Does the Bible Authorize Any and All Forms of Slavery?

We often hear claims that the Bible supports slavery of every kind. In fact, it does not. No truly Bible-believing Christian that I know of has ever argued in support of the practice on solid biblical grounds. Indeed, it was William Wilberforce, a Bible believer, who devoted his life to abolishing slavery in the UK. Bible-believing Christians still oppose the practice today.

Here is a summary of the arguments made in “Tokens of the Divine Displeasure: In the Late Conflagrations of New York and Other Judgments” by James R. Willson, D.D. starting on page 20 (available on Google books here) regarding why slavery as practised in the American South was an egregious sin before God.

Slavery:

1. Violates the Bible’s teachings that Jesus came to set people free from bondage (Luke 4:18)

2. Violates the Bible’s general teachings on liberty, justice, mercy, kindness, compassion, and goodwill to all

3. Violates God’s commands against oppressing the stranger (Jeremiah 7:6,7; Exodus 22:21)

4. Violates God’s command to not wrongfully deprive people of their liberty (Proverbs 3:27, Jeremiah 34:15-16)

5. Violates God’s prohibition on not paying a neighbor for their work (Jeremiah 22:13)

6. Violates God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves and to treat others how we want to be treated (Luke 10:27; Matthew 7:12)

7. Violates the entire second table of the Ten Commandments, ie. the last 6 commandments.

8. Violates God’s commands against kidnapping, or man-stealing (Exodus 21:16; 1 Timothy 9-10)

9. Violates the Gospel, which applies to all people, with no exception for any ethnic group

10. Violates the Bible’s teachings on the treatment of the poor (Leviticus 25:35, 55)

11. Violates the apostles’ teachings to seek freedom wherever possible

12. Differs from employing servants, which is permissible

13. In the case of Onesimus, did not concern a situation where Onesimus was Philemon’s property or the Apostle Paul “could never have affirmed that he might have retained him without wrong to his fellow Christian” (p 25)

14. Originates in piracy, which is wrong and unlawful in the United States, following Exodus 21:16

15. Is “a sin, because it is necessarily, especially in a free country, a source of cruelty, suffering, and vice” (p 28)

16. Is wrong, because it is “a fruitful source of sin” (p 28)

17. Is sinful because it violates the American doctrine of liberty

Regarding slavery practised by the patriarchs, that so-called “slavery,” or indentured servitude, differs from the American enslavement of African Americans in that it:

1. Was not induced by violence or kidnapping

2. Was a type of voluntary, indentured servitude. From Wikipedia:

An indentured servant or indentured labor is an employee (indenturee) within a system of unfree labor who is bound by a contract (indenture) to work for a particular employer for a fixed period of time. The employer is often permitted to assign the labor of an indenturee to a third party. Indenturees usually enter into an indenture for a specific payment or other benefit or to meet a legal obligation, such as debt bondage. Upon completion of the contract, indentured servants were granted freedom and occasionally plots of land. In many countries, systems of indentured labor have now been outlawed.

3. Often concerned the patriarchs’ own relatives and not strangers. Where so, there were extra limitations put on the service (Leviticus 25:39, 53)

4. Included bondmen (people obligated to work without wages), but these individuals were not kept in bondage as the American slaves were

5. Was sometimes used as a commutation for death in very limited historical circumstances

6. Was permissible with respect to non-relatives where:

  • the bond-servants’ time was sold for debt;
  • the bond-servant was serving punishment for a crime; or
  • foreigners had taken the bond-servant captive in a lawful war.

7. Offered great protections for the poor (Leviticus 25:35,55)

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