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Thursday 24 November 2022

Why Doesn’t The Bible Condemn Slavery More?

You can watch the full video sermon here.


Last week we saw how the Biblical family structure helps us take down the Devil’s influence. We saw something very clear: an army that is unified in its purpose, and where its soldiers focus on fulfilling their proper roles, will more than likely succeed. It is just a matter of getting everything where it needs to be. As long as nothing interrupts that process, then the army can do what it does. But it all hinges on people fulfilling their proper roles. The Bible tells us that the Church is part of God’s spiritual army against darkness in this world, and how we structure the family matters, men are to provide, women are to manage the home. But because the roles of men and women have been confused by many Christians, the church has lost a lot of ground in our culture, and the enemy has overtaken it.

But telling women to submit to their husbands, and live under their authority and provision, is incredibly unpopular in our culture today. The 19th century feminists said Christian marriage was slavery, “So long as woman is crushed into a slave, so long will man be narrowed into a despot.”[i] “Why is it that one-half the people of this nation are held in abject dependence—civilly, politically, socially, the slaves of man? Simply because woman knows not her power.”[ii] So because of their view, the 19th century feminists lobbied to get the vote, so they could get the vote and then turn around and use that vote to ask for welfare to live apart from men. In other word’s they replaced their husbands with the government; they made the government their provider instead.

To this day one of the primary concerns with modern democratic elections is how much welfare the political parties will provide for women, so that these women will not be dependent on men. Whether it is welfare through money, quotas, abortion or other means, women replaced being provided for by their men with being provided for by their political representatives, giving the government more direct power over their lives. The question I want to ask is this: who is more free? The woman who serves her husband, or the woman who serves her boss, and needs the government to provide a quota for her to get that job, welfare to supplement her income, and subsidized childcare to help her put in the hours in at the office? Who is more free? Feminism is the idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they serve their husband and their children. But who is really more free?

I ask this, because today we are going to talk about actual slavery, and biblical marriage is often regarded as slavery by radical leftists, and even a lot of Christians, so I am going to address this in the context of addressing slavery.

Slavery in general is an issue that is more complex than most people will admit, because the Bible never once outright condemns slavery, yet we Christians, and most other westerners rightly condemn slavery. So, is the Bible at odds with what is right? Is Biblical marriage slavery? What does the Bible say about slavery? Let’s examine this issue in some detail, beginning with Titus 2:9-10, and seek to answer these questions in the process of answering this question: why doesn’t the Bible condemn slavery more?

Slaves Obey Your Masters (vv.9-10) – Paul’s command in Titus is pretty simple, “9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” This passage, like last week, is not a complicated passage or a difficult passage to understand. But it is hard to accept, because it doesn’t sit very well with so much of how we think and live today.

Perhaps the most common way this sort of passage is applied, is by transferring the advice given to bondservants to modern employees and simply saying: work for your boss, as if you are working for God.

This is a valid application, because in Paul’s day much of the labour market for many roles in society, from basic household servants up to doctors, lawyers and other skilled workers were heavily made up by slaves.

“At the height of the Roman Empire, it is estimated that nearly 40% of the population of Italy consisted of slaves.”[iii] And maybe between 10-20% of the whole empire’s population.[iv] Some of these slaves were uneducated barbarians captured in war, but others would have been highly educated Greeks captured in war, or bankrupt citizens who sold themselves into slavery to pay off their debts. Greek slaves were especially sought after, and skilled slaves brought a much higher price.  

If you have seen Ben Hur, you can imagine how even great men or women became slaves, simply because they upset the wrong Roman man of power. The Roman economy was completely reliant on slavery. Almost no one questioned slavery and slaves largely tolerated it. Even those slaves who rebelled against it, often did not do so because they hated the idea of slavery, they just hated the idea of not being masters.

But before we discuss this anymore, I want to do a bit of a survey of what the Bible teaches about slavery. Because I think if we can grasp the scope of its teaching, this might give us some powerful insight into what God has done for us, and what he expects of us on this issue.  

Made Free (Gen. 1-2) – Humanity was created to be free. In fact, more than that, humanity, male and female, was created to rule over the World in partnership with each other, Genesis 1:26-28 says, “26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Humanity was created for dominion, not dominion over each other, but dominion over all the earth and its creatures, whether walking, flying or swimming. Mankind was created to be the kings and queens of creation. But does this mean everyone was equal, and the same in role? No.  

In this context of perfect dominion, women were still under their husbands authority, or, more specifically, Adam had authority over Eve. We know this, because Adam had the authority from God to name Eve: Genesis 2:22-25 - “22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” The one who is in charge has the authority to name. This is why in Christian marriage the wife takes her husband’s name, why children are named by their parents, and why there is conflict in our society over naming all sorts of things, because naming is an act of authority.

To highlight how God held the man responsible, God also came to the man after the fall because it was the man whom he held in primary responsibility, as Paul says, “12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” (Rom. 5:12).

Therefore, the wife was still supposed to submit to her husband, and be his helper, before the fall. Yet humans were not created to be slaves, but to be free and to rule. Hence the feminists are not correct to say that biblical marriage, where a man leads his wife, is slavery. Husbands leading their wives is part of God’s good design. Slavery is a corruption of God’s good world, an invading force.

Slavery did not exist until the evil one, the devil, defeated humanity and conquered the world, becoming the god of this age: Genesis 3:1-2 - “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

When the Devil defeated Adam and Eve, he usurped the rulership of this world, and humanity became enslaved to his evil, or as Acts 26:18 says, humanity was put under “the power of Satan.” Satan captured humanity and enslaved it to his will, 2 Timothy 2:26, “and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

Slavery is the devil’s work, emanating through a world ruled by his evil beings. As the Devil enslaves humanity to his will, so to do slave-masters enslave others to their wills. In other words, slavery is a result of the fall. The desire for one man to utterly dominate another man finds its seed in the influence of the evil one over his domination of creation. Perpetuators of slavery are like little devils.

Slavery is a reality, then, of our fallen world. Even the flood could not wipe it out fully, because ultimately slavery comes from the desire of a man to rule over and dominate his fellow man. It is the image of the beast rising up to replace the image of God in man. Slavery is a reality that needs to be dealt with in this world, and it finds its expression in many forms.

Slavery In The Old Testament – One of the most uncomfortable truths for modern Christians, is that the Old Testament does not condemn slavery…or does it? The Bible is not an idealistic book, it is a realistic book, and it presents its characters in the reality of the world they are in, and shows how God is slowly redeeming and transforming humanity.

Significant figures in the Bible have slaves. Abraham had slaves for example, and this provides the foundation for an important part of the Bible’s account. Abraham’s slave girl, Hagar, becomes the mother of his first child, Ishmael.

But, just because Hagar is a slave, this does not mean God has no regard for her, because as he says, Genesis 21:13 – “And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” Though Ishmael is not the son of the promise, still God intends to make a great nation of him because he is Abraham’s son. God considers greatly the station of the lowly slave.

So great men of the Bible have slaves. But God considers the condition of those slaves.  

Slavery is seen as tragic. There is a clear recognition even in the Old Testament that slavery is a terrible and tragic thing. Because Hagar is a slave she is powerless and easily abandoned, without remorse by Sarai. When Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers to Ishmaelite traders, it is framed as a tragic crime, that they need to cover up. Genesis 37:29-32 - “29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not.” This event is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that has ramifications across the generations as well. It eventually leads to the whole nation of the Hebrews finding themselves in slavery.

The slavery of the Israelites in Egypt is central to the plot of the Old Testament. The entire salvation narrative of the Old Testament looks to the Exodus where they were saved from slavery, “17 You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge, 18 but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.” (Deut. 24:17-18). Pharoah represents a type of the evil one, who holds God’s people in thrall and must be defeated. God redeemed his people from literal slavery.

So, slavery exists, but the Bible recognizes from the beginning its evil nature. Slavery is not a good thing, it is not a desired thing.

Yet It Was Allowed – The law allowed for slavery in ancient Israel, Deuteronomy 15:12-18 – “12 If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 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. 16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired worker he has served you six years. So the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.”

Israelite law allowed a Hebrew to sell himself into slavery, to pay off his debts. But this slavery was not to be permanent unless the slave wanted it to be. In the seventh year, the slave was to be given the chance to go free with a great abundance of possessions, just as the Israelites had when they came out of Egypt.

This might sound like a retrogressive law, but remember, our law says that an indebted person who goes bankrupt can lose everything, and still come out the other side with debt. This law enabled the poor person to be looked after, pay off their debt, and then come out with abundance at the end of their indentured servitude.

All of the Old Testament laws about slavery were designed to restrain the practice, and stop the masters from being cruel. But it also functioned as a kind of welfare where people could pay off their debts.  

The Heart of Slavery – The Old Testament condemned the heart of slavery, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (Ex. 21:16). The Old Testament, unlike virtually any other ancient law code, outlawed the slave trade’s primary engine: the theft of human beings for sale.

Long before Americans bought slaves from African slave lords to work their cotton fields, the Ishmaelites and others were trading slaves to Egypt and beyond. Long before our modern anti-slavery laws, the Bible condemned the sale of stolen human beings. Biblical slavery was a means of paying off debt, not an engine for conquest and dominance, which is how most ancient peoples thought of it, though they also used it to pay of debts.   

So, what about the New Testament?

The New Testament – Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament does not condemn slavery. This is uncomfortable, but let’s consider for a moment what the New Testament actually says.  

Jesus acknowledged the existence of slaves, and structured many of his parables and teachings around the reality of their lives, “24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:24-25).

Matthew 13:27-28 – “27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’”

The word used here, and in many others passages, is doulos, which means a servant who is a slave. Jesus acknowledges slavery without blushing.

Paul even convinced a youth, Onesimus, to go back to his slave-master, Philemon 1:12-16 - “12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

So, Jesus recognized the existence of slavery, Paul encouraged a slave to go home, and he also commands slaves to obey their masters. If this is the case, how did we get to a position where slavery is rightly condemned by Christians? How did we get to a situation where Christians fought to end slavery across the world? What happened?

Redemption - The answer is simple, because we serve a Lord and Master, who made himself a slave on our behalf, to redeem all who would believe in him, Mark 10:43-45 – “43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Crucifixion was a slaves death, citizens were often killed by beheading. Jesus became a slave, literally, the Jews were nothing more than slaves under the Romans, so that he could redeem humanity from sin, death and the devil.

This had a profound impact on how the Church viewed slaves, as we saw in Philemon, Paul is, already early in Church history, telling a Christian slave master to receive his slave back as a brother, instead. But we also see that Paul was willing to put his own money on the line to obtain relief for Onesimus: Philemon 1:17-19, “17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.”

Though the New Testament did not say Christians could not own slaves, it does condemn manstealing (1 Tim. 1:10, as with the Old Testament), and as Christianity spread through the empire, Christians looked at their Christian slaves and thought, how can I be so arrogant as to own another man or woman, who is owned by Christ just as I am. After all, Paul says this, “19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

This idea that the believer is bought with a price, the blood of Christ, started to impact Christians, who realized they should not have authority over the body of another person that belonged to Jesus.

Paul directly relates this idea to slavery himself, 1 Corinthians 7:22-24 - “22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”

If the believer’s body is bought with a price? Then how can one Christian claim ownership of another Christians body? How can we claim to own that which is not ours, but is Christs? Christians who were free were to resist becoming the slaves of men. Because those men have no authority over their bodies.  

More than that, Jesus became a slave so that he could ransom people from the power and slavery of the devil. Slavery originates with the devil’s enslavement of humanity. If we are going to be like our Lord, should we not seek to redeem people from slavery too?

This is why the early Church started redeeming people from slavery. This is why they nearly abolished slavery in Christendom in the medieval era.

Redemption, what Jesus did for us, became what Christians did for others. It became part of Christian culture to purchase slaves out of bondage, because you can’t get a more Christlike act than this? Because of Christian charity, this ended up having an effect on unbelievers as well.

Our Passage -  So, if we come back to our passage for today, we can see that Paul is asking nothing of the slaves in this passage, that Jesus did not do himself, Titus 2:9-10, “9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

The reason today in the West that we speak of employees not servants or slaves, is very simple: Christians came to realize that if we are going to be redeemed by Christ, we should live as Christ did, and do what we can to make sure that no one tries to take control of another person’s body. They have no right to touch that which is God’s not theirs.

But this also means, if Paul expected slaves to obey their masters, how much more should Christians be good employees for their bosses. This does apply to all of us who work, because we do not work for man alone, but also for God.

This is encouraging, because it shows us that one of the ways we can extend the kingdom of God is by simply being a pleasing, honest, and hard-working employee. We can do this knowing that because of the God who became a slave for us, we do not have to live as slaves today.

The boss has no right to ask you to sin, and no right to abuse your body, but they have every right to be obeyed in that which is righteous and honest work.  

So why doesn’t the Bible condemn slavery more? Because the Lord and Master of this universe undermined it in a much more powerful way, he used his slavery to become the saviour of all, redeeming us from the bondage of evil, and he created a people, his Church, who then lived this out as well.

Conclusion – Slavery is still here today. There are more slaves in the world then there were in Wilberforce’s day, many countries still allow it, even encourage it. In the West in recent years governments have sought to try and reverse the work of the Church and claim ownership over people’s bodies again. As Christians we must do what we can to oppose these efforts, because we should leave at least as good a legacy to our descendants, as our Christian ancestors left for us. We serve a Lord who redeemed all who believe in him from slavery. Let’s be a redeeming people who undermine slavery everywhere we see it, as well. Let’s pray.


[i] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady; Anthony, Susan B.; Gage, Matilda; Blatch, Harriot Stanton; Harper, Ida H.. The Complete History of the Suffragette Movement - All 6 Books in One Edition): The Battle for the Equal Rights: 1848-1922 (pp. 877-878). Musaicum Books. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady; Anthony, Susan B.; Gage, Matilda; Blatch, Harriot Stanton; Harper, Ida H.. The Complete History of the Suffragette Movement - All 6 Books in One Edition): The Battle for the Equal Rights: 1848-1922 (p. 1023). Musaicum Books. Kindle Edition.



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