Monday, August 11, 2014

Slavery in the New Testament (Ephesians 6; 1 Timothy 6; Luke 12)

The following quotes are taken from 

"You would think that Jesus and the New Testament would have a different view of slavery, but slavery is still approved of in the New Testament, as the following passages show."

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ."  (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

"Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed.  If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful.  You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts.  Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them."  (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)

"In the following parable, Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn't know they were doing anything wrong."

"The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it.  But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly.  Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given."  (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)
            The passage in the gospel of Luke quoted above is a parable.  Jesus was comparing our relationship with God to that of a master and servant.  He was exhorting his followers to keep watch in his absence, because he was about to be crucified, resurrected and then ascend to heaven until his second coming.  In his absence, those who follow him must take care to act appropriately.    "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:42-46, NIV).  Jesus had a stern warning for those who deliberately disobey him, and he used a parable that his audience would have been familiar with - the relationship between a master and slave.  Wise and prudent behavior was rewarded, while lazy and abusive behavior was punished.
            Slavery was still common practice during the Roman Empire, when Jesus lived on earth.  Slaves were either prisoners of war or, as during the time period when the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was written, were those who were poor and in debt, who had voluntarily sold themselves and their children into slavery in order to survive.  Slavery was a reality at the time the Bible was written.  However, there are no statements in the Bible that praise slavery or encourage people to own slaves.  Rather, most of the verses in the Bible that mention slavery are statements regarding how slaves were supposed to be treated.  Just as the verses above exhort Christian slaves to be faithful and honest while working, masters were directed to be good to their slaves.  "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him" (Ephesians 6:9, NIV). 

See also:

"Why was slavery allowed in the New Testament?"