What Does the Bible Say About Slavery?


#1

What Does the Bible Say About Slavery?
BY JEFF SANDERS
pjmedia.com/faith
APRIL 24, 2016

Does the Bible condone or promote slavery? Many critics have charged that it does. But what does the book say?

First, the Bible never condones it. It recognizes slavery as a fact of life in the ancient world (a very fallen and sinful world), and it restricts and regulates it. But the Bible never presents slavery as (a) the best of all possible worlds, and (b) something permanent from now until doomsday.

The Law in the Old Testament set up a code that made Israel distinct from all other nations regarding slavery. For example, in Israel slaves had rights. And their slavery did not have to be permanent. Some people sold themselves to pay off debts (Leviticus 25:39; Deuteronomy 15:12-17; 2 Kings 4; Nehemiah 5:1-8). However, all Hebrew slaves had to be set free in the seventh year. This was more like indentured servitude, nothing like the chattel slavery of the American antebellum South. The spouse and children were to go free also (Exodus 21:3). Slaves who were abused were to be set free (Exodus 21:26-27). A master who murdered his slave would be put to death (Exodus 21:20; 23-25). …

In the New Testament, all are considered to be equal in the sight of God (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:5-7,9; Colossians 3:22,23; 1 Peter 2:8). The early Christians did not advocate for slave rebellion since that would be seen as insurrection by the Romans. …

The Apostle Paul actually wrote a little letter to a slave owner named Philemon. Paul tells Philemon that he has befriended his runaway slave, Onesimus. Onesimus has become a Christian … in the letter …, he tells Philemon: “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little awhile was that you might have him back for good-- no longer as a slave-- but better than a slave-- as a dear brother” (Philemon 15,16).

Receive him back, not as a slave, but as a brother. No other ancient literature says anything like that. How can you keep a brother in chains? You can’t.

This topic came up here several weeks ago. That Sanders didn’t point out that the Law of Moses only applied to the (ancient) nation Israel doesn’t contradict that point (which I did make). Sanders likely (IMO) figured it was a bit abstruse for his intended audience. I made that point because, while it is technical and requires both understanding of Scripture and honesty of those reading it, it is fatal to the, “The Bible permits me to own slaves,” claim.


#2

The Bible does indeed “condone” the Institution of Slavery, both as a means of dealing with conquered enemies so as to not require complete genocide and as a means of reconciling debts that could not be paid by the the one who accrued them in any other way.

It was never based on ethnicity and was always utilized as a consequence for someones own personal financial decisions or as a consequence for the decisions made by the governments of other people that made Israel into an enemy; in all cases the practice was regulated as a means to protect the enslaved as much as possible without removing the accountability factor.

Such a policy would work today as well, borrowers should be accountable for their borrowing (as opposed to the Sanders/Trump supporters view that the Lenders should be accountable for these defaults) and forcing the citizens of Nations that make war on other Nations to pay for the costs it took to beat them back via forced labor would go a long way toward motivating people to keep their governments in check.


#3

No, it did not only apply to ancient Israel. Paul gives out specific instructions on how to handle your slaves.

The Bible has an exhaustive laundry list of things it condemns. Yet God frequently hands out slaves. If slavery was wrong, why would God give slaves to Abraham? Why would God specifically order Joshua, and Judea to enslave people? Slavery is completely sanctioned by God. If slavery is wrong now, when God used to give people slaves, you need to cite the Bible verses that prohibit slavery.

Here is Paul laying out rules for handling your slaves

Does that sound like someone who’s advocating against slavery? It’s not like Paul was scared to spark conflict. Look at how he treated the church in Rome and Corinth.

The Bible takes a stand against literally hundreds of things, but never slavery. Prove me wrong by quoting a single Bible verse where slavery is condemned.


#4

> No, it did not only apply to ancient Israel. Paul gives out specific instructions on how to handle your slaves.

Like I’ve said multiple times before, Paul was a Roman citizen, speaking to Roman citizens and residents of the Roman Empire (did you know there was a difference?), about living under Roman law. You need to understand that historical context is vital in understanding Scripture. Other than a brief time of independence shortly before being conquered by Rome, the nation state (to use a modern term) of Israel ceased to exist early in the Sixth Century BC. Rome permitted the Jews to maintain the religious side of their Law, but in civil law Rome was supreme.

Further, another key to understanding Scripture is knowing to whom the various books were addressed. The names of Paul’s letters are not arbitrary or irrelevant: Romans was written to believers in Rome; the Corinthian letters were written to believers in the Greek city of Corinth; etc., except Colossians was written to churches in a region of modern Turkey rather than to believers in a specific city. This is important because the people Paul addressed were mixed - Jews, Romans, Greeks, and other ethnic groups. The Law of Moses was unfamiliar and irrelevant to the non-Jewish ethnic groups, and Paul was (in)famous for teaching that non-Jews should NOT become subject to the Law of Moses.

I have no doubt, CW, that you believe what you say is true, but to those of us with some familiarity with the Bible and New Testament, your posts demonstrate lack of understanding of the Bible and New Testament at a pretty basic level. And an unwillingness to learn.


#5

Paul was writing to Christian citizens of these various Nations and cities, he frequently admonished them for continuing in behaviors and customs that were perfectly “legal” and common in their communities but unfitting for Christians to continue in; if Paul believed that the Institution of Slavery was one of these he most certainly would have had no problem intimating that believe.

Slavery and Polygamy are two subjects that have become viewed as “Immoral” in nature by Christians without a Biblical basis, neither are “required” Institutions and the Bible says nothing to discourage any Christian from deciding that these practices are not beneficial to society and should be abolished if possible; but the attempt to rewrite scripture so that it fits our current ideas of Morality does far more damage than any good which can be accomplished.

I catch much flack for allowing the Bible to be the defining authority on what is “Moral” and “Immoral”, I do not refrain from opposing actions that are not defined as “Immoral” in Scripture but that I do think are bad ideas for our society or the Church in general; I do however refrain from trying to lend credibility to my opinion by claiming that God declares the matter “Immoral” when he does not do so.

I choose to defend the "Morality" defined in Scripture instead of trying to explain it away to appease the critics who think they have a “gotcha”; reason and legitimate comparison to the results of modern ideas on these “controversial” matters is more than adequate to defeat the foes of scripture; using these methods to refute the critics does not compromise the integrity of Scripture or make the Church appear just as willing to ignore Scriptural content for convenience sake as the Pagan world.


#6

The law of Love makes slavery untenable as a reasonable Christian practice. Owning another person comes outside that law.


#7

Just because I don’t parrot back the musings of people who try to juggle inerrancy with liberal 21st century values, doesn’t mean I don’t understand the source material. I’m much better studied on Christianity than %95 of Christians, minimum. And one of the leading reasons, is because I draw off of multiple perspectives. I don’t say “I’m a Methodist, therefore, I will only draw from Methodist sources”. I read works from the spectrum of Protestant writers, as well as Catholics, and Jewish writers. And best of all, I have no need to try and twist myself into a pretzel to declare that plain and obvious truths about the Bible are really the opposite of what they seem in order to jive with my personal view points. I’m free to disagree with things the Bible clearly states. You however, feel the need to corrupt scripture in order to fit your world view. Ironically in doing so, you violate the very thing you’re trying to uphold.

I’m still waiting on those verses that forbid slavery. You can forbid slavery without asking that people revolt. Paul preached against all sorts of common Roman practices.

It’s pretty much the definition of “Taking the Lord’s name in vain”(though most people have a horrible grasp of what that actually means).


#8

This thread is a few weeks old, nonetheless I became interested and searched and found this on Wikipedia:

"The First Epistle to Timothy—in some translations[61]—reveals a disdain for the slave trade, proclaiming it to be contrary to sound doctrine. He explains to Timothy that those who live a life based on love do not have to fear the law of God; that (NIV version) “the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” [62] However, several other English translations reveal that the Greek word translated “slave traders” in the NIV could have another meaning that does not condemn slavery at all.[61]" NIV

Note the last sentence in the paragraph above that says other translations disagree with the NIV translation.

The only sure thing here is that the translators of the NIV thought the Greek word ought to be translated “slave traders.” If they are correct, then “slave traders” in the New Testament are in the same company as “those who kill their fathers and mothers” and “murderers.” And that sounds like the New Testament would condemn the institution of slavery.

The above is not a conclusive argument, but is worth at least noting.


#9

All I know is that I’m tired of being one. Slavery is alive and well today. If you work and pay taxes, and know where most of your money is going, it’s easy to make that determination. Also, if you are a Republican, that’s also an indication.


#10

Doesn’t the KJV say “menstealers”? That could mean simply kidnapping, or it could mean slave trading. I suspect it includes both.


#11

[quote=“Susanna, post:10, topic:48674”]
Doesn’t the KJV say “menstealers”? That could mean simply kidnapping, or it could mean slave trading. I suspect it includes both.
[/quote]Personally I thought men stealers was attributed to you women:devil:


#12

I think so.

I looked up how the NKJV translated it before I made my post, see the bolded below:

"1 Timothy 1:9-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

“9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine,”

The NIV is considered by many reputable scholars to be a very accurate up to date modern translation based upon more accurate information and research than either the KJV or the NKJV. I have read that in many places and I think its true.

I would love to be able to read the reasons the NIV translators chose “slave traders” to translate that Greek word or phrase, instead of kidnappers.

Again: There is no solid argument here. I just came across the Wikipedia note and thought it was worth posting.


#13

I am in sympathy with that idea. I don’t see how one can reconcile “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” with slavery.

Then we have “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

“You can own another human being and at the same time you are doing unto him as you would have him do unto you”, seems to me to be quite a stretch. Suppose your slave does not want to be owned, rather strongly desires NOT to be owned. How then would one reconcile that reality with "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

So also: “You can own another human being and at the same time you can love him as you love yourself.”

“The New Testament permits me to own other human beings” strikes my ear as being inconsistent with those two New Testament principles I listed up there.


#14

I cannot give you a specific verse, but how would you answer the bolded part (see below) of my post 13?

“You can own another human being and at the same time you are doing unto him as you would have him do unto you”, seems to me to be quite a stretch. Suppose your slave does not want to be owned, rather strongly desires NOT to be owned. How then would one reconcile that reality with "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?"

And do you think that any normal human being desires to be owned by another human being? If not, there seems to be a serious conflict with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, if you hold the position that the New Testament does not, in principle, condemn slavery.


#15

Them darn womens are always trying to steal me! :smoke::ninja:


#16

:grin:


#17

I think it is how you view slavery. When we here in America thing of slavery we think of slavery practiced in the South. The way I view slavery being a valid institution is that the “slave” is not more than a person working without pay to pay off a debt yet retains their rights.


#18

The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. It gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1), …

but it does not outlaw slavery altogether.

Many see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery. What those people fail to understand is that slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race.

People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin. In Bible times, slavery was based more on economics; it was a matter of social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families.

In New Testament times, sometimes doctors, lawyers, and even politicians were slaves of someone else. Some people actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their masters.

Today there are 27,000,000 people who are treated as slaves. Severely treated. Not in the US.


#19

doesn’ the bible say…'do unto others? THAT would cover it in my opinion. It wasn’t up to the inspired writers of that day to write treatises against slavery. They were concerned with the soul and salvation. Additionally, Slavery is not a God created condition. It is man made.


#20

[quote=“PeteS_in_CA, post:1, topic:48674”]
What Does the Bible Say About Slavery?
BY JEFF SANDERS
pjmedia.com/faith
APRIL 24, 2016

This topic came up here several weeks ago. That Sanders didn’t point out that the Law of Moses only applied to the (ancient) nation Israel doesn’t contradict that point (which I did make). Sanders likely (IMO) figured it was a bit abstruse for his intended audience. I made that point because, while it is technical and requires both understanding of Scripture and honesty of those reading it, it is fatal to the, “The Bible permits me to own slaves,” claim.
[/quote]Slavery in the Bible was more like indentured servitude. It was temporary and ended in the jubilee year. That is this week’s Parsha read in temples throughout the Jewish world.