Invitation to a Dialog on Biblical Slavery

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!]

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?

21 responses to “Invitation to a Dialog on Biblical Slavery

  1. it makes me think of Proverbs 22:7 (The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender)… Was that a warning for the 99% or instructions for the 1%? – just venting. Maybe Mark 8:36 answers my question. Nice article. Well thought out. Thanks for posting it.

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  5. nonstampcollector

    Thanks very much for this and for pointing me towards it. I’ll be mentioning this in the footnotes of the video I put,… hopefully next week.

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  9. My response to when God ordained slavery is “he is God, he can do whatever he wants”.

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  11. Wonderful post! We wil be linking tto thnis particularly great article on ouur website.
    Keep up thee geat writing.

  12. Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and then tell us your opinion.

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  15. Pingback: Bible Slavery: TOTALLY DIFFERENT - |

  16. I was born and raised in a C.O.G.I.C family and we were taught never question God, but as I got older I really began to have questions about our faith and I think it but I’m scared I will be punished if I acted on it, I think it’s safe to say im very confused. And just after knowing how badly slaves were treated why would white Christian slave masters give us religion as a better way of life(?) why? And why does the bible tell us?….Slaves obey your masters(?) and it tells us not to worship anyone or anything but masters made our ancestors to worship them. I really just wish I could be certain what was taught to me and my ancestors is real bible past from God, this scares me because I don’t want to be punished for something I’m innocently confused about or who to pray to or what faith/God is correct. Please someone help I have 3 Children I would like to teach the truth, NOT to hate but truth.

    • Ebony, I’m so sorry that you are faced with this fear of being punished. What punishment do you fear? Is it hell or something that would take place in this life? If it’s hell, then think about whether it makes any sense at all for a just God to mete out infinite punishment for a sin that takes place in the relative blink of an eye that this life is. If it’s something in this life, then ask yourself whether it might be a sin to believe a falsehood because you’re too paralyzed by fear to seek the truth. I’m thinking here of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). You’ll recall that the servant who said to his master, “I knew you were a hard man…so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” was the one who was punished. The ones who took a risk and invested the money entrusted to them were rewarded. By letting fear rule you and failing to honestly seek answers to your questions, you may be acting like the servant who hid his money in the ground. Be bold! If God exists, and you are truly honest in your search, surely he will not punish you.

  17. StandardDeviation

    Great series of thought provoking posts. Whether one believes in or follows your logic, if they reflect honestly on what you’ve written, it should be useful in their own spiritual journeys.

    To me, the questions of slavery and other moral concerns in the Bible have repeatedly caused me to question my faith. Indeed, at this point I’m left with believing the Bible is not inerrant. That is a difficult place to be. If it has errors, which part are errors and which parts are not? Which experts get to decide? If it has errors, how involved was God in its actual authoring?

    The most comfortable answer I’ve been able to come up with is this: If there are errors, the errors are human errors. In Gods infinite wisdom, he placed in humanity the capacity for spiritual evolution over time so that our trajectory is ultimately toward God. This trajectory has allowed a great many people (and I believe one day all people) over time to recognize that things like slavery, rape, domestic violence etc. are never okay not because the Bible tells us so, but rather, despite the errors that humans have imprinted into the Bible.

  18. Odd how you reach every intelligent and humane conclusion I would, while ignoring the most obvious, that the Bible offers no moral guidance whatsoever. You amply demonstrate the fact yet cannot accept it. Why are you not happy that your conscience alone is telling you what to do?

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