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1 Corinthians 7:21

ESV Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)
NIV Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.
NASB Were you called as a slave? Do not let it concern you. But if you are also able to become free, take advantage of that.
CSB Were you called while a slave? Don’t let it concern you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity.
NLT Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you — but if you get a chance to be free, take it.
KJV Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
NKJV Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.

What does 1 Corinthians 7:21 mean?

Modern use of the term "slavery" conjures up images of racism, chains, kidnapping, and abuse. In the ancient era, however, the concept included a much wider idea of service, obligation, and debt. While the experience of being a "slave" in the Greco-Roman era differed significantly from, say, North American "chattel" slavery, it could still be a hard life. People frequently "sold" themselves into service for a set number of years to pay off debts or earn a living. Others became slaves by birth or war. Skilled slaves may have served as doctors or accountants.

Such details aside, in Roman culture, "slaves" were classified as property under the law. Those who owned slaves could freely mistreat or even kill them without consequence, in contrast to other cultures and their approach to servants.

Slavery was a fact of life in the world of Paul's day. Historians tells us about a third of Corinth's population were slaves, a third were former slaves, and a third were citizens.

Former slaves, freed by their master's generosity or paying off their debts, often continued to work alongside slaves. Roman law, however, recognized former slaves as persons and gave them a limited version of the rights of Roman citizenship.

Early Christianity was bizarre among other religions in that it recognized slaves, women, and all people groups as full, equal persons. Unique to Christianity was the claim that all people, without exception, were loved by God and invited to trust in Christ and share in God's glory without need of anyone else's approval. The early church was populated by many slaves, women, and foreign transplants.

Paul now tells Christ-following slaves not to make the point of their lives to change their status to freedmen. In context, his point is that they should not pursue freedom in order to become more acceptable to God or to other believers. After all, God called them, wanted them, when they were slaves. He doesn't require them to increase their social standing to be acceptable to Him.

Paul quickly adds, though, that if given the choice to be freed from slavery, they should take it. He does not command that slaves seek to remain slaves. Rather, he means they need not focus all their mental energies on gaining their freedom. He explains why in the following verses.
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