The Official Medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society

In church yesterday morning my pastor was preaching on Ephesians 6:1-9.  He addressed a subject I get questions about from time to time by people whose motivation is typically to discredit the Bible.

So does the Bible endorse slavery?  No.  Here are some points my pastor, Shawn Barr, made during his sermon at Grace Fellowship in Des Moines, IA.

  1. Just because the Bible mentions a cultural problem does not mean it is condoning it.
  2. The purpose of the Bible is not to change society.  It’s God’s proclamation for salvation.  As people’s hearts are changed by the Gospel, then society can be changed.
  3. The Christian religion at the time the New Testament was written was unlawful and politically powerless.
  4. The gospel immediately began to undermine the institution of slavery.  For instance in Philemon and in Ephesians 6, Paul says that slave and slave owner are equal in Christ.  For instance, Paul indicates in Ephesians 6:5-9 that both slaves and slave owners who were believers were brothers in Christ and they were to treat each other accordingly.
  5. It was an integral part of Roman society.  Even if Christian slave owners released their slaves they would have likely condemn them to unemployment and poverty.
  6. The system was already improving in the Roman Empire, slaves had the ability to win their freedom and they had certain protections under Roman law.

So while the Bible discusses slavery and actually defines those who follow Christ as slaves it is not an institution that Scripture supports.  Not to mention it was Christians who led the abolitionist movements in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

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  1. Wow. You didn’t even attempt to rationalize the Old Testament edicts and commands on slavery that came straight from Don Jehovah’s mouth. I guess that would require a whole new level of creative semantics.

    1. Again, just because the Bible issues guidelines and discusses a topic doesn’t mean it endorses the behavior.  If you would read through the OT you’ll see that it even promoted rights for slaves.  Also slavery in ancient Israel was nothing like what you saw in ancient Rome or in the United States pre-Civil War.

    2. The “slavery” that the OT regulated was not slavery in the sense that we are familiar with.  It was a form of indentured servitude.  The OT prescribed very strict guidelines regarding how servants were to be treated- essentially a servants’ “bill of rights” that demanded fair wages, proper treatment, and even regular holidays.  It also established a seven-year cap on all servant contracts, after which they were guaranteed freedom and awarded the ancient equivalent of a pension.  Even after their contracts were completed, servants would often refuse to leave because they were far better off than many “free” men, and it was not uncommon for them to be legally adopted by their “masters”, receiving the same rights as one of his children and a portion of the inheritance when he died.  

      Slavery as we know it, abduction and forced servitude, was absolutely forbidden in OT law and was punishable by death.

  2. Leviticus 25:44 allows people to buy slaves from the nations around them or foreigners in their midst and make them slaves for life.

    Exodus 21:20-21 prohibits beating a slave to death, but beating was permissible if the slave was able to recover after a day or two.  We are further told that slaves are property.

    “Cultural problems” like male homosexuality and violating the Sabbath called for the death penalty, but slavery, meh.

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