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Slavery

blog_slavery

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything.”[1]

See, the skeptic takes one look at that phrase and they go, “See that?  THE BIBLE CONDONES SLAVERY!  So how can you possibly trust the Bible when the Bible sanctions such an awful thing as slavery?  And hypocritical?  Are you kidding me?  You’re telling me that the same book that says that men shouldn’t “have sexual relations with [another] man [and that to do that is] detestable,”[2] but then you scoot ahead a couple of pages the same Bible is saying,  ‘you may buy slaves!’[3]  Dude, how can you trust a Bible that sanctions slavery? 

In nearly every debate you hear about any cultural issue related to the Christian faith, that’s basically how it plays out! 

“The Bible says THIS, but Christians did THAT— and now you’re telling me that it’s this OTHER  thing instead…? 

And so they use this supposed hypocrisy to negate the truth of God and the authority of His Word— which means, they get a free pass to keep NOT believing.

Even though…the Bible does have answers to this conundrum.  They’re not easy to unpack— which is why this topic is so regularly dodged.  But answers DO exist.  And I’m gonna do my best today to give them to you right now. 

And I’m gonna do that even though it’s my experience that most skeptics really don’t want their straw man deconstructed.  Cuz they don’t really WANT to know if what they’re saying is true or if it’s a lie.  Cuz with most skeptics, it’s not a truth issue, it’s a SUBMISSION issue.  When most skeptics say, “I don’t trust the Bible and I think Christians are weird,” what they’re typically saying is, “I don’t wanna have to think about God.  I wanna do what I wanna do, I wanna say what I wanna say…and I’m not interested in submitting to ANYBODY but me.”

But because I believe that God’s truth can break through even the most stubborn heart, I’m gonna try to dismantle the issue of slavery today— in the hopes that if you’re really serious about discovering truth {and not just angry or bitter about some hypocrite so that you’re taking all your frustrations about them out on God}— if you really mean business about your pursuit after truth, I want you to know:  TRUTH CAN BE FOUND. 

But not if you’re just trying to disprove God.  Now…if that’s your goal, all you gotta do is skip over to Leviticus, rip a handful of verses outta context, and say, “The Bible is trash,” and you’re home free. 

But I really…I passionately hope you won’t do that.  Okay?  Let’s go.

I wanna be completely honest with you at the get-go:  Nowhere in all the Bible is slavery universally condemned.  You will not find a verse that explicitly and absolutely declares that slavery is evil and should be abolished.  So if somebody says to you, “The Bible never says…”  They’re not lying.  So don’t go, “Oh yes it does!”  Cuz it doesn’t. 

But it’s even worse than that.  According to the Bible,  

·        In the Bible, humans were considered property and could be bought and sold.[4]

·        And just in case you think sex-trafficking is a new thing?  The slaves in Israel were used to produce offspring for their infertile owners.[5]

·        Here’s another troubling reality:  If a slave was raped by her owner, the rapist would pay a fine.  If a free woman was raped, the rapist would be put to death.[6]

·        Slave owners could beat their slaves without penalty, as long as the slave survived.[7]

Now…that entire list can be found in the Bible.  So it’s true, there is no explicit condemnation against slavery in Scripture.  At best, what we can say is:  Boundaries are established, but the practice is clearly NOT denounced? 

And that omission has been, at various points in human history, used as justification for slavery OR as ammunition against the inspiration and authority of the Bible and the Christian faith. 

 

So…why does the Bible NOT condemn slavery?  If God is good and slavery is bad— why the glaring omission? 

To answer that, we’ve gotta evaluate our modern notions regarding slavery by entering into the cultural setting of slavery as practiced in the ancient world.  And what we’re gonna find is:  Far from condoning the modern expressions of slavery, the Bible clearly rejects the injustice and oppression that has driven all slavery. 

I say that because there’s a fundamental distinction between slavery in the biblical world and what was practiced in 19th century America or even in the sex slave trafficking our culture still practices today. 

But please hear me:  I’m not unpacking this cuz I wanna soften the blow of ANY kinda of slavery.  I’m just trying to help you see that ancient slavery and modern European colonial slavery— are two very different systems. 

When you and I think of slavery, we think of Africans being abducted from their homes and traded in the open marketplace, usually based on perceived physical prowess.  And then, they were brought to the Americas to work in our sugar, cotton, and tobacco fields.  And as they labored, they were mistreated, oppressed and viciously abused. 

That’s our concept of slavery— which is understandable, cuz our country is still trying to heal from that horrible chapter in our story.  

What you may not remember, however, is the English, though initially opposed to slave trade, first sent the Irish to work their sugar fields down in the Caribbean. 

What went wrong with that plan?  Well, Irish people are extremely fair-skinned.  And they didn’t have SPF-7000 back in the day, so the Irish couldn’t hack working outside in all that Caribbean sunshine!  And that’s when, slowly but surely, the African, who had proved to the English that they could hack the heat, began to be trafficked as slave labor. 

 

Now that historical setting doesn’t help us SQUAT as we try to see slavery as practiced in the ancient world.  In fact, lemme give just a few differences between these two systems. 

· One key difference is that slaves weren’t selected, in ancient times, according to skin color. 

In colonial America, if you saw a black man, you pretty much knew— he’s a slave!  But racial ethnicities weren’t a factor in Near Eastern slavery!  Most early slaves belonged to conquered kingdoms whose cities were simply allowed to live rather than be ruthlessly slaughtered. 

Such was the case in Israel.  Vile and despicable nations were often allowed to work as slaves rather than get snuffed out.  And in the one case where race was the driving factor, namely the Hebrews who were enslaved just because they happened to live in Egypt, God poured out horrendous plagues on Egypt to demonstrate what He felt about racially-driven slavery.

• Another key difference in the Ancient Near East, is that educating your slaves was seen as a best-practice for building your business. 

In 19th century America, it was illegal for a slave to learn to read.  But in ancient times, slaves were quite often much more educated than their owners. 

Case in point?  Joseph, who masterminded the famine relief in Egypt and ended up being second in command to Pharaoh himself.

And what about Daniel?  He was also a slave, yet he was so gifted at so many levels, he became second in commander to the great Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. 

That didn’t happen in colonial America.  There was no such thing as a black congressman, much less a black President.  It wasn’t until 1870, and only after the Emancipation Proclamation, when Joseph Rainey became the first duly elected black member of congress. 

· Here’s another difference:  Slaves earned an income and could use their money to purchase themselves out of slavery and buy their own land and build a business of their own.  

· Slaves weren’t viewed paternalistically. 

In America’s version of slavery is this shameful idea that the black man was so ignorant that we, as his white master, needed to parent him. 

And I say this with deep regret, but some of Christianity’s brightest minds bought into that nonsense.  Most notably, George Whitfield, a man response for thousands of converts to Christ and yet he was quite vocal about the legitimacy of slavery.  Oh, he’d rail against mistreatment, and would call for slaves to be educated and taught a trade, but he justified slavery, saying, “We have to protect these people from themselves.”

But that just wasn’t the case in the ancient world.  In fact, most often, slavery was a business arrangement.

·But here’s the most important distinction:  Most ancient slaves voluntarily sold themselves into slavery to pay a debt or avoid poverty. 

Think of it like a work-release program.  See, there was no governmental safety net back in the ancient world.  So if you didn’t have a job, you couldn’t just sign up for unemployment and bank on riding out a recession!  No, if you didn’t work back then…?  You would die.  And your family would die. 

So slavery became a sorta ancient prototype for our Social Security!  With one key difference:  In Social Security, we ARE forced to pay, even though we may never get a dime back!   Right?

Meanwhile, the ancient person wasn’t FORCED into this slavery program; they VOLUNTEERED[8]!  And many did, cuz you could seek protection under this system.  A system that would pay you, train you and then release you according to a seven-year social contract called, The Year of Jubilee {which we’ll get to}. 

They weren’t kidnapped and forced into abusive labor.  They “loaned” to their owner the only equity they had left— themselves.  And they would work for seven years, while still earning a wage, and then, in addition to having a home to live in plus on-the-job training— they could walk after year seven— DEBT-FREE! 

So lemme ask you a wild hypothetical; one so ridiculous there’s no way this could ever happen!  Let’s say you get irreversibly underwater in your mortgage.  And then you lose your job.  And then you get so far behind on your other debt that you are this close to losing EVERYTHING you have worked for your entire life. 

Let’s just pretend that happened:  What if someone in your field offered to hire you and in addition to paying you a fair wage [cuz you would be paid[9] and paid fairly, according to Colossians[10]]— along with a guarantee that your family would have a place to live and all your needs adequately met— AND, by the way, at the end of seven years you will receive a handsome compensation package[11] PLUS be entirely debt-free…?

How many of you would at least entertain that offer? earp_sig



[1] Colossians 3:22a

[2] Leviticus 18:22

[3] Leviticus 25:44

[4] See Exodus 12:44 and Leviticus 22:11

[5] See Genesis 16, Genesis 30 and Genesis 35. 

[6] See Leviticus 19:20

[7] Exodus 21:20-21

[8] See Leviticus 25:39-40a

[9] See Leviticus 25:39-42

[10] See Colossians 4:1

[11] See Deuteronomy 15:12-14

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