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
(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
condition – 1 Cor 7:20-24)
Paul returned a runaway slave to his master –
- 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 (1983)
Author: Colin Smith