Paul says:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6‬:‭5‬-‭9‬ ‭NASB1995‬‬

Q: If a modern Christian were to follow this admonition/exhortation, and they don’t own a slave, how do these verses then apply for application in the Christian life?

Paul wrote in a culture (the Roman Empire) that had slaves, but if a Christian lives in a country that had any type of slavery outlawed, does this passage then become contingent on human/societal law, and thus doesn’t need to be followed unless the circumstances arise? Can these verses be applied to employers in a non-slavish sense?

  • the word doulos means servant. It does not have to be a bondservant.
    – Michael16
    Feb 24, 2023 at 14:16
  • @Michael16 (δοῦλος): Gloss: servant, slave - “Definition: In the NT a person owned as a possession for various lengths of times (Hebrew slaves no more than seven years, Gentile slaves without time limit), of lower social status than free persons or masters; slaves could earn or purchase their freedom.” Source: billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/doulos - What is your point?
    – Cork88
    Feb 24, 2023 at 19:09
  • 1
    The word is used even for working, in "machine not working". The verse isn't limited to ancient servants but today's too.
    – Michael16
    Feb 25, 2023 at 2:53
  • How is it hard to see that either - hopefully - that is wholly irrelevant to modern life or, if there is a hang-over from days gone centuries by, then 'slave' should be replaced with 'servant'? How can you relegate to Biblical hermeneutics, anything that bares on ethics, morality, truth and several other things useful? Feb 26, 2023 at 20:11

2 Answers 2


One could consider the master/slave relationship here to be an extreme example of the more general employer/employee relationship, or any relationship where one person has the power to tell the other what to do (e.g. parent/child).

If one's manager says to do something, a Christian should do it both willingly and well, not simply do enough to make it look like one is complying.

Similarly a manager should ask for work to be done only because it needs to be done, not in order to demean the employee or demonstrate the superior position.

The relationship defines a direction of power in terms of what it provides an organizational structure for, but it shouldn't be used as an indication that one person is better than the other.

assuming the work doesn't require one to violate God's law.


Some precepts apply only to an empirical historical reality, but they can have universal dimension also. For instance, in the Decalogue "do not covet for a donkey of your neighbor", is historical, for at that time donkeys were important commodities for any household, but today we can put "car" or "tractor" instead. With slaves the same: if I am a physician dealing with difficult and troublesome patients, I'd rather bear with them and be, so to say, obedient to my duty to suffer their stupid caprices and not express to them my just irritation and rage. So, the "slaves be obedient" can work in this novel interpretation in a totally different cultural milieu.

  • A very useful analogy, but also shows that this almost certainly isn’t a “novel” interpretation, but the intended one from the start. We understand well that “Do not covet thy neighbour’s ass” was never just about donkeys — it was always about other possessions too. Similarly, this passage was surely not meant or understood at the time as just about slaves/servants, but about relationships of authority in general. Feb 24, 2023 at 15:15
  • @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine Thanks. I agree with your explanation. Feb 24, 2023 at 23:14

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