Slavery and the Bible
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
For many Black people who have problems with Christianity, one of the biggest issues that many people speak of is the issue of slavery in the Bible. Many people believe that the Bible, and therefore God, condones slavery and is okay with slavery. Christianity was also one of the biggest weapons used against Native Americans and African Americans, specifically to enslave and dominate entire groups of people. Because of this, for many years this topic of slavery, Christianity, and God has been very touchy and hard for me to even begin to delve into. However, just recently I have seemed to of had a revelation about how God views slavery.
But to understand this topic in its entirety, one would have to go literally all the way back to the beginning. And by literally I mean literally. To get the Old Testament into context, (to understand slavery within the Old Testament, and subsequently God in the Old Testament), one would have to go all the way back to Genesis. In Genesis it talks about how God created the Heavens and the Earth. And he also created the Garden of Eden. Which just so happens to have been in heaven as well. Within the Garden of Eden, God dwelt among Adam and Eve (which are the people He created to live there). He lived with them, he loved them, and he cherished them. However, when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit which gave them the knowledge of Good and Evil, the devil tempted them by saying that when they ate of the fruit, then they wouldn't need God as much anymore. And because of this God said that people needed free will. God wanted His creation to live with Him. But if they didn't want to live with Him, He didn't want to force anyone to be where they didn't want to be. So He banished them from the Garden of Eden, because that is ultimately what they wanted. However, just because he banished them from the Garden of Eden, He still did not leave them. They simply just did not live in the Garden of Eden anymore. And because God is a great God and He wants to give people a second chance, He decided to give people a covenant that still gave them the opportunity to be with Him in heaven. So the old Covenant, (which is the story of the Old Testament), is where people had to follow laws in order to please God and essentially get into heaven.
And I know this may seem like something completely off topic, but this has to be said in order to contextualize the laws regarding slavery within Exodus. Exodus chapter 21 is typically the slavery laws that people speak of when they believe that God condones slavery. (Shown below in italics). And honestly upon first reading without context, this does appear to be the case. But as you delve into the complete word of God, you find that God would never allow slavery (in the modern context of the word).
Give the Israelites the following laws: 2 If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve you for six years. In the seventh year he is to be set free without having to pay anything. 3If he was unmarried when he became your slave, he is not to take a wife with him when he leaves; but if he was married when he became your slave, he may take his wife with him. 4If his master gave him a wife and she bore him sons or daughters, the woman and her children belong to the master, and the man is to leave by himself. 5But if the slave declares that he loves his master, his wife, and his children and does not want to be set free, 6then his master shall take him to the place of worship. There he is to make him stand against the door or the doorpost and put a hole through his ear. Then he will be his slave for life.
7“If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she is not to be set free, as male slaves are. 8If she is sold to someone who intends to make her his wife, but he doesn't like her, then she is to be sold back to her father; her master cannot sell her to foreigners, because he has treated her unfairly. 9If a man buys a female slave to give to his son, he is to treat her like a daughter. 10If a man takes a second wife, he must continue to give his first wife the same amount of food and clothing and the same rights that she had before. 11If he does not fulfill these duties to her, he must set her free and not receive any payment.
20“If a slave owner takes a stick and beats his slave, whether male or female, and the slave dies on the spot, the owner is to be punished. 21But if the slave does not die for a day or two, the master is not to be punished. The loss of his property is punishment enough.
26“If someone hits his male or female slave in the eye and puts it out, he is to free the slave as payment for the eye. 27If he knocks out a tooth, he is to free the slave as payment for the tooth.
As one begins to read the complete word of God, and especially the Bible stories that speak on slavery, one begins to draw to the conclusion that slavery in the Bible was absolutely nothing like the slavery in the American chattel system. Slavery within the context of the Bible was actually a voluntary act. It was essentially a form of indentured servitude and was used as a way to pay off debts, buy food, or sometimes it was simply a means to avoid homelessness. And I know that sounds weird and kind of like a lie, but I promise you that this can be proven within the scripture. The first place in the bible that this can be seen is in the story of Joseph within the book of Genesis. At this point of Joseph's life he was promoted to be the second in command for the Pharaoh of Egypt. However during this time period there was also a famine going on in Egypt. The people in Egypt were hungry and had already sold Egypt everything that they had, so they decided to sell themselves into slavery to get some food. And when they did, they were happy and praised Joseph for making sure they didn't starve during this time period.
13The famine was so severe that there was no food anywhere, and the people of Egypt and Canaan became weak with hunger. 14As they bought grain, Joseph collected all the money and took it to the palace. 15When all the money in Egypt and Canaan was spent, the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food! Don't let us die. Do something! Our money is all gone.”
16Joseph answered, “Bring your livestock; I will give you food in exchange for it if your money is all gone.” 17So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. That year he supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock.
18The following year they came to him and said, “We will not hide the fact from you, sir, that our money is all gone and our livestock belongs to you. There is nothing left to give you except our bodies and our lands. 19Don't let us die. Do something! Don't let our fields be deserted. Buy us and our land in exchange for food. We will be the king's slaves, and he will own our land. Give us grain to keep us alive and seed so that we can plant our fields.”
20Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for the king. Every Egyptian was forced to sell his land, because the famine was so severe; and all the land became the king's property. 21Joseph made slaves of the people from one end of Egypt to the other. 22The only land he did not buy was the land that belonged to the priests. They did not have to sell their lands, because the king gave them an allowance to live on. 23Joseph said to the people, “You see, I have now bought you and your lands for the king. Here is seed for you to sow in your fields. 24At the time of harvest you must give one-fifth to the king. You can use the rest for seed and for food for yourselves and your families.”
25They answered, “You have saved our lives; you have been good to us, sir, and we will be the king's slaves.”
Another example of this in the bible is actually within one of the rules regarding slavery that is in Exodus 21. Exodus 21:16 reads:
“Whoever kidnaps someone, either to sell him or to keep him as a slave, is to be put to death."
This verse shows that forcing someone into slavery is an illegal and immoral act; which furthers provides support that slavery within the bible was voluntary.
Another example in the bible that slavery was a voluntary act, is shown in Deuteronomy 23:15-16
15“If slaves run away from their owners and come to you for protection, do not send them back. 16They may live in any of your towns that they choose, and you are not to treat them harshly.
This verse explains that if slaves (who have willing chose slavery for their life) decide to run away from their owners either for harsh treatment, or simply because they don't want that life anymore, God's people are supposed to take them in and not return them to the life that they left behind.
And to provide yet another example of slavery not being a bad situation for people, and it being a COMPLETELY different scenario than American Chattel Slavery, is in the book of Ester. Ester was a Jew and she was the queen of the City that she lived in. However, one of the King's advisors had a plot to trick the King into committing a genocide against the Jewish people of the land (which included her; even though she was the Queen they still didn't really like women during this time period and she would've been snatched up too.) And when she goes to tell the King of the plot that was happening, she says something very interesting.
3Queen Esther answered, “If it please Your Majesty to grant my humble request, my wish is that I may live and that my people may live. 4My people and I have been sold for slaughter. If it were nothing more serious than being sold into slavery, I would have kept quiet and not bothered you about it; but we are about to be destroyed—exterminated!”
This goes to show that slavery had a completely different context and experience than American Chattel Slavery, because the issue of slavery being brought upon her and her people, would not have been enough for her to say anything to the king.
So to sum up all of the examples provided, Slavery was a voluntary choice to make in order to pay off debts, get food, or avoid homelessness. Slaves could only serve for six years and after that they had to be set free (or they could stay if they wanted to). Slaves were supposed to be treated with care and not treated harshly by their owners. Slaves were also allowed to leave when they wanted to, and they could be protected by going to one of God's people and by living in their town. And with all of these laws in place, they were created to protect slaves from maltreatment of their owners because God also cared about them. He knew that slavery could lead into some sticky situations in the wrong hands, so He created laws to protect slaves from the possibility of that happening. And the moment that did occur where slaves were being treated badly, God sent Moses to free them from their pain and suffering; so that they could be delivered onto the promise land.
And with all of these examples being provided within the text, this only goes to show how slavery was viewed within the context of the Old Testament (which was the Old Covenant) but how does God view slavery now in the New Covenant that He created after the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
I was praying to God for the answer to this question and also a scripture verse I could use to prove that answer and God gave me an answer. He obviously told me that He doesn't agree with slavery and the verse that He gave me to affirm this point was in the book of Romans and in the book of Galatians.
Now, however, we are free from the Law, because we died to that which once held us prisoners. No longer do we serve in the old way of a written law, but in the new way of the Spirit.
21Does this mean that the Law is against God's promises? No, not at all! For if human beings had received a law that could bring life, then everyone could be put right with God by obeying it. 22But the scripture says that the whole world is under the power of sin; and so the gift which is promised on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ is given to those who believe.
23But before the time for faith came, the Law kept us all locked up as prisoners until this coming faith should be revealed. 24And so the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith. 25Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us.
And I know these verses might be a little confusing to some of how this relates to slavery. But this is referring to all of the laws in the Old Testament that were written as a means to guide behavior and earn salvation. These verses are stating that Jesus Christ paid the price to make us free from the Law of Moses. And it is also saying that we MUST consult God and be led by the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us in the way of behaving with one another. And as of the posting of this blog, God said slavery is a no-no. So in short, we must be in a constant state of communication with God to be able to discern the way we should act. (For the most part just common sense could answer these questions, but for the more difficult ones, we must be talking to God about it).
So now that we know that slavery in the Bible was a completely different context than the slavery within the American Chattel System; How was Christianity used to enforce this system that God so obviously disapproves of? The way "Christianity" was used on Native and African Americans, was by literally stripping out MOST of the bible. During this era of America, racist white "christians" created a Slave Bible that legit removed most of the Bible. Within this version of the Bible, the story of Moses, the book of Revelation, most of the Old Testament, half of the New Testament, and all of the verses that talked about equality were removed. And keep in mind during this period of America the New Testament was already written; so the way of the Spirit was in effect and the old laws in the Old Testament Did Not Apply. So this version of christianity they concocted to abuse, trap, and enslave people was NOT the true version of a Godly Holy Spirit led walk with God. So unfortunately this was another evil thing that seemed to be connected with Christianity, when in actuality it was simply racism disguised as something "Godly".
In Conclusion, God would never condone slavery. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.