Why didn't Jesus outright denounce slavery?

Always wondered what the Church had to say about this, as I found it a bit odd. We all know any kind of human slavery is wrong, yet there are mentions in the NT to treat your slave well. I’m no theologian, so I can’t find the exact verses, but I remember occasionally reading things in the NT regarding slavery and was wondering why didn’t Jesus just come out and say, “Slavery of any kind is WRONG! No man shall have ownership of another man. Slavery is evil. All men are owned by God, not other men.”

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Maybe it’s because what’s meant by slavery in the New Testament isn’t what you’re thinking it is. The slavery of that time and place was more like indentured servitude, where someone would be bonded to a creditor and work a period of time to pay the debt. It wasn’t thought of as ownership of another human being.



Maybe it’s because land productivity was so low definitely.

That is exactly what I said.


I said “indentured servitude.”

I can’t help but wonder if you’re mocking me…


Would you say slavery as described in the New Testament is the same as it is described in the Old Testament?

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I certainly was not mocking you. I see now that it was not a necessary thing to add on to your explanation.

Thank you for your input, Father.



Plus, notice how the letter to Philemon says to receive him. As a brother, so it was a way to not cause any unnecessary unrest, whiling maintaining holiness in attitude from both sides. The obedience of the slave to the master (which trains us to be obedient to our Master in heaven) while brotherly and benevolent rule of the master (to reflect how we are to behave as children of God).

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I think this is mostly accurate but Roman slavery (as was the case with the Epistle slavery) was often ownership. How they were treated was determined by the master, and many slaves had no hope of freedom.


God the Father in the Old Testament gave very specific directions on slavery. I know of nothing in the New Testament that shows things changed since the OT or that Jesus differed in his opinion on slavery than his father.

You folks may disagree, but I see no real difference between the slavery defined in the Bible than that of other nations and times. This is especially true of non-Hebrews slaves.

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The Epistle Philemon is the NT book that actually covers it, and I think that it doesn’t so much change the rules behind it has emphasize how it should be lived by Christians.


Did the Catholic Church or any pope formally condone slavery?


The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a clear teaching on slavery as it applies to our times. It states:

The Seventh Commandment forbids acts or enterprises that . . . lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord” (2414).

Note that the key phrase is “in disregard for their personal dignity.” Slavery is practically universal in human history, and not all kinds of slavery are the same. Not all forms of slavery in human society could be described as concretely against the human dignity of the slaves of a certain time, given the different conditions and great social inequality. It took centuries for society to develop to the point of recognizing every person as a subject or citizen of a state as well as of a household. As long as the household is the principal model of social order, then slavery tends to be a part of it. This was not always in disregard of human dignity but sometimes even as a way of preserving it.

We should notice that St. Paul does not suggest that the Christian master free his slave in the first-century Roman empire, nor does he allow slaves to run away or revolt. This was because in the conditions of that society Christians could respect the dignity of slaves better by keeping them or by gradually freeing them. St. Peter Claver had to own slaves in order to guarantee their good treatment, for example.

In our own time, we can safely say that all forms of slavery are contrary to the natural law and are not permitted to Christians. This is because the natural law is the work of human reason in determining the good to be done and the evil to be avoided. So progress can be made in the natural law, since progress can always be made in human reason. But once this progress has been made, one may not go back to the earlier position, even if, in the past, something now forbidden by the natural law was permitted. Another example of this kind of progress is the universal current prohibition of polygamy, even though it was permitted in the past.

Then why does it say “slave”, and not “servant” - clearly two different things.

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Translation? Some translations are servant.

(FWIW, historically speaking slave is the usual translation, so it’s what I go with it)

The story of Philemon isn’t telling people to cease owning slaves. It’s Paul (not God) giving a very vague request for Philemon to be kind to his slave, Onesimus. It doesn’t ask Philemon to free Onesimus. And in general the defense of slavery by believers is based on this vagueness, because of how utterly the cruel the specific instructions from God are on the matter.

An analogy I often use is imagine a politician up for re-election campaigns on supporting the troops. All sorts of vague language is bandied about doing good to those who serve, but then we look at what actions have been done by this politician. He cut funding for veteran’s hospitals, puts them in unnecessary fights, and reduces their armor and other supplies. All that big talk means nothing compared with the actual things done.

The same is true with slavery in the Bible. So much of the Bible talks about how to inflict harm via slavery, thus defenders have to grasp at anything that even hints at kindness.

I didn’t say it did?

Which was the precedent set (as I said in my first post, about how Christians are supposed to treat slaves. He is setting the example).

And they aren’t vague. He literally tells him to accept him back as a brother.

You know there is a reason it is canonical right? That it was inspired by God.

I wouldn’t worry that some translations say servant and some say slave. Imagine there was a translation that used a new term called “flarp”. You’d judge whether flarp is good or bad based on how it’s described, and looking through Exodus and Leviticus paints a very grim picture of the practice. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and a skunk by any other name would be just as foul.

Have you actually read any of those verses?

Anyways, here is the relevant precedence set by Sacred Scripture for Christians:

Not now as a servant, but instead of a servant, a most dear brother, especially to me. But how much more to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord?

If therefore thou count me a partner, receive him as myself.”

Here is from Ephesians:
9 And masters, do the same for your slaves. Give up your use of threats, because you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.”

No, and I never said that you said it did. My point was that if Philemon was to treat Onesimus as a brither – as an equal – then by necessity it would require he be free of his servitude.

Do you believe in Marcionism? Did Jesus differ in how to treat people than God the Father? Did Jesus not give an analogy on how a slave who is unaware of what he did still be “given stripes” (beaten to leave marks)?

And, no, just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean God approved it. Apologists state specifically that when trying to explain why certain other things are in the Bible.

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