Could Christianity be used to provide an Effective Defense of Slavery? Name: Michael Pollock Date: 7/2/2012 Word Count: 1160
Many early English settlers of the New World, who would go on to found the UnitedStates of America, migrated from their homes seeking religious freedom. They were firmbelievers in Christianity and the teachings of The Bible. They also relied heavily upon slaves forthe growth and development of their blossoming economy. It has been asked how Christians cancondone slavery, and if Christianity could in fact be used to defend slavery. Many earlyAmericans were criticized for their seemingly hypocritical acts and beliefs. In reality, The Bible,thus Christianity, not only legislated the slave trade, but required slavery as a punishment undercertain conditions. Even a firm belief in the New Testament gave birth to a Judeo-Christianculture in which slavery was tolerated. Under the command of God, the divinely inspired authors of The Bible set the rules andregulations pertaining to the purchase, sale, and treatment of slaves. These authors not onlycondoned the slave trade, but even wished to govern it. The Bible lectures slaves directly in boththe New and Old Testaments, instructing both the slaves and masters on what is appropriatebehavior towards one another. 1st Peter 2:18 reads “You who are slaves must accept the authorityof your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable,but even if they are cruel” (New Living Translation). This passage from the New Testamentclearly demands the complete compliance of slaves under all conditions, no matter how bad.Exodus 21:20 clarifies the value of slaves by saying “If a man beats his male or female slavewith a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished. But if the slave recoverswithin a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished since the slave is his property” (NewLiving Translation). We can see here that these are not servants who simply help around thehouse, but slaves who must do as their master orders. They are the property of another man, and
nothing more. When it comes to the purchasing of your slaves, there are even more rules presentwhich must be followed. The purchase of Israelites was often chastised; however Leviticus 25:44says “you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have beenborn in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children aspermanent inheritance” (New Living Translation). This, once again, defined the place of slaveswithin society, clearly defining them not as what we consider servants, but as slaves who wereowned for life, and had children who were born into slavery. Leviticus goes into more detail in25:47, indicating that if an Israelite falls into poverty and are forced to sell themselves to a richforeigner, that they still retain the rights to be bought back, or to pay their master in order toredeem themselves. This was a right that foreign slaves didn’t have, they were bought for life.This is the slavery that existed for Africans in the settlement of America, who were slaves forlife, and whose children were born into slavery as well. The Bible not only legislates slavery, but at times requires slaver to be taken under theorders of God, as a punishment. The first words of slavery ever uttered were those of Noah,cursing Ham’s son Canaan to be a servant of servants. He says in Genesis 9:25, “May Canaan becursed! May he be the lowest servants to his relatives” (New Living Translation). According tothe Bible, this was the very first act of slavery. Another example of the Christian God demandingslavery to be used is in Exodus 22, which states that “A thief who is caught must pay in full foreverything he stole. If he cannot pay, he must be sold as a slave to pay for his theft” (New LivingTranslation). Later in the Bible, we can see where some slave owners were instilled with afeeling of superiority. The Lord clearly states that, after conquering their land, his people “must
not intermarry with [the Canaanites]”(New Living Translation), in a very similar way that it wasthought abominable to have intermarriage between blacks and whites. This attitude towardsslavery is important to point out due to the fact that it is important to the continuation of slavery.If not for God commanding that slaves be taken, it could have been easier to abolish slavery incertain environments. However, once a command has been given, it must be carried out,otherwise Gods word will be directly violated. Many people will insist that interpretations of the Bible which support slavery areinaccurate, and that their interpretation is the correct one. They insist that the New Testament nolonger accepts slavery, and that Jesus abolished it. There are a few problems with this. First, ifits up to interpretation, then almost anything could be justified with the Bible. Second, there areplenty of examples in the New Testament that would prove that Old Testament law still applies.Jesus himself, in Matthew 5:17, states that he “did not come to abolish the law of Moses or thewritings of the prophets. No, I came to to accomplish their purpose” (New Living Translation).He goes on to drive this point in, that “until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallestdetail of Gods law will disappear” (New Living Translation) in Matthew 5:18. This would leadone to believe that laws pertaining to slaves and slavery still apply. In case that isnt enough,Jesus scolded his people in Mark 7:9 for “skillfully [sidestepping] God’s law in order to hold onto [their] own tradition”, and in Mark 7:10 he gives an example: “Moses gave you this law fromGod: ‘Honor your father and mother,’and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father ormother must be put to death” (New Living Translation) and goes on with his sermon. It cannot bemore clear that Jesus condones all legislation that the Old Testament put in place. After all, it wasGod who divinely inspired the prophets to create the rules, and God is all knowing, therefore
always right. However unfortunate, The Bible was used to justify slavery. Not only that, but it wasused very effectively, and could still be used today. It not only condones the act of slavery, butjustifies it. It legislates, and dictates slavery. Technically, The Bible created slavery. Some arguethat the new testament changed the rules, and that slavery was not condoned by Jesus. Many saythat slaves in Biblical times were more similar to servants, and were treated with care. Theseviewpoints clearly contradict what The Bible says. In this particular case, there is little room forinterpretation. The Bible could clearly be used to effectively justify slavery.
Works CitedGill, John. "John Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible." E-Word Today. Bible Classics. Web. 28 Oct. 2011.Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1996. Print.Stringfellow, Thornton. A Brief Examination of Scripture Testimony on the Institution of Slavery in an Essay, First Published in the Religious Herald and Republished by Request: With Remarks on a Review of the Essay. Richmond: Printed at the Office of the Religious Herald, 1841. Print.Stringfellow, Thornton. Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery. Freeport, NY: for Libraries, 1972. UNC.edu. 2000. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.Wood, Betty. The Origins of American Slavery: Freedom and Bondage in the English Colonies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997. Print.