Jesus and Slavery

I was reminded this morning that many have criticized Jesus because he did not confront the institution of slavery during his lifetime or through the leaders of the early church. Undoubtedly Jesus knew that a myriad of evils were associated with slavery, yet he found himself focused on another subject. So he never said anything about slavery.

In view of Jesus’ silence on slavery, it is interesting how the inspired writers of the New Testament treated the subject. Mostly I find it interesting because modern religion has chosen to treat it much differently. Modern religion has decided to be the driving force of social change and slavery is one of the issues they feel must be addressed.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament did not see the church as the catalyst of social change. They instead saw the church as a separate and vastly different society where people could relate to one another in God defined ways no matter how society defined their role. The church is designed as a place where the slave knows freedom and the master learns servitude. The church is a place where the weak find strength and the strong confess weakness. The church is the place where all are equal in hope, in need, in love, and in requirement, no matter what the world says about them.

It would be grand indeed if all the world accepted every person with equal rights and privileges. There would be no ownership of human beings. There would be no discrimination in hiring or housing. There would be no deceptive business practices.

Some of these problems have lessened and it is greatly due to the example given by the church. But we are not going to completely eradicate these diseases by campaigning in the social arena. As long as there are people that won’t join God’s family and strive for perfect living, these blights will remain.

We must continue to provide a place where none of those things exist. Jesus did not die to create a perfect earth. He died to create sinless people. The gathering of those sinless people is the church.* It is there that we can show the world what is the proper way to live. It is there that pure love can be practiced. People will think we are strange; so much so that the apostle Peter declared us aliens in the world!**

Jesus taught people how to be a part of that new society, how to find peace of mind, joy of living, and freedom of heart. They could have all of those blessings even while they were slaves. We can have all of these blessings even while we suffer from illness, deal with poverty, or whatever other of the evil human conditions you find yourself in. If Jesus had attacked evil social institutions, we would feel that they were the cause of our unrest. It’s not what others do to us. It’s not our physical or social circumstances that cause our emotional turmoil. It’s the absence of God due to our own sins.

That can be changed. We can be so high that nothing in this world can bring us down (Romans 8:35-39; 2nd Corinthians 4:6-10). I do pray for evil to be stopped. But so much more I pray we can know God’s joy in spite of this evil world.


*Sinless only because Jesus’ blood washes us clean.
Those washed clean (saved) are added to the church by God (Acts 2:47) and are expected to continue in fellowship with each other (1st Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 2:14, 19, 4:2-3; Hebrews 10:24).

**1st Peter 2:11, NIV; King James says “strangers and pilgrims”


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Graham on November 6, 2010 at 4:24 am

    Slavery was accepted worldwide and without it many people would have been homeless and death the result. Jewish slaves were protected by law, they were given a home and food. they lived with the family and often choose to remain there even when they were free to go. They worked a normal day in the fields and life was nothing like the Black slaves of the 18th century or under Egyptian and Roman rule but rather their life was similar to that of a servant or a modern day worker living in a tied house.


    • Posted by brentwoodpreacher on November 6, 2010 at 6:40 am

      The fair treatment of slaves would be true in Jewish society, if they kept to the Mosaic law. But it was not true in Roman society where some of the writers of the New Testament preached. Alfred Edersheim wrote of the Roman society: “Slavery was not even what we know it, but a seething mass of cruelty and oppression on the one side, and of cunning and corruption on the other” (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book 2, ch. 11). Yet the apostle, Paul, did not encourage the abolishing of this system, but rather wrote that slaves and slave owners needed to act as Christians within the system (letter to Philemon). Peter writes even more strongly on the subject in 1 Peter.


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