The New Testament on Slavery

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“Isn’t the Bible an evil book because it condones slavery?” is a legitimate question. If you have not read my previous 2 blogs on the matter of Biblical slavery, please read them first as they lay the foundation for this third installment: The Truth About God & Slavery1984 and the Politics of Language.

Many people do not know the New Testament contains an entire book dedicated to the treatment of a slave. I have never heard a Bible-hater quote this book or show they are aware of its content. The book of Philemon is about a slave who felt mistreated. Under Roman or pagan law, that slave named Onesimus should have been executed. Paul pleaded with his master named Philemon to show mercy on Onesimus and re-employ him. Hardly the grim picture of slavery which historians record about slavery in Africa or non-Christians try to impose on the Bible.

In one incident recorded by Luke, a Roman master living in Jesus’ new home town of Capernaum was so concerned about his slave’s welfare he sought out Jesus to heal him. Listen to how the Gospel describes their relationship.

Luke 7:2 (KJV) “And a certain centurion’s servant, who was DEAR UNTO HIM, was sick, and ready to die.”

The New English Translation says, “A centurion there had a slave who was HIGHLY REGARDED, but who was sick and at the point of death.”

The New Living Translation renders it this way, “At that time the HIGHLY VALUED slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death.”

The next verse (KJV) says, “And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.” This centurion had such affection for his slave that he sought out a physician who could help him. It should be understood that he footed all his slave’s medical bills up to the point of turning to Jesus. He as a Gentile turned to the Jewish Messiah, not for himself, but for his employee. Knowing he had no covenant with God and no right to demand healing of the Messiah, he humbled himself and followed protocol by sending Jewish representatives instead of going himself. Jesus was impressed and I think we should be too!

Compare this to the modern slave, also known as the “employee.” How likely is it that your company boss will personally care for your sick body or visit you in hospital? The modern employee goes to work for a stranger whose house he is unlikely to ever visit, he doesn’t get three meals or a home provided for, and his employment is insecure and likely to change several times during his life. That is to say, he is likely to go sell his body and his time to another total stranger again and again. Which condition sounds better to you?

Obviously the Biblical one is, but Satan employs “Newspeak” to fool us. By merely changing the word “slave” to “employee,” people are now happy to be enslaved and do not question their miserable servitude. The modern “employee” is usually in a far worse state than the Biblical “slave”!

The main way the ruling elite deceives and controls the masses is by the surreptitious use of words, called “politically correct” language. Instead of calling it “The Department of War,” which most thinking people would object to, they call it “The Department of Defense” and “Homeland Security,” then nearly everyone accepts it. Instead of saying “we will reduce your income by forcibly taking money from you,” they say, “we will strengthen your social security benefits.” Likewise the devil has substituted “slave” with a new and more palatable term “employee”. By simply changing the terminology, he could make people’s living harder without them noticing so much as to object.

Most people clamor to be employed by a stranger by owns them for 8 hours a day, for up to 6 days a week. They rarely have a personal relationship with their boss, are told when to get up, when to eat, when to go home, are given little job security, and have little say over their own lives. The majority of people have no objection to being enslaved and called “employee,” whereas they seem to have a strong objections to being called a “slave” even if it means they would enjoy more benefits instead.

People prefer soft-sounding words than a better reality. That seems to be the only reason non-Christians irrationally look down on God’s Word which sets the most intelligent and humane guidelines for employment. I say it is intelligent because it is so simple compared to all the regulations we have today, and it accomplishes more.

A BIBLICAL EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT

Here is the primary Biblical guideline on “slavery” which unbelievers seem to take a strong stance against without having first understood it in context:

Deuteronomy 15:12-18 [NKJ]
12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.
13 And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed;
14 you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him.

Jacob received this of Laban. After serving him 20 years, Jacob was rich!

15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.
16 And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you,
17 then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise.

This nailing of the slave’s ear to a wooden door and subsequent shedding of blood represents what Jesus did for us on the cross. By His voluntary act of love, we become united together forever.

18 It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.

SLAVE, HIRELING OR EMPLOYEE – WHICH IS MOST DEROGATORY?

The Bible contrasts the terms “slave” (one belonging to another) and “hireling” (a hired hand, a mercenary). Which is better? The Bible surprisingly elevates the status of the “slave” above that of a “hireling.”

JESUS said, “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep” (John 10:12-13).

Jesus made it clear that mercenaries have only a financial motive to work, implying that a slave had much more than money to gain from his labor. The slave had free food, free utilities, a roof over his head, no rent, no mortgage, and often a genuine relationship with his master.

According to Isaiah 21:16, the average lifespan of a hireling was one year… not much security if you put yourself in a hireling’s shoes. That was the price of his “freedom” as he roamed from place to place looking to be hired. The hireling owned nothing himself and had no commitment to any job or boss.

When choosing a metaphor to describe the misery of man, Job did not say the slave had it tough, but the hireling had it rough: “Is there not a warfare to man upon earth? And are not his days like the days of a hireling?” (Job 7:1 ASV). The ISV puts it this way: “Men have harsh servitude on earth, do they not? His days are like those of a hired laborer, are they not?”

God calls us to be servants or slaves, but we often resist this and prefer to be hirelings. Joseph and Daniel embraced their roles as a slave and rose to become second-in-command of empires. Other Jews resisted God’s prophets, sought alliances with third parties, and hired mercenaries who could not help. They tried to save their own life and lost it. Jesus embraced His role as a slave, refused to fight for His rights and trusted in the Father alone to vindicate Him. Yes, being a slave may mean being mistreated, misunderstood, and uncelebrated. But God’s vindication will more than make up for our disappointments. For Christians, being a slave is a noble goal, not a condition to run away from. The Angel of the Lord told Hagar, “”You must go back to your mistress and submit to her mistreatment.”(Genesis 16:9 Holman translation). Paul said to Onesimus, “Go back to Philemon.” Everyone has a master by whatever name we may call it. Serve well and God who watches everything will reward you openly.

Being in slavery under God is far better than being a hireling under man – a study of Scripture combined with some knowledge of history and personal experience with God will prove that. The rejecters of God will not admit it because they won’t study His Word objectively and prefer to have a “soft target” to hit. Criticizing Christians for “believing a God who allows slavery” is a red herring and Christians should begin to recognize it.

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If people looked at your life, would they ever accuse you of being a “slave of God”?

How can you serve someone this week?