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Gerard de VosCreated by Gerard de Vos
on 02-02-2009
Category: Bible related
Spartacus, Jesus and slavery

Spartacus (109-71 BC) was taken captive, and as a slave in Rome, he was taught to be a gladiator. In 73 BC he escaped with other slaves from their gladiatorial school and hid in the forests of mount Vesuvius. There they were joined by many other slaves. These slaves were taught to fight, and were victorious in the first combat with the Romans. Most of the 3000 Romans were killed. It is said that Spartacus was an excellent soldier and tactician, and with more military victories, more slaves and people joined him. After some spectacular victories, he was defeated, and fell in battle (71 BC). Six thousand slaves were crucified, and their bodies were never taken down from the crosses. They remained as a warning to anyone who considered rebelling against Rome.

The accusation is sometimes levelled that Jesus and the Bible condone slavery. A closer look will show the brilliance of God’s design. In the New Testament we find the report of a slave, Onesimus, who ran away from his master, Philemon. He wanted to disappear among the masses in Rome (information is taken from the book ‘To Philemon’ written by Paul the Apostle). He knew very well what waited for him if he was captured: death by crucifixion. In Rome he fortunately came into contact with Paul, heard the message of salvation, and was transformed by God’s grace. Now the unthinkable happened: Paul sent him back to his owner. What would Onesimus make of this? Paul, however, wrote a letter to Philemon, telling him that he is sending back his slave, no longer as a slave, but as a brother in the Lord. (In God’s kingdom there is no slave, or free, Jew or Greek, because all are in Christ [Colossians 3:11]. All are slaves of Christ.) Philemon is urged to accept Onesimus as a fellow believer, and treat him well. ‘Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven’ (Colossians 4:1). Onesimus is taught to serve his master well (Colossians 3:22-24).

What chances of success would Jesus have had if He either incited the slaves to revolt, or made Himself an enemy of Rome by preaching freedom for slaves? None. At that stage, one can almost say the Roman economy ran on slavery. It was said that in Rome 1 out of every 2 people were slaves. He would have been crushed by the might of the Roman army, as was shown by Spartacus’ uprising. Jesus’ strategy was much better: destroy the scourge of slavery from the inside: change the people’s hearts and behaviour. Teach the owners to treat the slaves as they themselves would like to be treated, and the slaves to serve their masters well. In this way, both benefit. As the owners were changed into the likeness of Jesus, they would probably have recognized that slaves were actually free men who were captured in war, and worthy of freedom.

Did Jesus condone slavery? No, but He knew that armed combat would not be the answer. The 6000 corpses on the way to Rome bore mute testimony to His wisdom - destroy the enemy from inside by changing their hearts. An excellent example is that of the hated and despised tax collectors. Zaccheus met Jesus, and was completely changed, promising to refund those he cheated four times and to give half of his money to the poor (Luke 19:8). That is the power of the Lord Jesus to change social injustices!


"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinth 1:27