Biblical Slavery

Have you ever considered what the bible has to say about slavery?  I imagine that most Christians have no idea what the bible says about slavery, and I have found that the Christians who do know what the bible says concerning slavery, are content to ignore it, or attempt to dismiss, minimize, or justify what it says.  
An honest Christian would (should) admit that the biblical attitude toward slavery is deplorable, or at least admit that if these passages were in any other Holy book from any other religion, that they would THEN, find these passages deplorable.  I have yet to encounter such an honest Christian.

Here are some passages from the Bible (NRSV) that clearly demonstrate the biblical  position on slavery:

Genesis 17:12-13

Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

In this passage the author of Genesis understands that people buy other people and, quite obviously, he (God) is comfortable with the concept. He doesn't say "Stop it! Slaves are to be circumcised in the same way as non-slaves.  Imagine being a 12 year old boy, sold to some Hebrew family, then being strapped down and having your penis mutilated as you scream in pain, and then, quite possibly, die in a week or two from infection.

Exodus 12:43-44

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the ordinance for the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised;

In Exodus the author shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery and singles out male slaves for special treatment once their penis has been mutilated.

Exodus 21:1-11

These are the ordinances that you shall set before them: When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.  When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her.  If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.  If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.

The author describes how to become a slave for life, and shows that it is completely acceptable to separate slaves from their families. He completely endorses the physical branding of slaves through mutilation.

Exodus 21:20-21

When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.

He is also completely comfortable with the concept of beating your slaves even to the point of death, as long as they don't die IMMEDIATELY.  You can literally beat them to death as long as that death comes a few days after the beating.    

Exodus 21:32

If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

A slave is a human being, worth 30 shekels of silver.


Leviticus 22:10-11

No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations; but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food.

The children of slaves are slaves themselves, and the author is happy with that concept, even approving of priests purchasing slaves.

Leviticus 25:44-46

As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelite's, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.

Here the author regulates where you may purchase your slaves from, and clearly specifies that slaves are property to be bought, sold, and handed down to ones family.

Luke 7:2-10

A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Here Jesus shows that he is comfortable with the concept of slavery. Jesus heals the slave without any thought of freeing the slave or admonishing the slave's owner. Not one cross word directed at the person who owns another person.

Colossians 3:22-24

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.

Here the author instructs the slave to be in acceptance of their position in life, and encourages slaves to work hard for their owners. 

This sentiment is repeated in Titus 2:9-10

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

You are a slave, so suck it up and be the best slave you can be.

If the Bible is "the word of God", then you can come to only one possible conclusion: God is an advocate of slavery and is fully supportive of the concept.  God approves of and even offers instructions on how to acquire slaves, feed slaves, treat slaves, and pass ownership of slaves down to your children.

These slavery passages in the bible - if Christians would actually read them - should fill the Christian with a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance:

On the one hand, Christians (should) know that slavery is an outrage and a moral abomination. As a result, slavery is now completely illegal throughout the developed world. 

On the other hand, most Christians claim that the Bible came from God. In God's Word, the "creator of the universe" states that slavery is perfectly acceptable. Purchasing slaves is fine, beating your slaves is fine, owning the children of slaves is fine, separating slave families is fine. According to the Bible, it would appear to be fine if we all were practicing slavery today, as long as we followed these rules found in the bible.

Here is the thing that I would like to help the Christian understand: You, as a rational human being, know that slavery is wrong. You know it. Human beings owned slaves but then made slavery illegal, in direct defiance of "God's word". The bible never commanded an end to slavery.

What does your common sense now tell you about a Bible that approves of slavery in both the Old and the New Testaments? Given the fact that the Bible clearly condones slavery, your common sense should be telling you that the God of the bible is morally wrong.

Do you know, Christian, that as late as 160 years ago, in the USA, Christians owned slaves? You do know that, don't you? My Christian ancestors in the south owned slaves. Perhaps the best way today to get an understanding of what it was like to be a slave, owned by a Christian master, is to read what a former slave wrote.

All quotes from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845:

“I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land... I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.' I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday,
and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”

“We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand.”

“Another advantage I gained in my new master was, he made no pretensions to, or profession of, religion; and this, in my opinion, was truly a great advantage. I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,—a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,—a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,—and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists.”


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