Mark Driscoll said in his sermon on Slaves and Masters, “Slavery is a shameful page in the history of our nation and history of the American church. Many of the framers of our Constitution claimed to be Christians who considered white men to be created by God with inherent rights deserving representation. But, many were also slave owners who claimed black men deserved only 3/5 representation (as if they were less image bearers of God), an atrocity not corrected until the passage of the 13th Amendment.”
Tim Keller agrees when he writes “a deep stain on Christian history is the African slave trade. Since Christianity was dominant in the nations that bought and sold slaves during that time, the churches must bear responsibility along with their societies for what happened.” This is one of the many arguments that skeptics raise against Christianity that Keller addresses in “The Reason for God.”
It is a tragic fact that not only did our nation split over slavery but major denominations in America split over New World Slavery: The Presbyterians split in 1838 and the Methodists in 1844. The Southern Baptist Convention was established in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia in order to maintain human slavery. This is regrettable. The southern cotton plantations needed cheap labor whereas the more industrialized north did not.
Scriptures on slavery in the Bible were used to justify slavery in America. There is a problem using verses on slavery in the Bible to justify slavery in America because the two are not equal. “Slavery was taken for granted in all of ancient society” (Homer Kent. Treasures of Wisdom. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978, 156).
- Slavery in the Old Testament was protected against abuse (Exodus 21:2).
- Slaves maimed by their masters were set free (Exodus 21:26-27).
- The murder of slaves was a capital offense (Exodus 21:12).
- Kidnapping (a major source for the African slave trade) was forbidden (Deuteronomy 24:7).
- Old Testament bond-service and indentured servanthood was only temporary (Exodus 21:2).
- Jews sometimes sold themselves into slavery to raise their standard of living (Leviticus 25:39).
- Slaves were sometimes just like family and a slave could volunteer to remain a slave if he loved his master (Deuteronomy 15:16-17).
In some ways slavery in Paul’s day was like American slavery.
In Greek writings, slaves were viewed as properity or inanimate tools and not complete humans. Slaves were considered stupid and incapable of providing for themselves and therefore slavery was thought to be a benefit (Harold W. Hoehner. Ephesians. page 801).
The treatment of slaves depended on the character of the owner and some owners mistreated their slaves. For example Emperior “Caligula had the hands of a slave cut off for stealing a piece of silver. He hung them around his neck and paraded him around the dinnig hall with a placard that stated the reason for the punishment” (Hoehner, 803).
In many ways slavery in Paul’s day was different from American slavery.
In 1st Century Roman Empire there was little difference, in some areas, between slaves and freemen in race, speech or occupations. Homer Kent writes that slaves were clerks, accountants, doctors, nurses, teachers, advisors, musicians, and artists. There was no climate of unrest among slaves in the first century and the institution of slavery was rarely debated. So when Paul admonishes slaves to obey their masters it is much like saying today that Christians should be the best employees in their company.
1. Slavery in Paul’s day was not based on race or skin color. Slaves were from different nationalities and in some cases slaves owned slaves. Whereas in America, slavery was a white/black issue.
2. Free persons could sell themselves into slavery for a contracted time period and when the agreement was over, the slave would be free. Therefore slavery was not lifelong. This was not the case with the slavery in America. People in the first century would sell themselves into slavery to raise their standerd of living. For example, Epictetus reports that when he was a slave he was provided with food, clothes, and shetter, and taken care of when sick. These benefits were not provided when he became a freeperson” (Hoehner, 802).
3. Slave could be educated in the 1st century as tutors which is referred to in Galatians 3:24. Slaves tutored the sons of their masters in morals and manners. Slaves were also professors in higher education, physicans, and philosophers as in the case of Epictetus.
Scripture does not directly advocate the abolition of the institution of slavery.
Scripture does condemn slave owners in 1 Timothy 1:10 but not the institution of slavery.
1. People became slaves in the 1st century because of infanticide. Children were abandoned and some were rescued by becoming slaves. To abolish the institution of slavery would mean leaving these children abandoned.
2. People became slaves because of debt. Since people in debt could not file “chapter 11″ they would sell themselves into slavery to pay off there debt. To abolish the institution of slavery would leave the creditors unpaid.
3. Paul taught obedience to government in Romans 13 and to propose the abolition of the institution of slavery would defy government.
Scripture does in principle condemn the institution of slavery.
1. The Bible teaches us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). You can not love your neighbor and own him/her as a piece of property because he is only 60% the human you are.
2. The Bible teaches that we are to treat others the way we would want them to treat us (Matthew 7:12). We would not want to be kidnapped from our homes, families, country, and shipped to another nation to be abused for the rest of our lives.
3. The Bible condemns self-righteosness which is the essence of racialism and the slavery of black people. Jesus condemned self-righteousness in Matthew 5:20. An example of self-righteousness is in Luke 18:9-14 where the Pharisee prayed, “I thank you, that I am not as other men are.” The self-righteous racialist prays, “I thank you, that I do not have the color of skin as other men.”
4. Paul taught that slaves and masters are equal brothers in Christ (Galatians 3:28 and 1 Timothy 6:2).
5. Paul instructed slaves to obtain their freedom if possible (1 Corinthians 7: 21), that slaves are free persons in Christ (1 Corinthinas 7:22), and for free persons to avoid slavery (1 Corinthians 7:23).
6. Christianity emphasized the transformation of the individual who could change his culture rather than the reformation of society. Paul instructs both slaves and slave owners to be servants of Christ, who was master of both, in treating each other properly in Ephesians 6: 5-9.
Keller in chapter four, “The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice,” responds to skeptics who throw up slavery in the Bible as evidence of injustice by saying, “Even though slavery in some form was virtually universal in every human culture over the centuries, it was Christians who first came to the conclusion that it was wrong.” Christian abolitionist, such as William Wilberforce, helped abolish slavery in the British Empire.
Albert Mohler reports what is unknown to many is that slavery is still a world-wide problem. Free The Slaves reports there are 27 million slaves today who are forced to work without pay. In Haiti, there are 300,000 slaves.
Journalist, Dan Harris wrote for ABC news on July 8, 2008, “How to Buy a Child in 10 Hours.” That is how long it took Harris to drive 45 minutes to Kennedy Airport, fly 3 1/2 hours to Port-au-Prince, Haiti and complete a transaction. Harris continues, “by the time my team and I have collected our luggage, gone through immigration and customs, and are loaded into our vehicles, it’s about 3:15 p.m….By 4:45 p.m., I’m poolside at one of the city’s few upscale hotels. I’m wearing a hidden camera built into the strap of a bike messenger-style bag that’s around my neck. There’s another hidden camera in a leather satchel on the table, right next to the fruit plate and Evian water. My colleagues are manning cameras in hotel rooms overlooking the pool. Our security guards are sitting discretely nearby. That’s when the man with whom I’ve arranged a meeting shows up. He says he’s a former member of parliament and that he has connections. In broad daylight, with hotel waiters walking by, he doesn’t even flinch when I make a horrific request. ‘If I would like to get a child to live with me and take care of me,’ I ask. ‘Could you do that?’
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I can.’
The trafficker assures me he’s done this sort of transaction many times before.
‘A girl or a boy?’ he asks.
‘A girl probably,’ I say.
‘Mayby 10 or 11.’
In the 21st Century, it is possible to buy a child for sex or cheap labor in just 10 hours. Does the church have a responsibility to address issues such as child slavery? If so, how should the church respond?