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What Does the Bible Say about Slavery?

Although the issue of slavery is not discussed extensively in scripture, it is obvious to most of us that slavery is wrong. It is wrong today, and it was wrong in Paul's day, and he knew it, of course. We should only be enslaved to the righteousness of Christ (Romans 6:19). In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul says, "Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so." Paul is saying that he knows slavery is an unjust evil.

However, as in dealing with Onesimus in Philemon, Paul recognizes a more explicit biblical principle. Slavery was in common acceptance by the Roman government under which Paul lived. In Romans 13:1-7, we are explicitly commanded to obey our government. Unjustly freeing a slave was against Roman law, so Paul sided with the governing authorities.

Perhaps the closest analogy today is abortion. Since our government condones abortion, are we entitled to stop paying our taxes? Romans 13:1-7 says no, since God has put that government in place for a reason, and we are explicitly commanded to obey it and pay our taxes. Of course there are some limits at which peaceful civil disobedience is in order. For details on this, please see the article "What is the Role of Government" on the main web page.

The question then arises about passages such as Colossians 3:18-4:1 and Ephesians 6:5-9 regarding slaves submitting to their masters, as to whether or not these scriptures are still relevant today. They are indeed still relevant, but in a different context. First of all, this sounds to me like an employer/employee relationship. Secondly, if we should some day find ourselves enslaved (through a rebellion against the government, martial law, etc.), then these would be directly relevant to us.

Owen Weber 2009