Slavery and the Bible


By Sherwin Dillard


I held my tongue this long for the obvious reason: people won’t get it. But we’re losing everything here. Someone has to speak the truth. It should be remembered that while slavery is often along racial lines, race and slavery are separate issues that overlap. Often slaves were of the same race. In America, Blacks owned Blacks, Blacks owned Indians and, in New Orleans, wealthy Blacks owned Whites.  Exodus 21 immediately follows the Ten Commandments. The first topic God brings up with a people who has just spent 430 years in bondage is what kind of slave masters they are now to be. The wives masters give their slaves---and any children they produce, belong to the master. A man may sell his daughter. A slave is said to be the master’s money. A master may employ corporal punishment with his slave, but if it results in a lost eye or tooth, the slave is to be freed. It’s not an interpretation. No one who actually reads the chapter can miss it.


“Thou shalt not buy and sell thy neighbor” is nowhere in Scripture. God missed every opportunity in 66 books of two testaments to issue a single prohibition that would have saved lots of trouble. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Israel was a conquered people. Slaves to Rome. Roman law required a Jew to carry a centurion’s armor the distance of one mile, if tapped to do so. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus doubled it; go the second mile. When the centurion asked Jesus to heal his slave, He didn’t lecture him on slavery or refuse the miracle. Jesus healed the slave, but left him a slave. When Jesus had been crucified, buried, risen and ascended, Israel was still under the heel of Rome, with the worst yet to come. He had exalted women, enlightened the dim of understanding, loved the poor, healed the sick, raised the dead and torn into the hypocrites, but He did not free a single slave. That was Barabbas.


Paul frequently employed the word “doulos”, a slave or bondservant. We are slaves of Christ, bondservants. When he writes, “Servants, obey your masters”, he wasn’t talking about employees (though the application is apt), he was talking about slaves. In I. Corinthians 7, Paul shrugs at the free/slave status as immaterial. So what if you’re a slave, if you’re a Christian, you’re free inside. If you’re free politically, so what, you’re a slave to Christ. The important thing is to be Christian. When Onesimus ran away from his master to Paul, Paul sent him back as stolen property. He admonished the master to receive the runaway back as a brother, but acknowledged that he was his property. Which means Philemon was a Christian slave master, Onesimus a Christian slave.

If this is the first time you’ve discovered this, you haven’t been reading your Bible and your gutless pastor has been hiding from “controversial” passages because he’s embarrassed by God for not being more American. If he had done his job, your country wouldn’t be going up in flames, with its culture coming down around our ears. “We were slaves,” is supposed to be a way of stopping your mouth and shutting you up. That depends on whether your priority is to be faithful to Jefferson or Jehovah, to the Declaration of Independence or to the Bible. Your pastor has not been preaching the whole counsel of God.


America’s problem today is rejecting God’s standard and imposing her own. God condemns homosexuality in both testaments and slavery in neither. So America justifies what God condemns and condemns what God justifies. He cannot bless that. Atheists frequently charge Christians that the Bible condones slavery and the dumb Christian is embarrassed by God and disappointed in his Bible, tucks his tail and slinks away. Because God wasn’t American. It doesn’t matter what the topic, issue or subject, whatever God says is right. Whether it crosses me, my preferences, my tradition, my family, my country or not. If it’s so obvious that an atheist can’t miss it, what’s your pastor’s excuse? I just covered it in 700 words; he has four hours a week.