Coming in early 2009.

Relativism & Absolutes | Atheism | Is the Bible Relevant? | Women | Slavery | Judgment | Mary Magdalene? | Politics | Failed Philosophical Arguments
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Jamie Johnson
Discourses  · Slavery
Jamie Johnson
Part 5


What the world says:

"The Bible has been used to support slavery due to verses like Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9, and 1 Peter 2:18, which urge slaves to submit to their masters and work whole-heartedly."
"The Bible supports or promotes slavery."

What is the truth?

Just because the Bible mentions slavery does not mean it supports it. When a history book mentions Hitler, it does not make the author a Nazi. Just because a person misuses Scripture doesn't make the the Bible a supporter of what the person supports. In his book Why Does God Allow It?, the late A.E. Wilder-Smith mentions how he admired the great architecture of the cathedral in Cologne before World War II. However, by 1946, this great cathedral had been bombed (along with the rest of Cologne), and he saw it was full of holes and in shambles. Smith points out that this was not the architect's or builder's fault. I could take an EPA pamphlet and wad it up and throw it in a river or litter in the forest. This does not mean that the EPA is responsible for what I do with their pamphlet.

The Bible mentions divorce, but does not condone it. The reason man was allowed to give a certificate of divorce was because man's heart was hardened (see Matthew 19:6-8 and Mark 10:3-5).

What does the Bible say to the masters? Consider Ephesians 6:5 in context. Ephesians 6:5-9 is the context. Note especially verse 9, which says, "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him." FEMA does not support the occurrence of disasters, but does assist in what to do when there is disaster. Similarly, the Bible does not condone all it mentions, but outlines how to approach the injustices and trials of life in a godly manner. Consider the footnote for Ephesians 6:5 below.

6:5 Slaves. Both the OT and the NT included regulations for societal situations such as slavery and divorce (see Dt 24:1-4), which were the results of the hardness of hearts (Mt 19:8). Such regulations did not encourage or condone such situations but were divinely-given, practical ways of dealing with the realities of the day.

Consider Colossians 3:22 in context, namely Colossians 3:22-4:1. I would respond to the argument about this verse similarly to the way I responded to the argument against Ephesians 6:5 above. Also, look at the footnote below.

3:22-4:1 Paul neither condones slavery nor sanctions revolt against masters. Rather he calls on both slaves and masters to show Christian principles in their relationship and thus to attempt to change the institution from within. The reason Paul writes more about slaves and masters than about wives, husbands, children and fathers may be that the slave Onesimus (4:9) is going along with Tychicus to deliver this Colossian letter and the letter to Philemon, Onesimus's master, who also lived in Colosse.

Consider Titus 2:9 in context. It seems like the rest of the sentence was ignored in the "worldly" statement above. This occurred one time when someone argued against the resurrection by saying people had gone to the wrong tomb. In this incident, the person quoted Matthew 28:6a, which says, "He is not here," but failed mention the rest of the verse: "he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay" (Matthew 26:8b). Don't forget about the next verse, Titus 2:10, which says, "and [slaves] not to steal from [masters], but to show that they [(slaves)] can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." The point is to glorify God whatever the circumstance. Also, refer to the footnote below.

2:9-10 Instructions for a distinct group in the churches. Slavery was a basic element of Roman society, and the impact of Christianity upon slaves was a vital concern. Guidance for the conduct of Christian slaves was essential (see note on Eph 6:5 [above]).

Consider 1 Peter 2:18 in the larger context of 1 Peter 2:13-25, which begins "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men." Verse 19 captures a key point in the context: "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God," and this leads into pointing towards what Christ's suffering for doing good (even further in that He is sinless!), in His not retaliating against His persecutors, and what He has done for you, and the believer's calling to be Christlike in the last few verses of the context: 1 Peter 2:21-25. Also refer to the footnote below.

2:18 Slaves. Household servants, whatever their particular training and functions. The context indicates that Peter is addressing Christian slaves. NT writers do not attack slavery as an institution (see note on Eph 6:5), but the NT contains the principles that ultimately uprooted slavery. Peter's basic teachings on the subject may apply to employer-employee relations today (see Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22-25; 1 Ti 6:1-2; Tit 2:9-10).

And I would also add that these fit with Colossians 3:17 ("And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.") and Colossians 3:23 ("Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men").

Also worth noting is 1 Timothy 1:9-12, which speaks against slave trading as being contrary to sound doctrine.


In considering what's being said, truth and the Bible, how are we to respond to the world when the world says, "I can't believe the Bible because it supports slavery"?

Possible Responses

If someone writes a book that includes mentioning slavery, does that mean the author supports slavery?
If someone writes the book above and mention that masters should treat their slaves well, does that mean the author supports slavery?
If someone writes the book above and mention that slaves should respect their masters, does that mean the author supports slavery?
If someone leads a divorce recovery group, does that mean s/he promotes divorce?
If there is a flawed institution in society, does it make more sense to just mention that institution or to mention how to make the best of the institution (glorify God despite the circumstance)?
What does the Bible say to the masters?
What are you enslaved to? What's the best way to deal with it?
Where has the church failed in regards to slavery? How can current issues be addressed?
How are we influenced by our culture?
Where have you felt enslaved?
Does the Bible call people to overthrow injustice or exist winsomely within injustice?
What kind of master is God?

Which response is the most engaging so that it may bring discourse and productive discussion, perhaps even to presenting the Gospel? What are some other possible responses that promote discourse?