Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Bible on Slavery

I am hoping to return to this subject sometime in the future when I have more time to revisit it, but I have to give a little primer before then. I am currently reading Newsweek's cover article called, "Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy," and, in the middle of the article, the author makes a bold claim that I have heard ad nauseum recently. Proponents of gay marriage, or any other lifestyle that they want to justify, make this assertion: "The Bible endorses slavery." There it is, right in the middle of the article.

I may be embarrassing myself, considering that my job requires me to be informed on biblical issues, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out where the Bible "endorses," "commands," or "promotes" slavery. This idea comes up over and over again, and I don't know where it's coming from. Does it "condemn" slavery? It doesn't seem to. But does it "endorse" it (the kind of slavery, at least, that went on in this country 150 years ago)? I plan to do an exhaustive study on the Bible's treatment of slavery sometime soon, but until then, can someone help me out here?


Ellen said...

I read that online and was wondering the same thing. False interpretations on the part of the writer. But then again, she is trying to prove her point. I got carried away in reading all the comments posted by the readers. Many opinions. Many need a bible study on that topic as well as others. I had to refrain myself from posting a comment as I was reminded that "Jesus entered into no controversy" (DA). However, a few paragraphs later, "The best way to deal with error is to present truth" (DA). But I don't know if that is the best forum. Anyhoo, would be interested in your exegesis on slavery.

Joelle said...

Maybe they're misunderstanding the story of Philemon or something. If my memory serves me correctly (I don't have a Bible close by at the moment), the ceremonial laws said that people could be in bondage for 7 years and then released, or if they loved their masters so much they could have their ear pierced with an awl or something and commit themselves to work for the owner for life. But no, I can't think of any place where the Bible promotes slavery. Christ came to give liberty to slaves ("captives") of sin. The only conclusion I can come to is that the author of that article must have misunderstood or misapplied something.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if over time the idea that the Bible has been used to support slavery has morphed into the idea that the Bible endorses slavery. Because certainly the Bible has been used to support slavery, as well as to define roles for men and women.

Charles said...

God didn't condone slavery.
God didn't condone multiple wives.
God didn't condone kings for Israel.
God didn't/doesn't condone homosexuality.

Yet throughout Biblical history, we see slavery, multiple wives and kings. Homosexuality seems to be something altogether different, and I can't find anything in scripture where God worked through that broken system. In most cases, there is destruction as a result.

God worked in and through broken systems to reach His people. He may not have approved it, but He allowed it and still loved His people. And when slavery was typical of what was seen here in this country, God delivered his people from it(Exodus?).

Its a tough issue - I am not sure if we'll ever have full answers this side of eternity. Just remember that God worked through some pretty broken systems and people (Rahab, Samson, David, Solomon for example, and chose a bunch of misfits for disciples.)

Dingo said...

Two parts of the scriptural evidence used to support that idea are 1. the Old Testament laws regulated the practice of slavery rather than forbidding it and 2. Paul instructed slaves to obey their masters instead of instructing masters to free their slaves.

A lot of people do not have the concept that God meets people and civilizations where they are at and leads them to better understandings of things like human dignity at a pace they can bear rather than rushing them along into such rapid and radical changes that they rebel against moral progress. They seem to feel that if God and Bible-based religions were really good, then God would have, at the outset totally forbidden anything that we understand to be morally evil today.

This sentiment seems to be requiring of God an act of moral tyranny which is the equivalent of the trend among some far Right wing religionists of wanting to make religious laws to enforce their concepts of religion on those who believe differently.

Somewhere, I think the Spirit of Prophecy states that God laid down principles that would in time eradicate slavery. We can see this in the Bible's teachings that there is neither bond nor free but that both are one in Jesus and that masters are to treat their slaves according to the knowledge that both master and slave are brothers and slaves of Jesus.

These principles also have roots in the Old Testament laws governing the treatment of slaves. These laws were far more merciful and liberal than those of the surrounding cultures. God actually taught Israel to care how slaves were treated. For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments allows slaves as well as free people a 24-hour vacation from labor each week. Also, a man taking a female slave into his household for sexual purposes was required by the law of God to marry her and accord her all the rights of a free wife.