Slaves Serve the Masters Who Own Them

In the time of the Roman Empire (the days when Jesus was alive), about 35 percent of the people in the known world were slaves. Their slavery customs and practices were different from what we know in the modern world, but slavery was taken for granted as a normal part of life in that time.

Under Jewish law it was acceptable to buy, sell, and hold slaves, although slavery was often not life-long, but for a certain number (usually six) of years. Fathers could legally sell their daughters into slavery, often as a prelude to an arranged marriage.

Whole families could sell themselves into slavery to settle debts, and prisoners of war at times made up the largest number of slaves. Their children could be born into slavery.

Since slaves looked like everyone else (they could not be identified by race, skin color, or ethnic group), they were often scarred, branded or tattooed so they could be easily identified. Sometimes they wore metal or ceramic plaques on chains - like ID bracelets or dog tags.

In the Roman world, slaves did many different kinds of work. Many doctors, teachers, accountants, musicians, and secretaries were slaves. They could not choose who to marry or where to live, and they could never quit their jobs to find different ones - they could only be sold to another owner.

Many of the early Christians were slaves. World wide, Christians were the first people to include slaves in full table fellowship. Even though they owned no property and could not follow the giving practices of other Christians, slaves could worship and participate in the sacraments with everyone else.

The most prominent of the Old Testament slaves was Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. That slave traders were passing by at the time Joseph's brothers wanted to kill him was an unremarkable event (slave traders were always traveling through), but it does show that God had different plans for Joseph from those of his brothers.

Because slaves have no control over any aspect of their lives, but are totally controlled by their masters, Paul and the other New Testament writers often talk about our slavery to sin, meaning that sin controls every action in our lives.


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