Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Slavery and the Bible

My bread and butter course at Baylor University is the "America to 1877" survey class. The most troubling issue I cover in the class is slavery. What especially piques the interest of Christian students is the biblical case against slavery - or the lack thereof.

"How do we know the Bible is against slavery?" I ask. Most students have never given much thought to the issue. Of COURSE the Bible is against slavery, they assume, because slavery is wrong. "OK, give me some verses that tell us that slavery is wrong," I say. Silence. Some savvy students might cite the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31.

Occasionally someone remembers Galatians 3:28, and its note that in Christ there is neither slave nor free - although that does not quite tell us that slavery is wrong. Just because in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, does not mean that those identities cease to exist.

What does the Bible say about slaves and masters, I ask them? Again, some remember the household codes of Ephesians and Colossians, where servants/slaves are told to obey their masters. Or they note various other Old and New Testament practices where the authors seem to assume the existence of slavery, rather than commenting on its morality.

It is hard to imagine a more challenging historical and scriptural topic than slavery. It has become ammunition used by skeptics who have denounced the Bible as fundamentally immoral. I believe that maturing Christians should grapple with these kinds of Bible "problems," instead of just assuming that the Scriptures give us transparent answers to all of life and history's conundrums.

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