Internet philosophers love to point out contradictions…especially perceived contradictions in the Bible. The charge that the “Bible endorses slavery” is rampant and definitive. To those making the charge, no further argument is needed, and the case is closed because <outrage font> “slavery is wrong!”
Let’s analyze this claim and tactic. By what absolute standard do YOU declare slavery to be wrong/immoral/evil? For those who claim the worldview of naturalism/materialism/absurdism, what is evil? The priests of naturalism have this to say about human origins:
- Carl Sagan – “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”
- Tyson – “We (humans) are not figuratively but literally stardust.”
- Dawkins – “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
- Nye – “We are just a speck, on a speck, orbiting a speck, in the corner of a speck, in the middle of nowhere.”
So, if humans are the accidental aggregate of stardust on a speck of a speck in the midst of a blind, pitiless, indifferent universe made only of atoms, how can they justify unchanging, abstract universals like truth, morality, math, laws of logic, and physical laws by which to judge something or someone as evil? It is inconsistent and absurd for the naturalist to make judgments against the Bible as somehow immoral. What does stardust (humans) care about morality? What intrinsic value does stardust have such that it needs to be protected from slavery? How could stardust reason…and with what unchanging absolute tools?
So, if you do not start with the God of scripture, who revealed Himself in creation, in the Bible, and in Jesus – your outrage against ANYTHING God does, commands, or endorses is impotent.
But how do Christians understand the “endorsement of slavery” within the Bible? Is there a positive case to be made that would help Christians to understand the negative perception? Let’s look at scripture and see:
- God is eternally Holy. His character defines morality since He created mankind in his image. It is only because the unchanging, transcendent Creator has revealed Himself do we have any justification for declaring anything as “immoral” or “evil.” Adam/Eve were the 1st humans and their rebellion against God’s requirement affected all of creation (Genesis 3.) Since then, every human has followed suit in their rebellion against God, so EVERYONE deserves God’s righteous judgment. This is key: EVERYONE. But God’s plan was to send his only Son, Jesus to die and take the punishment for sin of everyone who repents of their rebellion. So, by his amazing grace, although everyone deserves punishment, some repent and receive mercy and abundant life! So, since everyone is guilty of disobedience against the perfectly holy Creator, slavery is better than what the rebellious actually deserve.
- Because everyone has sinned and there are uncontrolled consequences for rebellion against the Creator, mistreating people has become ubiquitous. Since the fallen idea of might-makes-right was recognized as the dominant paradigm in place of being God’s image bearers, slavery had a fertile garden in which to grow. The mightiest, richest, and/or craftiest have always been able to selfishly extort and manipulate other people. Slavery is actually the expected result of the human condition BECAUSE of the sin nature within mankind.
- The charge is that the Bible endorses slavery. What is the definition of slavery? In 1960, if someone said they were gay, what would that have meant? They were happy. In the 21st century, saying you’re gay has a completely different connotation. In the 21st century slavery is a polarizing term that means: White people owning/abusing/killing black people. To put this into perspective, let me explain a few things, Americans have received free education from our respective local governments from K-12 grades. We learned reading, writing, arithmetic, history, sociology, physics, music, and biology. With that education, and in a capitalist society, we can use those precious gifts to find employment and support our respective families. This was not the case 3000 years ago when the Bible was written. All over the world, for someone to live and eat they would need to “sell or rent” themselves into indentured servitude (slavery). Those who did not own land or were uneducated had no recourse other than to serve in the military or serve as a laborer. Both the old and new testaments set requirements for masters to treat their workers as valuable humans. The Bible gives clear boundaries and punishments for masters to treat their indentured servants as they themselves would want to be treated.
- Those who would kidnap and enslave others involuntarily are specifically condemned: I Timothy 1:10 “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”
- In Matthew 22 Jesus is recorded to have said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” So whether as a master or an indentured servant, love God and love people.
- The Egyptians, who had enslaved the Israelites for over 400 years, were harsh masters…so much so that the Hebrews cried out to God for divine intervention (Ex 3:7). God delivered them from the harsh slavery of the Egyptians, and told the Hebrews very clearly to treat indentured servants with mercy. Deuteronomy 15:12-15 says “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.”
- The Apostle Paul wrote an impassioned letter to a fellow Christian, and it is included in the Bible under the name of the recipient, Philemon. Philemon is the master of an escaped indentured servant, Onesimus. Paul exhorts Philemon “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother”
- I listened to the audio books of Game of Thrones. I one of the books there were several chapters that described the story of the Dragon queen conquering a land that was defined by slavery. She succeeded in ending slavery in the whole land. When she (as the new queen) began seeing petitioners, one of the former slaves asked her to re-instate slavery because he and many others were now suffering as indigents. He makes the case that as a slave, he was cared for and protected in his master’s house, but when slavery was forcefully ended, it created a new class of homeless and downtrodden. In much the same way, the world prior to Western Culture was plagued with generational slavery. Because many masters were evil and de-humanized their slaves, chattel slavery flourished. But the Christian abolitionist, William Wilberforce helped to re-calibrate the philosophical assumptions that described certain classes of slaves as sub-human to instead show that they were created in God’s image and thus had inherent value. His crusade to end chattel slavery in England swept across Europe and finally into the western hemisphere. Thankfully, today, in this culture, slavery has ended and is unnecessary (for the indigent). Sadly, in other countries, young girls are still forced into sexual slavery because of generational illiteracy and corrupt rulers/elite.
The charge that the Bible is immoral fails for these and other reasons.
Because God has revealed Himself as Holy, unchanging, and transcendent, we can trust his revelation and praise Him in fulfillment of our created purpose. Jesus truly is worthy of all praise!!!