What Does the Bible Teach Us About Slavery?

What Does the Bible Teach Us About Slavery? November 10, 2020

BibleLet’s begin in Leviticus by looking at the most difficult passage on slavery in all of the Bible…

Leviticus 25:39 “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave:40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants,[e] whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God. 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

So, here is what we know. You can’t do this to a fellow Israelite, but you can do this to those from other nations.

This passage permits Israelites to engage in the slave trade of other nations. Individuals acquired through these means do become “property (16) which can be passed down from generation to generation.

Why did God allow this?

The slaves of that day were brutally treated, mistreated, abused, and discarded, just like it was in our nation’s history. These individuals would have often found themselves in conditions similar to the Israelites in Egypt, forced into backbreaking and degrading labor, with no Sabbath rest, and no laws defending the worth of the sojourner and the alien, let alone those purchased from slave caravans.

But Israel even in this practice were to be DIFFERENT!

Look at what God told Israel about this…

Leviticus 19:33 33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Now you might look at that and say, “But wait, that is talking about a free sojourner or stranger meaning not an Israelite. God makes it really clear what He is talking about here. I bolded it so you won’t miss it. He says, “You were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Were they free? NO! They were slaves brutally mistreated like Africans were in our American slave system.

You ready for this? God tells Israel in verse 34, I want you to love slaves just like you love yourself.

Now I don’t want to just put a positive spin on this, I want to address the specifics here.

  • God allowed Israel to buy slaves from pagan nations.
  • God allowed Israel to buy slaves from pagan nations and make them their property forever.

But here is the caveat, if you do, be sure and love them like you love yourself. NO dehumanizing. No abuse. No sexual favors. No immorality or impurity. No mistreatment. No unkind engagement. He says, LOVE THEM LIKE YOU LOVE YOURSELF.

God wanted Israel to model through the most brutal practice in the world the love of God for those they bought from pagan nations.

Now you can say, “God should have condemned it.” But here is what I know. It is a practice in our world today that people go and buy people TODAY to get them out of situations that are brutal. They buy them to free them. But this is not what God allowed here. He allowed them to buy them and pass them on. Why?

I know this is going to be a shock to you. The land that Israel lived on was dedicated to the twelve tribes of Israel. The land of Israel was given to tribal clans for PERPETUAL OWNERSHIP. (Joshua 14-21 and Numbers 26;52-56) and could not be permanently sold outside the clan to whom it was designated. Even land that was sold had to be returned in the 49th year.

If you were a slave, a sojourner, a stranger, that meant you had NO RIGHTS TO THE LAND. You see where I am going? God made provision even for the pagan slave to have a way to be provided for in his economy for generations to come. Yes, they were declared the property of the sons of Israel, but this is was so they would have rights to the blessings that come from the land assigned to the tribe of Israel that had bought them. They were to be treated with love and provided for like everyone else. Once again, God knocks it out of the park.

Jesus says it best.

Love your neighbor as yourself, that includes the pagan slave bought and brought to the land of Israel.

What does the Bible teach us about slavery?


What does that mean? If you wouldn’t want it done to you, don’t do it to them. If you would want it done to you, then do the same to them.

Listen to what Jesus said…

Mark 12:31 ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Now some people like to pit the Old Testament against the New Testament and the conversation goes something like this. You were allowed to be mean in the Old Testament because God was mean but in the New Testament Jesus was nice and He expects us to be nice.

Well, let’s see…

Leviticus 19:2 “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy”

The 19th chapter of Leviticus taught the people HOW TO BE HOLY LIKE GOD. Look at verse 18…

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people (this includes slaves who were a part of Israel), but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

What? Love your neighbor as yourself. I thought Jesus was the first to ever say that? No, Moses was. This has been God’s rule ALL ALONG.

This verse and fourteen other verses in this chapter end with the refrain of the Holiness Code: “I am the LORD.” The point of the chapter seems to be something like this: Because the Lord is holy, and because human beings are made in the image of God, those who are called to emulate God’s holiness are to do so by acting with mercy and love toward their fellow human beings.

It is interesting to note a very similar commandment at the end of the chapter, in 19:34: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not to be understood, then, as applying only to one’s peers or family. One is also commanded to love the “alien,” that is, the foreigner or outsider in one’s community. The parable of the Good Samaritan–which begins with the quoting of Leviticus 19:18 and the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?”–makes much the same point (Luke 10:25-37).

You know the story of the Good Samaritan, we won’t take time to read it, I will summarize.

They ask Jesus who is your neighbor and he tells a story about a Samaritan, who is a half Jew half Gentile and was perceived by Jews as second class citizens like slaves would have been seen and treated in our American history. Jesus tells them at the end of the story that the Samaritan is his neighbor and the one who is a neighbor to him is the one who cares for Him as God has cared for us.

Nowhere does the Bible promote mistreating people. It is actually the opposite. God wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God wants us to love the slave rescued from a pagan nation as ourselves. And not only that…

Forever slavery in this sense for a pagan slave was God providing for that slave in a merciful and generous way.


God is amazing to slaves in the Old Testament! What about the New Testament?

In the Old Testament, God gave laws to govern how Israel, God’s people were to treat the slave. They were in essence in charge and could dictate how these matters played out. In the New Testament however, it was different. God gave direction and guidance on how to navigate slavery to Christians who were subject to a Roman Empire that exercised the enslavement of people similar to when Israel was in Egypt. So, ALL the New Testament verses were to help New Testament Christians know how to navigate slavery in a pagan world/country. They couldn’t change slavery even if they wanted to.

So, in the OT they defined the terms for slavery. In the NT they determined how they would respond to it.

The most important passage in the New Testament is here…

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a]nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

What does that mean?

It means the gospel is for everyone and we should make sure everyone KNOWS the Gospel is for them regardless of their race, social status, or gender.

What does the Bible teach about slavery?


George Whitfield, the great evangelist in the 1700’s in the United States brought the Gospel to the slave plantations and said, “The Black person has a soul just like the white person and Jesus died for them just like he died for everyone else.” The plantation owners hated him for this, but 300 years ago God sent His Gospel to the African American community through George Whitfield in spite of the brutality that plantation owners caused them. Thank you Jesus! The Gospel is for everyone.

I want to remind you that the principles we are gonna look at here are for Christians trapped in a society that has slavery and they can’t change that narrative. In that situation how do we respond…

Look at  Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6:5 Bondservants,[a] obey your earthly masters[b] with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.

In a society where you can’t change the slave or bond system…God wants us to work for them like we are working for God.

What does the Bible teach about slavery when you can’t do anything about it?


1 Timothy 6:1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants[a] regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.

Don’t try to take advantage of your master because they are a Christian. Be even more diligent to work so they may benefit from your good service.

What does the Bible teach about slavery when you can’t do anything about it?


Look at these two passages…

Titus 2:9 Bondservants[a] are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

 1 Peter 2:18 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

What does the Bible teach about slavery when you can’t do anything about?


And then I won’t you to see the last one because this one is really important to end on…

1 Corinthians 7:21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. (NLT)

What does the Bible teach about slavery?


 God wants us to be WHOLLY HIS! And how we treat those we have the means, ability, or authority to take advantage of will tell us a lot about whose we are becoming. God is holy and He expects us to be holy IN ALL MATTERS OF OUR LIVES INCLUDING SLAVERY. He wants us to model what it looks like to love people like He loves them. Maybe today would be a good time to repent of our attitudes toward one another and our treatment of one another during this difficult season of pandemic, covid-19, racism, and this political season. Have you forgotten that your first allegiance is not to your gender, your skin color, or your party affiliation, but it’s first and foremost to the one who died for you and gave you hope of eternal life and His name is JESUS!

You and I are here on planet earth to make JESUS FAMOUS in every circumstance and in every relationship. It is not about our rights. It ain’t even about our brother and sisters rights. Then what is it about? I want us to focus on this one verse so we can be reminded of what it is all about…

1 Peter 2:24 He himself (Jesus) bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

It is about us dying to sin and living to righteousness.

That is how we BECOME WHOLLY GOD’S and make him famous in this world!

About Pastor Kelly Williams
Kelly grew up on a dairy farm in KY. Graduate of Liberty University (B.S.93), Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM96). Husband to Tosha. Father to five children. Senior Pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs for 21 years. In 2014 Vanguard was named as one of the Southern Baptist Conventions top evangelical churches. Kelly and his family live on a farm in Colorado Springs. Kelly is the co-author of "real marriage: where fantasy meets reality" with his wife, Tosha. He is also the author of Friend of Sinners: Taking Risks To Reach The Lost" and his latest book came out 9/11/2018 "The Mystery of 23: God Speaks." You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives