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The Bible And Slavery

December 14, 2005 “kkmpripon” wrote:
Title of Article: slavery
Religious Belief: Christian
comments: Slavery to God is like divorce. It is not preferred by God, but allowed. There was/is slavery in the world because there was/is sin.

The Bible And Slavery

Dear KKmpripon,

Thanks for visiting You left us the following comment:

“Slavery to God is like divorce. It is not preferred by God, but allowed.
There was/is slavery in the world because there was/is sin.”

I am fairly certain that your comment was made in feedback to Dave Matson's article, and I have forwarded your comment to him, though may I also hazard a reply?

The Bible never says slavery is a sin, nor does it say that slavery existed as a concession to human sinfulness (like Moses' laws concerning divorce which Jesus reinterpreted in such a fashion). Rather, the Bible says people were blessed with having lots of slaves. And the Bible adds in the New Testament that slaves who obey even harsh unjust masters thereby please God. And that the master is worthy of all honor in the eyes of God.

The Bible And Slavery

The Bible says that all the patriarchs had slaves. Abraham, “the friend of God,” and “the father of the faithful,” bought slaves from Haran (Gen. 12:50), included them in his property list (Gen. 12:16, 24:35-36), and willed them to his son Isaac (Gen. 26:13-14). What is more, Scripture says God blessed Abraham by multiplying his slaves (Gen. 24:355). In Abrahamʼs household Sarah was set over the slave, Hagar. After Hagar ran away the angel told her, “return to your mistress and submit to her.” (Gen. 16:9)

The Bible even depicts the “Lord” making his own ministers slaveholders.
Numbers, chapter 31, says that the Hebrews slew all the Midianites with the exception of Midianite female virgins whom the Hebrews “kept for themselves…Now the booty that remained from the spoil, which the [Hebrew] men of war had plundered included…16,000 human beings [i.e., the female virgins] from whom the Lordʼs tribute was 32 persons. And Moses gave the tribute which was the Lordʼs offering to Eleazar the priest, just as the Lord had commanded Moses…And from the sons of Israelʼs half, Moses took one out of every fifty, both of man [i.e., the female virgins] and animals, and gave them to the Levites [the priestly tribe]…just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

At Godʼs command Joshua took slaves (Josh 9:23), as did David (1 Kings 8:2,6) and Solomon (1 Kings 9:20-21). Likewise, Job whom the Bible calls “blameless and upright,” was “a great slaveholder” (Job 1:15-17; 3:19; 4:18; 7:2; 31:13; 42:8)…Slavery is twice mentioned in the ten commandments (the 4th and 10th), but not as a sin. [“Thou shalt not covet thy neighborʼs wife, or his male slave, or his female slave.” Exodus 20:17]

How long must a person remain enslaved? Genesis, chapter nine, says that Noah laid a curse on one of his sonsʼ sons making him [and his childrenʼs children] “a slave of slaves… forever.” And Leviticus 25:44-46, says, “You may acquire male and female slaves from the nations that are around you. Then too, out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you…they also may become your possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever [i.e., the slaveʼs children would be born into slavery along with their childrenʼs children, forever].” So, slaves acquired from “foreign” nations could be treated as “possessions…forever;” also, enemies taken in war. Moreover, the second Psalm in the Bible (which scholars believe was sung at the coronation of Hebrew kings) proclaims, “Ask of me [the Lord], and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance [as slaves], and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potterʼs vessel.”

There were a few exceptions to “everlasting slavery.” If the slave was a Hebrew owned by a fellow Hebrew the master allegedly had to offer him his freedom after “seven years.” Though there is not a single penalty mentioned in the Bible should the master detain his slave longer than that period or refuse to offer him his freedom. Neither does such an offer appear to apply to female slaves. Furthermore, if a Hebrew slave chose to remain with his master after being offered his freedom, then the “Lord” told his people to “bore holes in the ears” of that slave to mark him as his masterʼs possession “forever.” So you had better speak up clearly and without hesitation the first time your master offered you your freedom because there was no Biblical provision for changing your mind at a later date. Complicating such decisions was the fact that masters often gave their slaves wives so they could produce children, yet the wife and children remained the masterʼs “possessions.” (Exodus 21:4-6)

The Bible also apparently allowed for a creditor to enslave his debtor or his debtorʼs children for the redemption of the debt (2 Kings 4:1); and children could be sold into slavery by their parents (Exodus 21:7; Isaiah 50:1). So sayeth “the word of the Lord.”

How much punishment could a master employ to discipline their slaves and ensure their obedience? The Bible tells us that a master may beat his slave within an inch of the slaveʼs life or within “a day or two” of their life: “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives a day or two (before dying), no vengeance shall be taken; for the slave is his masterʼs money.” (Ex. 21:20-21) In line with such pearls of wisdom an early Christian Council, The Council of Elvira (c. 305), prescribed that any Christian mistress who beat her slave to death without premeditation was merely to be punished with five years of penance. 1 Peter 2:18-20 teaches that the Christian who is a slave should “patiently endure” even harsh unjust punishments in order to “find favor with God.”

Letʼs sum up. According to the Bible, anyone who has enough money to buy another human being is “worthy of all honor” (1 Tim. 6:1) in the eyes of the one who has been purchased. Secondly, slaves should seek to fulfill the “will of God” by obediently serving their masters (Eph. 6:5-6). And thirdly, slaves who endured “suffering” (including “unjust suffering”) were “acceptable of God” (1 Peter 2:18-20). So if slaves do not find their masters “worthy of all honor,” but “disobey” their masters, and refuse to “endure sufferings” imposed by their masters, such behavior displeases not only man, but God as well. Even Jesus, in his parables, took for granted that a master had the right to discipline his disobedient slaves: “The slave who knew his masterʼs will, but did not do it, was beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47)

Every book in the Bible takes the existence of slavery for granted from Genesis to Revelation. Revelation 6:15; 13:16 & 19:18 take for granted the existence of “free men” and “slaves” (verse 18:13 even takes for granted the existence of both “slaves” and “chariots,” which is odd for a book some believe to be a “vision of the future”). At any rate, it is far from clear that the Bible is “against slavery.” And thatʼs putting it mildly.


Throughout the Bible slavery is as cheerfully and leniently assumed as are royalty, poverty, and female submission to males. In the English Bible there is frequent mention, especially in the parables of Jesus, to “servants.” The Greek word is generally “slaves.” Jesus talks about them as coolly as we talk about our housemaids or nurses. Naturally, he would say that we must love them; we must love all men (unless they reject our religious beliefs). But there is not a syllable of condemnation of the institution of slavery. According to Jesus “fornication” is a shuddering thing; but the slavery of fifty or sixty million human beings is not a matter for strong language. Paul approves the institution of slavery in just the same way.—He is in fact worse than Jesus. He saw slaves all over the Greco-Roman world and never said a word of protest.

Joseph McCabe, “Christianity and Slavery,” The Story of Religious
Controversy, Chapter XIX

Southern Baptist History 101

On June 10, 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention, for the first time, amended the 1963 Southern Baptist statement of faith known as the Baptist Faith And Message, adding a brand new section (XVIII) entitled the “Family Amendment” that states in part, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him [spiritually], has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation [in the societal realm].” [Comments in brackets by E.T.B.]

Of course, Southern Baptists believe their amendment concerning the necessity of wifely “submission” and the wifeʼs duty to “respect, serve and help” her husband, is what the Holy Scriptures demand. But Southern Baptist slaveowners once believed the same thing regarding the “submission” of slaves and the slaveʼs duty to “respect, serve and help” their masters. Hereʼs the story. In 1844, the national Baptist General Convention for Foreign Missions refused to license slaveowning missionaries. One year later, that refusal led to the split between the northern and southern Baptists. The southern Baptists were absolutely convinced that the Bible taught that God had divinely sanctioned slavery. As early as 1823, Richard Furman, a leader of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, a slaveholder, and for whom Furman University is named, stated in a famous address to the Governor of South Carolina, “The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” [See Exposition of The Views of the Baptists, Relative To The Coloured Population In The United States]. The next year, in 1845, those firmly convicted defenders of slavery formed their own separate Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Baptists at the 1998 Convention should go back and read the pro-slavery sermons, tracts and treatises of the founders of their denomination. Their Biblical expositions of Negro inferiority were based on Noah's curse of slavery upon Canaan, son of Ham, who was presumed to be the ancestor of the Black race; and also based on the patriarchal and Mosaic acceptance of slavery, and, also based on the New Testament commands of Peter and Paul regarding slave-master relationships. Rev. Furman stated, “For though they are slaves, they are also men; and are with ourselves accountable creatures; having immortal souls, and being destined to future eternal reward.” The Southern Baptist view was that slaves were better off under the loving, tender, compassionate care of Christian slaveowners, and the institution of slavery was to be “a blessing both to master and slave.” [Just like todayʼs Southern Baptists who preach that the “submission” of women to men is the only “blessed” norm.—E.T.B.] In fact it would little rewording of the 1998 “Family Amendment” to make it fit the 1845 Southern Baptist view toward slaves: “A slave/wife is to submit themselves graciously to the servant leadership of their master/husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. Slaves/females, being in the image of God as is their master/husband and thus equal to them [spiritually], has the God-given responsibility to respect their master/husband and to serve as their helper in picking cotton/managing the household and nurturing the next generation [in the societal realm].”

One hundred and fifty-five years later, after a Civil War that left six hundred thousand dead and one million wounded, we recognize that our Southern Baptist forefathers and foremothers were on the wrong side of history and Biblical interpretation…But if the slave subordination and submission passages are no longer binding upon the church, then why are the female subordination and submission passages?

Southern Baptist seminary professors were forced to sign a pledge of acceptance of the Family Amendment, or be fired. And denominational leaders were given the green light by their agencies to brand dissenters as heretics. Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and drafter of the Amendment, has written that those who do not support the Family Amendment are either “goddesses of radical feminism,” “gurus of political correctness,” “defenders of the subjective, secular Church of Sociology and Political Correctness,” or have succumbed to the “trendy egalitarian rhetoric of the late 20th century.” [November/December 1999 issue of Light (official magazine of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) entitled, “Questioning Biblical Submission: Religious Critics Renew Debate.”] Similar ridicule was heaped on Black Baptist ministers mere decades ago for refusing to attend the then segregated Southern Baptist Convention meetings and who insisted on the full equality of Blacks. Back then the pro-segregation Southern Baptist Convention leaders ridiculed the Black ministers, calling them “unchristian” in their objections, and unduly influenced “by what are essentially Russian Communistic theories.”

Letʼs review. Southern Baptists favored slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and fought against women's suffrage, federal lynching laws, desegregation and civil rights. Now they call for women to submit to their husbands regardless of the talents, abilities or calling of the parties…

Why is it that a large group of humans who know the Bible and claim to believe it, have missed the whisper of the Holy Spirit on all of the great American social issues of the last two centuries? Perhaps because churches do not exist in isolation from the ideas of their age and cultural milieu. And the South has a distinct cultural milieu/heritage. W. J. Cash opened his classic, The Mind Of The South, with these words, “There exists among us by ordinary…a profound conviction that the South is another land, sharply differentiated from the rest of the American nation, and exhibiting within itself a remarkable homogeneity.” Cash goes on to comment, “It is easy to trace throughout the region…a fairly definite mental pattern, associated with a fairly definite social pattern—a complex of established relationships and habits of thought, sentiments, prejudices, standards and values, and associations of ideas, which, if it is not common strictly to every group of white people in the South, is still common in one appreciable measure or another, and in some part or another, to all but relatively negligible ones.” (See also Religion And The Solid South, ed. Samuel S. Hill, Jr, E. T. Thompson, “God And The Southern Plantation System,” Nashville, Abington Press, 1972).

In short, we Southern Baptists, more so than most any other American denomination, are a cultural tribe with such deeply ingrained cultural biases and prejudices that it is difficult for us to even recognize we have them.

In a speech to the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, William M. Dyal, Jr. stated, “The Southern Baptist Convention carries yet the birthmark of guilt for slavery and racism. It is still difficult to discern between our church and our culture.” Foy Valentine, retired Executive Director of the Christian Life Commission, observed that Southern Baptists “abandoned the Lordship of Christ in racial ethics.” Instead we Southern Baptists simply reproduced the caste culture of slavery, segregation and prejudice. (A Historical Study Of Southern Baptists And Race Relations 1917-1947, Arno Press, New York, 1980).

Southern Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden wrote, “The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in defense of mid-nineteenth century Southern culture.” (Not A Silent People, Broadman Press, 1972, p.52).

Secular sociologists and church historians have all pointed out that the Southern Baptist church is strongly influenced by its culture, and is in fact, controlled by southern culture. (See, C. Penrose St. Amant, “Southern Baptists And Southern Culture,” Review and Expositor, LXVII, Spring 1970, p.146).

Sociologist Norman Yance wrote, “Southern Baptist attitudes follow the path of least resistance and conform to sectional opinion.” (Religion Southern Style, 1978, p.5).

One of the great Southern Baptist pastors, denominational leaders and editorialists of bygone days recognized our “cultural Christianity,” and reveled in it. J. W. Porter once wrote while opposing women's suffrage: “The truth is, and we may as well speak it, this contention about equal rights for women is a by-product of a civilization that is antithetic to the genius of our Southern social system. Susan B. Anthony [not a Christian], one of the leading advocates of the sexless woman, was also an ardent advocate of the social equality of the races.” (Western Recorder, February 14, 1918). What a sin, to be “an advocate of the social equality of races”—what a sin, that is, in the eyes of a Southern Baptist leader writing in 1918.

More than 80 years ago, Southern Baptist leaders in the U.S. opposed the attempt by women to gain the right to vote. Baptist, Stalworth W. L. Hargis, quoted various Bible texts and concluded, “Does this sound like God intended that man and woman should be on a parity in everything, civil, religious, social and everything else?" ("Woman Suffrage,” The Baptist Record, XXIV, August 10, 1922, p.6).

The Barna Research Group just concluded an extensive survey of the correlation between religion and divorce in American. They found that 24 percent of all Americans have been divorced. The divorce rate of Baptists is 29 percent. Interestingly, the divorce rate among those calling themselves atheists or agnostics is 21 percent. After Nevada, home of the quickie Las Vegas divorce, the four Southern Baptist stronghold states Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma (from which a Family Amendment drafter hails) and Arkansas lead the nation in divorce, and round out the top five. The Southeast, the Bible Belt, as a region, has the highest divorce rate. All southern states except South Carolina exceed the national divorce average.

D. Marty Lasley [Southern Baptist], “Keeping Women In Servitude: Why Southern Baptists Resurrected The Hermeneutics Of Slavery” (2000) [Edited by E.T.B.] Lasleyʼs website:

The Southern Baptists, a denomination that split with its Baptist cousins to the north over the right of ministers to own slaves (and presently the nation's largest Protestant Christian denomination) “apologized” in June 1995 for their pro-slavery, pro-racist, pro-segregationist past. Measured from the date Southern Baptists began waving their Christian banner for slavery (1845) to the date they apologized (1995), it took them longer to apologize than it took the white South African government to apologize for their segregation policy known as “apartheid;” it took them longer to apologize than it took the Japanese Emperor to apologize to the Asian nations who suffered at the hands of Japan during World War II; it took them longer to apologize than it took the U.S. government to apologize to the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to prison camps during World War II; it took them longer to apologize than it took the U.S. government to apologize to the native Hawaiians whose government was forcibly overthrown in 1893; it took them longer to apologize than it took an Israeli president to shake hands with the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Besides which, the Berlin Wall rose and fell and so did communism in Russia, before Southern Baptists finally apologized—an apology uttered one hundred and fifty years, six hundred thousand corpses, and countless lynchings, whippings and beatings, too late.


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