Slavery in the Bible

This guest post is by Rev. Donald Ehrke. He is a Libertarian, a former GOP campaign manager, and ordained minister living in Alexandria, Virginia. Many thanks to Donald for his excellent work! For guest post opportunities, please use the LCC Contact Page.

In “Lincoln’s Battle with God” author Stephen Mansfield reveals private notes that Abraham Lincoln penned regarding the issue of slavery and the Bible.  Lincoln, responding to Dr. Frederick Ross’ book “Slavery Ordained by God” wrote, “Slavery is strikingly peculiar in this, that it is the only good thing which no man ever seeks the good of, for himself.”  Lincoln accurately identified the hypocrisy of those who employed Scripture to support slavery; if slavery was a blessing ordained by God then why hadn’t everyone sought to become a slave?

Slavery in the Bible is a complicated subject.  People could sell themselves into slavery as the Egyptians did in time of famine (Genesis 47: 19), Hebrews could be purchased as servants and released in their seventh year of servitude (Exodus 21: 2), and prisoners of war could become slaves (Deuteronomy 20: 10-11).  People could also elect to become servants for life (Exodus 21: 6).  Although much could be added to the discussion of slavery in the Bible, only two more points will be made here – the Bible does not endorse slavery and slavery is not a blessing.  Slavery is portrayed negatively in the Bible; to answer Abraham Lincoln, this is why people do not wish to become slaves – slavery is a detestable manner of living.

Read More

What do we do about slavery now?

This entry is part 29 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy. This column is the third segment of a three-part series dealing with Christian perspectives on slavery to the state.

The New Testament gives us some clues about dealing with slavery—including the part-time slavery of modern Americans. For instance, the Apostle Paul informs us that Onesimus, once enslaved for unknown reasons, “departed for a while” from his master Philemon (Philemon 1:15), a Christian slaveholder living in Asia Minor (probably Colosse). He had been an “unprofitable” servant to Philemon (Philemon 1:10). We do not know if Onesimus became free of bondage legally or illegally. Paul simply stated that he was “sending him back” (Philemon 1:12) from Rome, and we do not know the reason why. The most common understanding of the event is that Paul confronted Onesimus about his rebellion and, after repenting, he was being returned to his lawful master and owner. Accordingly, Paul and Onesimus were glorifying God by obeying Roman law. Yet Paul was hoping all along that Philemon would do a good deed and free his dear friend Onesimus, thus granting permission for him to work further with Paul.

Read More

Slavery – Biblical or not?

This entry is part 27 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy. This column is the second segment of a three-part series dealing with Christian perspectives on slavery to the state.

Is slavery wrong? In his excellent article, The Bible, Slavery, and America’s Founders (2003), Stephen McDowell outlines the biblical view of slavery. The Old Testament prohibited involuntary servitude by means of abduction. “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16). “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently, or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 24:7). However, voluntary servitude was permitted with qualifications (Exodus 21:2-6; Deuteronomy 15:12-18). The Old Testament prohibited returning runaway slaves too (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), which would seem to defy America’s Fugitive Slave Law (1850). Paul discussed how slaves and masters were to act (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-25; 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10) but he did not endorse involuntary slavery or the Roman slave system. As McDowell notes, “God’s desire for any who are enslaved is freedom (Luke 4:18; Galatians 5:1). Those who are set free in Christ then need to be prepared to walk in liberty.”

Read More