Christianity And The Slavery Question -- By: Arthur Rupprecht

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 06:2 (Spring 1963)
Article: Christianity And The Slavery Question
Author: Arthur Rupprecht

Christianity And The Slavery Question

Arthur Rupprecht

The evangelists Matthew and Luke tell of Jesus’ conversation with a centurion who was concerned about his slave. The centurion explained that he was the captain of a military company. As such he gave orders to his soldiers when and where they were; to come and go. He said further, “Also to my slave I say do this and he doth it” (Matt. 8:9; Luke 7:8). Jesus, far from making a statement in condemnation of the institution of slavery, commends the centurion for his exemplary faith. By his statement the centurion had assigned the same finality to the words of healing of Christ as he gave to his own commands to his slaves.

In his epistles Paul shows the same disregard for what we would call the “slave question.” He says instead, “Masters, give to your slaves that which is just and equal” (Col. 4:1). “Slaves be obedient to your masters according to the flesh” (Eph. 6:5; cf. 6:8f.). Furthermore, there are frequent allusions to slavery in figures of speech in the New Testament. Yet the point of such passages is never the ills of slavery but the demand for obedience (note Matt. 25:21-26; Rom. 6:16-20). From these and other passages we can with certainty conclude that it would be false to ascribe to Christ and the Apostles any consciousness of a slave problem. The emphasis is instead on the responsibility of the master to treat his slave well (1 Cor. 7:20 22; 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:22; Titus 2:9). In short, the institution of slavery is not condemned but the abuses of it are.

The principle upon which the master-slave relationship existed is best expressed in the statement, “The laborer is worth of his hire” (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18). According to this principle an individual is obligated to provide just compensation for anyone in his employ. That this was true in the slave system of the Graeco-Roman world of the first century A.D. will be shown by the fact that a slave usually received as much or more in the way of compensation than his free counterpart. Nor can it be objected that a slave had given up all rights to freedom in return for the necessities of life. On the contr...

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