Why It’s Wrong to Say the Bible Is Pro-Slavery

by Gavin Ortlund

“The Bible is pro-slavery.”

It’s a common charge these days. Part of the New Atheist attack on religion, it also comes from various progressive circles in order to defend certain social views (in line with the so-called redemptive-movement hermeneutic).

The claim is not incomprehensible. It has some apparent, face-value support—and not just in Old Testament law regulations, but in New Testament epistles written by the very apostles of Jesus Christ:

  • Ephesians 6:5: “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters.”
  • Colossians 3:22: “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters.”
  • 1 Peter 2:18: “Servants, be subject to your masters.”

How should Christians respond to this concern? It’s a complicated issue that one brief article cannot resolve, but here are several initial appeals that may be helpful to at least draw attention to its complexity.

Defining ‘Slavery’

When we read verses like Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, and 1 Peter 2:18, we hear the common English translation “slave” in light of our own historical context. We typically think of race-based, chattel slavery in which the slave is the property of the master and lacks any legal rights. This kind of slavery is manifestly among the most despicable institutions ever to disgrace human civilization. It is not, however, what is in view in these texts…

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Why It’s Wrong to Say the Bible Is Pro-Slavery