Theology Thursday - Slavery and the Bible (ca. 1850)

The following essay appeared in the September 1850 issue of DeBow’s Review,​ which was one of the most important antebellum journals in the South. It appeared just as Congress was debating and passing what became known as “the Compromise of 1850.” The author is anonymous, but the piece sums up, in a remarkably straightforward way, the “Biblical argument” for slavery from a pro-Southern perspective. SharperIron does not endorse the conclusions or presuppositions of this article. However, the article stands as a historical marker; an important reminder that, if a man is desperate enough, he can “find” a way to “biblically” support his position on just about anything.1

A very large party in the United states believe that holding slaves is morally wrong; this party founds its belief upon precepts taught in the Bible, and takes that book as the standard of morality and religion. We, also, look to the same book as our guide in the same matters; yet, we think it right to hold slaves—do hold them, and have held and used them from childhood.

As we come to such opposite conclusions from the same foundation, it may be well to consider, whether the Bible teaches us anything whatever, in regard to slavery; if so, what is it and how is it taught. The anti-slavery party maintain, that the bible teaches nothing directly upon the subject, but, that it establishes rules and principles of action, from which they infer, that in holding slaves, we are guilty of a moral wrong. This mode of reasoning would be perfectly fair, if the Bible really taught nothing directly upon the subject of slavery; but when that book applies the principles it lays down to the particular subject in controversy, we must take the application to be correct. We think we can show, that the Bible teaches clearly and conslusively that the holding of slaves is right; and if so, no deduction from general principles can make it wrong, if that book is true.

From the earliest period of our time down to the present moment, slavery has existed in some form or under some name, in almost every country of the globe. It existed in every country known, even by name, to any one of the sacred writers, at the time of his writing; yet none of them condemns it in the slightest degree. Would this have been the case had it been wrong in itself? would not some one o the host of sacred writers have spoken of this alleged crime, in such terms as to show, in a manner not to be misunderstood, that God wished all men to be equal?

Abraham, the chosen servant of God, had his bond servants, whose condition was similar to, or worse than, that of our slaves. He considered them as his property, to be bought and sold as any other property which he owned. In Genesis xvii, 13, 23, 27, we are told that God commanded Abraham to circumcise all his bond-servants, bought with his money, and that Abraham obeyed God’s commandment on this same day. In Genesis xx, 14, we are told that Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and men servants and women servants, and gave them to Abraham.

In chapter xii, verse 14, we are told that Abraham possessed sheep and oxen, and he asses, and men servants and maid servants, and she asses, and camels. Also, in Genesis xxvi, 14, Isaac is said to have had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great store of servants. In other places in Genesis, they are spoken of, but always as property.

Jacob’s sons sold Joseph, their brother, to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They agreed with each other that they would sell him, when the Ishmaelites were afar off, and before they could have known that the Ishmaelites would buy him; only they knew, that such sales were common in the country at the time. The narrative of Joseph’s life in Egypt, shows that the sale of slaves was common there.

No one can doubt, that Abraham regarded his servants as his property, and that they were so regarded in the country in which he lived. Not only was the bond-servant of Abraham considered his property, but the condition of the bond-servant was hereditary, or his child was a servant. In Genesis xvii, 13, God not only commanded Abraham to circumcise his servants, bought with his money, but also, those born in his house, and those which, at any future time, should be born in his house, or in that of any of his descendants; and in the twenty-third and twenty-seventh verses of the same chapter, we are told that Abraham did circumcise all his male servants, born in his house, on the same day. In chapter xiv of Genesis we are told, that Abraham took three hundred and eighteen trained servants, which had been born in his house, and pursued the kings who had carried off Lot. These three hundred and eighteen servants were born servants.

Let us now see what control Abraham exercised over these servants born in his house and bought with his money. God commanded Abraham to circumcise all his male servants—those born in his house were so numerous, that he had of them three hundred and eighteen men fit for battle. The command was, not that Abraham should use his influence over them and persuade them to be circumcised, but he and all his descendants are commanded to circumcise them—the crime and punishment for disobedience to this command, were to fall on him or his descendants. Now, in order that God could have required this from Abraham, with any degree of justice, it was necessary that Abraham should have had both the power over his servants, which was necessary to enable him to do this, and also, that he should have had the legal and moral right to exercise that power.

Circumcision was a requirement, until then, totally unknown. Abraham’s servants must have regarded it as a foolish whim of his own. Nothing else could have been considered more degrading to them, or more absurd to him. Yet, no one of all the immense number of his servants, refused to permit the circumcision to be performed. We may well suppose, that Abraham might have required anything else which his fancy dictated, and equally have enforced obedience, if it were not more absurd, painful or degrading.

When Sarai, Abraham’s wife, complained to him of the conduct of Hagar, her maid servant, he answered, thy maid is in thy hand, do to her as it pleaseth thee, showing that she wanted only her husband’s consent to punish Hagar as she pleased. We are then told, that, when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face into the wilderness—there the angel of the Lord found her; but, instead of relieving her distress, and sending her to some free country, he told her to return and submit herself to her mistress.

When Abraham pursued Chederlaomer, the king of Elam, he took his three hundred and eighteen servants, and his three friends, Aner, Eschol and Mamre, and recaptured a large amount of property which had been carried away from Sodom. But when the king of Sodom offered him all the property which he had taken, he refused everything, except what his servants had eaten and the portion of his three friends—answering immediately for himself and his servants, and refusing everything, but reserving the right to his friends to answer for themselves.

From the passages which I have recited and referred to, we can obtain some idea of the conditions of Abraham’s servants. They were property bought and sold for money; their services belonged to him, and was disposed of without their consent. Their condition was hereditary—the master could punish or chastise the slave, and even maim him, at his pleasure. He exercised rights which no southern planter would dare to exercise, and which a southern negro would not submit to.

Abraham was a worshiper of God; he had direct and immediate communication with him. He showed his willingness to obey God’s commands, even in offering his only son a sacrifice to God. He is spoken of by all the sacred writers, as one who was selected, from the whole human race, as the father of the faithful. God would not have so highly honored him, had he been living in constant and habitual violation of his laws: nor would he have required from him the performance of immaterial ceremonies, or of painful things not required by the moral law, and left him ignorantly to continue to violate his duties to his fellow men. Had our abolition friends been in God’s stead, they would have certainly acted in a very different manner. Is there one of them who will dare to say, he would have done better than God did?

But God, instead of teaching Abraham, his chosen servant, that it was immoral to use and buy his slaves, demanded from him the performance of certain things, which required that the relation of master and slave should be kept up, not only during Abraham’s time, but in all future ages. And when the angel of the Lord interfered between Sarai and Hagar, it was to cause the slave to submit to punishment inflicted by her mistress. Under like circumstances, our slaves are persuaded to go to Canada.

From what I have written, if it stood alone, I would infer that the holding of slaves was right, in some cases. But this is, by no means, all that is found in the Bible upon the subject.

​to be continued …

Notes

1 This article is in the public domain, and was taken from Paul Finkelman, Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South – A Brief History with Documents (New York, NY: St. Martins, 2003), 109-114.

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There are 37 Comments

JNoël's picture

Is this a strawman?

Quote:

The anti-slavery party maintain, that the bible teaches nothing directly upon the subject, but, that it establishes rules and principles of action, from which they infer, that in holding slaves, we are guilty of a moral wrong.

I'm looking forward to the "to be continued." This subject fascinates me because the Bible is, indeed, filled with slavery and includes instructions for how to properly treat slaves and how slaves are supposed to serve their masters. If American slave owners actually treated their slaves in accordance with God's commands, there probably would be far less argument about our past.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Ron Bean's picture

A few weeks ago we were in church listening to a sermon on the book of Amos. After the reading of Chapter One, I whispered to my wife, "Well, so much for the the argument that the Bible never condemns slavery."

Then there is the " Abraham had slaves" argument. Abraham had multiple wives too.

As a history buff, I'm looking forward to the next part.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

I'm also looking forward to Part 2, and since I do believe the abolitionists did mention things like the fact that man-stealing was a capital crime, so yes, this is clearly a straw man argument.  It's also a textbook example of both the tendency to over-analyze one section of Scripture at the expense of others, and is also a great example of the tendency to assume that narrative is not merely descriptive, but prescriptive.

What's interesting to me is that they also come very close to excusing the sale of Joseph to slave traders, and one wonders what they would have done with 2 Samuel 11 if God had not added that He was displeased with what David had done, using this sort of exegesis.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Thanks!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Perhaps the most horrifying thing I've read from a pro-slavery perspective so far is Chief Justice Taney's majority decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford. I'm writing a long article on the court decision, and will likely publish it here in several installments in the next few months.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“Tise discovered that proslavery clergymen came from every state and many European countries. Men from the North and New England dominated the first generation (born before 1800) of proslavery clergymen.”

“Tise indicates that four Protestant denominations gave our nation the most proslavery ministers. In fact, 77 percent of them grew up as Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationals, or Baptists. The author states that, ‘over one-half (60.2 percent) were from the three major Calvinist churches.’  By far, Presbyterians delivered the most formal defenses of slavery in America, and published the most writings. 11 Presbyterians
represented one-third of all proslavery clergymen.”

http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/the-list-american-clergymen-who-defended-sl...

Thought this would follow along with the above post.  And, thanks for the post, very good information.  Interesting to see how slavery was justified. 

David R. Brumbelow

JNoël's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/the-list-american-clergymen-who-defended-sl...

I know this is going to sound like I am pro-slavery, but please understand that I am not.

I question this paragraph in the article:

Quote:

"How could some of the most sophisticated people in America not see that the sin of slavery denied the self-evident truth “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?”"

Can someone please explain to me where God proclaimed slavery as sin?

Also, he references the US DoI, not the Bible; I'm pretty sure God didn't promise Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness to mankind. As humans, and even (especially?) as Christians, we are not entitled to either.

Devil's advocate: is it possible for a Christian to be Spirit-filled, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, the most important of which is love, and own slaves?

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

JNoel, with regards to whether it's possible for a spirit-filled Christian to own slaves, we have the example of Philemon, no?  The trick is that the definition and use of the term varies by culture, and in some is more or less debtor's prison, and in others involves all the things that are prohibited by the Torah and New Testament.  

Good luck with the nuance in discussing it in most forums today, of course, but it is a real "it depends." 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

JNoel, with regards to whether it's possible for a spirit-filled Christian to own slaves, we have the example of Philemon, no?  The trick is that the definition and use of the term varies by culture, and in some is more or less debtor's prison, and in others involves all the things that are prohibited by the Torah and New Testament.  

So while I think Hale's article is interesting, I think we also need to be careful not to say things the Bible doesn't say. The manner in which many humans were treated in the history of American slavery certainly violated scripture. But I don't believe slavery, in itself, is sin. So when I said I am not pro-slavery, that statement is in the context of America's history in the manner in which slaves were treated. 21st century Americans have a very difficult time reconciling the reality that slavery, in biblical terms, is not sin, but, as is true with anything in life, it can become sin.

Also, I do NOT believe slavery is good and should be encouraged. Loaded questions: have societies benefited from slavery? Where would America be today if it were not for slavery? No one can answer some of these questions, because changes in one thing then bring about all manner of differences that are themselves then subject to the sinful actions of mankind. But we know that God commanded slave owners to treat their slaves in a certain manner, and that slaves were to be subject to their masters. One would need to do an exhaustive study on the subject of slavery to hope to come to some understanding of what slave ownership following God's commands to masters might look like in 21st century America. We will never see it, of course, but it might help us understand the problems with the Slavery Is Sin statement Christians, especially in America, conclude is biblical truth.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

....is that in Hebrew, the word for servant is the same as that for slave.  Context differentiates it mostly--or perhaps the dominant culture.  In Greek, I believe the distinction is given pretty well in the KJV as "bond-servant"--a person with legal descriptions of their servanthood was a slave, more or less.  

Latin word; servus, from which we get the word "servant".  (a mere servant was "minister", interestingly)   So the confusion goes a long way back.  Southern planters were known to refer to their slaves as "servants"; whether that's an attempt to "soften" what was going on, or a simple habit born of knowing Latin, I don't know.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

JNoel,

I think the point of Ron Hale’s article is to simply reveal the most vocal preachers in favor of slavery; not to give a biblical argument against slavery. 

While it could be argued the Bible does not directly condemn slavery, biblical principles certainly condemn slavery. 

It would be interesting in this series to also include a good example of a preacher of the early to mid 1800s biblically preaching against slavery. 

Is it possible to be Spirit filled and believe in slavery? 

Peter was a racist when he was filled with the Spirit and preached on the day of Pentecost.  After God dealt with him about racism, however, had he continued his racist views, I doubt he would have been Spirit filled.  

Maybe it could be the same way with slavery.  God is patient, but there comes a time when God says it is time to grow in knowledge and grace.  Also, how many of us are used by God, in spite of our sins and failings?  What blind spots are we going to be shown once we get to Heaven?  Still, in our day it is difficult to imagine how intelligent, well educated preachers could defend slavery.  

But, to sum it up, slavery is totally wrong.  

David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture

Editor

If you find a good sermon from a Northerner (or Southerner) preaching against slavery in the mid-19th century, please send me a message with a link - I'd like to use it as a counter to this article. Thanks!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

FYI: William Findley (Presbyterian pastor and PA congressman) opposed the constitution because (among other reasons) it allowed for slavery.

Nathan Bedford Forrest the CSA general was a former KKK member and slave trader but became a believer and repudiated slavery (after the war I believe). 

JNoël's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

JNoel,

I think the point of Ron Hale’s article is to simply reveal the most vocal preachers in favor of slavery; not to give a biblical argument against slavery. 

Point taken. Thank you.

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

While it could be argued the Bible does not directly condemn slavery, biblical principles certainly condemn slavery. 

...

But, to sum it up, slavery is totally wrong.  

Okay, so there is no Thou Shalt Not Own Slaves. Obviously true. And there are countless non-existent "thou shalt nots" in the Bible that we all know are, indeed, sin, based on various biblical principles. What biblical principles do you draw on to support your claim that Slavery Is Sin? I'm fascinated to hear about this, because pretty much everything I hear or read about slavery, from Christians, fails to elaborate - it is simply stated as a foregone conclusion that it is sin. Yet it has existed for millennia, God provides guidlines for how to properly treat slaves, and God does not directly prohibit it. I am interesting in hearing about how slavery is indirectly prohibited.

And, again, I am not saying I am pro-slavery or looking to re-institute it. And the very fact that I feel as though I need to keep inserting that disclaimer should tell us that the sad history of American slavery has turned the concept into a hideous sin to all Americans. Any hint of acceptance of slavery causes someone simply trying to be intellectually and scripturally honest to become the devil himself.

 

Respectfully,

Jason

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

<snip>

Peter was a racist when he was filled with the Spirit and preached on the day of Pentecost.  After God dealt with him about racism, however, had he continued his racist views, I doubt he would have been Spirit filled.  

Maybe it could be the same way with slavery.  God is patient, but there comes a time when God says it is time to grow in knowledge and grace.  Also, how many of us are used by God, in spite of our sins and failings?  What blind spots are we going to be shown once we get to Heaven?  Still, in our day it is difficult to imagine how intelligent, well educated preachers could defend slavery.  

But, to sum it up, slavery is totally wrong.  

David R. Brumbelow

The point that we can have blind spots and yet be Christians is well taken, but if we say blanket "slavery is totally wrong", then we would have to condemn the prophet Obadiah, whose name literally means "slave of God."  We would also have to condemn the Apostle Paul, who repeatedly referred to himself as a "bondservant" (Greek doulos, "slave"), and who moreover noted that we could either be slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.  Scripture's use of doulos and avad is simply more nuanced than that.

Moreover, if we consider a basic definition of "involuntary servitude", as in the 13th Amendment, that we must consider that everyone who has ever done involuntary service to his government--say filing taxes or complying with a draft notice or draft registration notice--qualifies as well.  

We can say, clearly, that the American "peculiar institution" was wrong because it was race-based, was started with man-stealing, and was intergenerational, thus violating God's law--it also of course violates God's law in that its implementation was generally spectacularly cruel by necessity.  It falls into a similar bin with the slavery denounced by Ezra/Nehemiah, which occurred as the rich used usury to force their brothers into slavery.  That noted, thousands of others have used "bound servanthood" (e.g. apprenticeships, indentured servants, etc..) as an avenue to a better life.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

A few quick thoughts of why slavery is wrong:

1.  All people are made in the image of God.  (Genesis 1:27)

2.  God tolerated slavery, kind of like polygamy, but the progression of the Bible condemns it. 

3.  American slavery never followed the laws of Old Testament slavery. 

4.  American slavery was often very abusive and immoral. 

5.  We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

6.  The Golden Rule; do unto others as you would have to do to you. (Luke 6:31)   Abraham Lincoln used to say to those who said slavery was not so bad – they should try it themselves. 

7.  We are one in Christ, whether slave or free.  Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11. 

8.  He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.  -Exodus 21:16

9.  Pro-slavery people misused the Curse of Ham against the Black race.  They showed a prejudice and racism against Blacks. 

There is more. 

David R. Brumbelow

JNoël's picture

1.  All people are made in the image of God.  (Genesis 1:27)

Indeed. All humans are image-bearers.

2.  God tolerated slavery, kind of like polygamy, but the progression of the Bible condemns it.

Thank you for saying "kind of like polygamy" because it is a little apples and oranges, as God did not give commands regarding how a man is to treat his multitude of wives, but he did for masters and slaves. Not sure I understand "the progression of the Bible condemns it."

3.  American slavery never followed the laws of Old Testament slavery. 

Agreed wholeheartedly. My conversation has nothing to do with American slavery, just slavery, in general. I am concerned about the use of the phrase "slavery is sin" without any qualifiers whatsoever; certainly the manner in which America did slavery is unbiblical. I am posing there actually is a biblically appropriate manner in which slavery can exist.

4.  American slavery was often very abusive and immoral. 

Agreed wholeheartedly.

5.  We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Of course.

6.  The Golden Rule; do unto others as you would have to do to you. (Luke 6:31)   Abraham Lincoln used to say to those who said slavery was not so bad – they should try it themselves. 

Okay, but surely one can love and still be a master over a slave, right? So even if the master doesn't want to be a slave, it doesn't mean it is immoral (unloving).

7.  We are one in Christ, whether slave or free.  Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11. 

Absolutely.

8.  He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.  -Exodus 21:16

An excellent text to condemn American slavery; however, the same chapter also has plenty of laws regarding the proper way to deal with slavery ("If you buy a servant..." isn't that one of the major complaints about the anti-slavery movement? What right have we to buy a servant? Doesn't that violate the Golden Rule?), so are we allowed to choose which verses in that passage we want to apply today and which we don't?

9.  Pro-slavery people misused the Curse of Ham against the Black race.  They showed a prejudice and racism against Blacks. 

Completely agree.

 

Thank you for spending time with me on this. I'm just an inquiring mind, looking for biblical answers instead of just following blindly.

 

Sincerely,

Jason

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have an essay, written by a Southern Presbyterian ca. mid-1850s, who explained how masters should treat their African slaves. He whitewashed the entire institution, and saw the white master as a tutor and schoolmaster, whose job is to lovingly bring African slaves to Christ. It's really astonishing to read.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

When considering how Tyler's source could say that, it's worth noting that the closer one got to the Mason-Dixon line, we need to remember that (a) the treatment of slaves was better the closer one got to the Mason-Dixon line (and away from King Cotton and sugar) and (b) slaveowners generally took steps to isolate themselves and their families from the worst barbarities of the practice.  You no more whipped your slaves on the front lawn than the Nazis installed crematoria on every street corner.  So it's not entirely implausible that some actually did think of themselves that way--they had the overseers and drivers there to insulate themselves from what else went on.

Now if he was an overseer from a cotton plantation, then it would be truly astonishing!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Can we agree that the fundamental question about slavery is whether or not it is sin for one human to own another human?

How that ownership is accomplished can widely vary, and can too easily be done in a sinful way (which is why I am not in any way encouraging it). But if slavery, in it's most basic definition, is an owner/owned relationship between two individuals, then I argue that such a relationship is not sin. That isn't to say God commands it or encourages it, but he does give commands to each member of the relationship. It is this relationship that is in such deep conflict with our ideas as Americans, which, along with our sad history, is why honest conversation about it is difficult.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Keep in mind there is a big difference between a servant, employee, menial job, not liking a job, and involuntary servitude, compulsory work without pay, holding someone against their will, forced labor (slavery). 

He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.

-Exodus 21:16 (NKJV)

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness
And his chambers by injustice,
Who uses his neighbor’s service without wages
And gives him nothing for his work.

-Jeremiah 22:13

And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. 

-Luke 6:31

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.  -Colossians 3:11; also Galatians 3:28

Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 

-James 5:4

Knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for thelawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. 

-1 Timothy 1:9-10

Are not slave holders kidnappers, holding someone against their  will?  KJV, ASV, YLT – Menstealers; ESV – Enslavers. 

16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 

18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 

19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 

 21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 

-Philemon 1:16-19, 21 

If people seriously followed Paul’s advice to this slaveowner, slavery would soon die out. 

David R. Brumbelow

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Recommended reading on Slavery

“Voices From Slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives,” edited by Norman R. Yetman, Dover Publications.  

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

Jason, I'd phrase it slightly differently.  To be sure, the American version certainly did say that one person would own another, right down to sexual favors and the right to kill him if he liked.  However, the Biblical version--not paralleled in all ancient societies by any stretch of the imagination--was to say that one person might have a legal right to the labor of another under certain conditions, among those conditions being that he did NOT kill or maim the slave or use a female slave sexually without the rights of marriage.

Now I'd agree with David that if Bible limitations on "bond-servanthood" (probably a better word than slavery, really) were followed, it would quickly become rare simply because of the limitations.  But let's make sure we're defining things as Scripture defines them, and not as our culture defines our own nation's sinful version of the practice.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

So we're down to another word, then - "ownership."

I believe a biblically permitted form of ownership might be similar to that of someone in the US armed forces (Active Duty, specifically; been there, done that). When a person volunteers, he is agreeing to a set of guidelines - a contractual obligation. In a sense (and a very STRONG sense, at that), he is owned by the DoD. Conscription carries the same obligation, but the person did not even volunteer. Either way, the individual has either voluntarily given up or involuntarily lost freedoms, for sure. It is even possible for a member of the armed forces to lose wages - i.e. to work without pay if he somehow violates the contract.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

josh p's picture

JNoël wrote:

So we're down to another word, then - "ownership."

I believe a biblically permitted form of ownership might be similar to that of someone in the US armed forces (Active Duty, specifically; been there, done that). When a person volunteers, he is agreeing to a set of guidelines - a contractual obligation. In a sense (and a very STRONG sense, at that), he is owned by the DoD. Conscription carries the same obligation, but the person did not even volunteer. Either way, the individual has either voluntarily given up or involuntarily lost freedoms, for sure. It is even possible for a member of the armed forces to lose wages - i.e. to work without pay if he somehow violates the contract.

 

Which is why the draft is slavery. Just appealing to another institution doesn't answer the question of whether it's right does it? 

JNoël's picture

josh p wrote:

 

JNoël wrote:

 

So we're down to another word, then - "ownership."

I believe a biblically permitted form of ownership might be similar to that of someone in the US armed forces (Active Duty, specifically; been there, done that). When a person volunteers, he is agreeing to a set of guidelines - a contractual obligation. In a sense (and a very STRONG sense, at that), he is owned by the DoD. Conscription carries the same obligation, but the person did not even volunteer. Either way, the individual has either voluntarily given up or involuntarily lost freedoms, for sure. It is even possible for a member of the armed forces to lose wages - i.e. to work without pay if he somehow violates the contract.

 

 

 

Which is why the draft is slavery. Just appealing to another institution doesn't answer the question of whether it's right does it? 

Whether volunteered or voluntold, the resultant conditions are identical: neither individual has the freedoms he had before he came under the contractual obligations. I am not asking whether or not conscription is slavery: that is beside the point. The question is whether or not the contractual obligation, the "ownership" that is inherent with the contractual obligation, is sin. Ownership of one human over another is the question.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TylerR's picture

Editor

There are a lot of good parallels with NT slavery and the military. There are many differences, too - but the military analogy is the closest thing I've found to get the point across. I've used it many times.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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