Things Paul Wrote About – Reflections on Slaves

The first thing that caught my attention in this study of slaves was that the KJV only used the term once, in the Book of Revelation.  Some research I did revealed that King James’ England was a land with slaves that would have qualified as doulos.  Were the writers of James’ Bible trying to downplay slavery?  I cannot answer that question but it does show that you need to study the things you read, especially the Bible.

The second thing that stood out was that our paradigm of slavery was not condemned and denounced.  Paul clearly spoke against the slave traders but not owners.  The instructions to both the owner and the slave were to do right by the other.  Paul did encourage slaves to gain their freedom, if possible.  Slavery was a complex part of that society.  In the Greco-Roman world it is clear that there were levels of slavery.  In Israel, by Law, you could own foreign slaves and you could have Jewish slaves.  The Jewish slaves were to be freed every seven years, that may not have been obeyed as it is one of the things that brought about the downfall of Judah in the Book of Jeremiah.  To add to this thought a Jew could choose to stay the property of someone by having his ear pierced on the owner’s door frame.

The third thing that is challenging my thoughts is the terms lord and master. Those terms are easy to throw around, but in calling Jesus Lord and Master we are identifying ourselves as His. We are His doulos and need to look to Him as the one who controls ALL aspects of our life.  That is a very deep thought and one that is very easy to downplay. (see Slaves to Righteousness)

Things Paul Wrote About – Slaves and Masters

Being aware of human trafficking and slavery you would want to find a clear answer to the problem/question in the Bible.  But in Paul’s writings and the rest of the Bible, it seems to send a mixed message!  Paul does not condemn slavery nor does he promote it.  In Exodus 21 there are guidelines for when Israelites sold themselves into slavery (bond servant).  Many of Paul’s letters mention slaves and masters, and how they are to view and treat each other:

slaves to master– Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, 1 Timothy 6:1,2a, Titus 2:9

master to slaves– Ephesians 6:9 Colossians 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:2b

So how should slavery be viewed?  The answer is one of the basic teachings of Christianity and is found in many places in Scripture: Luke 6:31 – do to others as you would have them do to you; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 – Love your neighbor as yourself.  Slavery is wrong because no one wants to be treated and used as slaves!

Things Paul Wrote About – Slaves to Sin

“Slaves” is a complex subject with many parts: slaves, servants, serve, bonds, bondsmen, and the ability to sell yourself to pay off debts in Israel.  Another part is the Gentile/Roman practices and views that Paul used in writing his Letters.  Another aspect to work with is KJV vs NIV and other translations.  The word “doulos” is the major word used for a slave in the New Testament (see notes in Slave); KJV translates it “servant” while NIV uses “slave”. Then there are about thirteen other words that reflect slavery and serving. I thought I would add chains into the word search but Paul connects then to prisoners more than slaves.

In Romans 6:19 Paul explains why he compares our spiritual life to one of slavery, it was very a common practice.   Just because it was a common practice does not mean that it was a good or moral practice.  I think that is why slave traders are singled out as someone who will receive a harsh judgment.

Doulos is a word that stresses the slave as serving the will of the master.  In Israel, you could sell yourself to someone and the Jubilee determined the price.  (I wish I could say that these men and women were treated better but you need to read Exodus 21.)   So, when Paul is using the servant/slave to describe our relationship to sin it is not a pretty one.  Sin controls everything in your life because you allow it to have that authority over you.

The verses below are my attempts at paraphrasing.

Romans 6:6– Our body was ruled by sin but we crucified our old self so we are no longer slaves to sin.

Romans 6:16– If you offer yourself to obey someone you are their slave; if it is sin, that leads to death. (17) We use to be slaves to sin but now we obey from our hearts and follow the teaching that has claimed our hearts.  (19)  Comparing us to slaves is something we can see every day in our lives.  We use to offer ourselves as slaves to impurity and we wanted more wickedness.  (20) If you do not want Jesus and righteousness just be a slave to sin.

Romans 7:14– I have sold myself to sin as a slave because I am unspiritual, I do not understand the Law of God. (25) My sin nature makes me a slave to the law of sin.

*Romans 8:18 – 27 is part of Paul’s use of the idea of slavery to/because of sin. Creation was also forced into slavery and is not free.  It also is waiting for the return of Jesus so it can share in the freedom that is to come.

Things Paul Wrote About – Slaves


Writers Note – even though I will try to focus on Paul’s writings and ideas this topic will go beyond just Paul and his words.  In studying “slaves” I remembered that I will not have all the answers and that I am working through this as I write these posts.  To get a better picture of the topic of slaves I will go into the Gospels, Acts, the other New Testament writers and the Old Testament references.

There is a notable difference in terminology depending on the translation of the Bible you use. KJV uses the word “servant” while NIV uses the word “slave” when you compare most passages. The KJV also uses the term bond______ man, maid, servant, etc. which for the most part is rendered slave in the NIV.

To start this study, I think it is important to begin with 1 Timothy 1:10. This “paragraph” should start in verse eight.  Paul is talking about the Law and how it is for lawbreakers and in this list is slave traders.  The word is “andrapodistes” it is used once as slave trader in the New Testament and its explanation, in my concordance, gives the idea that these people use/treat animals and humans the same.  Paul condemns them!  The other references to slaves by Paul, generally, fall into two groups- (1.) slaves to sin or righteousness and (2.) how slaves and masters are to act toward each other.

These references are from The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible for King James.  These are notes to myself and are not the complete explanation.

NT –     1401, 1402 –doulos: slave; #2 to enslave, stresses relationship; they are subject to the will of another

 5257- huperetes – minister- a subordinate that acts under another’s supervision

 341 – anakainoo renewal of spiritual power 2 Corinthians 4:16, Colossians 3:10 (Mark    1:20). I have to wonder if this is not a mistake in the concordance as the definition does not fit the verse!

3407 – misthios – hired servant Luke 15:17

3816 – pais – child/son/maid; manservant

1249 – diakonnos – waiter, teacher or pastor, deacon, focus is on activity and not on the relationship

3610 – oiketes – one of the family, household servant

1248 – diakonia – aid,

2324 – therapon – higher dignity than a doulos, menial attendant, Moses Hebrews 3:5

1398 – douleuo– to be a slave, serve, be in bondage, do service (not necessary associated with slavery)

1397 – douleia– any kind of bondage – creation (Rom 8:15,21)

1396 – doulagogeo– a slave driver, to enslave 1 Cor 9:27 (mastery of your own body)

Slave- 4983- soma – Only time slave is used in KJV; Revelations 18: 13. It usually deals with the body.

405– menstealers/slave traders; 1 Timothy 1:10 – a brutal word that only differs animals and men because of the number of feet they have

pic from: Christian