In the household table in Colossians 3:18-4:1, almost half the words are directed towards slaves. This seems significant, especially since in the household table in Ephesians, it is much more evenly spread (perhaps focusing on husbands there). Why does Paul spend so much time addressing the slaves in Colossae?

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    I wonder if the Philemon-Onesimus tie-in with Colossae has something to do with this.
    – swasheck
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 14:37

2 Answers 2


Possibly there are a few more words about slaves because the relationships within family are already settled matters in the Old Testament. There are no instructions in the Old Testament that I have noticed about how slaves should behave with respect to their masters. There is another dimension to this though that makes the slave/master issue important.

If you take the 'fullness in Christ' idea along with the 'useless human rules' idea, you create a potential temptation for the slave. 1)Since "in Christ you have been brought to fullness" (Colossians 2:10) and 2)"Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules" (Colossians 2:20)

The slave may think like this. 'Well since in Christ I am a king and since my master is a slave to Satan and trying to force me to live a useless life under human laws, why should I obey my huge inferior? I could run away and preach the gospel to sinners afar?' For the sake of love, Paul wants to teach slaves that they are free and only serve God, but to love their masters with respect. In this way the slave is free from horrible feelings of inferiority and injustice, but in his freedom he can serve God by respecting his inferior. In this way also, evangelism starts by letting our beattitudes shine in the place God has put us.

How simple and glorious are the ethics of grace. Warms the heart, eh? If I was a slave to a very harsh master, I would have been brought to tears hearing this gospel.


Why, Why? One could just as easily ask, "Why does Paul spend so much time on families in Ephesians?" There is no legitimate reason why a person's letters must deal on a subject with the same amount of verbage! The verses dealing with the topic of slave/master is the same length in Ephesians and Colossians (5 verses). That the amount of verses addressing the family is different, is inconsequential.

Note that the letter to the Philippians does not deal with either subject! Are we to assume that there were no issues concerning family---or slave---in that city? Rather, we must not---without further statement explaining such by Paul---not draw any conclusions about these matters.

It is true that occasionally Paul needed to address the topic of slavery---and conduct of masters---in his ministry. This is because the Roman Empire was iron mixed with clay, as Daniel described it (Daniel 2:41-43). The population consisted of citizenry and an overabundance of slaves. Each country conquered by the Roman Legions became a source of slave man-power for the Roman nation. (Household slaves, tutors, road builders, galley rowers, gladiators, etc.)

The custom of slavery had so engulfed the Empire that by the time it fell, it is estimated that there were more slaves than citizens! The slaves---and military mercenaries---felt no allegiance to Rome. So because of this, the Apostle Paul felt the need to address the plight of the slaves in the cities that had been reached by the Gospel.

As an aside, note that Jesus identified with the "slave" population on earth. He clearly expressed that the Son of Man came to serve. And Jesus exemplified it in feet-washing. (John 13:2-17) He also cooked breakfast for hungry fishermen in the days after His resurrection and victory over death, hell and the grave! The Master of the universe served fish and chips as a waiter!

Christians are admonished to serve one another (Galatians 5:13), as well as serve the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:9, John 12:26, Colossians 3:24, Hebrews 12:28). So what Paul asks of the Roman slaves is not out of the question...the Christian question.

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