What did Jesus Say About Slavery?

[This post is a Beagle’s Bark. It is part of a series on biblical slavery.]

Jesus was a great reformer. In an age of extreme class division and status-consciousness, he identified with the poor and urged us to do the same. During a time when the Holy Land was occupied by a foreign power, he taught his countrymen how to maintain their dignity. When the religious leaders were corrupt, he called them to account.

So I find it puzzling that he never spoke a word against slavery, as far as we know.

If he was divine, he knew it would be nearly 2,000 years until most of the world would realize how immoral slavery is. He also knew that slave-owners would use the Old Testament to justify the practice. One clear word from him could have prevented the misery of millions. Why did he not speak it? (And it’s hard to believe that if the Bible is inspired, God would not have inspired at least one of the four gospel-writers to record Jesus’ words on so important a topic.)

It’s not as if there was no slavery around to speak against. Jesus often illustrated his points with stories about slaves and masters. Everybody was all too familiar with the concept, and it was as brutal as ever.

Slavery Was Brutal, and Jesus Knew It

Since Jesus never condemned slavery, we might hope that he thought of slavery in the relatively benign forms that are sometimes found in the Old Testament. Not so. When he spoke about the relationship of slaves and masters, he assumed that violence and abuse were the order of the day. Typical is Luke 12:47-48, where even a servant who doesn’t know what he ought to do gets beaten.

The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.

That passage is part of a larger parable that is supposed to scare us into submission to God. Like a slave or servant, we will be physically harmed if we’re not good enough.

There are several parables like this in the gospels. Matthew 18:23-35 says we will be jailed and tortured. Matthew 25:14-30 says we will be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:45-51 says we will be cut in pieces. All of these indicate how Jesus pictured masters treating their slaves.

Jesus held no illusions about slavery, yet did not decry the practice. In fact, in his parables he cast God as a slave-owner!

The Golden Rule Evidently Did Not Apply to Slaves

[This section was revised on 14-Nov-2015 after an exchange with commenter “anonymous”. I encourage you to read anonymous’s comments starting here and here. Although he and I disagree, he is intelligent and well-versed (excuse the pun) in the scriptures, and the seeker of truth should consider all sides.]

One might say that when Jesus gave the Golden Rule (“love your neighbor as yourself,” or “do to others what you would have them do to you“) he implied that slavery was wrong. If we should treat others as we want them to treat us, that means we shouldn’t enslave them, right?

This is obvious to us in the 21st century, and had even become obvious to abolitionists by the 19th century, but let us remember that it wasn’t obvious to large swaths of “Founded as a Christian Nation” America for over 200 years. And it certainly wasn’t obvious in Bible times — the context of Jesus’ address.

To see why, remember that Jesus did not invent the Golden Rule. He was quoting it from verse 18 of the passage Leviticus 19:11-18, where the same principle, “love your neighbor as yourself” sums up the other commands in the passage, just as Jesus said that the Golden Rule sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12 and Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus’ audience, well-versed in their scriptures, would have known that he was quoting from Leviticus, one of the “Five Books of Moses.” They would also have known that these books include Deuteronomy, which commands Israel to invade and enslave distant cities, and Exodus, which says that slaves are just “property” and may be beaten so severely that they can’t even get up for just shy of two days. Unless we are prepared to say that one book of the Pentateuch contradicts another, it’s hard to see how the Golden Rule in Leviticus overrides the slavery passages Deuteronomy and Exodus — at least not for Jesus’ audience.

For that matter, Leviticus itself grants Israel permission to buy foreign slaves. Would Jesus’ audience have thought Leviticus could contradict itself? Would Jesus? Would today’s Bible-believing Christians? I think not.

So, in the minds of Jesus’ audience, and possibly for Jesus himself, it would have been far from obvious that the Golden Rule outlawed slavery. In their minds, the two concepts had coexisted in the scriptures, presumably without contradiction, for centuries.

If Jesus had intended his statement of Leviticus 19:18 to override the slavery commands and regulations also found in the Five Books of Moses, surely he would have made that more obvious to an audience for whom those books were a central feature of spiritual life.

But in fact, Jesus’ explicit statements about the Hebrew scriptures were overwhelmingly supportive, as when he said, “…anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands [of the Law] and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

At a minimum, we can say that if Jesus meant the Golden Rule as a command to abolish slavery, then millions of slaves in the next 1800 years would wish he had made his intent far more obvious.

Jesus Was a Reformer, But Not with Slavery

Might Jesus have thought it was not yet the time to speak against slavery? Was he afraid of upsetting the social order and bringing persecution on his followers?

On the contrary, Jesus did not hesitate to turn society upside-down. Sometimes he did so literally, as when he upset the tables of the money-changers in the temple (John 2:13-17). At other times, he made radical demands such as giving away all one’s money (Matthew 19:16-24). He did not hesitate to speak boldly to those in power (Matthew 23:13-36). Nor was he afraid of persecution, calling it a blessing (Matthew 5:10-12).

Jesus did not hesitate to speak his mind, yet he never condemned slavery. Clearly he either thought it was just fine or he didn’t care much about it one way or the other. Maybe he just took it for granted.

I am tempted to leave it at that. Even Jesus might have been a man of his times to a certain extent. He was a moral revolutionary, but abolishing slavery didn’t quite make it into his manifesto. If you are a Bible-believing Christian, however, I think you are forced into a much darker position.

An Even Darker Take

According to John 10:30, Jesus and God the Father are one. John 1:1-3, with verse 14 says that Jesus was with God from the beginning. In John 5:19, Jesus says that he does whatever God the Father does. Someone who takes these verses as Gospel Truth must believe some disturbing things:

  • Jesus was present and nodding in approval when God gave the command to take 32,000 virgins as plunder in Numbers 31 (discussed in the last part of this post).
  • Jesus was present and gave a hearty “Amen” when God commanded Moses to enslave distant cities.
  • Jesus was present and gave his blessing for Moses’ soldiers to force their most beautiful captives into rape-marriages (discussed here).

No wonder he never spoke against slavery or its brutality in the New Testament. He had already encouraged it in the Old!

Eternally present and of one mind with his Father, he approved every genocide; every stoning of man, woman, child and animal; every burning-alive; every death sentence for a trivial offense; and, yes, every enslavement that God himself commanded. That may seem far-fetched. I don’t believe it myself. But I don’t see how a Bible-believer can deny it.

Next in this series: Are God’s ways higher than our ways?

[Postscript on December 9, 2012] In the year+ since I published this post, it has proven to be one of the most-read on my blog. I suspect many readers are interested in the topic of slavery and the Bible generally, and land here through a search engine because what’s uppermost in their minds is what Jesus said about it. Although he didn’t say much, the Bible says quite a lot — most of it disturbing. Evangelical apologists, in turn, offer many rationales. To get the lay of the land, I invite you to begin with the Introduction to this series. There, I summarize all the arguments I’ve heard and provide links to my responses.

49 responses to “What did Jesus Say About Slavery?

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  2. Educative although strong

  3. Thanks. Your comments are thought provoking, I do disagree with your interpretation of the bible. Thank you for the work you put into your website. I well be a follower of your site. Keep it up!

  4. A simple case of a misunderstanding of semantics. You have to understand that in the bible, primarily the new testament that the word “slavery” does not mean what it does to us today. People would indenture themselves when they could not provide for themselves or their families. It would be comparable to a hired worker of today. There was rarely a concept of a labor force such as corporations or small business’s hiring people to do work for them. In those times there were no mcdonalds or wal-marts etc. Much the same as the term angel. The original hebrew and greek texts used a word which meant messenger. So instead of a messenger of god we now today have the word angel. Hence labor force to slavery.

  5. What the Old testament says about what we call slavery today.
    Exodus 21:16 Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

  6. Pingback: Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 6: The God of the Bible | Path of the Beagle

  7. Pingback: Did God Intend to End Slavery by Changing People’s Hearts? | Path of the Beagle

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  9. You bring up some good points but you are still missing the mark. Our Lord didn’t come to change society’s injustices and our social defects. He came to bring lost souls into the kingdom of God. His kingdom was not of this world. Our Lord spoke to the heart and soul not to their social issues.

    • The world was already a fallen world beacuses of our sin and slavery along with all the other fallen social things we were doing. God couldn’t change that! All he could do is restore us in the the eternal life to come by accepting him as Lord and savior. It’s obvious you are not a believer or you would know these things.

      • I’m having a lot of trouble with these two posts. What I get from the first one is that this god, whom you seem to feel is worth worshiping, doesn’t give a damn about how people live or treat each other while they’re alive. That a slave-owner whipping a slave until the skin is stripped off his back is A-OK in this god’s eyes as long as the owner agrees to worship correctly. Your god speaks “to the heart and soul”, but never once tells the heart and soul to stop thinking that owning other people is perfectly acceptable?
        Then, in your second post you say that this god, that every other Christian is absolutely convinced is all-powerful, “couldn’t change” the social ills which were and still are rampant in the world. You said “couldn’t”, not “wouldn’t”, though both are horrible. The only thing you believe he’s capable of (and apparently the only thing he cares about) is soul-collecting.
        It’s very comforting to me that there is absolutely no evidence that your god, out of all the thousands of other gods mankind has made up over the centuries, actually exists. Because the one you describe in your posts, and which the Bible describes at great length, is an abomination. If you’re going to insist on praying, I think your best bet would be to pray that you’re wrong.

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  11. thanks this actually helped because I am doing a slave project at school :D

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  13. “There is a tendency to look at slavery as something of the past. But it is estimated that there are today over 12 million people in the world who are subject to slavery: forced labor, sex trade, inheritable property, etc. As those who have been redeemed from the slavery of sin, followers of Jesus Christ should be the foremost champions of ending human slavery in the world today. The question arises, though, why does the Bible not speak out strongly against slavery? Why does the Bible, in fact, seem to support the practice of human slavery?

    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 does not outlaw slavery altogether. Many see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery. What many 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 more 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.

    The slavery of the past few centuries was often based exclusively on skin color. In the United States, many black people were considered slaves because of their nationality; many slave owners truly believed black people to be inferior human beings. The Bible most definitely does condemn race-based slavery. Consider the slavery the Hebrews experienced when they were in Egypt. The Hebrews were slaves, not by choice, but because they were Hebrews (Exodus 13:14). The plagues God poured out on Egypt demonstrate how God feels about racial slavery (Exodus 7-11). So, yes, the Bible does condemn some forms of slavery. At the same time, the Bible does seem to allow for other forms. The key issue is that the slavery the Bible allowed for in no way resembled the racial slavery that plagued our world in the past few centuries.

    In addition, both the Old and New Testaments condemn the practice of “man-stealing” which is what happened in Africa in the 19th century. Africans were rounded up by slave-hunters, who sold them to slave-traders, who brought them to the New World to work on plantations and farms. This practice is abhorrent to God. In fact, the penalty for such a crime in the Mosaic Law was death: “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (Exodus 21:16). Similarly, in the New Testament, slave-traders are listed among those who are “ungodly and sinful” and are in the same category as those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, adulterers and perverts, and liars and perjurers (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

    Another crucial point is that the purpose of the Bible is to point the way to salvation, not to reform society. The Bible often approaches issues from the inside out. If a person experiences the love, mercy, and grace of God by receiving His salvation, God will reform his soul, changing the way he thinks and acts. A person who has experienced God’s gift of salvation and freedom from the slavery of sin, as God reforms his soul, will realize that enslaving another human being is wrong. A person who has truly experienced God’s grace will in turn be gracious towards others. That would be the Bible’s prescription for ending slavery.”


    • Thank you for that copy of the article from gotquestions.org, Shona. Unfortunately, it suffers from exactly the misconceptions that I have addressed in this series on slavery. Specifically:

      >> People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin.

      Because of the color of their skin? True. Because of their nationality? Absolutely false. In Leviticus 25:44-46, God makes a specific distinction between buying foreign slaves (OK) and enslaving other Israelites (not OK). This is to say nothing of God’s *command* to enslave foreign cities in Deuteronomy 20:10-15.

      The distinction based on nationality, then, was that one could and even should enslave members of other nations, but not fellow israelites (at least for the worst forms of slavery).

      >> In Bible times, slavery was more a matter of social status. … The key issue is that the slavery the Bible allowed for in no way resembled the racial slavery that plagued our world in the past few centuries.

      Aided by half-truths such as these, conservative Christians have failed to face up to what’s actually in the Bible. Please see my post, Was Biblical Slavery All That Bad? (http://pathofthebeagle.com/2011/09/14/was-biblical-slavery-all-that-bad-2/)

      >> In addition, both the Old and New Testaments condemn the practice of “man-stealing” which is what happened in Africa in the 19th century.

      Really? What should we call invading a distant city and, when it chose to fight back, killing all the men and taking the women and children as plunder? This is what God *commanded* in Deuteronomy 20. Again, please read my post, Was Biblical Slavery All That Bad?

      >> Another crucial point is that the purpose of the Bible is to point the way to salvation, not to reform society. … A person who has experienced God’s gift of salvation and freedom from the slavery of sin, as God reforms his soul, will realize that enslaving another human being is wrong.

      I have dealt with this, too, in my series on biblical slavery. Please read my post, Did God Intend to End Slavery by Changing People’s Hearts? (http://pathofthebeagle.com/2011/10/13/did-god-plan-to-end-slavery-by-changing-peoples-hearts/).

      Shona, I would be very interested in your thoughts upon reading the posts I have mentioned above. Do you agree that they rebut the points in the gotquestions.org article?

      • That is called war. It’s what happens when there is a low amount of food. They moved to Egypt, were inslaved, God freed them through Moses. They then had to fight for the land that was rightfully theirs. The promised land on Earth is a representation of heaven and the new earth. The battle represents the battle against sin. The Holy Bible uses history to teach lessons. If you read this you know why they had slaves. They were tricked into a peace treaty, so instead of breaking the treaty, they kept them as slaves.

    • After posting my first reply, I followed the link to your site and saw that you have posts about many of the scripture verses that bother me the most (Numbers 31, Deuteronomy 20 and 21, etc.). I would love to correspond with you about them after you’ve read my entire series on slavery. The introduction at http://pathofthebeagle.com/2011/09/10/invitation-to-a-dialog-on-biblical-slavery/ is a good starting point.

      You’re one of the few people I’ve ever “met” who even acknowledges these passages in the context of slavery, let alone attempts to deal with them. Would you please read my posts and leave comments? While I appreciate links to articles (or copies of them, as above), I would be most interested in your specific rebuttals to what I’ve said. Articles like the one above tend to make claims that I think I’ve adequately refuted. That’s why I’m interested in someone like you refuting my refutations — taking it to the next step.

  14. Andrew Curtis

    Holy shit, Beagle you must be smarter than God… or just maybe God allowed these awful things for reasons beyond our human understanding. God is eternal, remember, he sees an infinitely bigger picture than we ever could. As a committed Christian I have no trouble in believing that God allows all manner of evil to take place – dark for the body, light for the soul.

    • God allowed.. no, commanded these primitive practices to take place, they’re just beyond our understanding.. That’s it.

  15. For one thing, slavery in those days was just as “HORRIBLE” as being a maid. They would live in that person’s house, would be well cared for, and treated with respect. Jesus was saying that our lives on earth are nothing but tests, so if you were a slave you should be a good one. He becoming a man was his way of showing you that even as a poor carpenter, he wouldn’t sin. Another thing, is that the only valid Holy Bible in English is the KJV. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.(Revelation 22:18-19)

    • Sure if you could beat your maid and trade them. In fact even slavery in the OT wasn’t that great, women had no freedom and the master kept their children.

      BTW your quote is only talking about the book of Revelation.

  16. Actually I’ve read that verses like Colossian 4:1 and Galatians 3:28 actually implies fairness and opportunity of rights towards slaves. Slavery, while archaic, actually could work in theory but in reality it doesn’t. So I supposed these verses were to enforced behavior where slavery would be functional rather than abolishing it.

  17. Thank you sir for your article. You said “Jesus made a point of saying that he supported the Old Testament Law 100%, and nothing he taught should be interpreted as contradicting or negating the Old Testament.” But I have not seen this? Where is this in the Bible? Thanks

    • Gary, I was thinking of Matthew 5:17-19, where Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

      • Beagle, you claim in your article that this is a “problem” because “the Old Testament not only allowed but in some cases commanded slavery” and since Jesus “supported” the OT He therefore “supported” slavery. As you correctly re-worded your response taken from Matt 5, Jesus “fulfilled” the OT law which does not equate to Him “supporting” its application to society as it was applied in ancient Israel. Case in point, in Leviticus 20 God commanded the death penalty for adultery. This was part of the old Law, the old covenant with Israel. It is not part of the new covenant (New Testament). This is evidenced in John 8, when a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus by the religious leaders and they asked him what should be done with her. Per the old law, as in Leviticus 20, she should have been stoned. Jesus, knowing that all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God, stated “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” With this statement He effectively abrogated the OT punishment for adultery under the old law. Does this mean he condoned adultery? Absolutely not, as He commanded her to “go and sin (including adultery) no more.” In the same fashion, Jesus destroyed any idea of slavery being permissible to believers in commanding “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27).

        • @anonymous, in this comment and the other one you were kind enough to leave two minutes earlier, you seem to say that Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” constituted a clear prohibition against slavery. But the exact same command appears in Leviticus 19:18. In fact, it is the grand summation of a host of commands that start in verse 9. Yet Leviticus is part of the same “Five Books of Moses” as Deuteronomy and Exodus, in which we have the horrible commands and “regulations” I have written about in this series on slavery. Unless we are prepared to say that Leviticus contradicts Deuteronomy and Exodus, I don’t see how “love your neighbor as yourself” can be said to have canceled out slavery. Maybe it does for us in the 21st century, but evidently it did not for the authors of the Bible.

          As for my quotation from Matthew 5, I was not “re-wording” my response. The quotation included much more than the word “fulfilled.” The final sentence was, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” How could Jesus have been more clear in his endorsement of every last one of the OT commands? I am aware of the Christian teaching that the ceremonial laws no longer apply because Jesus fulfilled them (certainly true for ceremonies like Passover!), and I can accept that. However, wouldn’t you agree that he endorsed the moral law? And would you say laws on slavery are part of the ceremonial law, or the moral law?

          As you probably know, scholars dispute the authenticity of the story of the woman caught in adultery. Nevertheless, it is beloved and for good reason. In the story, Jesus did not technically abrogate the OT punishment. In fact, he invited it. But he did so in such an artful way that nobody dared to carry it out. You call this “effectively abrogating” the punishment, and I see your point, but what he did is a far cry from saying, “The OT Law no longer counts. I hereby abolish it.” Wouldn’t you agree?

          • Given His omniscience Jesus knew it was impossible for those present to accept His “invitation”/that they would not accept it. Regardless, He Himself could have carried out the stoning, being completely free of sin. He did not, therefore it is acceptable to state the He thereby effectively abrogated the punishment of the old covenant.

            I do not take issue with the authenticity of the story of the woman caught in adultery. But since you do, let’s look at a similar story whose authenticity is not questioned like John 7. We will look at John 4. Jesus acknowledges the adulterous relationship in John 4:18: “for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband..” Once again, despite the adultery, Jesus does not call for her stoning. He in effect demonstrates that certain OT practices are no longer applicable. This is not a “far cry” from stating “I hereby abolish [enter specific OT practice].”

            We are under a period of grace in which punishment for sin is withheld until the final judgment for those who reject Jesus. Based on the deeper revelation of the character/will of God (as revealed in Jesus), Jesus’ quoting of Leviticus 19:18 (love your neighbor as yourself) can be directly applied to the abolition of slavery. Ultimately we believe that NT writers who did indeed promote the abolition of slavery, influenced by the Holy Spirit, revealed God’s will in this regard.

          • This is very interesting. Jesus certainly had the spiritual authority (even if not the public office) to call for this woman’s stoning, and he did not. Did this mean that he thought stoning was an unjust punishment? Or that he wanted to “stay on-message” as we would say today, and not be a policeman? Or that he thought that modeling grace and encouraging humility were more important in these particular situations than going for the jugular? Or, as you suggest, that we are in a new “period of grace in which punishment for sin is withheld until the final judgment”? It’s not clear to me from the text, but I do understand why you interpret it the way you do.

  18. I thought that first part of the verse when he says I have come to “fulfill” them was referring to him living a life without sin. And when Jesus was on the cross he said “it is finished” which carries the connotation that he was perfectly obedient to God and had fulfilled the law. I thought “until everything is accomplished” was referring to quite the accomplishment to actually live a life without breaking any of these laws and also taking on the sin of others. I thought the last part of the verse was referring to him telling his disciples not to teach against the law until everything is accomplished. To me it sounds like a timeline, in which after earth and heavens disappear people are judged by God based on an old covenant (mosaic law) and after the accomplishment (sinless life + crucifixion/payment for others sins) people are judged by a new covenant Jesus made with mankind. I guess one question is when he says “therefore anyone” is he referring to any person say alive today or is “anyone” referring to the people he is addressing (his disciples or people alive concurrently with Jesus). I would tend to think he’s referring to people alive before his crucifixion because he specifically says “until everything is accomplished”. Until heaven and earth disappear would seem to indicated you must obey the mosaic law until the universe fizzles out. But I actually think this is referring to a well known Jewish belief that after you die, your life will be reviewed (rights and wrongs sin etc) after the the world ends, not at the time of death.
    (John 11:23-24 references this in regard to Lazarus. -> Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”). But the concept is referenced in many other areas of the Bible (Sadduces vs. Pharisees beliefs) This is all certainly open to interpretation though and thank you for your very thoughtful web page. Taking the bible as a whole though and in the context above, I would think Jesus does not expect us to be judged under the mosaic law else what was his purpose even have been? I definitely see your point though and it is very thought provoking.

  19. In response to your statement “Jesus did not hesitate to speak his mind, yet he never condemned slavery. Clearly he either thought it was just fine or he didn’t care much about it one way or the other.” This is faulty logic. You could also say that Jesus nowhere in the New Testament ever directly condemned bestiality or pedophilia either but that certainly does not mean he thought such practices were “just fine or he didn’t care much about it.” Ultimately, His statement, that you casually brush off in one of your responses, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” inherently discourages slavery of any kind. Seeing that the word “shall” turns this statement into a command, it could be argued that Jesus clearly forbids slavery of any kind. As another responder already mentioned, in a letter to Timothy, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, clearly equates those who hold slaves with murderers and others who live “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10).

    • @anonymous, your raise a good point about Jesus never condemning bestiality or pedophilia, either. Pedophilia was even widely practiced among wealthy Romans (bestiality, AFAIK, was not.), so I agree that we should ask why Jesus didn’t mention it. Perhaps it was because he came primarily to preach to the Jews (Matthew 15:24), who did not have pedophilia as part of their culture, let alone in their sacred scripture. Slavery, on the other hand, figured prominently enough in the culture of Jesus’ audiences that he used slavery metaphors frequently in his parables, and it WAS part of Jewish scripture. So, I remain surprised/troubled that he did not mention slavery, but it’s easier to see why pedophilia was not on his agenda.

      Most scholars do not accept a Pauline authorship for 1 Timothy. (Have you read any of their works to learn why? I have, and their arguments are more convincing than I was led to believe when I was in the church.) In any case, you and I can certainly agree that Jesus did not write 1 Timothy, so, as refreshing at the author’s statement is, it does not enlighten us as to why Jesus was silent on the subject.

      • “Most scholars do not accept a Pauline authorship for 1 Timothy. (Have you read any of their works to learn why….” BLUF: The pastoral letters state that they are written by Paul and we have no sound reason to believe otherwise. The “most scholars” comment has its origins in Collins’ book “1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary” and I disagree agree with his assessment for the reasons listed below. I would accept the following statement: “most skeptic New Testament scholars…”

        The main arguments against the authenticity of the Pastorals are, as you are aware, 1) the difference between the language/style 2) characteristics of ecclesiology/theology and 3) “irreconcilable” differences between the situation in the Pastorals and the known chronology of Paul (in Acts). In my opinion, these literary speculations carry little force…but they are very useful for seeding people’s minds with needless doubts.

        1) Whether Paul or someone else, scholars have acknowledged that all three Pastoral letters (1Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) come from the same author due to the same style and vocabulary. Those who disagree with Pauline authorship point to the extent of the number of words not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters and the number of words in the Pastorals not found elsewhere in the New Testament. But such a mechanical view of the Pastorals cannot be accepted, just like it cannot be accepted for any written work as can be seen from other examples. For example, authors have long known that Cicero’s works have divergent styles. Even my own writing style varies depending on, what, why and to whom.

        2) In regards to the differences in theology and ecclesiology characteristics, Paul is writing not to a community like he does in the rest of his letters (except for the brief Philemon), but to a friend with the subject matter of ecclesiastical matters and how to handle correct doctrine and the clergy. Of course he would not necessarily foot-stomp the role of the congregation in the church. Furthermore, the theology overall does not present a great divergence from Paul. The main Pauline concepts are there: salvation through Christ (1 Tim. 1:15-16), revelation of the grace of God through Christ’s appearance (2 Tim. 1:9-10), justification by faith (Titus 3:5), faith as the way to eternal life (1 Tim. 1:16).

        3.) Chronological issue: Critics charge that the book of Acts does not mention the situation where Paul goes to Macedonia and leaves Timothy at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). With the belief that the chronological references of 1 Timothy do not correspond with the book of Acts, critics have assumed that 1 & 2 Timothy were written by a later author. This contention is eroded when evaluating the epistle 2 Corinthians, which is undisputedly a letter from Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul mentions his experience of frequent imprisonments, 5 whippings, 3 beatings with a rod, 1 stoning, and 3 shipwrecks. None of these events are mentioned in the book of Acts.

        Obviously much more could be said about these issues, especially on the topic of chronology, but much has already been written. Plus, I am not writing a book here.

        On second thought, I too agree that my use of pedophilia was a poor example. Bestiality, which you did not really address, was also a poor example since it was already condemned in the OT. A better example can be drawn from the ritual of animal sacrifice. The OT condones it, even requires it, but it is condemned in the Christian worldview despite Jesus being silent on the issue (the parallels with slavery are clear). Animal sacrifices were only properly offered to God before the death of Jesus on the cross. Once His blood was shed, it was offered before God, opening the way to heaven for all who believe (Heb. 9:11-12; 10:19-20). In all four gospels there is no outright rejection of sacrifice to be found. Scholars have sometimes pointed to Jesus’ violent actions in the Temple (Matt 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17; Luke. 19:45–46) as an example of his rejection of the Temple rituals, but such an interpretation is far from clear. The scene depicts Jesus objecting to buying and selling in the Temple, but he makes no objection to the rituals themselves. The observation that buying, selling, and changing money were necessary to the operation of the Temple does not change the fact that the scenes do not include any explicit rejection of the Temple sacrifices themselves.

        Per your logic, Jesus’ silence in regards to animal sacrifice would mean that He either thought it was fine or did not care about it. However Christians reject this because, despite the lack of open condemnation, we have Matt 26:28 (this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins) and John 3:36 (He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him). Not even considering the rest of the NT, from Jesus’ words alone we understand animal sacrifice, while once condoned, is now outside of the will of God. The same can be said about slavery. By the way, I will insist chattel slavery did not exist under the Law of Moses. There was no form of servitude under the Law of Moses which placed them in the legal position of chattel slaves (while I will insist on this, I will not debate it here because the following site provides a much more in-depth scholarly explanation than I willing to give: https://bibleapologetics.wordpress.com/slavery-in-the-bible-25/#vassal).

        Again, the lack of direct/open condemnation does not equate to condoning/acceptance/approval/etc. Based on the deeper revelation of the character/will of God (as revealed in Jesus), Jesus’ quoting of Leviticus 19:18 (love your neighbor as yourself) can be directly applied to the abolition of slavery. Ultimately we believe that NT writers who did indeed promote the abolition of slavery, influenced by the Holy Spirit, revealed God’s will in this regard.

        I am interested on reading your take on the lack of condemnation of animal sacrifice. I am more interested in you repenting of your sin and clinging to Jesus as the propitiation for your sin. You claim that for 40 years, starting at the age of 11 you had a “relationship” with Christ (on your page “Why I became a Christian”). I would argue that if you had a relationship (had you truly known Jesus) you are now rejecting the One you know to be true. Otherwise I would argue that you were never truly a Christian. You claim that the most important reason you left Christianity was the moral bankruptcy of the Bible. I would argue that true morality cannot exist without God. One clump of cells cannot decide for another clump of cells what is right and wrong (your worldview, not mine). In other words “if the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our thought processes are mere accidents—the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the materialists’ and astronomers’ as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts—i.e., of Materialism and Evolution—are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give a correct account of all the other accidents” (CS Lewis). I will not discuss morality further on this site as William Lane Craig and Sam Harris among others have debated this in detail and their debates can be found on youtube. To address your questions about evolution I can refer you to http://creation.com/15-questions. Also, look into articles/ videos by the renowned geneticist John Sanford (inventor of the gene gun and the modeling program Mendel’s Accountant; former atheist; did not fully reject Darwinian evolution until the year 2000; now advocates intelligent design and creationism).

        Hope to see you in heaven and worship our good and faithful God together.

        • >> I am interested on reading your take on the lack of condemnation of animal sacrifice.

          My take is that Jesus was perfectly OK with it. Why wouldn’t he have been? It was part-and-parcel of the Jewish religion, and today’s vegan and animal-rights movements had not yet taken place. Plus, if Jesus saw himself as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin (open to debate, but let’s say he did), he would have regarded animal sacrifice as prefiguring his own sacrifice. When I was in the faith, I thought that was quite glorious, and I can believe he did, too.

          >> I would argue that true morality cannot exist without God. … I will not discuss morality further on this site…

          If you don’t want to argue about morality existing apart from God, I’ll only invite you to read the many, many posts on this site on exactly that topic.

          I sense that our conversation would start to go in circles if I were to respond to the other points you raised, so I will end by thanking you for taking the time to leave such thoughtful, lengthy comments. You have helped me to sharpen my thinking on Jesus and slavery. In the next few days, I will revise the post to bring in the Leviticus 19:18 argument, which I think is worthy although you disagree. In the post, I’ll also direct readers to your comments, so they can consider your counter-arguments.

        • I read your comment and my main problem is your statement that there is “no true morality without God”. Even culters that practiced Christian beliefs had different morals then each other. So saying that God sets our morals is basicly saying that God’s morals change from person to person. I personally believe that Jesus was real and that he was a philosopher and teacher, but I also think that Christianity has a cult like structure, its basically “love me and beg me to be nice or I’m going to burn you forever” which doesn’t seem like something a loving God would do. I mean a eternity of pain and suffering because you wanted proof of something that is supposed to have unlimited time and power, seems like an unfair punishment especially with no way to redeem yourself after you die. Its like “Oh you believe that the universe was created by what science shows you is the most logical explanation? FUCK YOU! NOW BURN!” Does that really seem like benevolent God to you? Is that the moral guide humans should follow? And one last question that I never really found an intelligent answer to, who or what created God? I asked my pastor this question when I was in confirmation class and I’ll never forget it because it a big reason I left religion after getting confirmed. He said “We did. We create God by our faith in him.” And I find that to be a pretty strange answer considering that that would mean that the whole Bible is either 1; a book to teach kids morals 2; a book by people who worshiped a guy who was a savant 3; an exaggeration of stuff that happened. Its not that I don’t want to believe in God, its just the fact that science is something that can be objectively observed, were as all we have for God is a 2,000 year old book that has other books that aren’t in it because the rulers of the church said what was right and wrong. There is a Christian scroll saying that Jesus asked Judas to be the one to turn him in because he trusted Judas the most. All these things are just a small pile of things that put big holes in the religion in general. I am happy that you seem like a fairly rational person and aren’t just “You’re wrong because Jesus!” I enjoyed reading your veiws on this subject even if I don’t totally agree and don’t take any I said as an attack I realize that I come off aggressive at times but know that it’s nothing personal or anything, its just how I am used to talking on these types of topics, most times it devolves into to get a straight answer Slinky. So I hope you don’t take personal offence to my ramblings and questions. And if you have links to something that answers some of these questions I’d be happy to check them out. Thanks for your time

  20. Slavery no doubt is a difficult subject. Wish it were not so. But one thing that has significantly helped me understand this better, not fully, but better, is what Dr. John Piper has to say about the OT Jewish theodicy and slavery. He has a post entitled “Why did God permit slavery?” here: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-did-god-permit-slavery

    • Thank you for the link to Dr. Piper’s post, tjguy. I can understand why it would assure a Christian that there are answers out there even if they are not all in hand yet. However, from my perspective, Dr. Piper sidesteps a few critical points. Having done so, what he says is so well-put that the believer is lulled into an unwarranted complacency on the this subject. Specifically:

      1) He contrasts God’s theocratic reign with the governments of men that followed, saying that genocide and slavery were OK under theocracy, even if not under later governments. Why? Because “In the context of a theocracy [the Canaanite genocide] was legitimate and right for God to do, even though the people themselves may have been sinful in the execution. And it was similar with things like slavery, God saying, in essence, ‘You’re my people. Those people I have a right to judge. You may own them,’ and so on.” In other words, God’s theocracy has a right to enslave, as a form of judgment, but kingdoms not ruled by God have no such right.

      There are three problems with this.

      First, Romans 13, obviously written well after the theocratic days, and in fact when the governing authority was not even Judeo/Christian, says, “[The governing authorities] are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” The plain meaning of Romans 13 refutes Dr. Piper’s comforting assertion that the slavery passages can’t apply anymore because Jehovah no longer governs through a theocracy. Romans 13 says that God continues to judge through Earthly governments.

      Second, wouldn’t we expect God’s direct government to be better than any other? Shouldn’t we all wish for the good old days when God governed people directly? Indeed, doesn’t 1 Samuel 8 warn that this would be the case? If so, then we should wish for God’s permission and command to enslave wayward nations. …unless we are willing to admit that this was wrong, even in the theocracy.

      Finally, my biggest problem is the self-serving nature of this Hebrew Exceptionalism. Isn’t it the least bit suspicious that “God’s judgment” involved things like distributing 32,000 virgins as “plunder” in Numbers 31, with half going to the soldiers who served under the very man (Moses) who had supposedly received the command, and one in fifty going to the priesthood Moses had established? (The accounting was slightly more involved, but you get the idea.) President George W. Bush famously said that God told him to invade Iraq. That’s questionable enough, but can you imagine how outraged we would all have been if Bush had taken the Iraqi Republican Guard as slaves for his generals, and distributed their virgin daughters as plunder to his loyalists — all under the banner of American Exceptionalism, and because God told him to do it? If this is unthinkable for a born-again president operating under God’s command, why should it not be unthinkable for Moses?

      2) Dr. Piper asserts that Paul’s admonition to Philemon initiates a “kind of spiritual dynamic that is intended to explode the system” of slavery. IMHO, this is too optimistic. I agree that a slave whose master rules by love instead of threats will be a happier slave, and for this Paul is to be applauded. However, making slaves happier is not the same as “intending to explode the system.” In fact, Dr. Piper’s very next paragraph gives the lie to this notion when he says that this new policy for masters “transforms slavery into employment.” If it’s now no different from employment, why should it be abolished?

  21. Logic is not one of your strong suits, is it? You tirade about slavery is full of holes, fallacies, and bad conclusions. You begin almost every paragraph with a hasty assumption. It’s an old trick in debate competition. If you don’t know what you are talking about, don’t speak. I’m sorry, where did Jesus speak in the Old Testament?

    • >> I’m Sorry, where did Jesus speak in the Old Testament?

      I assume you’re referring to the final section of this post, An Even Darker Take. Perhaps you are not an evangelical Christian and that is why the logic of this section didn’t connect with you. Evangelicals believe the things I said in the first paragraph of that section: that Jesus and God the Father are of one essence, co-existent from eternity past as two Persons in the Trinity. The thoughts, actions and commands of the one are the thoughts, actions and commands of the other. The exception is that while on Earth, Jesus laid aside some of the powers and knowledge he had had in heaven (Philippians 2:6-7). But in Old Testament times, Jesus was still “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6) and had not yet “emptied himself” (2:7). He was completely one with God the Father. Whatever the Father did, the Son was part and parcel of, at least according to evangelicals. That’s why I said that Jesus “was present and nodding in approval”, “gave a hearty ‘Amen'” and “gave his blessing” for the acts of God in the Old Testament.

      >> Your tirade about slavery is full of holes, fallacies, and bad conclusions. You begin almost every paragraph with a hasty assumption.

      This series on slavery has been on my blog since 2011 and so far nobody has been able to point out any fallacies. I even invited several professional apologists to comment and none of them had any rebuttals for the record. If you will point out the alleged holes, fallacies and bad conclusions, I will publicly retract the relevant posts. This series on slavery is by far the most regularly visited on this blog, so you have the chance to influence many people. I only ask that you read all the posts in this series before asserting that I have neglected an aspect of the topic.

      >> Logic is not one of your strong suits, is it?

      Actually it is. As a professional software developer, and a damn good one, I work with logic all day long. I can assure you that a computer doesn’t let anyone get away with “holes, fallacies, and bad conclusions” so I have lots of practice learning to be rigorous!

  22. What an excellent piece.

    It’s wonderful and heartwarming to read how red-faced and hot under the collar the god-believers get when this subject is raised.
    They always seem to behave like puppies sitting next to a dark patch on the carpet.

    Let’s face it, the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth, was simply a plot device and as so many articles point out, a poor one at that.
    Thus, there was little need to enter into minutiae as such details were not what Jesus of Nazareth was ”here” for.

    And for those that believe this literary construct to have been a real historical figure, miracles and all, then he was nothing but a self-centered ego-driven little tit.

  23. The most important point of this discussion on slavery is that Jesus called for harmony between slave and master….(pray for them which despitefully use you) ….Life which is so short as to be almost irrelevant must be addressed on those terms…We are all called upon to serve our Master and to love our Master and to perform such that our earthly masters will love and respect us for we know from the start our Heavenly Master loves us. Also we know it is our duty to help with the conversion of our earthly

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