Slavery in the Bible
I am so confused. In my history class, a student brought up the fact that the Bible allows slavery. The thing is, slavery seems to be against everything the Bible stands for. What's the deal with that?
If we could ask God, I don't think he would say it's OK to force other people to be slaves. So why doesn't the Bible speak out against it? Why does it talk about slavery as if it's normal—and even give instructions to slaves about obeying their masters?
It all has to do with context. Context refers to the circumstances in which something happens. The Bible is the Word of God but it was written at a certain time in history where slavery was normal. Thus, the Bible talks about it as if it's just the reality of the world.
The reason I believe God would hate slavery is that it doesn't fit with Jesus' teachings. Of course, no one really knows what Jesus said about the topic; he never specifically addresses it in the Gospels. But we can apply Jesus' teachings to specific topics. One of the biggest things Jesus taught was that love is the core of all God's commandments. "Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another" (John 13:34, The Message). Slavery does not fit under "love each other."
In addition, Paul wrote, "Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman" (Galatians 3:28, CEV). This would have been a radical teaching in the context of its time. In fact, there are some scholars who say it was the very first time in the history of literature that all people where declared equal!
Christ sacrificed his life for all people. And so, I am glad heroes have gone before us to make our government know that slavery was simply unacceptable. Thankfully, love and justice won. The Bible does say to honor our government (Romans 13:1-2). But if there is evil in the government we have every right to let our voices be heard.
Jim is an author, longtime youth worker and founder of HomeWord, a group seeking to honor God through strong families.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Campus Life magazine.
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