Slavery in the Bible

Boulanger Gustave Clarence Rudolphe The Slave Market

Chrstians, as I've said more than once, are largely hypocrites, and I consider this an exceptionally good thing. Those people who would hold the Bible up as the perfect word of God and ask us to consider each word and paragraph as divine Truth are preaching a scary doctrine indeed. The Bible is a collection of highly questionable accounts with some real historical significance but only occasional accuracy. Put another way, it's a collection of fairy tales with as much truth buried in the pages as does Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass". Accepting that the Bible isn't the absolute word of God is hard for some, but it's the truth. My religious friends and family selective pick and choose from the Bible all the time, accepting some passages and rejecting others. In other words, they don't truly believe that it is the unnerring word of God. They are, at best, agnostics. They are leaning over the edge looking down into atheism. And so, from time to time, I like to remind them of their selective belief in the so-called "Good Book".

Most people today think that slavery is a bad idea and few would suggest that we should take our Negro brothers and sisters, shackle them, and sell them in the public square. Of course, if we all followed the word of God as outlined in the Bible, we'd still have slavery, and we would support it because God, through the perfect word of the Bible, says it's okay.

Slaves are pretty cool in the bible — you could pass them and their families to your children as wedding gifts and the like. As in Leviticus 25:44-46:

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.

For life? That doesn't sound much like a short work term. Incidentally, slaves in ancient Israel were automatically emancipated after 6 years of slavery, but only if they were Jewish (you knew there was a catch). However, if the slave owner "gave" the slave a wife, the owner could keep the wife and any children as his property. You knew there'd be a loophole too.

In most cases slavery is to be offered to others as a means of getting out of debt – the practice of selling yourself to your debtor, working for him for 7 years, and then being released from both slavery and debt." A friend once pointed out to me that slavery is a pervasive reality in all recorded human history and it still exists today, as though that made it okay. Granted, he was trying to make the Bible look a little less evil. But that doesn't make it right, nor did it ever make it right. Using that as an argument is asking to forgive the authors of the bible for being people of their time. Fair enough. But that doesn't mean they weren't violating basic human rights.

Here are a few more:

Exodus 21:20-21 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

So you could beat your slave as much as you wanted, so long as it only incapacitated him/her for a couple of days. Okay . . . actually Exodus has a lot of advice on how to buy and sell slaves. As usual, women get the short end because women, biblically speaking, are inferior to men, even when it comes to slavery. Did you know you can sell your daughter into slavery? But there are rules to follow.

Exodus 21:7-8 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

As you might expect, sometimes families happen with slaves as with real people. And sometimes they have babies. What if you give your male slave a female and they have babies? When he goes free, you get to keep the wife and kids. If he complains because he loves his wife and kids, you can bore a hole through his ear with an aul. Cool, huh?

Exodus 21:4-6  If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.  And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:  Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

But we were talking about how to deal with slaves that, God forbid, don't like the idea of being slaves. Let's head on over to Ephesians.

Ephesians 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.

In other words, treat your human masters as though they are gods (in the case, Christ), with fear and trembling.

This sentiment is heard again in Paul's Epistle to Titus, or just plain old Titus, if you prefer.

Titus 2:9-10 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

The savior . . . that would be Jesus. So just how did Jesus feel about slavery? Did he preach it was wrong? Let's wrap up with Colossians 3, verses 22-25 where Jesus says the following.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Et tu, Jesus?

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