Work: Master and Slave


For each relationship we will consider a few important biblical concepts and answer the following questions:

  • In general, what are the Biblically defined responsibilities for each party within the relationship?  What are the behavioral expectations set by God to fulfill these responsibilities?
  • Specifically, what authority has God granted to each party within the relationship?  What is the extent of this authority?  What are it’s limitations?
  • What requirements for submission and obedience have been placed by God to each party within the relationship?  What is the extent of this submission?  What are it’s limitations?
  • What Old Testament Pattern / Example can inform our understanding of each relationship?  What are the parallels?  What are the differences?


For most other relationships, we have provided a diagram to help inform the learning process.  In the case of Master-Slave, this doesn’t make as much sense.  We have to expand our view and look at more than just the Master-Slave relationship.  We also have to look at what Master-Slave means in Old Testament Israel as opposed to other cultures and times.  We also need to distinguish between the Master-Slave relationship and the Employer-Hired Worker relationship.

Before going further, it should be understood that the Old Testament form of the Master-Slave relationship is different than what has occurred in other cultures at other times.  Slavery in Old Testament Israel was for a period of time (6 years).  Only if the slave made a choice at the end of 6 years to stay with their master would become a permanent slave of a single master (Exodus 21:1-6).  So, the free will of the slave was respected after a period of time.  I believe they also had the opportunity to choose to enter the master-slave relationship but were then committed to a 6 year period before they could choose again.

Even though this type of relationship doesn’t exist legally in modern times in modernized countries, it does exist in some places and there are some very important things to address in this relationship.  I have found that there are a number of christian teachers who parallel the Master-Slave relationship with the modern Employer-Employee relationship.  In fact, I used to believe in this parallel, but no longer do.  After some consideration and review of life situations, I was confused about how to properly relate to my employer(s) based on solid biblical principles.  In the Master-Slave relationship, the master gains ownership over the slave and a stronger level of submission and obedience is required of the slave.  I knew that in the modern employment arrangement, this does not occur to the same extent.  While researching this in the Old Testament, I encountered some key verses that enlightened my understanding.

In Deuteronomy 15:18 (slave worth twice hired worker) and Deuteronomy 24:14-15 (treatment of poor hired workers) distinctions are drawn between a slave and a hired worker.  This means that in Old Testament Israel it was possible to work for someone without being a slave.  In the times of the New Testament, the same scenario existed.  There are some who are classified as slaves which placed them under a greater expectation of submission and puts the master in greater authority over their lives.  A hired worker is not addressed by Paul in regards to submission and authority.  We do see some references to the Employer-Hired Worker relationship in the New Testament in the parables of Jesus, so we know that this type of relationship was present during and after Jesus’ time.

So, both the Old Testament and New Testament shows that there are two separate relationships.  The Master-Slave relationship and the Employer-Hired worker (aka employee) relationship.

This is important.

This means the Bible recognizes the difference in the relationship between Master-Slave and Employer-Hired Worker.  This means our understanding of authority, submission and obedience must be really thought through in regards to how we look at how authority, submission and obedience work in our work lives.

So, what are the essential elements we must look at in our work relationships to determine how to properly relate to authority in the work environment?  Here are a few of them:

  • We should consider the overarching principles of how we represent ourselves as believers in Jesus Christ to others.  In some cases our employers may be believers and in other cases they are not.
  • We should consider the terms of our employment contract which is not in conflict with any governmental laws.
  • We should consider the terms of any contracts which we participate in fulfilling on behalf of our employer to and the stipulations of these contracts.
  • We should consider any applicable laws that may override the terms of our employment agreement and/or contractual arrangements between our employer and our employer’s customers.
  • We should consider the specific direction of our supervisor/manager of our employer.

Relevant Verses

Deuteronomy 15:18 – It shall not be hard in your eyes when you send him forth free, because for six years he has served you worth twice the wage of a hired worker; and Yahweh your God will bless you in whatever you will do.

Deuteronomy 24:14-15 – You shall not exploit a hired worker, who is needy or poor, from among your fellow men or from among your aliens who are in your land and in your towns.  On his day you shall give his wage, and the sun shall not go down, because he is poor and his life depends on it; do this so that he does not cry out against you to Yahweh, and you incur guilt.

Matthew 20:1–16 – “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man—the master of the house—who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. And after coming to an agreement with the workers for a denarius per day, he sent them into his vineyard.3 And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace. And to those people he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will give you whatever is right.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth and ninth hour he did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing there and said to them, ‘Why are you standing here the whole day unemployed?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go also into the vineyard.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last up to the first.’ And when the ones hired about the eleventh hour came, they received a denarius apiece. And when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, and they also received a denarius apiece. And when they received it, they began to complain against the master of the house, saying, ‘These last people worked one hour and you made them equal to us who have endured the burden of the day and the burning heat!’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am not doing you wrong. Did you not come to an agreement with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go! But I want to give to this last person the same as I gave to you also. Is it not permitted for me to do whatever I want with what is mine? Or is your eye evil because I am generous?’ Thus the last will be first and the first last.”

Luke 15:17–19 – “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have an abundance of food, and I am dying here from hunger! I will set out and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight! I am no longer worthy to be called your son! Make me like one of your hired workers.’

Colossians 3:22 – Slaves, obey your human masters in everything, not while being watched, as people pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

Colossians 4:1 – Masters, grant your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you also have a master in heaven.

Ephesians 6:5-9 – Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ, not while being watched, as people pleasers, but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart, serving with goodwill as to the Lord and not to people, because you know that each one of you, whatever good he should do, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, giving up threats, knowing that both their Lord and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him.

Titus 2:9-10 – Slaves must be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not to talk back, not stealing, but demonstrating all good faith, in order that they may do credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything.

For Master

The Bible is written to believers, so the following is specific to masters who are believers.

This side of the relationship (for the master) has both rights and responsibilities from God’s point of view.  A master can expect submission from their slaves and obedience to their commands when not clearly in conflict with higher authorities.  It is also clear that God expects masters to behave well towards their slaves:

Colossians 4:1 – Masters, grant your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you also have a master in heaven.

Ephesians 6:9 – And masters, do the same things to them, giving up threats, knowing that both their Lord and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him.

This makes it clear that being a master as a believer is not a license for tyranny.  There is still a requirement from God that appropriate behaviors be maintained.

Since the master/slave relationship has mostly disappeared in modern times, we are primarily interested in it to clarify in a theoretical way how submission and authority works from God’s point of view.

For Slave

The Bible is written to believers, so the following is specific to slaves who are believers.

This side of the relationship (for the slave) primarily defines responsibilities.  There are some implicitly assumed rights which are not stated.  A review of the verses written to slaves makes it clear that both submission and obedience is expected.  It also makes it clear that the service offered as a slave should be done with a good heart towards God.  God always points to more than just the outward behavior, but the inward condition as well.