Slaves in the Bible

Can you give me some information on what the Bible says about slavery?

First of all, I must say that the word slave or slaves is only mentioned twice in the Bible, firstly in Jeremiah 2:14 and secondly in Revelation 18:13. I firmly believe that in the King James Bible the first mention of a word can often determine its context throughout scripture. In this case, Jeremiah 2:14 states, "Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled?"

Today, we would make a clear distinction between a servant and a slave, however, I don't personally think that the Bible does, and I think this verse shows that. There doesn't seem to be any distinction between a servant and a slave in scripture.

Now, with regard to your question, the first thought that springs to mind when the word slave is mentioned is one who has been bought and sold, held in chains, denied any rights and mistreated by those to whom he is in slavery to. I don't think you need me to tell you that the Bible totally condemns any such treatment of one human being by another.

However, I personally don't think that the Bible condemns slavery in the sense of servanthood and I'll give you my reasons why.

The position of a servant can be found throughout scripture, right from the book of Genesis through to the book of Revelation. In the book of Exodus and chapter 21, God gives some clear teaching to the Jews on this issue. Consider some of the following verses in that chapter...

vs 2-6 "If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him forever."
vs 20-21 "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money."

The next question is, is this concept of masters and servants carried over into the New Testament?

Colossians 3:22-4:1 "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. MASTERS, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven."
1 Peter 2:18-20 "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffetted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God."

Consider what the apostle Paul had to say of himself.

Romans 1:1 "PAUL, a servant of Jesus Christ...."
Titus 1:1 "PAUL, a servant of God..."

Paul had no problem with being called, or calling himself a servant. The problem we have today is we automatically think of the bad old days of the slave trade, when what what on was nothing to do with the scriptural teachings of masters and servants. As a result, we today refuse to be a servant to anybody. Yet so often, that's just what we are. If we are employed, we are servants to our employers. If we are involved in organizations, then we serve those in the organization, if we are Christians, then we should serve Christ.

The problem today is that we're all too often too proud to admit to being a servant. In Victorian England, many of the wealthy population had butlers and maids. These didn't think of themselves as slaves, they were very often proud of the position they held, and carried out their duties to their masters faithfully and to the best of their abilities. That's the frame of mind we should have, if we indeed serve.

In closing, we read of the Lord Jesus that He "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:"

If the Lord Jesus Christ was prepared to adopt such a position, then shouldn't we also?

Jonathan Hewett
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 17:18

A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend.