Main pro-slavery arguments
- God gave permission for Israelites to buy
foreigners as slaves. They became the permanent
property of their owners.
(You may buy slaves from the nations around you.
… You can bequeath them to your sons as
inherited property and can make them slaves for
life … Lev 25:44-46)
- There are no passages in the Bible which condemn
or criticize people for owning other people as
- Jesus appears to have accepted slavery as part of
his society. There is no record of him opposing it.
In fact, Paul implies that Jesus approved of slaves
honoring and serving their masters (1 Tim 6:1-3)
Jesus told parable stories with slaves in them (e.g.
a king and his slaves – Matt 18:23-34; relationship
between slaves and masters – Luke 17:7-10;
slaves sent as messengers – Luke 20:9-12; slaves
entrusted with master’s money – Matt 25:14-30).
Jesus praised those slaves who serve well.
Jesus healed a centurion’s slave (Luke 7:1-10).
Jesus called his disciples slaves (John 15:15).
- Paul and the apostles accepted, and implicitly
endorsed, the system of slavery and they instructed
masters and slaves about their duties. They did not
proclaim that slavery was an evil.
(Slaves, obey your masters … and masters, give
up threatening your slaves – Eph 6:5-9; Col 3:22-
Slaves are to be subject to their masters in
everything … whether the masters are good or
harsh – Tit 2:9-10; 1 Pet 2:18-19
Slaves should remain in their existing condition –
1 Cor 7:20-24)
Paul returned a runaway slave to his master –
- There is no record of the early churches
condemning slaveholders for owning slaves or the
churches ordering them to free their slaves.
- Slave masters becoming church members in
apostolic times shows that owning slaves was, and
is, not sinful.
Main anti-slavery arguments
- The concept of slavery is inconsistent with Jesus’
commands to love (care for) others as yourself and
to do to others what you would want them to do to
you. These commands, if practiced, would have led
to the abolition of slavery.
- Slavery is wrong because it reduces the human life
of some people to mere property and those people
are bought and sold as mere things.
- Israelites being able to have other Israelites as
slaves was not true slavery. They could voluntarily
enter into servitude to pay their debts and were to
be treated as servants. They had to be released
from service after 7 years and could be bought out
of servitude at any time by their close relatives.
- Because there is no record of Jesus opposing
slavery, it does not mean that he supported it.
The above pro- and anti-slavery arguments are derived
largely from Willard M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and
Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (1983)
Author: Colin Smith