Categorized | Religion, Society

The Bible and the Institution of Slavery

slaverySlavery is an institution based on a relationship of dominance and submission, whereby one person owns another and can exact from that person labor or other services. The Holy Bible refers to slaves as a personal property that could be purchased & beaten. In one of Jesus’ parables, he approved beating servants severely, instead of preaching of its abolition (The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” – Luke 12:47-48 NLT).

Christian supporters of slavery argued that the New Testament clearly did not forbid slavery, and did not deem it a sin and today, modern Christian apologetics try to soften it by claiming that a more accurate translation would be as a servant or hired workers rather then slaves despite that the Bible states that one should not regret the gift, for slaves were only half as expensive as hired workers (It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest. – Deuteronomy 15:18 King James Version)

Clearly, according to the Bible, the spirit of the Lord has little to do with liberty. The well-known reverend, Alexander Campbell contended: “there is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral.” Only during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century the spread of the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau and others, and the increase of democratic sentiment led to a growing attack on the slave trade and slavery in general.

Isn’t it odd to think that faulty humans at least tried to abolish slavery compare to an all-knowing, all-good God?

Just read the following verses:

Deuteronomy 15:17, English Standard Version

Lev. 25:44-46, English Standard Version

Exodus 21:20-21

Exodus 21:2-6

Deut. 15:12

Deut. 28:68

Eph. 6:5-7

1 Tim. 6:1

Col. 3:22

Titus 2:9

1 Peter 2:18,21, NIRV

And then read these following quotations from some so-called men of God and other famous people:

“[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.” Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. 1,2

“There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral.” Rev. Alexander Campbell

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” Rev. R. Furman, D.D., Baptist, of South Carolina

“The hope of civilization itself hangs on the defeat of Negro suffrage.” A statement by a prominent 19th-century southern Presbyterian pastor, cited by Rev. Jack Rogers, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

“The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined.” – United States Senator James Henry Hammond.

The quotation by Jefferson Davis, listed above, reflected the beliefs of many Americans in the 19th century. Slavery was seen as having been “sanctioned in the Bible.” They argued that biblical passages recognized, controlled, and regulated the practice.

The Bible permitted owners to beat their slaves severely, even to the
point of killing them. However, as long as the slave lingered longer than 24 hours before dying of the abuse, the owner was not regarded as having committed a crime, because — after all — the slave was his property.

You won’t find any law in the Ten Commandments that prohibits slavery. There are no prophets of God that condemned it. The twelve Apostles are silent about its abolition.

Jesus could have condemned the practice. He might have done so. But there is no record of him having said anything negative about the institution.

Paul had every opportunity to write in one of his Epistles that human
slavery — the owning of one person as a piece of property by another – is profoundly evil. His letter to Philemon would have been an ideal opportunity to vilify slavery, but he wrote not one word of criticism.

Eventually, the abolitionists gained sufficient power to eradicate slavery in most areas of the world by the end of the 19th century. Slavery was eventually recognized as an extreme evil. But this paradigm shift in understanding came at a cost. Christians wondered why the Bible was so supportive of such an immoral practice. They questioned whether the Bible was entirely reliable. Perhaps there were other practices that it accepted as normal which were profoundly evil — like genocide, torturing prisoners, raping female prisoners of war, executing religious minorities, burning some hookers alive, etc. The innocent faith that Christians had in “the Good Book” was lost — never to be fully regained.

Thanks for secular laws we have today, we now abolished slavery. On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 4 states:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

I just wonder, why such law can’t be found in a book said to be inspired by a just God.

 
DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.

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