1 Corinthians 7:21
Verse (Click for Chapter)
New International Version
Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

New Living Translation
Are you a slave? Don't let that worry you--but if you get a chance to be free, take it.

English Standard Version
Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)

Berean Study Bible
Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let it concern you, but if you can gain your freedom, take the opportunity.

Berean Literal Bible
Were you called while a slave, let it not be a care to you; but if also you are able to become free, rather take advantage.

New American Standard Bible
Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.

King James Bible
Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

Holman Christian Standard Bible
Were you called while a slave? It should not be a concern to you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity.

International Standard Version
Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let that bother you. Of course, if you have a chance to become free, take advantage of the opportunity.

NET Bible
Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity.

New Heart English Bible
Were you called being a bondservant? Do not let that bother you, but if you get an opportunity to become free, use it.

Aramaic Bible in Plain English
If you have been called as a Servant, let it not concern you, but if you can be freed, choose for yourself to do service.

GOD'S WORD® Translation
Were you a slave when you were called? That shouldn't bother you. However, if you have a chance to become free, take it.

New American Standard 1977
Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.

Jubilee Bible 2000
Art thou called being a slave? care not for it; but if thou may be made free, use it rather.

King James 2000 Bible
Are you called being a servant? care not for it: but if you may be made free, use it rather.

American King James Version
Are you called being a servant? care not for it: but if you may be made free, use it rather.

American Standard Version
Wast thou called being a bondservant? Care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather.

Douay-Rheims Bible
Wast thou called, being a bondman ? care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

Darby Bible Translation
Hast thou been called [being] a bondman, let it not concern thee; but and if thou canst become free, use [it] rather.

English Revised Version
Wast thou called being a bondservant? care not for it: but if thou canst become free, use it rather.

Webster's Bible Translation
Art thou called being a servant? care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

Weymouth New Testament
Were you a slave when God called you? Let not that weigh on your mind. And yet if you can get your freedom, take advantage of the opportunity.

World English Bible
Were you called being a bondservant? Don't let that bother you, but if you get an opportunity to become free, use it.

Young's Literal Translation
a servant -- wast thou called? be not anxious; but if also thou art able to become free -- use it rather;
Study Bible
Live Your Calling
20Each one should remain in the situation he was in when he was called. 21Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let it concern you, but if you can gain your freedom, take the opportunity. 22For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman. Conversely, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave.…
Cross References
1 Corinthians 7:20
Each one should remain in the situation he was in when he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:22
For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman. Conversely, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave.
Treasury of Scripture

Are you called being a servant? care not for it: but if you may be made free, use it rather.

being.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be …

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there …

Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, …

1 Timothy 6:1-3 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters …

1 Peter 2:18-24 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the …

a servant. Rather, a slave, [doulos,] the property of another, and bought with his money. In these verses the apostle shows that Christianity makes no change in our civil connections.

care.

Luke 10:40,41 But Martha was encumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord…

Luke 12:29 And seek not you what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, neither …

Luke 21:34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged …

Philippians 4:6,11 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication …

Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with …

1 Peter 5:7 Casting all your care on him; for he cares for you.

(21) Art thou called being a servant?--Better, Were you called while a slave? Do not let that make you anxious. The fact of your being in slavery does not affect the reality of completeness of your conversion; and so you need have no anxiety to try and escape from servitude. In this and the following three verses the subject of SLAVERY is treated of as the second illustration of the general principle laid down in 1Corinthians 7:17--viz., that a man's conversion to Christianity should not lead him to change his national or social condition.

But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.--These words may seem to imply that if a slave could obtain his liberty he was to avail himself of the opportunity to do so. Such an interpretation, however, is entirely at variance with the whole drift of the argument, which is, that he is not to seek such a change. What the Apostle does say is, that (so far from letting the servitude be a cause of distress to you) if you can even be free, prefer to use it, i.e., your condition as a converted slave. It, as well as any other position in life, can be used to God's glory. Such an interpretation is most in accordance with the construction of the sentence in the original Greek; and it is in perfect harmony, not only with the rest of this passage, but with all St. Paul's teaching and his universal practice on this subject.

It may be well here briefly to notice the attitude which the Apostle of the Gentiles maintains towards the great question of SLAVERY. While there were many points in which ancient slavery under the Greek and Roman Governments was similar to what has existed in modern days, there were also some striking points of difference. The slaves at such a place as Corinth would have been under Roman law, but many of its harsher provisions would doubtless have been practically modified by the traditional leniency of Greek servitude and by general usage. Although a master could sell his slave, punish him, and even put him to death, if he did so unjustly he would himself be liable to certain penalties. The power which a master could exercise over his slave was not so evidently objectionable in an age when parents had almost similar power over their children. Amongst the class called slaves were to be found, not only the commonest class who performed menial offices, but also literary men, doctors, midwives, and artificers, who were constantly employed in work suited to their ability and acquirements. Still, the fact remains that the master could sell his slave as he could sell any other species of property; and such a state of things was calculated greatly to degrade both those who trafficked and those who were trafficked in, and was contrary to those Christian principles which taught the brotherhood of men, and exalted every living soul into the high dignity of having direct communion with its Father.

How, then, are we to account for St. Paul, with his vivid realisation of the brotherhood of men in Christ, and his righteous intolerance of intolerance, never having condemned this servile system, and having here insisted on the duty of a converted slave to remain in servitude; or for his having on one occasion sent back a Christian slave to his Christian master without asking for his freedom, although he counted him his master's "brother"? (See Ep. to Philemon.)

One point which would certainly have weighed with the Apostle in considering this question was his own belief in the near approach of the end of this dispensation. If all existing relations would be overthrown in a few years, even such a relation as was involved in slavery would not be of so great importance as if it had been regarded as a permanent institution.

But there were other grave considerations, of a more positive and imperative nature. If one single word from Christian teaching could have been quoted at Rome as tending to excite the slaves to revolt, it would have set the Roman Power in direct and active hostility to the new faith. Had St. Paul's teaching led (as it probably would, had he urged the cessation of servitude) to a rising of the slaves--that rising and the Christian Church, which would have been identified with it, would have been crushed together. Rome would not have tolerated a repetition of those servile wars which had, twice in the previous century, deluged Sicily with blood.

Nor would the danger of preaching the abolition of servitude have been confined to that arising from external violence on the part of the Roman Government; it would have been pregnant with danger to the purity of the Church itself. Many might have been led, from wrong motives, to join a communion which would have aided them in securing their social and political freedom.

In these considerations we may find, I think, ample reasons for the position of non-interference which the Apostle maintains in regard to slavery. If men then say that Christianity approved of slavery, we would point them to the fact that it is Christianity that has abolished it. Under a particular and exceptional condition of circumstances, which cannot again arise, St. Paul, for wise reasons, did not interfere with it. To have done so would have been worse than useless. But he taught fearlessly those imperishable principles which led in after ages to its extinction. The object of Christianity--and this St. Paul over and over again insisted on--was not to overturn and destroy existing political and social institutions, but to leaven them with new principles. He did not propose to abolish slavery, but to Christianise it; and when slavery is Christianised it must cease to exist. Christianised slavery is liberty.

Verse 21. - Being a servant. This is the second instance of the rule. One who was converted whilst he was a slave is not to strive over anxiously for freedom. The word "emancipation" sometimes seems (as in the letter to Philemon) to be "trembling on Paul's lips," but he never utters it, because to do so would have been to kindle social revolt, and lead to the total overthrow of Christianity at the very commencement of its career. Our Lord had taught the apostles to adapt means to ends; and the method of Christianity was to inculcate great principles, the acceptance of which involved, with all the certainty of a law, the ultimate regeneration of the world. Christianity came into the world as the dawn, not as the noon - a shining light, which brightened more and more unto the perfect day. Care not for it. Do not be troubled by the fact, because in Christ "there is neither bond nor free" (Galatians 3:28), and because earthly freedom is as nothing in comparison with the freedom which Christ gives (John 8:36). But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The words may mean,

(1) "use freedom" - avail yourself of the opportunity of emancipation; or

(2) "use slavery" - be content to remain a slave. In favour of the first interpretation is the fact that there is nothing extravagant or fantastic in Christian morality; and that, considering what ancient slavery was - how terrible its miseries, how shameful and perilously full of temptations were its conditions - it sounds unnatural to advise a Christian slave to remain a slave when he might gain his freedom. Yet the other interpretation, remain a slave by preference, seems to be required:

1. By the strict interpretation of the Greek particles.

2. By the entire context, which turns on the rule that each man should stay in the earthly condition in which he first received God's call.

3. By the fact that even the Stoic moralists - like Epictetus, who was himself a slave - gave similar advice (Epict., 'Dissert.,' 3:26; 'Enchir.,' 10:32.)

4. By the indifference which St. Paul felt and expressed towards mere earthly conditions (Galatians 3:28), as things of no real significance (Colossians 3:22).

5. By his appeal to the nearness of the day of Christ (vers. 29-31).

6. By the preponderance of high authorities - Chrysostom, Theodoret, Luther, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Alford, etc. - in favour of this view

7. By its parallelism to the advice given to Christian slaves in 1 Timothy 6:2, where they are urged to serve Christian masters all the more zealously because they were brethren.

8. Lastly, all the apparent harshness of the advice is removed when we remember that St. Paul was probably thinking only of the Christian slaves of Christian masters, between whom the relation might be as happy as that of Philemon to the forgiven Onesimus. Art thou called being a servant?.... That is, called by grace whilst in the condition of a servant,

care not for it; do not be troubled at it, and uneasy with it; be not anxiously solicitous to be otherwise; bear the yoke patiently, go through thy servitude cheerfully, and serve thy master faithfully; do not look upon it as any objection to thy calling, any contradiction to thy Christian liberty, or as unworthy of, and a reproach upon thy profession of Christ:

but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The Syriac renders the last clause, , "choose for thyself to serve"; perfectly agreeable to the sense given of the words, by several great critics and excellent interpreters, who take the apostle's meaning to be, that should a Christian servant have an opportunity of making his escape from his master, or could he by any art, trick, and fraudulent method, obtain his liberty, it would be much more advisable to continue a servant, than to become free by any such means: yea, some seem to carry the sense so far, that even if servants could be made free in a lawful way, yet servitude was most eligible, both for their own and their master's good: for their own to keep them humble and exercise their patience; for their master's not only temporal, but spiritual good; since by their good behaviour they might be a means of recommending the Gospel to them, and of gaining them to Christ; but one should rather think the more obvious sense is, that when a Christian servant has his freedom offered him by his master, or he can come at it in a lawful and honourable way, this being preferable to servitude, he ought rather to make use of it; since he would be in a better situation, and more at leisure to serve Christ, and the interest of religion: however, certain it is, that the apostle's design is, to make men easy in every station of life, and to teach them how to behave therein; he would not have the freeman abuse his liberty, or be elated with it, nor the servant be uneasy under his servitude, nor be depressed by it, for the reasons following. 21. care not for it—Let it not be a trouble to thee that thou art a servant or slave.

use it rather—Continue rather in thy state as a servant (1Co 7:20; Ga 3:28; 1Ti 6:2). The Greek, "But if even thou mayest be made free, use it," and the context (1Co 7:20, 22) favors this view [Chrysostom, Bengel, and Alford]. This advice (if this translation be right) is not absolute, as the spirit of the Gospel is against slavery. What is advised here is, contentment under one's existing condition (1Co 7:24), though an undesirable one, since in our union with Christ all outward disparities of condition are compensated (1Co 7:22). Be not unduly impatient to cast off "even" thy condition as a servant by unlawful means (1Pe 2:13-18); as, for example, Onesimus did by fleeing (Phm 10-18). The precept (1Co 7:23), "Become not (so the Greek) the servants of men," implies plainly that slavery is abnormal (compare Le 25:42). "Men stealers," or slave dealers, are classed in 1Ti 1:10, with "murderers" and "perjurers." Neander, Grotius, etc., explain, "If called, being a slave, to Christianity, be content—but yet, if also thou canst be free (as a still additional good, which if thou canst not attain, be satisfied without it; but which, if offered to thee, is not to be despised), make use of the opportunity of becoming free, rather than by neglecting it to remain a slave." I prefer this latter view, as more according to the tenor of the Gospel, and fully justified by the Greek.7:17-24 The rules of Christianity reach every condition; and in every state a man may live so as to be a credit to it. It is the duty of every Christian to be content with his lot, and to conduct himself in his rank and place as becomes a Christian. Our comfort and happiness depend on what we are to Christ, not what we are in the world. No man should think to make his faith or religion, an argument to break through any natural or civil obligations. He should quietly and contentedly abide in the condition in which he is placed by Divine Providence.
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