The Galley Slave Analogy

Follow me in this analogy and see if it helps you catch fresh insight into some Bible truth. I find that different ways of explaining things suit different people, so the use of analogy often helps open up a truth to people in a fresh way.

The Galley Slave

Imagine that you are a slave on board an ancient black ship, and you are among a group of slaves who must row the boat. That is what a galley slave is, and you are one of them, for the purposes of this analogy.

Imagine, further, that there is a sea battle, and your ship is being attacked. While the enemy attacking your ship has no particular dislike for you, you are nonetheless under attack because the ship you are in is under attack.

You row as hard as you can and you hope with all you have that your ship survives the battle. If your ship is sunk you will sink with it, since you are chained to your seat. Remember, you are a slave on this ship.

The Back Story

For the purposes of this analogy we need to consider how you came to be a galley slave on that particular ship. This is what the movie-makers call the back story, filling the viewer in on what led up to the present predicament.

It turns out that there are only two options for people in your world. Both options involve being a galley slave. The choice is which ship to row for. There are the Black ships and the White ships, which are at war with each other.

As a child you have opportunity to consider which ship you will row for. But most people do not make the decision consciously. They are tricked into their choice by actions which they think are innocent.

A child may be playing with friends or exploring the market or just walking down the street, but end up being tricked into slavery. They are given a choice to make, which seems quite innocent, such as stealing a small piece of fruit, or telling a lie. When they make that choice the choice of ship has been made for them, by their actions.

At some point you were dragged off to the Black ship and chained in place. You did not remember choosing to row for the Black ships, but you discover that your selfish choices at a younger age were unwittingly your choice to row for the Black ship.

The Ugly Facts

Once you became a galley slave for the Black ships you learned some ugly facts. The Black ships are deemed to be pirate ships and are pursued and frequently sunk at sea by the White ships. You didn’t want to be a pirate or to suffer the punishment of a pirate, but now you are a galley slave on a pirate ship.

You cannot jump ship and you cannot change your choice. You are now forever in fear and forever tormented by the possibility of being pursued and sunk at sea.

These ugly facts make you desperately sorry for your careless actions as a child. You rebuke yourself for not realising what was going on and for allowing yourself to fall into the trap of your own selfishness.

The Escape

One of the galley slaves rowing near you tells you that he heard of a galley slave on a Black ship who cried out for mercy during a battle. He was rescued from the Black ship and set free from all his past wrong choices.

Inspired by this story you wait for the time when your ship is under attack and you too begin to cry out loud for mercy. Those around you treat you with scorn and taunt and mock you, but you are determined to be saved and so you keep calling out despite their rebukes and physical blows.

Suddenly your ship is broken open by the bow of a White ship and someone jumps down and pulls you free as your Black ship sinks.


As you stand, saved, on the deck of a White ship you swear your allegiance to the white fleet and breathe the fresh air of freedom. You are now no longer linked to the pirate fleet and you will now not live under the constant fear of death.

You are then escorted to the galley of the White ship where you are given a place to sit and row. This time you are not chained to your seat, so you can stand and move around. You could even abandon ship if you wished to. You now have the privilege of service to the White fleet, as a voluntary slave, in gratitude for your freedom.

Jumping Ship

Some time later you feel a compelling urge to be free of the oars completely. You feel a powerful urge to be free of all slavery and free of all responsibility. You feel a strong urge to jump ship and achieve a new level of freedom that does not include the responsibility to serve on the White fleet.

When the ship is in dock one day you quietly slip over the side and sneak away on your own. When you are clear you run as fast and far as you can to get away from the coast and all ships.

You finally collapse and sleep, dreaming of your new-found freedom from all slavery and responsibility.

Back to the Black

When you wake you find that you have been caught, not by the White fleet which you abandoned, but by the Black ship again. Your rejection of the White ship responsibilities turns out to be a choice which makes you a Black ship slave again.

You struggle and protest. You did what you did to be completely free of slavery, not to be dragged back into it. But once again you have been ignorant of reality. Everyone is a slave. The choice is not between slavery and freedom, but to which fleet you will be enslaved.

The White fleet saved you from the pirate fleet and its fearful fugitive existence. But in the White fleet you were still a slave, a love slave dedicated to serve as an act of your free will. When you rejected that responsibility you gave in to selfishness again and that action brought you under slavery to the Black fleet all over again.


I trust that I don’t have to unpack this analogy for you. I hope its significance is clear. However I will take the time in a future post to unpack the Galley Slave Analogy for you, and to remind you of the points I have sought to make in this little story.

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