The Problem of Slavery in Western Civilization

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Updated: Jun 28, 2022
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Slavery was a common practice in Western Civilization, and it was seen as an ordinary part of every day life. While slavery was a large part of Western Civilization, slave practices go against how God calls us to treat others. This is because slavery promoted cheap labor frequently under unfair conditions, no protection from abuse and mistreatment, and not all slaves were treated with respect and love. Slave practices within the Roman and Hebrew civilizations did differ yet both practices go against the standard of how we are called to treat others as God has called us too in scripture.

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While the bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery or speak of abolishing it completely, it does however give instructions on how slaves should be treated. Since the bible does not outrightly state slavery is not okay this for many people translates into condonement. Slavery in Western Civilization was not based specifically on race or nationality but economics. Slavery was a social status that many people chose for themselves due to personal debt and as a means to provide for their family. Even with slavery being a personal choice, slavery practices in the Hebrew and Greek culture are in direct conflict with how God calls us to treat others.

Slavery in Greek and Hebrew culture consisted of those who had privileges and those whose did not, simply as a matter of birthright, tribal affiliation, culture or ancestry. Greeks and Hebrews only knew a culture with slavery and a culture without slavery was unimaginable. Joyce E. Salisbury states, “In the world evoked by the Homeric poems, most slaves were obtained by piracy, kidnapping, or warfare.” (Salisbury 2019) Greeks and Hebrews considered this inevitable and even necessary as killing everyone means gaining nothing for the battle just fought. Philippians 2 states, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, ESV) These acts of violence taking men, women and children from their homes go against the direct instruction to value others more than ourselves.

Although Hebrew and Greek slave treatment and practices are both in direct conflict with Christs teachings Greek slave practices were far more ridged and harsher. Hebrew slave treatment and practices were influenced by Old Testament scripture with more fair regulation in comparison to Greeks. Leviticus 25 states, “If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers.” (OLD TESTAMENT ON SLAVERY (CA. SIXTH CENTURY BCE) 2019) Greeks did not agree or commonly practice setting their slaves free as they believed slaves to be their right and a possession. Greeks looked to philosopher and historians like Xenophon’s writings to understand how to treat and train their slaves. Xenophon’s writings in comparison to the Old Testament encourage harsh punishment and treating slaves as if they were animals. Philosopher Xenophon states, “But in dealing with slaves, the training thought suitable for wild animals is also a very effective way of teaching obedience.” This type of treatment is hard to imagine but was very much a common practice amongst the Greeks and their slaves. This manner of teaching obedience to slaves is in direct conflict with Luke 6. Luke 6 states, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36). The instructions on how we are to treat others speak specifically to good, loving and merciful actions.

In conclusion the bible speaks a lot about basic human decency. Slavery and any practice of Western Civilization is in direct conflict with the Bible. The unfortunate thing is that many don’t see the this even today which causes a lot of conflict especially in our country alone. The golden rule is throughout the Bible and the Western Civilization slave practices don’t reflect that. 1st Timothy states, ‘We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.  We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,  for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.” The Old Testament provided instruction on how to best treat your slaves morally yet the New Testament lists slave traders as sinful. Jesus Christ has called us to put others before ourselves and love each other more than ourselves. It is clear all forms of slavery either Hebrew of Greek go against the teachings of Jesus.

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The Problem of Slavery in Western Civilization. (2022, Jun 26). Retrieved from