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Does The Bible Talk About Slavery

As Christians We Are Slaves To Christ And We Proclaim That With Joy

The Curse of Ham and Biblical Justifications for Slavery — Jemar Tisby

19. Romans 1:1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.

20. Ephesians 6:6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.

21. 1 Peter 2:16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil live as Gods slaves.

Slavery Or Indentured Servitude

Although God liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, slavery is not universally prohibited in the Bible. Slavery was permissible in certain situations, so long as slaves were regarded as full members of the community , received the same rest periods and holidays as non-slaves , and were treated humanely . Most importantly, slavery among Hebrews was not intended as a permanent condition, but a voluntary, temporary refuge for people suffering what would otherwise be desperate poverty. When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt . Cruelty on the part of the owner resulted in immediate freedom for the slave . This made male Hebrew slavery more like a kind of long-term labor contract among individuals, and less like the kind of permanent exploitation that has characterized slavery in modern times.

In addition, an obvious loophole is that a girl or woman could be bought as a wife for a male slave, rather than for the slave owner or a son, and this resulted in permanent enslavement to the owner , even when the husbands term of enslavement ended. The woman became a permanent slave to an owner who did not become her husband and who owed her none of the protections due a wife.

Slavery In Old Testament Period

In Old Testament times among pagan nations as well as among the Jews, there were many ways that a person became a slave:

  • The most common were those people enslaved as the result of war. The losers often ended up as slaves of the winners .
  • Some were sold into slavery by their family or nation .
  • Many were born into slavery .
  • At times, a person became a slave in order to make restitution for a crime. There were no formal prisons so slavery was a form of punishment often used .
  • Slavery was also the result when someone defaulted on debts .
  • There was also self-sale into slavery in order to escape poverty and destitution .
  • Kidnapping and piracy were criminal forms of slavery but not permitted among Jews .
  • When discussing slavery in the Old Testament, therefore, one must differentiate between how it was practiced among pagans and Jews. Among pagans, like the Greeks or the Romans, slavery was commerce. Slaves in ancient times were not considered human, being property to be bought and sold.

    Slavery existed among the Jews but was tempered and regulated by law. For example:

    A. A Jew could not hold another Jew in permanent slavery because of debt or self-sale. A Jewish slave had to be released at the year of Jubilee and have his property restored to him. Every six years, there was what was called a sabbatical year where the Jews gave their land rest, no farming was permitted .

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    Why Doesnt Scripture Say More

    So I dont think the explanation of the New Testaments silence based on ancient slaverys relative moderation is persuasive. The lack of comment of Scripture on the evil of slavery itself may not become fully explicable to us in this life. It is hardly a cop-out to remind ourselves of the Lords caution to his people in Isaiah 55:8: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. Yet there remain some caveats that can somewhat mitigate our perplexity on the matter. One is that the Scripture does attack certain essential aspects of slavery as practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. Second is that at the time of the New Testament letters, Christians could hardly imagine changing the laws of society at large, since they were a small and often-persecuted sect that many outsiders regarded as a bizarre cult. Few could have imagined a post-Constantinian order in which Christian morality became the law of the land.

    The Old and New Testaments do forbid practices that stood at the heart of the institution of slavery.

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    Does The Bible Advocate Slavery

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    If the Bible is about Gods love for humanity, how can it advocate slavery?

    Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you from them you may buy slaves.You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life. Leviticus 25:44-46a

    Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them. Titus 2:9-10a

    Lets be honestthese verses from the Bible can really rub us the wrong way. Everyone knows that quotes can be taken out of context. Understanding the historical and cultural contexts of statements clarifies their meanings. But however you cut it, these verses and many others seem to suggest that the Bible is fine with slaveryand maybe even supports the practice.

    Then why do Christians condemn slavery today? Indeed, many people of faith have dedicated their lives to ending slavery.1 Have such do-gooders misread the Bible? Have they turned a blind eye to passages that blatantly endorse one of the worst forms of human oppression?

    So lets tackle the issue head-on: Does the Bible advocate slavery?

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    Does Exodus 21 Treat Slaves As Chattels

    Exodus 21:18-27 contains laws on how to treat slaves. Verses 18-19 deal with guidance in cases of injury. Verses 26-27 give the consequences of injuring slaves. Verse 21 seems to suggest that the slave is a possession: “for the slave is his money” . This does not indicate that the master owns the slave and can do what he likes, as the rest of the Old Testament shows that that is clearly not the case, but the “for” indicates the reason that the slave is not to be avenged: it is because the slave is the master’s “money” . In other words, because the master benefits from the slave being alive, it is to be presumed that when he struck the slave, he did not intend to kill the slave. The consequences of striking and injuring a slave are given in verses 26-27.

    The Essence Of The Old Testament Institution

    In the patriarchal system, the work in someone’s household was carried out by herdsmen and domestic servants, but if Abraham had had no offspring one of his servants would inherit all he had . Servants were trusted with money and weapons. There is no approval for selling people, although Abraham ‘acquired’ people for silver.

    The following table shows a comparison of slave systems.

    Conditions of slaves in different systems

    Yes Yes

    Deuteronomy 23:15-16 forbids returning a runaway slave to his master. This contrasts to former slavery laws in America or even in the ancient lawcode of the Babylonian king Hammurabi .

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    Slavery In The New Testament

    We have to be careful, however, in the way we see the slavery of that time.

    • Although morally wrong, the slavery of the Roman Empire was not the same as the slavery of the 18th-19th century slave trade that took place in the U.S.
    • In the U.S., slavery was a strong economic factor for the Southern states at that time. Slaves were not considered fully human, and were bought and sold as property with no rights or chance for freedom.
    • In the first century, there was relative peace and so there were few slaves from war or kidnapping.
    • Most were domestic slaves or those who had become slaves through indebtedness.
    • Slaves were not the basis of the economy but were contributors to it.
    • At that time, owning slaves was a mark of prestige and wealth.
    • Slaves learned trades and worked side by side with them sharing in the prosperity.
    • There was a hierarchy of slaves according to experience, training, etc. and some were responsible for managing others, even running their own businesses under their master’s patronage.

    In the Roman Empire, there was a movement towards granting more slaves their freedom . Paul the Apostle said he was born a “free man.” This was a gift that Rome had bestowed on the province of Cilicia and the major city of Tarsus by Pompeii in 64 BC, probably for the cooperation of the people with the government.

    A Brief History Of Slavery

    Unholy: The Slaves’ Bible

    It is important to note that neither slavery in New Testament times nor slaveryunder the Mosaic Covenant have anything to do with the sort of slavery whereblack people were bought and sold as property by white people in the well-knownslave trade of the last few centuries. No white Christian should think thathe or she could use any slightly positive comment about slavery in this chapterto justify the historic slave trade, which is still a major stain on the historiesof both the United States and the UK.

    The United States and the UK were not the only countries in history to delve into harsh slavery and so be stained.

  • The Code of Hammurabi discussed slavery soon after 2242 BC .
  • Hams son Mizraim founded Egypt . Egypt was the first well-documented nation in the Bible to have harsh slavery, which was imposed on Joseph, the son of Israel, in 1728 BC . Later, the Egyptians were slave masters to the rest of the Israelites until Moses, by the hand of God, freed them.
  • The Israelites were again enslaved by Assyrian and Babylonian captors about 1,000 years later.
  • Black Moors enslaved whites during their conquering of Spain and Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century AD for over 400 years. The Moors even took slaves as far north as Scandinavia. The Moorish and Middle Eastern slave market was quite extensive.
  • Norse raiders of Scandinavia enslaved other European peoples and took them back as property beginning in the eighth century AD.
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    Repression And The Bible

    The later repression and discrimination against the freed Black slaves received as much biblical and Christian support as the earlier institution of slavery itself. This discrimination and the enslavement of Blacks only was made on the basis of what has become known as the “sin of Ham” or “the curse of Canaan.” Some said Blacks were inferior because they bore the “.”

    In Genesis, chapter nine, Noah’s son Ham comes upon him sleeping off a drinking binge and sees his father naked. Instead of covering him, he runs and tells his brothers. Shem and Japheth, the good brothers, return and cover their father. In retaliation for Ham’s sinful act of seeing his father nude, Noah puts a curse on his grandson Canaan:

    Cursed be Canaan lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers

    Over time, this curse came to be interpreted that Ham was literally “burnt,” and that all his descendants had Black skin, marking them as slaves with a convenient color-coded label for subservience. Modern biblical scholars note that the ancient Hebrew word “ham” does not translate as “burnt” or “Black.” Further complicating matters is the position of some Afrocentrists that Ham was indeed Black, as were many other characters in the Bible.

    Just as Christians in the past used the Bible to support slavery and racism, Christians continued to defend their views using biblical passages. As recently as the 1950s and ’60’s, Christians vehemently opposed desegregation or “race-mixing” for religious reasons.

    Christian Quotes About Slavery

    Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. Abraham Lincoln

    All that we call human historymoney, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. C.S. Lewis

    I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery. George Washington

    To be a Christian is to be a slave of Christ. John MacArthur

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    Slavery In The Roman Empire Was A Unique Institution

    Slavery in the Roman Empire was not regulated by the OT provisions. Slaves made up anywhere between one-third to one-half of the Roman Empires population. People became slaves by military conquest, indebtedness, and birth. The owner had the right to use a slave as they saw fit, including the right to punish slaves severely. Many slaves performed manual labor. Yet others attained wealth and social status.

    In contrast to the slavery of West Africans in the Americas, slaves in the Roman world had legal rights. They could own property and save money. They could lodge legal complaints about mistreatment. Slaves often had more social mobility than the free poor, and people often became slaves voluntarily to increase their chances of a better life. Setting slaves free was widespread, frequent, and often expected. Freedom was not always an advantage and slavery was not always a negative experience.

    Translation Of The Term ‘slave’

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    Need to know one Hebrew word: ebed . It is commonly translated ‘slave’.

    The King James Version of the Bible had two occurrences of the word slave: once in each Testament. The New King James Version in the twentieth century had 46 occurences. There has been a general increase over time in the use of the word ‘slave’ in translations of the Bible into various languages.

    ebed is translated as ‘slave’ in some cases and ‘servant’ in others. Leviticus 25:42 in the English RSV translation has slave once and servant once, but both translate the same word ebed.

    ‘Servant’ and ‘slave’ used to overlap much more in meaning, but now have different meanings. Servants are no longer seen as slaves.

    The meaning of the word ebed is not inherently negative, but relates to work. The word identifies someone as dependent on someone else with whom they stand in some sort of relation. Being an ebed could be a position of honour. Everyone is a servant / slave of someone else.

    The majority meaning of ebed is ‘servant’, but can also be translated ‘slave’. It is not an inherently negative term, and is related to work. The term shows the person is subservient to another. All subjects of Israel are servants of the king. The king himself is a servant of their God. So in the time of the Old Testament, no-one is free everyone is subservient to, an ebed of, someone else.

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    Deuteronomy: A More Humane Version

    Compare this so the parallel text in Deuteronomy:

    If a fellow Hebrew, man or woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, do not let him go empty-handed: Furnish him out of the flock, threshing floor, and vat, with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Bear in mind that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you therefore I enjoin this commandment upon you today.

    But should he say to you, I do not want to leave you for he loves you and your household and is happy with youyou shall take an awl and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall become your slave in perpetuity. When you do set him free, do not feel aggrieved for in the six years he has given you double the service of a hired man. Moreover, the LORD and your God will bless you in all you do.

    The later, Deuteronomic text is more humane than that of Exodus this is moral progress. I would now like to take this discussion a step farther. To the texts concerning slavery in Exodus and Deuteronomy, I will now add the laws of manumission in Leviticus 25:39-55.

    Paul’s Teaching On Slavery

    We are in the last chapter of Paul’s first letter to Timothy containing teaching and specific instructions covering a wide range of topics:

    • Initial instruction to guard good doctrine and maintain his ministry
    • Teaching on the roles of men and women in public worship assemblies
    • Profiles of the type of men to serve as elders and deacons and the qualities that the wives of these men should possess
    • Warning about apostasy
    • Guidelines for a minister’s work and conduct
    • Instructions on how to conduct a benevolence program for widows in the church
    • Teaching on the church’s proper attitude towards elders and the manner of correcting them when necessary

    The final chapter will continue to deal with various church issues that may have previously been raised by Timothy or that Paul was in some way aware of, having spent several years in that church himself.

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    Ancient Judaism Had A Brutal History With Slavery

    The most important thing to remember about slavery during Biblical times is that everyone who was either a Jew or appreciated that Jesus came from the Jews appreciated the fact that ancient Jewish history made it impossible to embrace captive slavery. They completely, thoroughly hated it, they despised it fiercely. Think about how many times Gods people were subjected to captive slavery. They spent centuries of hellish captivity in Egypt before God sent Moses to finally lead them out of Egypt.

    This event was not their only bout with being in captivity. Much of the violence in the Old Testament was that of ancient Israel defending itself against people who kept trying to seize them and bring them into captivity while taking over their land. So why would Jews, especially those who loved the story of Moses, ever want to become slave owners when they had such a nasty, bitter taste in their mouths about the despicable action of slave ownership?

    Yet, Old Testament history also had stories of triumph through these times of slavery. Joseph, who was bullied by his brothers and thrown in a pit to die was captured by slavers and, by Gods grace, grew through the ranks of the slave workforce and eventually became one of the highest officers of his masters domain. He ultimately had the power to retaliate against his family, but instead he blessed them all. All this happened without giving any credit to slave ownership, but rather it happened in spite of it.


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