Slavery and Early Christianity: Greek, Roman, and Israelite Practices and Opinions

Slavery is evil, and has always been considered evil by moral people, right? Not necessarily. To many first-century Roman citizens, owning slaves was both morally acceptable and absolutely necessary to their way of life. Ancient Romans may have argued about the proper treatment of slaves, but abolition was considered unnecessary and even impossible. (1)

Slavery is also included in the Bible, a fact that is often thrown in the faces of modern Christians.

What was slavery in the ancient Mediterranean world? Where did slaves come from? Did Jewish people keep slaves? Did Jesus and the early Christian church take a stand against slavery? Read on to learn more!

This is one of my longest, most thorough posts ever! Please use this menu to help you navigate.

A Quick Note:

What was a slave in the ancient Mediterranean world?

Who could become a slave in Rome and Greece?

What rights did a slave have in Rome and Greece?

Who could be a slave in Ancient Israel?

What were the laws about the treatment of slaves by Hebrews?

Ancient opinions on slavery

Seneca on slavery

What does Jesus say about slavery?

What does Paul say about slavery?

How should we consider biblical slavery, based on the laws of the Old Testament and the references of the New Testament?



A Quick Note:

First, I want to be clear that I believe slavery is wrong. No human should strip another human of their basic human rights. Period.

As strongly as I believe this, I don't want to put words in the Bible's mouth. I don't want to put expectations on the text that are based on my context, rather than the context of the Bible.

The Bible has rules and advice for slaves and masters, but there was a very specific context for slavery, and I believe those instructions applied to a specific time period.

I do believe that when Jesus came, he raised us to a higher moral standard than the people of God had previously been given. (See Matthew 5:27-48 and all the “you heard it that it was said . . . but I say to you” statements, for example.)

What I want to present to you today is the ancient perspective on slavery from a specific geographic and cultural point of view.

I began this study as part of my research for my current biblical fiction novel, which includes slaves and references to slaves. My story is set in the first century, and so that is where I focus my research. Even though my characters live primarily in Israel, I believe it's possible that other cultural influences had pushed their way among God's people by the first century, so these notes explore Greek, Roma