An indentured servant, together with his family, was to be set free in the seventh year (Exodus 21:2–4). This was meant to remind Israel of what God had done in setting them free from their bondage in Egypt. That, in turn, serves as an Old Testament picture of the redemption that sinners experience through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Of all the teaching of Scripture, those passages about the institution of slavery are among the most difficult to navigate. The challenge is heightened by the tendency we all have to read the Bible through the lens of contemporary historical currents and movements. Nevertheless, the relationship between slaves and masters is carefully defined in both the Old and New Testaments. So what are we to make of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:5–9?
First, we need to recognize that God forbids the owning or selling of a kidnapped individual. In Exodus 21:16, we read, “Whoever kidnaps a person must be put to death, whether he sells him or the person is found in his possession.” Any form of slavery that involves the unlawful servitude of another image-bearer is an egregious sin.