Most of us think of slavery in terms of one man placing another man into bondage. Our minds are filled with images of men on ships against their will, being transported across vast oceans to distant lands where they will serve in chains for their entire life.
The horrors of this type of slavery is one of the greatest travesties of human life. No human being was made to be the servant of another against his will, nor to endure the brutality of servitude.
Slavery to fear, anxiety, and depression. There is slavery to sin that binds us to behavior that ruins our lives and the lives of others. There is slavery to materialism which takes our life from us as we seek to accumulate more and more, while feeling empty and unsatisfied.
There is one type of slavery that is good in every regard. It is the type of slavery that Jesus showed the world when He came to die for us. Though Jesus was God, He did not cling to His rights as God, but took the form of a slave and was born as a human being. Though He existed as God, forever, He humbled Himself for us and in obedience to righteousness—died for the whole world.
Slavery To Righteousness
A great deal of the New Testament was written by Paul while in chains at a Roman prison. Though men tried to bind him to a cell of hopelessness and fear, Paul wrote letters that were distributed all over the world. Today, we know a great deal about Jesus and all that He did, because Paul was in prison—falsely accused of things he had not done. At one point Paul wrote that everything that had happened to him had helped to spread the good news about Jesus. While in prison under chains, even the whole palace guard understood that he was there because of Christ. It was because of his imprisonment that most of the believers in Jesus, gained confidence and began to boldly speak about Jesus without fear.
While in prison, held against his will, Paul wrote words of instruction and encouragement to believers in Christ all over the world. Words that I read this morning in my Bible; words that gave me hope, encouragement, inspiration to live a life of righteousness. Paul often said that although we were once slaves to sin, now because of what Jesus has done for us, we should be slaves of righteousness.
Jesus said that anyone who truly wants to be great in this world, should become the servant of all. Paul wrote that although he was a free man, he made himself a slave to all so that he might win some to Christ. Under these parameters, slavery can be a really good thing.
Human Slavery Is Condemned By God
Some people who have not really read the whole Bible, develop the idea that that God of the Bible approves of slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the texts that critics of God use in an attempt to impugn God and the Bible for its alleged support of slavery is found in the book of Leviticus.
These verses of scripture from Leviticus 25:44-46 were used during the Civil War to try and justify slavery, but they were not at all written for any other application except the Jews during their time, and only for the conquered enemies of the surrounding nations of Israel.
Leviticus 25:39-46, also describes the issue of a poor Jew who became the slave of another Jew due to their poverty (Leviticus 25:39-43). In these verses of scripture we see that God is not condoning slavery, but giving instructions for how poverty stricken Jewish self-imposed slaves should be treated. This type of slavery was an attempt to help the destitute and enable their survival. These individuals were not to be treated harshly, but as members of the family.
In Leviticus 23:44-46, people who were the enemies of the Jews who lived in the surrounding nations, who worshipped vile and perverse gods, who offered their children upon the fiery hot arms of Molech, ate raw meat and were known as the most debased people in that period of history—had murdered and pillaged the Jews from the time they entered that land. This instruction by God in Leviticus was directed at these enemies of Israel—specifically how they should be treated as enemy combatants.
When the Jews came into that land, instead of destroying their enemies they placed certain individuals into service. These persons deserved death because of their crimes and wickedness, but some were shown mercy—placed into service, and not killed. The Jews were to treat these persons with kindness—not to oppress them as the slaves had been treated in early America, or others who were placed into slavery around the world.
God’s Patience With Us
God does not condone the evil actions of people, but He also recognizes that because of the hardness of the human heart there are some who will not obey God. We see this in the case of divorce concerning the Jews who were under Moses’ authority. God did not permit divorce, but men would not obey God’s law. This resulted in Moses giving the Hebrew people a concession where they could write a certificate of divorce with provisions to care for their wife and children after the divorce.
Jesus referenced the hardness of men’s hearts during the time of Moses when the Pharisees asked Him why His teaching was in opposition to the laws of Moses. Jesus stated that “from the beginning, it was not so…” God never condones or approves of divorce. He does not want a family broken or children without both parents. Jesus said that Moses gave the Jews the law concerning divorce only “because of the hardness of their hearts,” not because it was the will of God. Men were going to divorce their wives regardless of what God said. Moses felt it was better to write laws to protect the wife and children when men did divorce their wives rather than leave them poor and without protection or provision.
We see a similar situation with slavery. From the beginning, slavery was not approved by God. We see the will of God that men would be free in His deliverance of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt. Despite God’s desire for all men to be free, some men at that time were still enslaving other men. Moses gave the men of that time a concession in taking slaves from their enemies, because of the hardness of their hearts. Concerning the poor Jews who placed themselves into the service to other Jews in order to survive or pay debts, God ordered their fair and compassionate treatment. These individuals could only be placed into service for six years. On the seventh year Jewish slaves taken by a fellow Jew were to be set free and owe no further debt after six years.
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 (NKJV)
The Jews were not going to obey God to not take slaves from the surrounding nations they conquered. For this reason, God instructed the Jews to treat these persons humanely, even though they were enemies. It is important when we read the Bible to keep in mind that God is dealing with difficult and often hard-hearted people who are rebellious and stubborn. We see that despite the terrible behavior and rebellion of men, God is very patient with us and shows us forbearance in our stubbornness and resistance to His will. It is the kindness of God that ultimately lead us to repentance.
It is also important to remember that many of the laws that Moses gave the Jews during that time, were only for the Jews of that time and did not apply to any other generation. If you read the opening statement for Leviticus 25:1-2, it says: “And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them:”
These instructions regarding slavery were given to the Jews who came into the land that was occupied by their enemies—people who were a vile, evil, and a debased people. These laws were not given to the world. God does not want any nation or people to take slaves or place people into bondage. This is the clear message of the entire Bible.
Once again, when we examine God’s instructions to the Jews, we see that no Jew could ever enslave another Jew. They could only place the poor into service for six years, then release them. Even during this time, these indentured servants must be treated with love and kindness, like a member of their family. It was because of this kind treatment, that many slaves became a Doulos, in Greek, willing servants who wanted to remain in their masters house forever.
Slavery To Save Life
There are four examples of slavery in the Bible that are for a good purpose. This is seen first in the example of Jesus as He was willing to give up His rights to become a servant for us and die for our sins. The second example we see in scripture is the type of indentured servitude that was common during the early history of the Jews, for the purpose of saving lives. Third, people who place their trust in Jesus as their Savior, are to become the servants of all other people on earth for the purpose of leading them to Christ. Fourth, the followers of Jesus are to make themselves slaves of righteousness in all their behavior and their words. In all cases, we see that God only permitted slavery for reasons of saving human life, not to bind men in chains and take their dignity and lives from them. Although human beings sometimes enslave other human beings, God never condones slavery that is against the will of the person, or makes them the property of another human being. The Lord condemns this kind of slavery it in the strongest terms.
During the time that Jesus entered human history and gave His life for the sins of the world, the Romans had nearly six million slaves. Many people who became Christians and owned slaves were instructed by Paul in his letters to treat these persons with kindness, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul instructed slaves who became followers of Jesus to act the same way in relationship to their Christian masters. To serve them as they would Christ and work hard to be a good examples. Paul wrote to Christian slaves who were treated harshly by non-believing masters, that by their good example they may be instruments in leading their unsaved masters to Christ. Paul is not condoning slavery, only dealing with the reality of its existence at that time. No place in the New Testament does Jesus or any other writer approve of slavery.
See: Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22, 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-1. Titus 2:9-10
The slavery that God approves of is when those who love God, make themselves slaves of righteousness and servants to the world so that they can lay down their lives as Jesus has, and lead many to salvation.
Those who insist that the Bible is filled with examples where God approves of slavery, are not telling the truth. Sometimes this is due to their ignorance. Other times these statements are designed to impugn God or those who love Him. Do your own research and you will see that what I have shared with you here regarding God’s view of slavery, is the truth.
God wants people to be free. Jesus said that when a person trusts in Him, they are truly free, regardless of their circumstances or difficulties.
 Philippians 2:6-9
 Philippians 1:12-14
 Romans 6:18
 Mark 9:35
 Matthew 19:8
 1 Corinthians 9:19
 Romans 2:4
 Exodus 21:2
 Exodus 21:5-6
Categories: A Servant, Alleged Contradictions, Be like Him, Contradictions in the Bible, Controversy, Following Jesus, Jesus is God, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Robert Clifton Robinson, Salvation through Jesus, Slavery in the Bible, Speaking out against sin, Why Jesus had to die