Why Isn’t the Bible Against Slavery?

William Wilberforce got attention a few years back when Eric Metaxas wrote a biography of him that then came out in movie form. It was an excellent book, and an OK movie.

My favorite tidbit about Wilberforce is that every day as he walked to Parliament he recited Psalm 119. That’s a long Psalm with much similarity between all 172 verses!

Wilberforce is remembered as the guy who was instrumental in getting Britain to end the slave trade, even though it wasn’t abolished until after his death. No one can fault him there.

But how come Jesus or Paul didn’t end slavery in their day? The book of Philemon troubles people because Paul returns a fugitive slave to his master and tells the master to receive him back. Wouldn’t the Christian thing be to set the slave free? Perhaps send a letter of castigation toward the master?

The Bible not only tells slaves to remain submissive to their masters, it uses slavery as an illustration for our relationship to Christ! Why doesn’t the Bible speak against this horrible system?

One weeny answer is that slavery then was not like slavery in America. There is somewhat of a point there, but still, slavery means slavery, I don’t think this answer is sufficient.

The answer I give, which no one else finds sufficient either because of its implications, is that the Bible really isn’t overly concerned with these sorts of things. Whether bond or free, all need faith in Christ. Faith in Christ revolutionizes freedom and slavery.

The Bible is heavenly oriented, much to the chagrin of earthly minded folk everywhere. It speaks very little about government other than teaching submission, it speaks little against slavery, other than submission, it speaks out very little against most of what we’re most upset about in our day.

Christ was primarily upset about religion and religious leaders muddying the waters of truth. That’s pretty much the only thing Christ or Paul get worked up over.

Slavery is minor in their minds in comparison. This is a tough pill for us to swallow, yet I’ve yet to hear a better answer. Feel free to share one if you have one.

Christ the Slave Master

Slavery was a bad deal, especially in America. At best it involved indentured servants who worked off a debt until freedom was bought. But for most, slavery was a life sentence with no freedoms, rights or much of any hope.

Slavery is not a term to be thrown around loosely, it is an all or nothing word. When Paul speaks in Romans 6 about a servant of sin or a servant of righteousness, the Greek word is not the word “servant” but rather the word “slave.” It could be English translators are afraid of the word “slave?”

Whatever the reason for the softening of the word (servants had it much better than slaves), Paul means a slave, one bound with no hope of release, a life-consuming role and obligation with all the trappings of slavery.

We’re fairly comfortable talking about sin that way! It is an evil master, attempting to kill you while granting the false face of pleasure. But righteousness is a slave-master?

Many read Romans 6 as some sort of suggestion, “Well, yeah, we should serve righteousness, but you know, grace and everything, we don’t really have to.”

You can’t really do that with the understanding that Paul is referring to slavery. Guess what happens when slaves decide not to do their work? There are no choices.

Now, I don’t think Christ is an evil slave-master, using us for His bidding by means of whip and chains. But I do believe Paul sees himself as bound to Christ in this sort of relationship where he gives his all to do his master’s will.

That’s what a slave is. Sin is an evil master that does beat us; Christ is a good Master, but will also chasten when needed, but always for our instruction not our destruction. We are His property, we’re bought with a price, we are not debtors to the flesh, but to the One who owns us.

Slavery to Christ, there is no better slavery to be in.

When New Testament Books Were Written

Here is a chronological list of when New Testament books were written. Dates are based on rational scholarship not whacko, conspiracy theory, Bible-denying heretical wishful thinking.

James — A.D. 49
1 and 2 Thessalonians — A.D. 52
1 Corinthians — A.D. 55
2 Corinthians — A.D. 56
Galatians — A.D. 57
Romans — A.D. 58
Luke — A.D. 59
Acts — A.D. 60
Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon — A.D. 61,62
Matthew — A.D. 63
Mark — A.D. 63
Hebrews — A.D. 64
1 Timothy — A.D. 65
1 Peter — A.D. 65
2 Peter — A.D. 66
Titus — A.D. 66
Jude — A.D. 67
2 Timothy — A.D. 67
John — A.D. 85-90
1 John — A.D. 90-95
2 and 3 John — A.D. 90-95
Revelation — A.D. 90-95

You’re Welcome.

Shedding Blood to Strive Against Sin

Church History has a tradition of guys who would flog themselves for their sin. Their depravity drove them to despise themselves and beat or torment their flesh.

I’m of the general opinion that this is not a good idea. It must also strongly be stated that beating yourself for sins does not make up for the sin. Much of this tradition seems to have attached to it the idea of penance, or paying a price for your guilt. It will not avail in God’s court.

At the same time, I wonder if our soft Christianity could gain something from a little flagellation.

Jesus Christ said in order to avoid sin it would be better to cut your hands and feet off and gouge your eyes out. His view of sin seems much more severe than ours. Was He speaking metaphorically? Just another outrageous statement to get attention, or should we all be maimed?

Furthermore, there’s Hebrews 12:4, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Are we supposed to be striving against sin to the point of shedding our own blood?

Again, this shedding of blood does not make up for our sins and never could. But I wonder if we took sin seriously and fought it like a true enemy, disciplined ourselves severely over it, if we might not have more victory over it.

The Apostle Paul said he didn’t beat the air, but disciplined (literally means to hit under the eye, to buffet) his body, brought it under subjection (to be a slave driver), which seems to imply he used some sort of physical pain to keep himself from sin.

In our fear of undermining Christ’s suffering, or avoiding legalism or Catholic weirdness, perhaps we’ve also thrown in the towel against sin.

This is an issue between you and God and I’d encourage you to think on it.