In my wrestling with the Christian faith, one of the most difficult things for me to face — literally the last thing I was willing to face — was what the Bible actually taught on some subjects. Among those subjects was slavery.
In a nutshell, it appears that the Old Testament not only allows but commands slavery, while verses against it in the New Testament are conspicuous by their absence.
This issue troubles me so much that I am still unable to let it go, two years later.
In this series of blog posts, I’d like to have a dialog with my readers about biblical slavery. I especially invite Christians to comment. Please tell me where I have gone wrong in my analysis. Please tell me how you have come to terms with these passages. To be honest, I do not expect my faith to be restored (many additional questions would have to be answered), but I do promise to listen carefully to everything you say. Any comment that shows integrity and thoughtfulness is welcome.
As a framework for discussion, I’d like to use the arguments from a Christian ministry called the AIIA Institute, Their article on slavery makes the points I see on many Christian sites, while being more fun to read than most. The full text is here, and I would summarize it thus:
- It’s true that the Bible never explicitly condemns slavery.
- However, in a fallen world, God can only fight so many evils at a time. Slavery was not high on his list in the days of the Old Testament. In New Testament times, God may have kept silent about the issue so as not to provoke the Romans to persecute Christians.
- God chose to combat slavery by growing mankind’s moral maturity over time. A change from within is the best and deepest way to produce changed behavior toward others. This is why many Christians were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement.
- Slavery in the Old Testament was not what we might think. It was not racial or imperialistic. Sometimes, it was more like indentured servitude. Other slaves were prisoners of war. [Some apologists justify the latter as God's judgment on wicked, pagan nations.]
- In addition, the Old Testament regulated the treatment of slaves, proscribing excess cruelty.
- The Bible may not speak directly against slavery, but neither does it condone the practice. In fact, it gives even the slave a reason for dignity and hope.
Sounds reasonable, right?
In this series of posts, I will engage each of those arguments. I plan to publish a topic each Saturday, turning the schedule below into links as I progress. I hope this schedule will allow time for you to comment on each post. [5-Nov-11: The series is now complete, but please continue to comment!]
- Was biblical slavery all that bad? Were slaves treated well?
- Did God command slavery, or merely tolerate it?
- Were some biblical slaves mere prisoners of war?
- Does the Bible regulate the care of slaves?
- Was slavery God’s righteous judgment?
- Did God intend to end slavery by changing people’s hearts. over time?
- What did Jesus say about slavery?
- Are God’s ways higher than our ways?
- A personal note about why this issue matters to me.
As an aspiring beagle, my interest is to sniff out the truth. Nobody can do that on his own, least of all me, so I will invite several Christian apologists to respond to my posts. [Update on this here.] I also invite you, dear reader!
This week’s discussion-starter: Does the AIIA’s article, summarized above, represent your own views? Is there anything else I should consider?
Next week we’ll consider the question, Was biblical slavery all that bad?