "If
a man hits a slave in the eye and destroys it, he must let the slave go
free to compensate for it" (Exodus 21:26).
"If a man beats his slave with a rod and if the slave dies
… he must be punished" (Exodus 21:20).
Concerning the Passover meal the Lord said that "no
foreigner is to eat of it. Any
slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him"
(Exodus 12:44, also in Leviticus 22:11).
regulations show that God demands proper treatment of slaves.
He even views them as family in regard to the Passover meal, and
3:7 tells us that God is upset with the abuse of slaves.
"I have indeed seen the misery of my people in
34:16 says, "you have turned around and profaned my name; each one
of you has taken back the slaves you have set free …" When
Israelis took back their slaves, God viewed that as a personal offense
against Himself. Clearly,
God prefers freedom.
believe the Old Testament reluctantly concedes to the practice of
slavery, therefore it regulates this evil practice to protect slaves.
I also believe the New Testament follows the same approach.
Apostle Paul speaks to slavery more than any other New Testament author.
Ephesians 6:5 to 8 says; "Obey your earthly masters with
respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey
Christ." See also
Colossians 4:22 to 23 and 1 Timothy 6:1 to 2.
The Apostle Peter agrees with Paul, although he adds that slaves
should even obey brutal masters. He
considers such obedience to be a form of suffering for Christ" (1
Peter 2:18 to 19). Paul
also says that slaves shouldn't try to gain their freedom, but if
they're offered freedom, they should take it (1 Corinthians 7:20).
above statements disturb us today, but they weren't as disturbing in
Paul's day. There were just
as many slaves as there were free men in the
tells all Christians in 1 Corinthians 7, including Christian slaves, to
remain in the situation they were in when they first met Jesus.
He felt that if Christians could demonstrate a godly lifestyle in
their anti-Christian situation, they might win those around them to
Jesus. Telling slaves to
stay with their owners was all about winning their owners to Jesus.
should also note that God makes no distinction between slaves and free
men when it comes to salvation (1
Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:28).
Christians slave owners Paul says, "Treat your slaves in the same
(caring) way. Do not
threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and your
Master is in heaven and there is no favouritism with Him"
(Ephesians 6:9). Paul
reminds slave owners that both they and their slaves are subject to the
one and only Master in heaven, so they better behave accordingly.
letter to Philemon is key to this whole issue.
Philemon was a Christian slave owner.
Onesimus was one of his slaves who apparently ran away.
In Philemon 8 through 16 Paul says; "Although in Christ I
could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, I appeal to you
on the basis of love … take
Onesimus back, no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear
brother." On the behalf
of Jesus, Paul tells Philemon to do the right thing, which was to free
his slave and treat him as a brother.
If you've missed all that I've said, don't miss this.
Freeing Onesimus and considering him as a brother clearly
demonstrates the heart of God concerning slavery.
might still wonder why Paul didn't vigorously oppose slavery.
The answer is simple. Paul's
mission as seen in Acts 9:15 was to be "God's chosen instrument and
to carry His name before the Gentiles and to their kings and before the
of us have been activists for various causes, and there's nothing
inherently wrong with that. I've
marched in protest in front of abortion clinics in times past, but as
far as I know, no one came to Jesus because of these protests.
Only the preaching of the gospel can lead a sinner to Jesus.
Besides, banning abortion wouldn't have ended the practice.
It would have only sent it back underground, where slavery exists
today in our so-called civilized western world.
Unless the heart of man changes, his cultural ills remain.
Even though God legislated morality in the Law of Moses, He knew
that laws don't change the heart of man.
Only the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer can change a
Bible doesn't overtly condemn slavery, but it does oppose it.
In His inaugural speech to Israel, Jesus stated, "The Spirit
of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel
to the poor, He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach
deliverance to the captives, and the recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Luke 4:18).
Interpret "preach deliverance to the captives" and
"set at liberty them that are bruised" as you wish.
At least in part, I understand Jesus to say that our best
attempts at legislating morality fails.
Only He, through the Holy Spirit, can effectively change the
heart of man. Only then will
slavery be abolished from our world, including the sub-culture of our