1 Peter – Chapter Two XXXVII

by Ed Urzi

“You servants must submit yourselves to your masters and show them complete respect, not only to those who are kind and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:18 GNB).

Instead of launching a frontal assault upon the institution of slavery by directing slaves to rebel against their servitude, God employed a subtle and effective means of eradicating that practice. First, this passage directed slaves to submit to their owners. They were also instructed to adopt a respectful, God-honoring work ethic (see Ephesians 6:5).

In contrast, slave owners were commanded to treat slaves in a dignified manner. For instance, slave owners were forbidden to threaten their slaves (Ephesians 6:9). They also had to ensure that slaves were treated equitably: “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1).

These instructions, along with Jesus’ directive to “…treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12 NASB), meant that every Christian shared a collective responsibility to uphold the values of mutual respect and dignity in their interactions with others. These principles slowly began to erode the slave/owner paradigm and influenced a gradual move away from the master/slave model of working relationships. One source identifies why…

“For society at large, slaves were not full persons and thus did not have moral responsibility. For the church, slaves were full and equal persons, and thus quite appropriately addressed as such.” (1)

These new realities also impacted social relationships on a congregational level as well. For instance, consider the situation that might unfold between a Christian master and a Christian slave in the New Testament era. Since the Scriptures tell us that human beings are one in Christ, it was possible for a slave to hold a position of spiritual authority within the church. That might lead to a scenario where a master would look to a slave for spiritual guidance, further undermining support for the practice of slavery.

So those who look to Scriptures such as 1 Peter 2:13 and find support for the institution of slavery take a shallow and inaccurate view of this passage. Instead of promoting the master/slave model of working relationships, these teachings actually produced the opposite effect. In the words of one commentator, “It was Christ’s purpose to change the world, but not with dynamite…” (2) The Biblical concept that slaves and masters were equal in God’s sight established the foundation that helped eliminate the once common practice of slavery and continues to do so today.

(1) Constable, Thomas. DD, Notes on 1 Peter 2023 Edition “2. Slaves’ respect for their masters 2:18-25” https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1peter/1peter.htm

(2) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Peter 2”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-peter-2.html Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999. [verse 18]