Following on from the article where I showed how Biblical Law was divided into three groups - civil, ceremonial and moral - and how and why only the moral law still stands, I will now look closer at the issue of slavery. We are often told that slavery is the 19th Century equivalent of the modern homosexual debate. With the majority of Church members opposing the minorities views and rights in order to feel superior. We are told the Church wrongly supported the oppression of slaves then and it continues to oppress people today, except instead of slaves the new targets of oppression are homosexuals. But is this true?
The two issues we have to pause and look at here are:
1. What does the Bible say about slavery?
2. What was slavery in the Bible? (How did the people of Biblical times understand the word “slave”, did they understand it like we do?)
Well first of all the Bible NEVER SUPPORTS SLAVERY. There is no command to enslave others, nor any support of enslaving others. There is no moral quality associated with owing slaves or being part of a society that has slavery... though we often hear of how the Bible supports slavery the truth is that there isn’t a single thing in the Bible that says slavery was good, or to be encouraged.
Slavery is NOT OF GOD. What I mean by that is that slavery didn’t exist before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. When mankind was in the Garden we were in a state of perfection, living out God’s Will but when sin entered the human race many sinful ideas and practices entered human life... adultery, incest, murder, slavery etc. The world before the fall was good and perfect and described by God Himself in Genesis 1:31 as “very good” and it is clear from the book of Genesis that slavery did not exist before the fall – unlike heterosexual marriage- and thus it is not viewed as being the norm or part of God’s original plan for humanity.
The Bible as a whole REJECTS SLAVERY! It is okay to look at individual stories and narratives within the Word of God, but sometimes it helps to take a step back and look at the message delievered throughout the Bible. In other words we need to step back and look at the great river of the Bible’s history as it flows from the Garden of Eden, on to the Cross at Calvary and on to the Acts of the Apostles and then check to see if it flows for or against slavery.
To be blunt it won’t take long to see that the Bible when viewed as a whole opposes slavery. Just think of Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt or the overriding story of how Christ freed us from slavery to sin and evil. The Bible is littered with such stories of freedom of slavery and repeatedly tells us that freedom from slavery is good (1 Corinthians 7:21-23 and Philemon 16 being two notable examples of this).
Okay but the Bible does include laws concerning slavery. No one is disputing that. They were of course civil laws but it must be pointed out that there is nothing in these laws that endorses or supports slavery as being right, or good. Instead they strive to regulate and control a practice widespread amongst the nations in their time. They were dealing with the reality of the situation rather than ignoring it, so these rule sought to limit and control an unfair practice in order to make it more fair to slaves. It’s not as simple as picking one or two laws on slavery from the Bible, instead one must read all the laws pertaining to slavery to get a full and complete understanding of what the Bible is really saying. For example, if a slave were to run away, they couldn’t be returned. There was also the right of near-kin redemption and from the Biblical laws we can see that the slavery described is not as we often think of it, or as it was in America or British Colonies a century or two ago.
So if it’s not the same... what does the Bible mean when it talks about slavery?
Well in some ways the slavery in the Bible is a way of describing the welfare system of the time. If you were out of work and had no food or money you couldn’t get benefits or handouts from the state. Instead you could agree to become someone’s “slave”, which meant not only that you had to work for them but also that they were obligated to care for you and your family.
A modern example might be a student taking a year off from their studies who goes off to another country and stays with a friend’s family. His friend’s family gives him accommodation and food, and in return he works around the house one day a week (he works in a bar the rest of the week). Under the Bible’s definition he would be a “slave” to his friend’s family and just like the Bible requires, he is allowed to leave any time he wishes to which is obviously very different from the horrors of slavery in the Western World.
Truthfully in a lot of the cases in which the Bible refers to slavery we are actually reading about a type of employer (master) and employee (slave) relationship whereby a person worked exclusively for another, and in return they received care and provision, which they could then use to hire “slaves” (that is people who worked for them) of their own.
This isn’t the slavery that we think of. This is not the slavery we know. The slavery of the 17th and 18th Centuries was exploitation, it was wrong and it was not Biblical and isn’t in accordance with Biblical Law.
Those who try to say that the Bible supported slavery – be it in America, or India or China or anywhere else on this earth - are forcing their own desires onto God’s Word instead of teaching the truth. Yes, some in America sought to pretend that the Bible supported their position. They ignored the over-riding message of the Bible in favour of their own prejudiced and racist beliefs and when they had implemented the subjugation and bondage of their fellow man they then chose to ignore the very Biblical laws that they used as a defence of their practices. God’s Word worked to regulate a widespread practice in the hope that all men would one day work together in love, peace and unity as equals... slaves to no man but only to God.
So we see that the common argument that “the Bible’s position on homosexuality is wrong just as its position on Slavery was wrong” is at best a misunderstanding, but at worst a downright twisting of the facts and misrepresentation of the Word of God. The Bible never supported slavery, and no amount of twisting can make it so. The Holy Bible stands vindicated in spite of attacks on its integrity; it remains a moral code untarnished by the lies and half truths of its enemies.
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." - 2 Timothy 3:16-17