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 slaves.

  • 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 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 3:22-25; 4:1;
    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
    condition1 Cor 7:20-24)
    Paul returned a runaway slave to his master –
    Philemon 1:12

  • 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 is wrong because it reduces the
    human life of some people to mere property
    and those people are bought and sold as mere

  • 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
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Author: Colin Smith