Does the Bible Affirm Slavery?

1Peter 2:18  
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. ESV 

This post is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of slavery and the Bible. In our society this verse and  others seem to pose a problem for some people and is even the reason some have given in rejecting God or the Bible. Does the Bible affirm slavery? Should this verse be cancelled out? No, and no. Notice the various renderings given above. The KJV and ESV have "servants". The LEB has "domestic slaves".

The Bible does not condone slavery here but instructs all believers on how to work and conduct themselves in certain cultural situations which included slavery. Old Testament ideas of slavery and those seen in the New Testament are different from that seen in the Greco-Roman world or even the slave trading in the South where persons were bought and sold as property. 

Ironically, those who suspend their faith in the Bible or God as a result of this issue are simultaneously saddled with a perplexing dilemma or radical skepticism. In the Genesis account it is clear that Egypt also imposed slavery as it was imposed upon Joseph. Later, Moses would lead the family and descendants of Joseph out of Egypt and to freedom. Note these comments from the Encyclopedia Britannica where it is indicated that even white slaves have been used:
It is probable that the Ottoman Empire, and especially its centre in Turkey, should be termed a slave society. Slaves from both the white Slavic north and the black African south flowed into Turkish cities for half a millennium after the Turks seized control of much of the Balkans in the 14th century. The proportion of the population that was slave ranged from about one-fifth in Istanbul, the capital, to much less in remoter provincial areas. Perhaps only people such as the slave owners of the circum-Caribbean sugar islands and the American South were as preoccupied with slaves as were the Ottomans.(1)
The ancient Code of Hammurabi also discusses slavery occurring just after Babel. China, Korea, India, black Africa where most slave owners were black and where "Africans were captured by other Africans in raids and then transported to the coast"(2) for sale or trade,  most of Europe, even some North American tribes (Klamath, Pawnee, Yurok, Creek, Comanche) and other countries around the globe have participated in slavery in some form throughout their respective histories. Islamic societies have also participated in slavery and today, slavery and genocide takes place in Sudan and Darfur which is primarily Islamic. Does this mean we should suspend our faith that the Code of Hammurabi exists? Should I buy "made in China" items when they have contributed to slavery?

The Greek word used for “Servants” in 1 Peter 2:18 is not the typical Greek word for “slave” either. The Greeks and Romans, who often used white slaves, involved themselves with slavery wherein the slave had no rights at all. The Biblical word for “servant” used here though refers to one who lives in the same house as another as a servant or slave (See Colossians 3:22-25). For a more comprehensive review of this topic from a Christian perspective click here.

A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown suggest something similar, “Masters were not commonly Christians: he therefore mentions only the duties of the servants. These were then often persecuted by their unbelieving masters. Peter’s special object seems to be to teach them submission, whatever the character of the masters might be.”(3) The message of Peter here unfolds more clearly as Peter H. Davids suggests:

"The slaves, the second example Peter gives, was not viewed as a moral person, but rather as one who was simply to obey unquestioningly. Thus even in addressing them Peter is raising their status. The slaves had few rights and could be treated by their masters arbitrarily...Thus it was quite possible that a slave would “suffer for doing good. ” Furthermore, the slave, unlike the Roman citizen, could be crucified. Thus Peter urges them to identify with Jesus, who also suffered the extreme penalty, which was so shameful that Roman writers would rarely mention it."(4)

Notice Exodus 21:16, “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” KJV Kidnapping is expressly against sound doctrine in 1 Timothy 1:10. The full testimony of Scripture ultimately militates against slavery and slave trading. Passages such as Philemon 16, Galatians 3:28, 1 Peter 2:21-25 do seem to offer the death blow to slavery. Gordon D. Fee notes, "The New Testament writers also do not denounce slavery as an evil—although they undercut it by urging that the householder and his slaves were brother and sister in Christ (see Phlm 16; cf. Eph 6:9)."(5) This is why historically Christian opposition to slavery is what has largely contributed to its abolition

As Westerner’s slavery is not directly applicable to us today. But the relationship a believing employee has with their employer still applies. Peter nor Paul may have expressly condemned slavery because they expected believers to accept the will of God in whatever job or social position they found themselves.


1) "slavery." (2012). Encyclopedia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.
2) "slavery." (2012). Encyclopedia Britannica
3) Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments,. Hartford: S.S. Scranton, 1877
4) Arnold, Clinton E. "1 Peter." Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002
5) Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas K. Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003

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