Note, first – before you go ANY farther. This post is a specific answer for this post, and the material found within it’s comments. It is nothing more – and nothing less.

It is neither an apologetic for the institution of slavery, nor an endorsement of any sort of racial supremacy. It is certainly not a call to return to the practices of early American slavery – not by any means. It is a simple answer, in response to this question:

If slavery were still around today, then those of us who claim to be God’s children would have to fight against it, even at the cost of our own lives. Right?

My answer: Slavery, as an institution, is not something which is Biblically mandated that we fight against. Abuses in slavery is what we fight against.

A minor delineation, perhaps – but one I feel has to be made.

Read on for more, including a point by point response to Shrode’s comments.

Slavery, in and of itself, is not contra-Biblical. However, slavery which is just, according to the Bible, must be several things. This was not the question, however. Since the post in question was discussing the uniquely American institution, we can be excused for thinking that he was referring to that institution. I was making the point, however, in my reply to that post, that slavery, in and of itself, is not contra-Biblical – and thus does not require a specific response from a Biblical basis – simply because it’s slavery. It requires a Biblical response only for the abuse of the institution, and for the people(s) affected by that abuse.

A small caveat, perhaps – but one I think bears mentioning. In a society such as ours, slavery is an unthinkable practice. As Shrode aptly pointed out, slavery in ancient times was often quite humane. However, as a counterpoint, I’d like to point out that not all American slavery was inhumane. Additionally, much of the slavery practiced in ancient times (particularly in Rome) was of a caliber that boggles the imagination.

Gladiators, galley slaves, pleasure pets… the underbelly of Rome is often not quite as “civilized” as we’d like to think. Watch DeMille’s Ben Hur for a taste of a galley slave’s life. Spartacus, or Gladiator for a taste of that life. A decent history of Rome (and it’s hedonism) will give you a look into the sordid lives lived by the aristocracy’s pleasure slaves. Not a pretty thing, at all.

My thesis? Slavery is not Biblically wrong – if it follows a pattern which affirms the humanity of the slave, and does not demean it. It is the tendency of the master to degrade and dehumanize the slave which corrupts, and requires correction. Slavery, though, is not a natural state of affairs. It, like most human institutions, is a result of the fall of man. It is a decidedly unnatural state to place a man in – we are made in the image of God, after all. The slave, if allowed to retain his humanity, and his status within humanity (in the eyes of his masters) is still a man, nonetheless.

A man that is degraded in the eyes of his masters to a subhuman beast – or simply a commodity, is something else entirely.

That, along with the involuntary, unjustified means used to acquire slaves in the early history of the Americas. is what made it such a heinous stain. Not the slavery itself – but the degradation of what could have been an honorable servitude into a callous, dehumanizing traffic in human “commodities”.

My issue was never whether or not slavery, as practiced in America, was wrong – it was whether slavery, in every form, was an inherently contra-Biblical state. I still assert it was not. Would I fight to free slaves, if they were under the same yoke they were back then? You bet. Is all slavery morally (Biblically) wrong? No. That was the distinction I was making.


I wondered if anyone would respond this way. RazorsKiss,
slavery in the Bible is very unlike the slavery as practiced in America. Very, very unlike slavery as it was done here. Comparing slavery in Biblical times and American slavery is like comparing flag football to Ultimate Fighting.

I don’t know if that’s exactly true. When you look at gladiators, galley slaves, and the like, you can see that while Roman “civility” was certainly laudable, there were many aspects of that culture treatment of slaves which were deplorable. As a whole, the Roman system was generally humane – and it was similar to many ancient systems. However, the excesses of that system were beyond the pale, in many cases.

Here are just a few differences:
1-American Slavery was based on race. Slavery in Biblical Times (I will call it Roman slavery for shorthand from now on, though I am including OT here as well.) was often because someone had been sold into slavery or sold themselves to pay off debt. There was far more choice involved. Some slaves were captives in war however.

Other times, they were simply sent off to the galleys, or to the arenas. Roman slavery wasn’t always a great shakes, either. I do agree with you, however, that American slavery was a great evil. It’s chief aim, I often thought while studying it, was to degrade the people enslaved to a subhuman status. Even the Romans, despite their galleys, and despite their gladiators, still enjoined the men so “employed” to work, or to die, like men.

I recently watched Ben Hur again – and what the consul told Judah (and the rest of the galley slaves) really pointed that out. They were to die, yes – but they were to die as men,

2. Roman slaves were treated fairly well. There was Roman legislation governing the treatment of slaves, and masters who mistreated their slaves could be punished by the state.

You’re right. I’m not disputing the fact that Roman slavery was certainly more humane an institution. I do dispute, however, that slavery in all forms is to be fought against as a specifically Christian duty. While it may have been implied, with a vivid imagination, that you were talking solely about American slavery – that wasn’t what you said – and that was why I made the distinction. Slavery, in and of itself, is not contra-Biblical. The abuse of the master’s authority, and the degradation of the enslaved to a subhuman status is what is delorable, and what must be opposed. Not slavery itself. I think we agree – but your assumption is that everyone will know that by “slavery” you mean “American slavery, and only American slavery, or similar forms”. I don’t think that is the case. Really, though, the subject is moot in our western society. In other places, however, it is not.

3. Roman slaves were often educated. They were the doctors, engineers, accountants, business managers, artisans, musicians, teachers etc… Their masters would pay for their training/education, and then expect that person to pay off the training, or serve in that capacity. Sure some slaves did dishes, laundry, harvesting etc… But many also ran households, paid the wages of other slaves, taught the children etc…

Once again, I won’t debate the fact that Roman slavery was far better than American slavery. That isn’t the point, to me, at all. I think you missed what I was saying. My argument was that your statement applied to all slavery – including your Roman type – and that all slavery MUST be fought against – simply because it is slavery. You cut away the foundations of that very statement by differentiating the two types.

4. Roman slavery was usually temporary. A roman slave was paid a wage and over time could buy his freedom. Some slaves petitioned to remain slaves for life because it was such a good arrangement. (Being far better than poverty.) It also meant permanent, or long term employment. In those days, being a “free laborer” meant you were an independent contractor. There was no guarantee of work or a paycheck from day to day. For many, slavery was a comfortable, and secure arrangement…one that was even desired.

Sure. Prior to the involuntary servitude of the african peoples to the American colonists, the only similar behavior was that of your literal barbarian – or the “savage” of yore. The fact that it was “civilized” westerners engaging in the practice made it even more of a deplorable act.

That doesn’t mean that all slavery is thus contra-Biblical, since some types, in fact, are.

5. Roman slavery was more like indentured servitude. The term “servant” is usually a better translation than “slave” in the Bible. Wayne Grudem (TNTC) says that neither word is totally accurate. He suggests finding a word tht means “semi-permanent employee without legal or economic freedom”.

Bond-servant is one I like. A bondservant has a contractual obligation, yet freely serves. So both aspects are touched upon.

I’m not saying that Roman slavery as practiced was OK. But it’s not the same thing as American slavery. Not even close. So to see the Bible mention “slavery” and not condemn is not really a valid comparison. The Bible never condemns specifically child pornography either.

My point was never that slavery was ok. My point was whether it is justified to say that a Christian MUST combat slavery, of any form, as a Biblical imperative. My point was your lack of caveats, or specificity in type of slavery. I would say, actually, that it is not slavery at all that we are concerned with. It is the treatment of men within any state – slave or free – that we are to be concerned about. Free men, slaves, prisoners. It doesn’t matter. The treatment, not the state in which they find themselves, is the issue.

But the Bible does affirm the value and dignity of every human being, and anything that abuses or devalues human beings should be opposed.

Here’s where we come to the big point. Is it slavery itself, or the abuse of the slaves that is the issue? I’m going to say that it’s the abuse, not the slavery itself.

It is true that the Bible does not specifically outlaw slavery or call slaves to revolt. But one of the primary teachings of the NT was that this world is not all there is, and it was spiritual reform, not social that is called for by Paul and the other epistle writers.

Sure, that’s my point. The physical “freedom” of the slave isn’t the issue. It’s the spiritual condition, first, and ensuring they know they are, indeed, created in the image of God, second. Everything else follows. Whether they are a slave or not doesn’t matter. Are they being abused? Are they being treated as subhumans? Are they being unjustly enslaved, or involuntarily enslaved? Those are the further questions. However, they proceed from the treatment of the slaves – not the *physical freedom* of the slaves, being what is “wrong” with the whole thing. You have to ask yourself – is slavery wrong, or is it the treatment AS slaves that is wrong?

In the OT polygamy is never specifically condemned either, yet as we look back at the OT, we can see that God tolerated this, pointing forward to his perfect will, which was one man and one woman. Not every injustice known to man is specifically condemned in Scripture. Yet by using reason and Biblical principles, I think we can see what those injustices are.

I don’t think slavery, as an institution is a specifically contra-Biblical “injustice”. ABUSE of slaves is, however, quite clearly outlined in Scripture as wrong. Which is why I make this case at all. I think that when we concentrate on the wrong thing, we do ourselves an injustice, by focusing on “things” rather than SINS.

Slavery is just an institution. Like Government. The fault is not within the insitution – it is in the abuse of it.

In Amos, the prophet condemns Israel for not standing up for the poor, downtrodden, the fatherless and the widow…those who were being oppressed by those in power.

Once again – it is the *oppression* that is the issue – not the power that gives them the means to do so. Do you see the separation there?

Surely, you would agree that blacks enslaved and abused, for no other reason than their race, are a part of that category? And so yes, I think the Bible (and Biblical principles )does call on us to oppose it, if we lived during that time. (And we should oppose and fight against slavery in modern times as well…and all other abuses against human beings created in God’s image.)

Actually, yes, I would. However, my issue was not with whether American slavery was wrong or not. You didn’t say that *American* slavery was what you were talking about – although it could have been implied by your post. You just said *slavery*. Which is something else altogether.