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Slavery in the Bible:

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Quotations by learned men from the 19th century:

bullet "[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts." Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. 1,2

bullet "There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral." Rev. Alexander Campbell

bullet "The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example." Rev. R. Furman, D.D., Baptist, of South Carolina

bullet "The hope of civilization itself hangs on the defeat of Negro suffrage." A statement by a prominent 19th-century southern Presbyterian pastor, cited by Rev. Jack Rogers, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

bullet "The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined."  United States Senator James Henry Hammond. 3

A quotation from the 21st century:

bullet "If we apply sola scriptura to slavery, I'm afraid the abolitionists are on relatively weak ground. Nowhere is slavery in the Bible lambasted as an oppressive and evil institution: Vaughn Roste, United Church of Canada staff.

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The quotation by Jefferson Davis, listed above, reflected the beliefs of many Americans in the 19th century. Slavery was seen as having been "sanctioned in the Bible." They argued that:

bullet Biblical passages recognized, controlled, and regulated the practice.

bullet The Bible permitted owners to beat their slaves severely, even to the point of killing them. However, as long as the slave lingered longer than 24 hours before dying of the abuse, the owner was not regarded as having committed a crime, because -- after all -- the slave was his property. 4

bullet Paul had every opportunity to write in one of his Epistles that human slavery -- the owning of one person as a piece of property by another -- is profoundly evil. His letter to Philemon would have been an ideal opportunity to vilify slavery. But he wrote not one word of criticism of the institution of slavery.

bullet Jesus could have condemned the practice. He might have done so. But there is no record of him having said anything negative about the institution.

Eventually, the abolitionists gained sufficient power to eradicate slavery in most areas of the world by the end of the 19th century. Slavery was eventually recognized as an extreme evil. But this paradigm shift in understanding came at a cost. Christians wondered why the Bible was so supportive of such an immoral practice. They began to question whether the Bible was entirely reliable. Perhaps there were other practices that it accepted as normal which were profoundly evil -- like genocide, torturing prisoners, raping female prisoners of war, forcing rape victims to marry their rapists, executing religious minorities, burning some hookers alive, etc. The innocent faith that many Christians had in "the Good Book" was lost -- never to be fully regained.

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Topics covered in this section:


Background material


Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)


Passages from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

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  1. Dunbar Rowland quoting Jefferson Davis, in "Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers and Speeches. J. J. Little & Ives Company, 1923, Page 286.
  2. Jefferson Davis, from a speech in the US Senate on 1850-FEB-14,
  3. William Lee Miller, "Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress." Alfred A. Knopf, (1996), Page 139.
  4. From the Revised Standard version of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) -- Exodus 21:20-21 "When a man strikes his slave, male or female, and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished; for the slave is his money." The word "money" in this case means property; it is translated "property" in the Modern Language, Living Bible and other translations.
  5. Herb Vander Lugt, "How can we trust a Bible that tolerated slavery?," pamphlet, Radio Bible Class Ministries (RBC), at:

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 Home page > Religious violenceSlavery > here

or Home page > ChristianityHistory, practices... > Slavery > here

or Home page > ChristianityBible Themes > here

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Copyright 1998 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on ReligiousTolerance
Latest update: 2013-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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