The Galley Slave Analogy Explored

In the Galley Slave analogy I shared with you recently I spoke of a galley slave rowing for the black fleet of pirate ships. Because the observations I am making in that scenario are important ones I am going to revisit the analogy here and unpack some points that I want you to note.

Reviewing the Analogy

In the scenario everyone spends their life as a galley slave (slave oarsman) in sea vessels, either for the Black Pirate fleet or the White ships (they are the good guys). The black are constantly in fear of being pursued and sunk by the white ships. While each person has free choice of fleet to row for their choice is usually made inadvertently, by their childhood actions.

Acts of selfishness, independence or evil automatically assign a person to the Black ships. Only those who have remained free of selfishness and evil will be allowed to work on the White ships.

I suggested that you were a slave on a Black ship and had heard that it is possible to cry out to the White ship for rescue. When your ship is under attack you cry out for rescue, despite the anger of those in the Black ship around you. As the Black ship breaks up you are rescued to the White ship for a whole new life.

Instead of being chained in place you are given a place to row, but as an act of devotion. You are a ‘love slave’ to the White fleet, and you have the opportunity to abandon ship if you should so choose.

You do choose to abandon the White ship, in hope of freedom from all servitude altogether. You escape to shore and run with all your might. But you discover that your abandonment has made you a slave again, this time to the Black Pirate ships again.


While we all love the notion of absolute freedom, it does not exist. We live in a moral universe in which we either serve our maker or we rebel against Him and become a slave to degradation.

Even if we are otherwise ‘nice’ people, when we are on the side of evil we must suffer the consequences that come to evil. We are judged as a pirate because we have chosen, no matter how ignorantly, to be on the pirate ship.

“The wages of sin is death.” Sin brings people into slavery to its kingdom. The kingdom of sin is under the death sentence and so you, when on the side of sin, will suffer judgement, destruction and hell. You are an enemy to God and you serve God’s enemies. You are under the judgement that belongs to all of God’s enemies. Your only hope is to abandon the enemy’s service and come under God’s lordship.

New Life in Christ

We are each offered forgiveness and deliverance through faith in Jesus Christ. God sent Jesus to pay your account, so there is a legal provision for your debts to be cancelled. However, you must “call on the name of the Lord” to be saved.

Those in the service of sin will resent you for abandoning their ship and crying out to God for mercy. They will mock and rebuke you for changing sides. You may well lose all of your friends and the respect of your associates. The change in your place is radical.

Complete Freedom to Serve

Your newfound freedom in Christ is awesome. You are freed from slavery to sin. You are now empowered to become free from every evil habit of thought, word and deed. Your will is now able to yield to God. You can stop cursing, lusting, arguing, rising up in pride and much more. This is a profound freedom that is exhilarating in its dimensions.

In that place of freedom the only reasonable response is for you to dedicate yourself to God, as His love slave, serving His kingdom with all your life. In your service, you are no longer chained to sin and shame. You are able to choose each time to yield to God’s call on your life. There is no coercion but joyful cooperation with God.

Back into Slavery

When you are tempted to reject God’s grace and to pursue self-will again you have the freedom to do so. God will not trap you in His kingdom, as the devil traps you in the kingdom of darkness. God wants you to yield to Him as an act of your love for Him, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

If you choose to give in to selfish ambition, self-serving ideas and selfish independence God will let you run after those things. However, that very act of pushing off to gain new freedoms for yourself only brings you right back to a place of slavery to sin again.

When you serve sin, sin becomes your slave driver. Once you are back under the slavery to sin you are once again in line for all that sin’s kingdom is under, which is judgement, death and hell.

Choose Your Slavery

Your only choices are between slavery and slavery. You can be in bondage to the cruel slavery to sin, habits, shame, degradation, addiction and evil. Or you can be a love-slave to God, free within yourself, but willingly yielding yourself in service to God.

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.

John Knox Trumpets Protestantism

John Knox died on November 25 in 1572.

The exact date of his birth, even the year, is unknown. Biographers range from 1505 to 1514, but nobody knows for sure. His birth is generally accepted to be at Giffordgate, 16 miles east of Edinburgh, in 1513 to 1514.

John entered the University of Glasgow in 1522, where he studied under John Major, one of the greatest scholars of the time. In 1540 he was already ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church and that he was a priest before he was 25 years of age.

John’s conversion to the Protestant faith likely came through the influence of George Wishart, the leader among the Scottish reformers, who met him in late 1545 and was burned at the stake shortly afterward. Wishart met Knox in December 1545.

John then spent some months as bodyguard (“drawn sword in hand”) to George Wishart. But on 29 February, 1546, Wishart was martyred.

John Knox was first called to the Protestant ministry at St. Andrews, which was throughout his life intimately associated with the Reformer’s career. The castle of St Andrews was attacked in July 1547 and Knox was arrested by the Roman Catholic authorities. Thus it was for 18 months that Knox found himself as a galley-slave on a French ship, the “Notre Dame”. The experience permanently injured his health.

In 1549 we find him preaching up a storm both in the British Isles and on the Continent. He then spent some years in Geneva, where Calvin was exercising a remarkable influence.

Knox returned to his native land “a Calvinist of the Calvinists”, and found himself in head-on collision with the Roman Catholic queen. When Mary, Queen of Scots, had mass celebrated in her palace chapel, the “thundering Scot” made known his feelings on this ‘sin of idolatry’ from the pulpit of St Giles.

His denunciations of the mass and Roman Catholicism in general did much to bring about a law, passed by the Scottish Parliament on 1 August, 1560, establishing Protestantism as the religion of that country. It is probably true to say that Knox was a stern man, but he lived in an age that needed someone of his character to stem the inroads of Romanism.

Among his writings are: “History of the Reformation in Scotland”, “Against the Monstrous Rule of Women” and a long and elaborate treatise on predestination published in 1560.

Shortly before his death he asked his wife to read him John 17 – “for that is where I first cast my anchor”.

At his graveside the Earl of Mortoun, regent of Scotland, in the presence of an immense funeral procession, declared: “Here lyeth a man who in his life never feared the face of man, who hath been often threatened with dagger, but yet hath ended his dayes in peace and honour.”

Speaking of John Knox, Thomas Carlyle said: “And to be sure there is a power in unswerving conviction that inevitably arrests the attention of both men and nations. There is an almost indescribable appeal that attaches itself to uncompromising vision and principled passion. This fact was undoubtedly illustrated quite vividly all throughout the life and work of John Knox.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.