Slavery and Evangelical Christianity

The essay on slavery pointed out by Frank Walton and written by J.P.Holding reminds me of what O.T. Biblical scholar Father Roland de Vaux wrote in his monumental Ancient Israel: Social Institutions: "In everyday life the lot of a slave depended largely on the character of his master, but it was usually tolerable." (p. 85).

Now just think about this statement for a minute. Would YOU want to take your chances as a slave in ancient Israel and hope for a "good" master, knowing that the Bible permitted the beating of a slave within an inch of his life to force him into submission? The slave was declared by God as the master's property (Ex. 21:20-21).

From our perspective today, no slavery is tolerable. The social institution is simply despicable. Just as we believe there ought to be checks and balances between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of our government in order to guard against the abuses of power, so also, no person should be considered the property of any other single man without basic human rights, especially the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of his own happiness, nor shall any of these rights be denied except by the "due process" of law.

The whole idea of being at the complete mercy of another person as his property is abhorrent, and any attempt to morally justify the institution of slavery is canonizing the barbaric and immoral standards of the Bible, which I wrote about earlier Here.

But this is yet another case where the almighty and all-knowing God blew his chance to alleviate the suffering of millions of slaves down through history, including the brutality of American slavery. All God would have had to do is outlaw the ownership of another person. All Jesus would have had to do is to condemn it. All any NT writer had to do is the denounce it. But they didn’t.

And if Christians want to claim that Jesus and the NT writers had more important things to do than to condemn it, then just ask yourselves how this would make you feel as a southern black slave, to know that Jesus never condemned the institution of slavery, and as a result you are suffering as a slave by white Christian people? According to the gospel of Luke, didn't Jesus say he came for the oppressed, the prisoners, and the poor? (Luke 4:18)? Then why not say he came for the slaves too?

We have no trouble condemning slavery today, since we value a free world. We think that the freedom of all people to travel, and take up residence, and find gainful employment, along with the freedom of religion, conscience, and speech are much better values than they had in the ancient past. If that makes me a chronological snob, then so be it. In this aspect we are morally superior to people in the Bible, just like we’re scientifically superior when it comes to the superstitious practice of bloodletting.

One of evangelical’s finest, Charles Hodge, wrote a 40 paged essay titled, “The Bible Argument on Slavery,” where he laid out the case on behalf of slavery just prior to the civil war. It’s a powerful case. It's based upon the Bible, and reprinted in Cotton is King (Negro Universities Press, 1969). I have little doubt that if today's Evangelical Christians lived in the South prior to the civil war, they too would've accepted his arguments because of the hermeneutical method of placing specific Biblical verses (Ex. 21:20-21) above Biblically stated principles (Gal. 3:28). [For this distinction see Willard Swartley Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (Herald Press, 1984)].

But the whole reason Evangelical Christians don’t accept pro-slavery arguments today is because of the progress of history. Just like 6-day creationists lost the debate starting with Galileo, so also pro-slavery arguments in America lost the debate starting with the success of the North in the Civil War.

Is there a Christian who wants to comment on this? [Post edited, see comments].


Anonymous said...

And yet Christians in particular continue to argue that without God we would have no morals. How many times are we going to have to point out all of the Biblical laws that go against our sense of decency and fairness today before they are willing to admit that they don't have all the answers either?

Francois Tremblay said...

Government is slavery too, and yet the Bible speaks in favour of state institutions.

Frank Walton said...

Let me change the subject here: Just to let you know, John, that link you have of JP Holding has been authored by none other than Brooks Trubee who shamelessly defended Farrell Till who publicly published JP Holding's address, phone number, his wife's name, and her place of employment. This might be of interest.

Also there is a link in direct response to that "anointed" link.

This is the sick mentality of atheists who would go so far as to publish people's home address to whom they disagree with; thereby endangering their life and well-being. The same thing happened to Jason Gastrich and me.

In graphic example, this is survival of the fittest taught by Darwinian Evolutionists. They don't want rational discourse, just a threat on your life.

Error said...

What problem am I supposed to have here?

Lippard said...

Many, perhaps most, Christians believe that God owns all human beings--and that this is a good state of affairs. Isn't that a continued defense of slavery?

Edwardtbabinski said...

The discussion could stick to particular Bible verses on the topic of slavery to read what the Christian Bible says.

The Bible never says slavery is a sin, nor does it ever say that slavery existed as a concession to human sinfulness (like Moses' laws concerning divorce that Jesus reinterpreted in such a fashion). Rather, the Bible says "God" "blessed" people by "multiplying" their "slaves," and made certain that his holy priests rec'd "The Lord's offering" of slaves. (See verses below.) The New Testament added that slaves who obeyed even harsh unjust masters thereby pleased God. And it added that "masters"--whomever happened to have enough money to purchase another person to be their slave--were "worthy" of "honor" in the eyes of God. The meaning of such verses was clear to slavery-defending (inerrantist Biblically-based) Protestant theologians of the highest calibre of education in both England and America who defended slavery with a righteous fervency it's hard to imagine today.

Abraham, “the friend of God,” and “the father of the faithful,” bought slaves from Haran (Gen. 12:50), included them in his property list (Gen. 12:16, 24:35-36), and willed them to his son Isaac (Gen. 26:13-14). Scripture says God blessed Abraham by multiplying his slaves (Gen. 24:355). In Abraham’s household Sarah was set over the slave, Hagar. After Hagar ran away the angel told her, “return to your mistress and submit to her.” (Gen. 16:9)

The Bible even the “Lord” making his own ministers slaveholders.
Numbers, chapter 31, says that the Hebrews slew all the Midianites with the exception of Midianite female virgins whom the Hebrews “kept for themselves...Now the booty that remained from the spoil, which the [Hebrew] men of war had plundered included...16,000 human beings [i.e., the female virgins] from whom the Lord’s tribute was 32 persons. And Moses gave the tribute which was the Lord’s offering to Eleazar the priest, just as the Lord had commanded Moses...And from the sons of Israel’s half, Moses took one out of every fifty, both of man [i.e., the female virgins] and animals, and gave them to the Levites [the priestly tribe]...just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

At God’s command Joshua took slaves (Josh 9:23), as did David (1 Kings 8:2,6) and Solomon (1 Kings 9:20-21). Likewise, Job whom the Bible calls “blameless and upright,” was “a great slaveholder” (Job 1:15-17; 3:19; 4:18; 7:2; 31:13; 42:8)...Slavery is twice mentioned in the ten commandments (the 4th and 10th), but not as a sin. [“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, or his male slave, or his female slave.” Exodus 20:17]

How long must a person remain enslaved? Genesis, chapter nine, says that Noah laid a curse on one of his sons’ sons making him [and his children’s children] “a slave of slaves… forever.” And Leviticus 25:44-46, says, “You may acquire male and female slaves from the nations that are around you. Then too, out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you...they also may become your possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever [i.e., the slave’s children would be born into slavery along with their children’s children, forever].” So, slaves acquired from “foreign” nations could be treated as “possessions...forever;” also, enemies taken in war. Moreover, the second Psalm in the Bible (which scholars believe was sung at the coronation of Hebrew kings) proclaims, “Ask of me [the Lord], and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance [as slaves], and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

There were a few exceptions to “everlasting slavery.” If the slave was a Hebrew owned by a fellow Hebrew the master allegedly had to offer him his freedom after “seven years.” Though there is not a single penalty mentioned in the Bible should the master detain his slave longer than that period or refuse to offer him his freedom. Neither does such an offer appear to apply to female slaves. Furthermore, if a Hebrew slave chose to remain with his master after being offered his freedom, then the “Lord” told his people to “bore holes in the ears” of that slave to mark him as his master’s possession “forever.” So you had better speak up clearly and without hesitation the first time your master offered you your freedom because there was no Biblical provision for changing your mind at a later date. Complicating such decisions was the fact that masters often gave their slaves wives so they could produce children, yet the wife and children remained the master’s “possessions.” (Exodus 21:4-6)

The Bible also apparently allowed for a creditor to enslave his debtor or his debtor’s children for the redemption of the debt (2 Kings 4:1); and children could be sold into slavery by their parents (Exodus 21:7; Isaiah 50:1). So sayeth “the word of the Lord.”

How much punishment could a master employ to discipline their slaves and ensure their obedience? The Bible tells us that a master may beat his slave within an inch of the slave’s life or within “a day or two” of their life: “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives a day or two (before dying), no vengeance shall be taken; for the slave is his master’s money.” (Ex. 21:20-21) In line with such pearls of wisdom an early Christian Council, The Council of Elvira (c. 305), prescribed that any Christian mistress who beat her slave to death without premeditation was merely to be punished with five years of penance. 1 Peter 2:18-20 teaches that the Christian who is a slave should “patiently endure” even harsh unjust punishments in order to “find favor with God.”

Let’s sum up. According to the Bible, anyone who has enough money to buy another human being is “worthy of all honor” (1 Tim. 6:1) in the eyes of the one who has been purchased. Secondly, slaves should seek to fulfill the “will of God” by obediently serving their masters (Eph. 6:5-6). And thirdly, slaves who endured “suffering” (including “unjust suffering”) were “acceptable of God” (1 Peter 2:18-20). So if slaves do not find their masters “worthy of all honor,” but “disobey” their masters, and refuse to “endure sufferings” imposed by their masters, such behavior displeases not only man, but God as well. Even Jesus, in his parables, took for granted that a master had the right to discipline his disobedient slaves: “The slave who knew his master’s will, but did not do it, was beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47)

Every book in the Bible takes the existence of slavery for granted from Genesis to Revelation. Revelation 6:15; 13:16 & 19:18 take for granted the existence of “free men” and “slaves” (verse 18:13 even takes for granted the existence of both “slaves” and “chariots,” which is odd for a book some believe to be a “vision of the future”).


Throughout the Bible slavery is as cheerfully and leniently assumed as are royalty, poverty, and female submission to males. In the English Bible there is frequent mention, especially in the parables of Jesus, to “servants.” The Greek word is generally “slaves.” Jesus talks about them as coolly as we talk about our housemaids or nurses. Naturally, he would say that we must love them; we must love all men (unless they reject our religious beliefs). But there is not a syllable of condemnation of the institution of slavery. According to Jesus “fornication” is a shuddering thing; but the slavery of fifty or sixty million human beings is not a matter for strong language. Paul approves the institution of slavery in just the same way.--He is in fact worse than Jesus. He saw slaves all over the Greco-Roman world and never said a word of protest.

Joseph McCabe, “Christianity and Slavery,” The Story of Religious
Controversy, Chapter XIX

Error said...

No one laid out what problem I'm supposed to have....

All I saw was a presupposed and not argued for humanistic theory of ethics, thus begging the question against my worldview. This is an external critisism and therefore, gets you nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Frank, I have had run-ins with JP Holding. He doesn't treat his opponents fairly or respectfully. That's why I provided the link. I didn't know some of the rest of the story, though, that you provided. I don't think I will ever participate in personal attacks here again. I have had many discussions with Holding, and he and I now have a healthy respect for each other, although initially I too felt like doing what Farrell Till did. He's irritating and doesn't properly understand or exegete I Peter 3:15.

Don Jr. I guess my earlier narrowminded comment still sticks with you. I think we have a definitional disagreement over that word, that's all.

I singled Paul (Mr. answer man) out because he seems to think more highly of his arguments then he should. He still does.

No Christian has yet tried the answer the questions and explain the statements in my opening post!

I've read the links. Now deal with my opening post.

I'll be gone all day today, but I'll have more to say later.

Error said...


Can you lay out where I'm supposed to have a problem? I didn't see it.

Oh, and why the hostile turn? Why the psychologizing of me and what I think of my arguments? Why have I not seen where you've demonstrated problems with my argument and so I shouldn't think so "highly" of them?

John, all I can say is that you admitted you became an atheist a year ago. There are obviously many issues you have not thought out. I'd advise you to take a break from blogging, lock yourself in your room for 6 months, and do some serious reading (epsecially from the reformed approach to ethics, theology, philosophy, apoologetics, etc. Because tthat is what I am and 80% of what you write, probably from being taight by Bill Craig, comes from an Armiian perspective and does not even touch me).

Error said...

Don said,

"If you're response to the links I posted is a mere I've read them; they don't impress me, then I've read your opening post and it doesn't impress me. End of discussion. I like the way you argue; it makes critiquing a position much easier for both of us."

Paul: LOL, Don, Lol. Aint that the truth. Why do atheists like Loftus think that they have a right to be dogmatic and not tough minded, but we have to live up to some standard?

John, Donjr just showed you that Arbitrariness is a fickle friend.

Steven Carr said...

Paul Manata writes 'All I saw was a presupposed and not argued for humanistic theory of ethics, thus begging the question against my worldview.'

More amazing tactics by presuppositionalists.

They declare that everybody has presuppositions, which means they don't have to listen to people who don't agree with them.

Error said...

No, Carr, that's not my deal at all. I do believe that everyone has presuppositions, but that doesn't mean we don;t argue.

Actually, what that means is, you need to defend them. I mean, I can just as easily presuppose my theory of ethics and say that you guys are evil for not honoring God. Would you buy my criticism? No, because you don't by my ethical foundation.

Likewise, I don't accept humanism as a valid ethical theory. Maybe it is, but you can't just assume it, not argue for it, and then critique my view. Why? That's called *begging the question.*

Steven Carr said...

Paul Manata thinks his presuppositions are things he can argue for?

From what presuppositions will he be arguing for his presuppostions?

And from what presuppositions will he be arguing for the presuppositions he uses to argue for his presuppositions?

Is he really trying to defend the claim that God can torture innocent children, and call it good?

Does he claim that he has the right to tell God that it would be wrong for God to do any action God wished to do?

Scrivenings said...

The Biblical authors failed to envision Democracy in God's plan of salvation. From the picture given in Revelation of a King and his mighty throne surrounded by subjects infinitely bowing and offering praise, whilst lowly condemned subordinates are tortured for eternity, all for the pleasure of the Lord -to the eastern religion of Mohammad, with seventy virgins (subordinate class) handed over to man in the "holy reward system" for righteous behavior. And just what do the women get for good behavior? Salvation is not based on faith, rather the knowledge of brownnosing the right people and kissing up to the King. Slavery not only went without condemnation by Jesus and Jehovah, but condoned by biblical writers because it was a very good system in their eyes. It was the only system they knew. Democracy was a foreign concept, even too great and strange for a god like Jehovah. The moral of the Bible and Koran are summed up as this "Obey and you too can get your piece of the eternal pie of happiness".

Anonymous said...

you guys should all know that you are stating old testament verses. When Jesus came things changed greatly. Overall your argument doesn't make sense. What I don't understand is, if the christianity religion isn't true as athiests believe, then why don't they just leave it at that. Why do they spend their time trying to prove us wrong. We don't try to prove the existense of our god we simply know he is there.

SuperSkeptic said...

I know this is an old post, but I feel the need to respond to Paul Manata. He asked, "what problem am I supposed to have?"

The problem is this: When Christians answer the following question:
- Is slavery moral? (Follow-up: why or why not?)

...freethinkers don't understand how answering "Yes" can be justified in today's society, and don't understand how answering "No" is consistent with a Christian worldview.

Paul M, I know you're a smart guy, so I'm pretty sure you realized that Loftus wanted a Christian to respond to this apparent inconsistency. The Biblical view on slavery is one of the reasons I left Christianity, so I would be very interested to hear your answer -- presupposing your worldview -- (or any other Christian's answer) to:

1) Is slavery moral?
2) Why or why not?