Posted by: edhensley | November 2, 2014

Slaves Ordered to Submit to Masters in New Testament

1 Peter 2 New International Version

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[e]

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[f] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Exodus 21, Leviticus 25:44-46, and other verses in the Old Testament are often cited as places in the bible where slavery was endorsed. The apologist often responds with the overused refrain, “But that was the Old Testament…”  However, there are places in the New Testament that endorse slavery as well.

First of all, slaves are ordered to obey their masters, even the harsh masters, even to the point of bearing “pain of unjust suffering”. Slaves who endure unjust pain are following the examples of Jesus!  It should also be noted that Isaiah 53 (often used incorrectly as a prophecy of Jesus) is here used to justify slaves suffering pain.

A typical modern apology of this passage can be found at

(2) In the Bible, slavery is not commended, but neither is it condemned as a social evil the Christian master should cease to practice or the Christian slave should seek to overthrow

(3) Peter does not assume that all masters are cruel, but he does assume that some will be, and that this will result in the unjust suffering of many Christian slaves. Unlike Paul’s epistles, Peter does not address both slaves and masters. He addresses only slaves. In particular, he speaks to slaves who will be harshly treated by their masters. This is consistent with his theme of suffering righteously for the sake of Christ.

First, suffering which is pleasing to God must be innocent suffering. Peter has been speaking of righteous conduct in the midst of an unrighteous society. He is speaking here of suffering which is the result of godliness, not the result of sin. Who would praise a man for enduring suffering that is the result of doing wrong?

What wrongs would be especially tempting for a servant? The first would be disobedience; another would be disrespect, and yet another laziness.

Even the modern apologists admit that nowhere in the bible is slavery condemned. A suffering slave is “consistent with his theme of suffering righteously for the sake of Christ.” Being a suffering slave is being like Jesus, so why try to end slavery?

“Suffering which is pleasing to God must be innocent suffering”.  So the apologists is admitting that the Christian god is pleased when he watches innocent suffering, such as the suffering of the holocaust or the recent suffering of enslaved women at the hands of ISIS. Why should Christians try to end any type of innocent suffering if it is pleasing to god?

Both Old Testament and New Testament verses were used by the Confederate States of American to promote slavery. I will quote from The Views of the Baptists, RELATIVE TO THE COLOURED POPULATION In the United States IN A COMMUNICATION To the Governor of South-Carolina (, written by Reverend Dr. Richard Furman, founder of Furman University of South Carolina. Notice he quotes Leviticus 25:44-46 and mentions the New Testament. Bold text is my emphasis, not Furman’s.

On the lawfulness of holding slaves, considering it in a moral and religious view, the Convention think it their duty to exhibit their sentiments, on the present occasion, before your Excellency, because they consider their duty to God, the peace of the State, the satisfaction of scrupulous consciences, and the welfare of the slaves themselves, as intimately connected with a right view of the subject… for the right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example. In the Old Testament, the Isrealites were directed to purchase their bond-men and bond-maids of the Heathen nations; except they were of the Canaanites, for these were to be destroyed. And it is declared, that the persons purchased were to be their “bond-men forever;” and an “inheritance for them and their children.” They were not to go out free in the year of jubilee, as the Hebrews, who had been purchased, were: the line being clearly drawn between them.*[See Leviticus XXV. 44, 45, 46, &c.] In example, they are presented to our view as existing in the families of the Hebrews as servants, or slaves, born in the house, or bought with money: so that the children born of slaves are here considered slaves as well as their parents. And to this well known state of things, as to its reason and order, as well as to special privileges, St. Paul appears to refer, when he says, “But I was free born.”

In the New-Testament, the Gospel History, or representation of facts, presents us a view correspondent with that, which is furnished by other authentic ancient histories of the state of the world at the commencement of Christianity. The powerful Romans had succeeded, in empire, the polished Greeks; and under both empires, the countries they possessed and governed were full of slaves. Many of these with their masters, were converted to the Christian Faith, and received, together with them into the Christian Church, while it was yet under the ministry of the inspired Apostles. In things purely spiritual, they appear to have enjoyed equal privileges; but their relationship, as masters and slaves, was not dissolved. Their respective duties are strictly enjoined. The masters are not required to emancipate their slaves; but to give them the things that are just and equal, forbearing threatening; and to remember, they also have a master in Heaven. The “servants under the yoke”…mentioned by Paul to Timothy, as having “believing masters,” are not authorized by him to demand of them emancipation, or to employ violent means to obtain it; but are directed to “account their masters worthy of all honour,” and “not to despise them, because they were brethren” in religion; “but the rather to do them service, because they were faithful and beloved partakers of the Christian benefit.” Similar directions are given by him in other places, and by other Apostles. And it gives great weight to the argument, that in this place, Paul follows his directions concerning servants with a charge to Timothy, as an Evangelist, to teach and exhort men to observe this doctrine.  

Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church. If they had done so on a principle of accommodation, in cases where the masters remained heathen, to avoid offences and civil commotion; yet, surely, where both master and servant were Christian, as in the case before us, they would have enforced the law of Christ, and required, that the master should liberate his slave in the first instance. But, instead of this, they let the relationship remain untouched, as being lawful and right, and insist on the relative duties.

In proving this subject justifiable by Scriptural authority, its morality is also proved; for the Divine Law never sanctions immoral actions.

The Christian golden rule, of doing to others, as we would they should do to us, has been urged as an unanswerable argument against holding slaves. But surely this rule is never to be urged against that order of things, which the Divine government has established; nor do our desires become a standard to us, under this rule, unless they have a due regard to justice, propriety and the general good.

The result of this inquiry and reasoning, on the subject of slavery, brings us, sir, if I mistake not, very regularly to the following conclusions:–That the holding of slaves is justifiable by the doctrine and example contained in Holy writ; and is; therefore consistent with Christian uprightness, both in sentiment and conduct. That all things considered, the Citizens of America have in general obtained the African slaves, which they possess, on principles, which can be justified; though much cruelty has indeed been exercised towards them by many, who have been concerned in the slave-trade, and by others who have held them here, as slaves in their service; for which the authors of this cruelty are accountable. That slavery, when tempered with humanity and justice, is a state of tolerable happiness; equal, if not superior, to that which many poor enjoy in countries reputed free. That a master has a scriptural right to govern his slaves so as to keep it in subjection; to demand and receive from them a reasonable service; and to correct them for the neglect of duty, for their vices and transgressions; but that to impose on them unreasonable, rigorous services, or to inflict on them cruel punishment, he has neither a scriptural nor a moral right… That it is the positive duty of servants to reverence their master, to be obedient, industrious, faithful to him, and careful of his interests; and without being so, they can neither be the faithful servants of God, nor be held as regular members of the Christian Church. That as claims to freedom as a right, when that right is forfeited, or has been lost, in such a manner as has been represented, would be unjust; and as all attempts to obtain it by violence and fraud would be wicked; so all representations made to them by others, on such censurable principles, or in a manner tending to make them discontented; and finally, to produce such unhappy effects and consequences, as been before noticed, cannot be friendly to them (as they certainly are not to the community at large,) nor consistent with righteousness: Nor can the conduct be justified, however in some it may be palliated by pleading benevolence in intention, as the motive.



  1. I understand that slavery was an entire class of people. In places 90% of the people were slaves. Societies typically considered women to have less social status or dignity than a slave. We need to be careful in how we judge such different epochs in civilization.. Since a Christian is to love his or her enemy and do good to those who hate them and pray for those who persecute them there was likely a different dynamic operating among Christian slaves.The NT makes it clear that there is no distinction between male and femail, clave or freeman etc. Christianity was very radical here.
    But whatever way Christians dealt with their enemies or masters it spectacularly worked. ( Note Pauls letter to Philamon a slave master in the NT).

    • Where were 90% of the people slaves?

      • I had read that Roman cities and I think Rome itself. But in general the slave formed by far the largest class in some societies in the empire. Sometimes almost whole populations were enslaved. This is not to justifiy anything but rather to understand it and see it in context. It is true that one of the radical things with the arrival of christianity was the non distinction between slave and free as with male and female, Jew and Greek etc. with Christianity, as Paul promotes.

      • You should not quote facts for which you can not even provide a source. Anybody can make up statistics, but it only makes their arguments crumble when unsupported by facts.
        If I remember correctly, you are Catholic. Is that correct?

      • I am not a professional historian. Not all comments are backed up by references in such a venue but I accept that without references any challenged facts are not so weighty. But I have come across descriptions of the class structure of ancient peoples especially Roman and if anyone is interested in checking this out they can. It has even been argued by historians that one reason why technology did not advance more in the ancient world was because of the abundance of slaves as it was less needed. I read that in the Colloseum women were generally seated even behind the slave classes. Gladly civilization has advanced since then. Yes I am a catholic. I am committed to being as critical of my own world view as I am of others and to follow the evidence wherever it leads. I take a keen interest in opposing world view and to understand and consider their arguments.-
        Thanks and Best Wishes

      • When you state “In places 90% of the people were slaves” then you should be able to at least back up such a statement with some kind of reference.
        You also claimed “It is true that one of the radical things with the arrival of christianity was the non distinction between slave and free as with male and female, Jew and Greek etc. with Christianity, as Paul promotes.”
        In your Catholic church there are tremendous distinctions between male and female. Women can not be priests, bishops, cardinals, or popes, and they are not permitted to vote for popes. Humanistic organizations have been created by women and many are currently led by women. I think you must agree that humanistic organizations have much less “non distinction” between men and women than the Catholic church.

      • Thanks for your response backl. Yes I expect that is true about humanistic organizations. I admire various humanists and their absolute commitment to evidence as they know it and search for it. Some have even made great sacrifices to follow their lights.
        They often pose a healthy criticism to theists and to religious folk.
        Paul does clearly state there is no distinction between male and female, Jew and Greek etc. Of course he does not mean they have the same roles. Men do not give birth etc. Equality between men and women was a very radical innovation which Christianity brought which humanists agree with in general. The Church has had a messy history including how women are perceived. It has wavered in its implementations of the gospel. But actually I think humanists should be able to appreciate its very human side. It seems a miracle that despite all the messy stuff of Church in the broad sense the gospel still gets through and there is always such beauty in those who live it.. As for me I am ready to drop my church and even my theism if the evidence so leads. faith always submits to truth and never visa versa. I give my focused attention to athaeists and their arguments but to date the preponderance of evidence indicates theism to be much more convincing..
        Yet I know in my heart I am willing to give up the great hope that theism offers myself and my loved ones if the greater evidence indicates otherwise.
        I am not a sola scriptura person and so do not have a naieve or fundamentalist view of the bible. Do you believe all religion is bad for humanity?

      • If there were truly no distinction between male and female, then women could become leaders in your church. There are NUMEROUS verses in the Old Testament and New Testament that make multiple distinctions between men and women. You are only being dishonest with yourself if you do not admit that women are not treated as equal to men in the Catholic and other christian churches.

        Equality between men and women was a very radical innovation which Christianity brought which humanists agree with in general.

        Paul YOU ARE DEAD WRONG, just as you were when you claimed slaves made up 90% of some societies. You seem to live in a fantasy world in which you feel entitled to make stuff up whenever you want. I am not going to let you do that. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an atheist, and Susan B. Anthony called herself an agnostic who did not believe in god, and Robert Ingersoll was known as The Great Agnostic. All were leaders in America for obtaining women’s right to vote. There were numerous other leaders of the women rights movement who were atheists, agnostics, humanists or other freethinkers. Ministers of all kinds (including Catholic priests) used the bible to fight against women’s right to vote.

        In regards to your question, most religion is bad for humanity, and all is unnecessary. Any good that my theistic Unitarian friends do could also be done without believing in bronze age nonsense.

      • Even if Rome or any place never had 90% slaves a slave class did exist and that was my point. I concede that religion may well have produced mor bad than good. I never suggested that religion was always good or even good in most cases. But water is mostly not good for you too. But when it is not dirty or salty etc it is very very good and we do not reject water per say because most of it is bad if drunken. It is the blanket rejection of religion that I reject to.
        If we even have an athaeist culture dominati9ng as we used to have a religious one I expect it would not be better. At least under theism there is a rational basis for OBJECTIVE morality. and at least those who believe in a God whose reality is justice there is an additional motivation to be moral even when you may think you can get away with it. I know athaeists can be very moral but they cannot defend morality objectively as existing whether you believe in it or not etc. But I take great interest in athaeist arguments and take time to think them through and to test out my own current world view .Faith submits to truth. Whatever about the failure of religious people to defend the equality of women and their rights. It is clear that Christianity at its core and at its inception declared there to be no distinction essentially between male and female. (See Galatians 3, 28) This idea was one of the most revolutionary innovations of Christianity even though it became supressed at various times over the course of history. Note it was in the Christian west where womens rights did got defended. I would concede religion can be dangerous. But that does not mean it is intrinsically bad. We engage in lots of things that can be dangerous in certain hands or circumstances- that is life. Athaeist can be dangerous too. Some, for example, use it to justify that their evil actions will have no personal consequences once they can get away with it in this life.
        So I do not see athaeism having any higher moral ground. If anything it lacks argumentative power moraly at least on any objective basis. There is some evidence to support athaeism or at least deism but to date I still find the greatz preponderance of evidence weighs much more on theism. We both try to be as objective as possible. What is your best argument to affirm Athaeism is true?

      • It is clear that Christianity at its core and at its inception declared there to be no distinction essentially between male and female. (See Galatians 3, 28)

        See Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18 and 1 Cor 14:34-35″ “34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

        What is your best argument to affirm Athaeism is true?

        I do not argue that there is a god. I argue that all claims that there is a god or multiple gods are not supported by evidence. It is up to theists to provide evidence for god, and all the can provide are poor arguments filled with multiple logical fallacies.

        If someone claims that Bigfoot or The Lochness Monster exists, it is not up to the skeptic to prove these claims are false. It is up to the person making the claim to prove they are true. I could ask you to prove Thor does not exist, and you would not be able to do so.

      • In another verse Paul clearly accepts and assumes that women talk in Church and earlier paintings depict women like equals with Paul visually.
        Some believe that that verse you cite here is a later insert. Anyway it is clear that women got a revolutionary new status with Christianity which was very attractive to them. I think I alre4ady cited for you where Paul says that in Christ there is neither male not female Jew or Greek etc. With Christianity husbands are to sacrifice themselves for their wives as Christ did for His Church. To date I find the contemporary arguments for God which I have come across top be good and reasonable and better than any counter argument I can find. Science has never been as indicative of a creator God before. I have explored this subject a fair bit. We all try to avoid confirmation bias and tendential bias. It seems a lot has to do with whatever overriding presuppositions one sets out with. If you assume naturalism is true that effects how you see everything for example. It decides and limits what will be acceptable as evidence and how evidence will be perceived. They say the deepest question is why is there something rather than nothing? What is your answer?

      • There are many who believe the original letters from Paul were more friendly to women. Most of the anti-women verses in the New Testament are believed to be from the 6 or 7 forgeries in the name of Paul. However, the anti-women verses are in the New Testament.
        Muslims also claim that women got a revolution status with them. That is just propaganda, like your claims. Whatever status women had, it was diminished by early Christian church leaders and the establishment of the imperial Catholic church.
        The Catholic church (your church) does not let women become priests, bishops, and popes. Until that changes, nobody can claim that women are treated equally to men.

      • A fair argument though being equal does not always mean being the same.
        Glad we agree on the original Christianity on this matter at least.
        By the way do you know of the argument for a Jewish priestly class and upper class speaking Greek at the time and place of Jesus? Some arguments against historisity of some passages of gospels hinge on the inability to translate back into an original spoken Hebrew. Such as the famous born again passage. There is an argument that the circle of the disciples extended as far as the high priestly aristocracy in whose language the Gospel of John is written. In Pope benediocts Jesus of Nazareth volume 1 he refers to Hengel: (The Johannine Question Page 113) as support for this that Koine Greek was so spoken and that Scripture was read in Hebrew and Greek, and prayer and discussion went on in both languages. Do you know of any evidence for or against this? A number of arguments hinge on Jesus and John only speaking in Aramaic.

      • You should refer to experts such as Bart Ehrman for questions like these. As far as I know, know New Testament fragments have ever been found in Aramaic (but I could be wrong). What would have been optimal is that the original scriptures should have been preserved so that we do not have to argue about what they may or may not have said.

      • I think the Talgums were the Scriptures in the local Aramaic. I since found out that in 1st C Jerusalem 40% of graves had inscriptions in Greek and we can expect than that many could therefore read Greek and so speak it. That would explain at least some apparent anomalies in Johns Gospel. But I just wondered given your well informed knowledge that you might have known.
        I have not yet come across Bart Ehrmans knowledge about this matter and have no way of asking him. Thanks anyway!

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