The Bible And Slavery
The Bible contains many references to slavery, which was a common practice in antiquity. Biblical texts outline sources and legal status of slaves, economic roles of slavery, types of slavery, and debt slavery, which thoroughly explain the institution of slavery in Israel in antiquity. The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves, especially in the Old Testament. There are also references to slavery in the New Testament.
Many of the patriarchs portrayed in the Bible were from the upper echelons of society and the owners of slaves and enslaved those in debt to them, bought their fellow citizens’ daughters as concubines, and perpetually enslaved foreign men to work on their fields. Masters were men, and it is not evident that women were able to own slaves until the Elephantine papyri in the 400s BC. Other than these instances, it is unclear whether or not state-instituted slavery was an accepted practice.
In the 19th century United States, abolitionists and defenders of slavery debated the Bible’s message on the topic. Abolitionists used texts from both the Old and New Testaments to argue for the manumission of slaves, and against kidnapping or “stealing men” to own or sell them as slaves.
‘manuscripts’ Encourages Readers To Approach The Bible Like A Novel
As people come from a multitude of backgrounds, Schmidt says how they encounter the Bible can vary greatly from person to person and, as such, the exhibit will affect them all differently.
“I hope people take away a greater appreciation for that and maybe even a self reflection to be more cognizant of why you read something a certain way,” he says. “If people can better appreciate that then maybe they can better empathize with others.”
NPR’s Robert Baldwin III and Elizabeth Baker produced and edited the audio for this story. Wynne Davis adapted it for digital.
Does The Bible Support Harsh Slavery
There are several passages that are commonly used to suggest that the Bible condones harsh slavery. However, when we read these passages in context, we find that they clearly oppose harsh slavery.
If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her masters, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, I love my master, my wife, and my children I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl and he shall serve him forever.
This is the first type of bankruptcy law weve encountered. With this, a government doesnt step in, but a person who has lost himself or herself to debt can sell the only thing they have left: their ability to perform labor. This is a loan. In six years the loan is paid off, and they are set free. Bondservants who did this made a wage, had their debt covered, had a home to stay in, on-the-job training, and did it for only six years. This almost sounds better than college, which doesnt cover debt and you have to pay for it!
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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.
Kilometer : But Isnt Slavery In The Bible
Lets fly over a couple hundred years of history. When Abrahams grandson, Israel, got old, a severe famine afflicted the land. His growing family was forced to flee to Egypt, where one of his sons, Joseph, had been promoted to second in command.
Egypt has plenty of food due to the leadership of Joseph, and Israels family ends up stayingfor generations. As the nation grows within the confines of Egypt, they begin to be viewed as a threat. When a Pharaoh takes the throne who knew nothing of Joseph, the Egyptians make the power move, enslaving the Israelites. For 400 years, Gods people are unpaid laborers building the Egyptian dynasty. Mistreated and abused, God sees their misery and takes action .
Another important American distinction we need to understand is that slavery in the ancient world was almost never based on race. Generally, one would become a slave through a military loss, to pay a debt you couldnt financially afford, or as punishment for wrongdoing. American history has tied slavery and racism together, so its important we cover this full kilometer. But the distinction remains. In the Bible, enslavement would have been based around something more than melanin.
For the Israelites are My slaves. They are My slaves I brought out of the land of Egypt I am the LORD your God.
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A Brief History Of Slavery
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.
Why Bibles Given To Slaves Omitted Most Of The Old Testament
Museum of the Bible
When slavery was legal, its proponents often justified it with the Bible specifically, a verse that tells servants to obey their masters. There were also a lot of verses that abolitionists could and did use to argue against slavery. But you wouldnt find those in the heavily-redacted Slave Bible.
Most of the Old Testament is missing, and only about half of the New Testament remains. The reason? So that the enslaved Africans in the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua couldnt read or be read anything that might incite them to rebel.
The Slave Bible was actually titled Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands.
Its not clear who exactly directed these changes. British planters in the Caribbean had long been weary of missionaries, and couldve demanded that they only teach enslaved people certain parts of the Bible. But some missionaries may have also believed that it was only appropriate to teach enslaved people excerpts that reinforced their enslaved status.
Whoever the Slave Bibles editors were, theyre really highlighting portions that would instill obedience, says Anthony Schmidt, a curator at Washington, D.C. Museum of the Bible, which has a copy of the Slave Bible on display. There are only two other known copies.
The Slave Bible on display as part of an exhibition at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
Museum of the Bible
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Why Dont The Bible Critics Ever Read These Verses That Condemns The Kidnapping Slavery Of Long Ago
13. Deuteronomy 24:7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.
14. Exodus 21:16 Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnappers possession.
15. 1 Timothy 1:9-10 We also know that 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 perjurersand for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.
16. Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
17. Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image in the image of God He created him male and female He created them.
The Bible Is Clear: God Endorses Slavery
There are at least seven passages in the Bible where God is depicted as directly permitting or endorsing slavery. Two of these are in the Law of Moses: God permitted the Israelites to take slaves from conquered peoples permanently, and the Israelites could sell themselves into slavery temporarily to pay off debts . The other five passages are in the New Testament, where slavery as a social institution is endorsed and slaves are called to obey their masters in everything .
But slavery is viewed positively in Scripture well beyond these commands. Owning slaves was seen as a sign of Gods blessing , and there are literally dozens of passages in the Bible that speak of slavery in passing, without comment. Slavery was simply part of life, and most people saw it as just the way things always were, even the divinely ordained order of things.
And yes, in case there is any doubt, this was real slavery: the slave is the owners property . Both Old and New Testaments called for better treatment of slaves than many of the peoples around them, and the Law of Moses in particular called for better treatment of fellow Israelites as slaves. But slaves could be beaten , and slaves could be taken as concubines or even raped without serious consequence .
So why do Christians today believe slavery is wrong? Why dont we believe slavery is permitted by God, endorsed by God, and owning slaves can even be a sign of Gods blessing, even though the Bible is pretty clear on this?
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Heavily Abridged Slave Bible Removed Passages That Might Encourage Uprisings
The rare artifact is the focus of a new exhibition at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
When 19th-century British missionaries arrived in the Caribbean to convert enslaved Africans, they came armed with a heavily edited version of the Bible. Any passage that might incite rebellion was removed gone, for instance, were references to the exodus of enslaved Israelites from Egypt. Today, just three copies of the so-called Slave Bible are known to exist. Two are held in the United Kingdom, and one is currently on view at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., Michel Martin reports for NPR.
The bible is the centerpiece of an exhibition titled Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, which explores how religion was used to bolster the economic interests of the British Empire.
The abridged work was first printed in London in 1807, on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves. The missionaries associated with this movement sought to teach enslaved Africans to read, with the ultimate goal of introducing them to Christianity. But they had to be careful not to run afoul of farmers who were wary about the revolutionary implications of educating their enslaved workforce. The British West-India Islands formed the heart of Englands overseas empire, after all, and it was powered by millions of enslaved Africans forced to work on sugar plantations.
Does The Bible Condone Slavery
The Bibles Viewpoint
Does the Bible Condone Slavery?
LOVE of neighbor is one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible. Love, however, is diametrically opposed to the concept of oppressive slavery. Hence, some people are puzzled by the mention of slavery in the Bible.
In ancient times God allowed his people to own slaves. Even in the days of the apostles, some Christians were slave owners and some were slaves. Does this mean that the Bible condones oppressive slavery?
Social Structures in Conflict With Bible Principles
Regarding the social structure of the ancient nation of Israel, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: It was meant to function as a brotherhood in which, ideally, there were no poor no exploitation of widows, waifs, or orphans. Hence, more than simply allowing an already established social and economic structure, Gods Law regulated slavery so that, if practiced, slaves would be treated in a humane and loving manner.
Slavery in Bible History
Consider the following regulations included in the Law given through Moses:
Kidnapping a man and then selling him was punishable by death. However, if despite all the provisions made to prevent poverty, an Israelite found himself deeply in debt, perhaps as a result of poor management, he could sell himself as a slave. In some cases he might even be able to earn a surplus by which he could redeem himself.Leviticus 25:47-52.
The End of Slavery
HAVE YOU WONDERED?
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How To Answer This Common Question From Aggressive Skeptics
The triumvirate of complaints about the Bible from atheists typically consists of denouncing its science, denouncing its God, and denouncing its morality. Here well handle a classic moral objection: the Bible is an evil book because it supports slavery .
For example, in 2012, provocative atheist Dan Savage gave a keynote speech at a conference for high school journalists. The topic was supposed to be bullying, but instead he spent most of the speech criticizing Christianity and the Bible:
The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document. Slave owners waved Bibles over their heads during the Civil War and justified it. The shortest book in the New Testament is a letter from Paul to a Christian slave owner about owning his Christian slave. And Paul doesnt say Christians dont own people. Paul talks about how Christians own people.
We ignore what the Bible says about slavery, because the Bible got slavery wrong. Tim uh, Sam Harris, in A Letter to a Christian Nation, points out that the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong.
How do we respond?
Even a quick examination of the New Testament and the letter to Philemon shows that Savage misses the mark in his interpretation. St. Paul exhorts Philemon to grant freedom to his slave Onesimus. In a key passage of the letter, Paul says:
Even after hearing these distinctions, a skeptic may press two additional objections:
Lets address each of those objections in turn.
And Now You Christians Cannot Excuse Slavery As An Old Testament Thing
Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue. And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, Go, and he goes and to another, Come, and he comes and to my slave, Do this, and he does it. When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.Luke, Chapter 7, verse 2:
Here Jesus shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery. Jesus heals the slave without any thought of freeing the slave or admonishing the slaves owner. Read that phrase again nonsense. Jesus is impressed by the centurion who bosses people around.
Here God shows that he is in complete acceptance of a slaves position, and encourages slaves to work hard. This sentiment is repeated in
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