Social Problems - Slavery in the Bible


The supreme social problem amongst men in past ages was slavery.  All are agreed that it was not only degrading for a man to become the sole property of his fellow, but it was also abnormal. Our souls revolt at the thought of human suffering involved in the slave trade, and are thankful that in our time it has all (well almost) but vanished. Only by payment of the ransom price could any slave be freed, so unless someone paid it for him, he was condemned to his thraldom until the day of his death.


Strange to our way of thinking is the fact that throughout the epistles no instructions were given for masters to free their bondmen, not even in cases where both were converted. Whatever was the ultimate outcome of the spread of the gospel, there was nothing in its message that would have started revolutions in society, nor was its primary aim to bring about social reform. "Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God" (1 Corinthians 7:24) are Paul's words to the Corinthians.


While the spiritual relationship between the saved slave and his believing master, was as close as the bonds of love and grace could produce, yet the physical relationship between them remained unchanged. If ever there was an occasion when he might have pressed for the release of a bondman, it was in the case of Onesimus, but no such demands are to be found in our epistle (Philemon). 


Herein is another lesson for our learning. Those who imagine that the work of the evangelist or the missionary is to end the social miseries of this world, have not yet understood the scriptures. Conversion changed the hearts of men and did end the cruelties and hardships of bondage, but it left the respective positions of master and servant unaltered. Because the Christians heart is tender, he groans at the sight of miseries amongst men; it should be noted wherever the gospel has gone, slavery has eventually ceased, as through the unceasing labors of men like Mr. Wilberforce of fond memory.


A Danger: There is ever the ever present danger of becoming so swamped in world reformation that the Christian worker gets bogged down in societal reformation, and thereby misses his true calling to spread the gospel and through it to meet the supreme need of humanity.   from A.McShane's commentary on Philemon (WTBT-Ritchie).


Another has said: "I cannot do every good that is needed for every person that I meet - it is impossible. I shall endeavor therefore, to do the highest good possible toward each person, which is proclaiming the gospel of Christ to him for his eternal blessing."




In the Greek New Testament doulos appears over 120 times and always means, without exception “slave.” The English translations consistently translate in error with a far weaker term “servant” or even "bondservant." The difference between the slave and servant may seem minor, but in reality the mistranslation of doulos and refusal to translate it as "slave" obscures important truths about sin, salvation, and the believer’s position in Christ. Servants are hired; slaves are owned. A servant may have a private life apart from his hired work, but a slave’s entire life and identity are absorbed in the master's ownership with no rights, no real freedom. The slave lives to please his master in all things - nothing else. And this term is used of believers.......doulos....slave.   (See John MacArthur's book Slave)