Position of Christianity on slavery?

Hi there, 

I have a new question that bothered me for quite sometime. What's the position of Christianity regarding the institution of slavery?

Christianity made all sorts of wild claims and teachings why couldn't it just say people are not property, stop it now!?

As far as I have read in the New Testament, no teaching opposed slavery, it just made it a less harsh of an institution. And for the most of its history Christian leaders have hardly made any effort to abolish till the enlightenment came and the institution was abolished by Christians and Skeptics alike.


  • St. Gregory of Nyssa is a rather explicit abolitionist,

    Commenting on Ecclesiastes 2:7a "Slaves and servants I have purchased, and home-born slaves also I have begotten"

    St. Gregory of Nyssa rather adamantly responds:

    "'Slaves and servants', says he, 'I have purchased and homebred slaves also I have begotten.' Do you see the bulk of your inflated self-importance? You would life yourself up, by these words, against God Himself? For the whole creation, we have heard from the prophecy, is owned by Him who transcends all. He who makes the property of God his own property, does he not transgress the limits of the power of his species, when he presumes to be owner of men as well as women? Does he not, by his arrogance, transgress nature itself, by regarding himself to be something else than those who are so ruled? 'I have purchased slaves and servants'! What are you saying? By condemning to slavery the human being whose nature is free and self-authoritative, you are setting up laws contrary to God, upsetting the very law of nature. Him who was made to be lord of the earth, ordained to rule, you bring under the yoke of slavery, thus rebelling and fighting against the very order established by God! You forget the bounds of your authority, for up to the dominion over the irrational creation is the limit of your rule. 'He was given dominiond', says the word, 'over birds and fishes and quadrupeds and reptiles'. How do you dare to go beyond that limit and exalt yourself also over the free nature, making them akin to the innumerable quadrupeds and sine-peds (reptiles without legs)? Everything has been subordinated to man, shouts the word of prophecy, and includes in the number of those subordinated beasts and cattle and sheep... The slaves of humans are irrational beasts alone. To you, this is not enough?.. You have disrupted the natural distinction between servitude and mastery, and have made some to serve their own kind and some to be masters of their own race! 'I have bought slaves and servants'! For what price, pray, tell me. What have you found, among existent beings, as an adequate price for this human nature? How much money have you estimated as the value of a rational being? How many obols would you regard as a fair price for the image of God? For how many statera would you sell the God-fashioned nature? For God said 'Let us make man according to our own image and likeness'. Him who is thus the likeness of God, having dominion over everything that is upon the earth, who is it, tell me, who will sell him and who will buy him? Only God is able to do this. Or perhaps not even God. For God does not repent of his gifts, it says. Therefore he who subjected us to slavery cannot be God, for even when we by our own choice have been enslaved to sin, called us back to freedom. If even God does not enslave the free, who is that regards his own authority as greater than God's? For how can he who is the ruler of the whole earth and of all that is on the earth, be 'sold'?... When the human himself is offered for sale, it is he who is the lord of the earth that is led to the auction stall.... Ah, but that little certificate, that written deed of sale, the counting out of a few obols, these have deceived you into thinking that you are the master and owner of the image of God? O, what stupidity! If you lost that little certificate, or if that deed of sale was eaten up by mths, or water coming in somehow blotted out the writing, what evidence would you have for having the slave? What would then be the proof of your ownership? For I see nothing more than the name that is added to him who is in your custody from your name. For who can it be that added to your nature more authority. Neither age nor beauty, neither fitness of body nor superiority of virtue. Of the same origin as your are, biologically the same as you: both you lord it over him and he who is subjugated to your lordship, are equally subject to the passions of soul and body, the same pains and pleasures, the same mirth and anguish, the same joys and sorrows, the same desires and fears, the same diseases and death." St. Gregory of Nyssa, [i]In Ecclesiasten.[i][i] Oratio IV, GNO C. 334/15-338/8. PG 44. 664C-665D as translated in Gregorios, Paulos, Paulos Mar Gregorios, and Saint Gregory. Cosmic man: the divine presence: the theology of St. Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 330 to ca. 395 AD). Paragon House Publishers, 1988. p134-136.
  • The New Testament certainly undermines it, especially St. Paul. He reminds masters that they are equally slaves to an even greater Master, considered kidnappers (some translations call this slave traders) not going to enter the Kingdom, and twisted Philemon’s heart (and arm) to have Onesimus be a free man, and to see him no differently than Paul.

    Certainly, we did not go out revolting against the powers to be, but undermined it and always erred on the side of freeing slaves as part of the ultimate moral obligation and charity.
  • lovely sermon quote in great modern english translation. think I will download it later. saint gregory is my new best friend :)
    also great Bible quotes -as we are all 'slaves' of God, the 'free' person is reminded the he or she has the same humble status as a slave so should act humbly. no humble person can possibly own another human
  • Mabsoota, I know you would love His Eminence Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios as well :). I think we have found you two new best friends!
  • Interesting you were able to find commentary by the fathers on Ecclesiastes... do you know where I can find some? Are there any for free?
  • There are a few commentaries on Ecclesiastes out there.

    One easily purchased is by St. John Chrysostom here: https://www.amazon.com/St-John-Chrysostom-Commentary-Commentaries/dp/1885652771/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1526217927&sr=8-1&keywords=st.+john+chrysostom+on+sages

    There is also St. Gregory of Nyssa's commentary which has been translated but as part of a large academic book whose cost is likely to limit many from buying it :P. Here is the english translation;


    There used to be a free version online but this has been taken down.

  • Also, the early Christians, much like some Christians today, believed that the end of the world was at hand. The apostles and their followers thought that Christ’s second coming was imminent. Given this view, abolishing slavery was not seen as necessary. There was also very little, if any, “class consciousness.”
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