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Is the Bible Pro Slavery? 

Don Ruhl • Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon • March 1, In the year of our Lord Christ, 2020 


  1. AmericanAtheists dot org 
    1. sponsored a billboard 
    2. that showed a quote from the New Testament, 
      1. “Slaves, obey your master,” 
      2. with a picture of an American slave wearing a punishment collar, 
        1. with four pieces coming and 
        2. each one had curled spikes on the ends, 
          1. making it impossible to lie, 
          2. preventing hiding bushes, etc. 
  2. This is how many people view slavery in the Bible with the Bible’s approval. 
    1. If you make a casual reading of the Bible 
    2. you will see that slavery is mentioned and 
      1. that the Lord regulates it, 
      2. leading some to believe that means the Bible approves of it. 
  3. However, the Bible on slavery 
    1. is like the Bible on polygamy, 
    2. the Bible gives instructions in regard to it because 
      1. the Bible tolerated it for a time, but 
      2. it never gave approval. 
  4. The Bible does show how to live under that system:

    5 Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ…
    – Ephesians 6.5

    22 Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.
    – Colossians 3.22

    18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.
    – 1 Peter 2.18
    1. However, why does the Bible so speak? 
    2. For one thing, the point of the Scriptures, 
      1. especially of the New Testament, 
      2. frees people from the bondage of sin, 
        1. not from the bondage of politics, but 
        2. when people embrace the biblical message, 
          1. their hearts change, 
          2. leading them to abandon slavery. 
  5. If the Bible’s message was the abolition of slavery, 
    1. people would adhere to its message for political freedom, but 
    2. they would still be in spiritual bondage. 
      1. Therefore, the Bible shows people changing because of its message. 
      2. As slaves they changed toward their masters and 
        1. as masters they changed toward their slaves, 
        2. leading to a breakdown of the system and 
          1. a promotion of the ways of God in that culture. 
          2. The Bible makes people want to change 
            1. rather than forcing them 
            2. to cease slavery or some other objectionable behavior. 


  1. What Is Slavery in the Bible? 
    1. When we read the Bible on slavery, 
      1. we generally read it from our own historical background, 
      2. thinking that the way it was practiced in America is what the Bible shows. 
        1. In America, people were purchased for labor. 
        2. We had not been at war with them and 
          1. then won the war and 
          2. took slaves as part of the spoils. 
            1. They were not indentured because 
            2. they owed us money. 
      3. It is a different story in what the Bible regulated. 
    2. In the New Testament the Greek word that you find is douvlos,
      1. which can mean servant, bondservant, or slave. 
      2. During the first century and during most times in history, 
        1. people were taken as slaves because 
        2. they lost a war, and 
          1. rather than facing slaughter, 
          2. they lived as slaves. 
    3. In the Law of Moses, the Lord regulated this practice. 
      1. Hebrew servants could only serve for 6 years.

        2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.”

        – Exodus 21.2
        1. Right away you can see 
        2. that what the Old Testament speaks about 
          1. was not like what America did. 
          2. While we may use the same terminology, 
            1. it does not picture the identical thing. 
            2. We cannot project our definitions backward on the Bible. 
      2. If you read 14 verses further you will find this interesting penalty:

        16 “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.”

        – Exodus 21.16
        1. Again, this is much different than what America did. 
        2. The slaves we had 
          1. had been kidnapped. 
          2. Then our fellow Americans purchased them and 
            1. often treated them horribly. 
            2. While there was slavery in biblical times, 
              1. the Bible also taught 
              2. that you should love your neighbor as yourself. 
                1. That meant that masters, or we could say, employers, 
                2. had to treat those under their authority 
                  1. just as they would wish to be treated. 
                  2. Therefore, abuse was forbidden. 
  2. The Biblical Message 
    1. Why did God just not state everything 
      1. that He wanted and 
      2. that He did not want 
        1. from the beginning? 
        2. Why did He take centuries before completing His revelation? 
    2. God revealed His will slowly through the centuries. 
      1. It took humanity a long time before they could reach the right moment. 
      2. Galatians 4.4–5

        4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

        – Galatians 4.4–5
    3. God accommodated man in his fall. 
      1. Consider again polygamy. 
      2. The Lord’s instructions on polygamy or slavery 
        1. did not mean that He necessarily approved of what man was doing. 
        2. Or take the subject of divorce:

          3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

          – Matthew 19.3–8
        3. Another subject is that of a king for Israel. 
          1. God was their king. 
          2. Therefore, when they wanted a human king, 
            1. God told Samuel that they were rejecting Him as their king. 
            2. Nevertheless, the Lord accommodated them. 
              1. He not only accommodated them, but 
              2. He regulated how the king was to function. 
                1. Deuteronomy 17.14–20 
      3. Both Jesus and Paul show that God’s original intention for marriage 
        1. was monogamy, not polygamy 
        2. Matthew 19

          5 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

          – Matthew 19.5
        3. Ephesians 5

          31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

          – Ephesians 5.31
          1. Yet, the Lord used Jacob’s polygamy or bigamy 
          2. to give the world the nation of Israel. 
      4. So it is with slavery. 
    4. The Bible shows what God thinks of our relationships to one another, 
      1. which when followed 
      2. lead to the abolition of slavery. 
        1. Thus, people change because they want to change, 
        2. not because someone forced them. 
      3. Galatians 3.28

        28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

        – Galatians 3.28
  3. The Reasoning that Comes from the Gospel 
    1. There is a little book in the Bible 
      1. that shows how the gospel works. 
      2. The gospel does not change people or nations 
        1. by forcing them to change but 
        2. by teaching them the way to go. 
    2. Have you considered the Book of Philemon?

      15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.

      – Philemon 15–17
      1. Paul instructed and persuaded Philemon to move from 
        1. the master/slave relationship 
        2. to that of brothers. 
      2. This is how the church overcame the might of the Roman Empire. 
        1. Philemon did not treat Paul as a slave by anyone’s standard. 
        2. Therefore, Philemon would treat Onesimus as Paul himself. 
    3. Think about it: 
      1. Paul wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus 
      2. as Philemon would receive the apostle Paul. 
        1. What the teaching of the Bible does is 
        2. break down the ways of thinking that lead to slavery. 
          1. By changing the heart 
          2. no laws had to be made to change slavery. 


  1. On the other hand, 
    1. what if a slave loved his owner and 
    2. wanted to stay with him?

      5 “But if the servant plainly says, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free, 6 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.”

      – Exodus 21.5–6
  2. So we have a song in our purple book:

    Pierce my ear, O Lord, my God;
    Take me to Your door this day.
    I will serve no other God;
    Lord, I’m here to stay.

    For You have paid the price for me;
    With Your blood You ransomed me.
    I will serve You eternally:
    A free man I’ll never be.