When Paul Returned A Slave
In his many imprisonments, Paul would have met runaway slaves whod been recaptured. He knew how their masters would make an example of them to deter any others in the household who might have the crazy idea of seeking freedom. On one occasion, as Paul heard the slaves story, he recognized the slave owner a man named Philemon. Philemon had given his allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ through Pauls preaching.
Paul had no way to stop the Roman authorities returning the slave to his owner, so he wrote a letter for the slave to carry with him. Its such a warm letter, saturated with the human affection Paul feels for Philemon. And for the slave!
Hes not just a slave he has a name. Paul asks Philemon to treat Onesimus no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. .
Curious! Paul hasnt attacked the institution of slavery. Hes undermined it. Onesimus might be a slave in the eyes of Rome, but in Philemons eyes he is a fellow human, a brother in the family.
Paul didnt condemn slavery in the Roman Empire. He focused his efforts on those who give allegiance to King Jesus, knowing that enduring social transformation can only come serving him.
The Bible And Slavery
The Bible contains many references to slavery, which was a common practice in antiquity. Biblical texts outline sources and the legal status of slaves, economic roles of slavery, types of slavery, and debt slavery, which thoroughly explain the institution of slavery in Israel in antiquity. The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves, especially in the Old Testament. There are also references to slavery in the New Testament.
Many of the patriarchs portrayed in the Bible were from the upper echelons of society and the owners of slaves and enslaved those in debt to them, bought their fellow citizens’ daughters as concubines, and perpetually enslaved foreign men to work on their fields. Masters were men, and it is not evident that women were able to own slaves until the Elephantine papyri in the 400s BC. Other than these instances, it is unclear whether or not state-instituted slavery was an accepted practice.
In the 19th century United States, abolitionists and defenders of slavery debated the Bible’s message on the topic. Abolitionists used texts from both the Old and New Testaments to argue for the manumission of slaves, and against kidnapping or “stealing men” to own or sell them as slaves.
Transatlantic Slavery Is Not In Mind In The Bible
In Transatlantic slavery, by contrast, West Africans were forcibly kidnapped . Both their person and their labor were considered the property of the slave owner. The slave owners rights over slaves and their offspring were complete. They were subject to rampant physical violence and abuse. The death penalty applied if a master killed a servant. If a master caused any kind of permanent damage to a servant, that servant was given immediate freedom. Slavery in North and South America was motivated by the economic advantage it provided for the elite. In the OT, slavery was motivated by a desire to find a way to help the poor.
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When Paul Released A Slave
Theres one example of Paul setting a slave girl free. According to Acts 16:16, she earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. Paul realized she was enslaved by a spirit, so he used the authority of King Jesus to release her . The slave owners realized that their hope of making money was gone , so they had Paul and Silas arrested, charged with upsetting the ordered life of the city and advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice .
Slavery was enshrined in Roman law. If Paul and Silas took on the fight against this injustice, it would have become their life work. They could no longer have travelled from place to place to proclaim the good news of an alternative kingdom under the leadership of Gods anointed ruler .
Paul knew that the slave/free distinction would eventually disintegrate in the reign of King Jesus , so he spent no time fighting it. He spent all his time calling people to recognize Jesus leadership, to come under his authority. The reign of King Jesus will resolve all injustices.
Christian Quotes About Slavery
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. Abraham Lincoln
All that we call human historymoney, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. C.S. Lewis
I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery. George Washington
To be a Christian is to be a slave of Christ. John MacArthur
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The Old Testament On Slavery
People might be surprised to learn that the Bible does not condone slavery at all, even in the Old Testament as many falsely claim. Even in the first laws that God gave, God abhorred the capturing of people to make them slaves. Exodus 21:16 states, Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnappers possession. God not only forbids slavery, He gives them the death penalty for it. Thats how serious God sees slavery as. Slavery is no different than kidnapping to God. But what about the slaves mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament?
Leviticus 25:39-43 says, 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 slaves service. 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. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt they are not to be sold in a slave sale. You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God. Here God says that a poor person sells their self to get out of debt but they are not to be subjected to them in service as a slave. They are also be freed after the year of the Jubilee. God calls them My servants and they are not to be sold in a slave sale. How clear is that?
Are People Supposed To Be Slaves Forever
10. Deuteronomy 15:1-2 At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. 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 Lords remission has been proclaimed.
11. Exodus 21:1-3 Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.
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From Tribal To National
In these texts, we see the move from tribal to national consciousness. The Book of the Covenant in Exodus 21-23 reflects a tribal society. Leviticus is still concerned about the family. By the time of Deuteronomy, the nation-state has replaced the family/clan/tribe as the key entity.
To review the outline of Israelite history: David and Solomon changed the tribal inheritances into federal districts, the northern tribes split into a second kingdom, many from those northern tribes were transplanted to Assyria. What was left, at least according to biblical history, was the kingdom of Judah.
What we need to understand in this context is that these events created a profound change that is reflected in the laws of Deuteronomy. This text asks: Now that all Israelites are responsible for one another, now that we have seen our co-religionists and co-Israelites taken off to a foreign land, how will we respond? How will we keep the nation and the people intact and alive? How do we deal with the issue of slavery?
Leviticus seems to be more humane than Deuteronomy, but in fact it is not. Following Tigay, Deuteronomy is the more humane text. The main issue is not status but time. Fifty years, to emphasize the obvious, is a very long time. If one becomes a slave at the beginning of the cycle as an adult, he would be a slave for the rest of his life. Six years as a hired laborer is manageable 49 years is not.
Excerpted with permission from Conservative Judaism, volume 51:3, Spring 1999.
Slavery In The Old Testament
The practices allowed in OT Israel were different from the enslavement of West Africans enslaved during the Transatlantic slave trade period. The two forms of slavery actually have little in common.
In general, slavery in ancient Israel was a voluntary provision to support the destitute. If a person was in financial debt, the debt could be paid off by becoming a servant in the household of a wealthy landowner. In most cases, the person himself initiated the arrangement by offering his services. The protections of the OT law for the poor and powerless were designed to make this as rare an occurrence as possible. It was a temporary arrangement. Once the debt was paid, the servant was free. Even if the servant was not able to repay the debt, all debts were forgiven and thus all servants set free every seven years. In this arrangement, slaves had numerous rights and were protected by the law from being harmed or abused. Based on the memory of Israels own experience in slavery in Egypt, God required them to treat their servants humanely.
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Examples Of Slavery In The Bible
25. Exodus 9:1-4 Then the LORD said to Moses, Go to Pharaoh and say to him, This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the fieldon your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.
As you can clearly see the slavery in the Bible was way different from the slavery of African Americans. Slave traders are considered lawless and associated with murderers, homosexuals, and immoral people. God shows no favoritism. Watch out for liars who try to pick a verse out the Bible to say you see the Bible promotes slavery, which is a lie from Satan.
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Does The Bible Support Harsh Slavery
There are several passages that are commonly used to suggest that the Bible condones harsh slavery. However, when we read these passages in context, we find that they clearly oppose harsh slavery.
If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her masters, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, I love my master, my wife, and my children I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl and he shall serve him forever.
This is the first type of bankruptcy law weve encountered. With this, a government doesnt step in, but a person who has lost himself or herself to debt can sell the only thing they have left: their ability to perform labor. This is a loan. In six years the loan is paid off, and they are set free. Bondservants who did this made a wage, had their debt covered, had a home to stay in, on-the-job training, and did it for only six years. This almost sounds better than college, which doesnt cover debt and you have to pay for it!
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Slavery Or Indentured Servitude
Although God liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, slavery is not universally prohibited in the Bible. Slavery was permissible in certain situations, so long as slaves were regarded as full members of the community , received the same rest periods and holidays as non-slaves , and were treated humanely . Most importantly, slavery among Hebrews was not intended as a permanent condition, but a voluntary, temporary refuge for people suffering what would otherwise be desperate poverty. When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt . Cruelty on the part of the owner resulted in immediate freedom for the slave . This made male Hebrew slavery more like a kind of long-term labor contract among individuals, and less like the kind of permanent exploitation that has characterized slavery in modern times.
In addition, an obvious loophole is that a girl or woman could be bought as a wife for a male slave, rather than for the slave owner or a son, and this resulted in permanent enslavement to the owner , even when the husband’s term of enslavement ended. The woman became a permanent slave to an owner who did not become her husband and who owed her none of the protections due a wife.
Why Doesnt Scripture Say More
So I dont think the explanation of the New Testaments silence based on ancient slaverys relative moderation is persuasive. The lack of comment of Scripture on the evil of slavery itself may not become fully explicable to us in this life. It is hardly a cop-out to remind ourselves of the Lords caution to his people in Isaiah 55:8: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. Yet there remain some caveats that can somewhat mitigate our perplexity on the matter. One is that the Scripture does attack certain essential aspects of slavery as practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. Second is that at the time of the New Testament letters, Christians could hardly imagine changing the laws of society at large, since they were a small and often-persecuted sect that many outsiders regarded as a bizarre cult. Few could have imagined a post-Constantinian order in which Christian morality became the law of the land.
The Old and New Testaments do forbid practices that stood at the heart of the institution of slavery.
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Does The Bible Condone Slavery
Many critics of Christianity argue that the Bible must be immoral because it condones slavery. It is true that the Old Testament law that governed the life of Israel allowed for a form of slavery. It is also true that the New Testament writers did not speak out directly against slavery as an institution in the Roman Empire. What is a holistic, biblical way of understanding slavery for Christians today?
What Others Are Saying
John Chrysostom , Homily On Ephesians 22.6.9:
Society arrangements, like laws made by sinners, acknowledge these distinctions of classes. But we are all called to accountability before the law of the common Lord and Master of all. We are called to do good to all alike and to dispense the same fair rights to all. Gods law does not recognize these social distinctions. If anyone should ask where slavery comes from and why it has stolen into human life for I know that many are keen to ask such things and desire to learn I shall tell you. It is avarice that brought about slavery. It is acquisitiveness, which is insatiable. This is not the original human condition. M. J. Edwards Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture , 8:206.
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The Essence Of The Old Testament Institution
In the patriarchal system, the work in someone’s household was carried out by herdsmen and domestic servants, but if Abraham had had no offspring one of his servants would inherit all he had . Servants were trusted with money and weapons. There is no approval for selling people, although Abraham ‘acquired’ people for silver.
The following table shows a comparison of slave systems.
Conditions of slaves in different systems
Deuteronomy 23:15-16 forbids returning a runaway slave to his master. This contrasts to former slavery laws in America or even in the ancient lawcode of the Babylonian king Hammurabi .