T Nation

The bible and slavery...

A genuine question?

I hope that no one will be offended by it, and it isn?t meant as an attack on anyone?s faith or anything. Instead it is something that I have very curious about, and have been for a while.

As Christians who try and live by the bible how do you deal with the fact that the bible, in both the old and new testament, sanctions things, such as slavery, that are universally accepted as wrong these days.

This is really not meant as an act, I am interested though. I have included some quotes that I found online.

For instance?

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. (Exod. 21:20-21)

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1Tim. 6:1-5)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Eph. 6:5-6)

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. (Titus 2:9-10)

Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. (1Pet. 2:18-29)

Since I am a Christian living in the dispensation of grace, the OT references are not directed towards me. Therefore, because of that and my time constraints, I will only address the NT references (even though I would argue the book of Peter is not directed towards me either, but the idea represented is the same).

The NT references are not advocating slavery. Certainly, the Abolishionist movement in the US was a CHRISTIAN movement. Rather, the passages you cite merely tell those CHRISTIANS in bondage how to act. IOW those passages are telling CHRISTIAN SLAVES to act in a manner that will serve as a testimony to their masters and to the society as a whole.

You also have to keep in mind who Paul was writing to and the era in which they all lived. Slavery was a given, it was everywhere and inescapable. Paul was writing to bodies of believers which included CHRISTIAN SLAVES. Also, at that time, Christianity was still considered a part of Judiaism and as we all know, at that time, one of the most persecuted groups around were Jews. They were not a politically powerful group, so they were stuck with whatever the Roman Empire allowed. The Roman Empire allowed slavery, so it is only logical that Paul would address those believers who were stuck in bondage.

Simply put, this is an anachronism due to the times in which the bible was written. In ancient times, slavery was a reality and no one could imagine it not existing. It was a common punishment for prisoners of war, criminals, etc. Basically the bible calls on slaves to not be violent and ambitious but instead to do their job well, while owners are to treat them kindly and with respect.

WRT the OT references, I will just add, just because God allowed it does not mean it was the 100% right thing (see Jesus’ comments on divorce).

Of course, this is but one Christian’s perspective! :wink:

Change the word slave for employee and you pretty much have it for the updated version.

Simple, eh? ;pppp At least we can choose our masters now ehehehe.


They why is the rest of the Bible taken for face value when 90% is found to have little validity in modern life or science? It was written in ancient times and represents ancient ideas.

Hahahah. Dan I know the feeling. :wink:

Religion scares me to death.

Bunch of disturbed individuals thats what they all are. Very good post. Also remember just centuries ago you could prosecuted for saying the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. Look at Galileo and Copernicus.

I never for one second believed in religion. Never will. Religion has claimed more lives and caused more pain and suffering alone than any other cause.

The Bible was written by man, and thus has the flaws of men, it is that simple.

Don’t forget that the slavery of the Bible’s time was conceptually quite different from the race-based slavery that developed later. Trying to compare the two is comparing apples to oranges. The NT references referred to slavery as it existed under the Romans, not in the Old South. Context is everything.

BTW Diesel23, read up on the actual stories of Copernicus and Gallileo and you will discover that it wasn’t so much the Church, but representatives of the jealous scientific orthodoxy of the time, who were the prime movers behind the troubles of those advancing the new ideas.

“Bunch of disturbed individuals thats what they all are.”

Well, diesel. I am glad you have outted yourself for the complete bigot you are.

deez, what are you saying “Exactly” about? You don’t think chatel slavery still exists in this world? How ignorant can you be?

Regarding the Old Testament quotes, as someone has mentioned earlier, slavery was different conceptually. Mainly, the slavery they speak of is a form of punishment. That is, if someone commits a crime, they can become a slave as punishment. I think, also, that someone could become a “slave” to a master and either work off a debt or work to gain some type of land. Regarding the New Testament, as others have mentioned, St. Paul is simply telling the Christian slave (and this is someone who is in the evil form of slavery, where his human dignity is denied) how to live.

Regarding Diesel’s comments, you think religion has killed the most people? Think again bro, try the absolute rejection of God in government. That, my friend is what we call communism.

Also remember that the bible is a translation of a translation. Some things are not as they appear. In one part it says that a woman should not wear a mans clothing. What its actually referring to is homosexuality. It means a woman should not take the place of a man with another woman not that a woman cant wear pants. Literal interpretations can be tricky because again it is a translation of a translation. If i tell you something and then you tell somebody else the same thing i told you, your version is going to be a little different than mine. We would be much better off just getting the jist of the Bible and its meaning down and stop trying to worry about that it says this here and that there.

Why attack Diesel just because he correctly points out how many lives have been taken in the name of religion? Frankly, although I have strongly held personal spiritual beliefs, I agree with his assessment of organized religion in general. People use their beliefs as a blugdeon to manipulate others and it really creeps me out. I have been a victem of these kind of self-righteous, presumptuous pompas asses, and when I realized what was going on I was amazed at just how sleazy the whole racket really is.

Just look at the Catholic Church right now… a bunch of pedophiles who get to move from community to community, being protected by priests who KNEW what they did, and unleashed them on unsuspecting communities… their only excuse? It is okay because the perverts were “forgiven by God.” Well, those assholes can kiss my ass, because if ANYONE ever even looked cross-eyed at my children I would hand them their testicles! You guys can keep your religion.

I agree about religion. A distintion should be made between religion and having a personal relationship with God.

Who is attacking diesel?

He said those of us who are “religious” (in any way shape or form) are “disturbed”.

Funny how those who hate religious folks because they are “intollerant” are the most intollerant I have ever met.

I think the original question has been answered and proved without a doubt that a comparison of slavery in today’s ideas compared to that of the Bible is hardly an argument, they are two totally different things.

However like many such topics that are brought up and quickly explained they have caused some critics to surface with a lot not so relevant arguments but topics of debate just the same.

Little validity in modern life or science? If I remember correctly you have some exposure to the Bible correct? In fact if I recall you ranted in another thread about morality? Much of the Bible urges people to act morally and live righteously, loving thy neigbhor, being honest, etc., etc., how is this not valid in modern life? Also remember that science and archeology are continually adding to the existing proof of the validity of the Bible, especially the events that transpired.

“Written in ancient times representing ancient ideas?” Again Dawg, an overwhelming portion of the Bible, including the Old Testament is applicable to our lives today. Whether you choose to live by these ideas is another topic, but you have to agree the Bible is EVERY bit as applicable today as it was all those years ago.


“Very good post.” It was a good question, but it was easily explained. Camparing the two is like comparing an apple to the number of people in the the East Timor village of Tshiciah who are left handed. It doesn’t produce any results…

“Religion has killed more people and caused pain and suffering…” Uhhh, no it hasn’t. I’m not for a second saying that religion isn’t responsible for a lot of trouble (see JPs post)… but if you look over that statement you made with an open mind, or look over some history books, you’ll see that it’s not true. Want proof?

“The Bible was written by man, and thus has the flaws of men, it is that simple.”

So, Scall… would you have preferred if the gorilla in the Ft. Worth zoo wrote it? C’mon, who else would have written it? You do have a point though. See the King James version that many quote was nothing but a revision and collection (published first in 1611) of many versions derived from Tyndales revision of the Bible from The Vulgate, a latin Bible translated from the original Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek writings and known to have many errors, basically a copy of a copy of a bad copy… but again thats another topic.


I agree, hang those pedefiles out to dry!!! Spiritually I forgive them, but practicallly I beleive they should face much harsher punishment.

Yes there are people who cuase trouble in the name of religion! Yes people twist and corrupt religion to further themselves. Does that mean the Bible or Christianity is any less true?

I’ll prove it by saying look at all the ill conceived training and nutrition info out there! Look at all the horrible personal trainers out there abusing their titles and so forth. Training, nutrition, it’s a complicated, frustrating, mess of lies and misinformation. But do we stop training!? NO!

We seek the truth! And we start by having an open mind, and not being lazy in our efforts to find it!

AGATHOS: I`m with Diesel and like minded posters. Care to detail more about historical numbers?

I am no history buff at all because history is mostly flawed in favor of/by those who wrote it (at least nowadays you can have multiple sources and make up your mind).

The Crusades come to mind. That must not be the only war that was stirred because of religious beliefs. Also consider the fact that, until the second half of the 20th century, there were not too much alternatives to religions, and no global information systems like the Net, where one could have alternatives and weigh things by himself. (Talking about possibility. Whether people exert the effort or willingness to have their beliefs shaken is part 2.) So, in short, the big majority of people in the past were stuck with only one view where they lived. Those who had knowledge also had power. Trust crowd/mass psychology to have them control people like pawns when any authority in place felt like calling out a war (those that were different were subject to guilt, being called infidel, if not worse).

So, what`s the total deaths? I seriously doubt that total (religion related) death tolls in previous centuries will be lower than the 20th century. People were dumber, more easily manipulated, and the timeframe is far longer.

CLUBBERLANG: Idem. Give me your numbers too.