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The Biblical Doctrine of Slavery Part One
Friday, 11 September 2015 20:28

Slavery in Scripture An Introduction


Why take the time to provide a doctrinal statement regarding the interpretation of slavery references in the bible?

First of all, false biblical teaching regarding the issue of slavery has been a means of justifying the enslavement of black people in America. Long before there were departments of cultural anthropology and Egyptology to provide pseudo-scientific cachet to the justifications of systematic discrimination against blacks, theologians and preachers supplied the rationales that were used to sanctify slavery and to make the oppression of Africans the “will of God”.[i] [ii]

Secondly, the purpose of American slavery was to utilize the near free labor of the slave to create wealth[iii] to which the slave or his successors would never receive access. In order for this economic separation to be maintained, race must become a perpetual caste, keeping American wealth out of black hands in perpetuity. With the demise of the slave trade and eventually slavery itself, systematic institutionalized discrimination accomplishes this task. As a consequence of this and other factors to be discussed, blacks do not hold an appreciably higher percentage of American wealth than they did at the onset of the Civil War[iv].

The creation of the systems necessary to maintain this inequality: systems of education, employment, law enforcement, urban planning, politics, media and theology produce effects in black people; emotional, psychological and spiritual effects. Paul teaches in Romans 12:1-3 that an accurate self-concept is critical to one’s ability to live the Christian life. The maintenance of enforced inequality and the power [through education, media and theology] to attribute its effects to black inferiority create definite spiritual effects as men, women and children attempt to address the anger, frustration, helplessness and fear produced by this system. This system limits opportunity directly through access to safe neighborhoods, quality education, hiring and promotion, political power [these comprise social conditioning]and indirectly through the maintenance of the systems that create and maintain inaccurate and stereotypical thinking regarding blacks [psychological conditioning]. These same systems [e.g. media, social sciences] possess the power to explain the black situation in America as primarily a consequence of poor decision-making or moral weakness rather than the product of a longstanding strategy which finds its roots in the slavery system of old. The unwillingness of the black church to forthrightly address these realities and their effects upon the spiritual life deprive the black Christian of the spiritual resources to deal with these realities, with devastating effects upon Christian discipleship as well as institutional effects upon marriage, the family and the community.

Thinking [v3], Minds [v2], Bodies [v1]

Romans 12:1–3 (AV)

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Sober thinking[v] [v3] is the antecedent of knowing the will of God [v2]. Knowing the will of God is necessary in order to provide the reasonable service to God [v1]. This transformation [renewing[vi]] of the mind is the spiritual means by which the carnal mind becomes capable of providing useful service to God. The ability to change a person’s self-concept has spiritual repercussions. What was once accomplished by whips and chains is now achieved via social and psychological programming. The manufacture of spiritual losers [i.e. spiritual warfare] is a major product of the modern technology of race that finds it roots in the theological justifications of racial exploitation in American slavery.

When Jesus healed a person, he applied divine power to the specific problem at hand. If a person was blind, He healed that blindness. In like manner, the church must directly address the issues that make such a great contribution to the spiritual problems of black people. The black church has been both afraid[vii] and theologically unable to apply the Word of God directly to the major social issue that afflicts black people. As a consequence, in spite of the many churches in the black community, the community itself is not only unchanged, but is getting worse because of the collapse of the primary institutions of marriage and family. The methods designed to undermine the thinking of the African slave so that he would become a more productive worker must be dismantled by the church by correcting the version of theology and of Christianity[viii] that is still in use and still performing the same functions that it did in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Slavery is Inconsistent with the Creative Purpose of God

Slavery is counter to the entire concept of man’s role in creation. This is one way we know that slavery is not God’s intent for mankind.

Genesis 1:26–28 (AV)

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Image[6754] and Likeness [1823] of God

There is debate as to the meaning of these words: image and likeness. Do they refer to the moral nature of God, His self-consciousness, rationality, or even human versions of his ability perceive reality empirically? Whatever the terms image and likeness reference, it is certain that they do not add up to slavery or subjection or chattel property in the hands of another. Slavery is inconsistent with the purposes of God in the creation of mankind.

Dominion [7287]

This word means to rule, to dominate, to tread down, to subjugate. Rather than to be the subject of rule under slavery to men, mankind was created to rule the earth. God specifies the extent of the rule of the man and the woman:

Genesis 1:26 (AV) 26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

The practical outworking of the image of God in man was the exercise of dominion over the earth. The domain of the rule of mankind is limited to the earth itself and to lower creation, but no authority is given man to dominate his fellow man.

Subdue [3533]

The word to subdue means to bring into subjection, or to bring into bondage. Rather than to become the subject of such control, man was to place the created world under his own control. Human slavery is a reversal of the plan of God whereby man becomes the servant rather than the ruler of his environment.

[i] Swartley, Willard M., “Slavery, Sabbath, Warfare and Women, Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation,” (Herald Press Scottsdale Pa. 1983) 31-50

[ii] The University of Gottingen in Germany was the place where scientific racial anthropology and history took off in the 18th and 19th centuries. This university was the prototype, according to Martin Bernal for "all later modern, diversified and professional universities"

"It is true to say while exclusive professionalism was the distinctive form of Gottingen scholarship, the chief unifying principle of its content was ethnicity and racism "

Bernal, Martin, “Black Athena, The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol. 1 The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985,” (Rutgers, New Brunswick, 1987) 198

Thus the connection between modern scholarship and racist motivation is established as European, and coincident with the development of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.

[iii] “Slavery was immensely profitable to some masters. James Madison told a British visitor shortly after the American Revolution that he could make $257 on every Negro in a year, and spend only $12 or $13 on his keep.” Zinn, Howard, “A Peoples History of the United States, 1492-Present”, (Perennial Classics, 2003) 33

Many existing corporations owe their wealth in part to profits from slavery: “In March, the nation's second-largest insurance company made a startling confession. Aetna admitted that shortly after its founding in 1853, it had insured Southern farmers against the death of their slaves. The corporate mea culpa was forced by Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, a New York lawyer who stumbled upon the practice while researching her own family history. "It was right there in a book on black genealogy," she says, "listing Aetna as a source for finding your ancestors based on old insurance policies." Outraged that the company might have profited from slave insurance, Farmer-Paellmann asked Aetna to make restitution by establishing a multimillion-dollar trust for minority education and businesses. Instead, Aetna issued a quick apology. "We express our deep regret over any participation at all in this deplorable practice," the company said in a press release. Further research has revealed that Aetna is not the only company currently in business that owes at least part of its fortune to trafficking in human lives. Farmer-Paellmann says she has compiled a list of dozens of other companies that she believes benefited from slavery -- in industries ranging from railroads and coal to textiles and tobacco.” “Peculiar Profits”, Mother Jones, http://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/2000/07/outfrontja00.html#profits (Accessed February 9, 2013)

[iv] Anderson, Dr. Claud Ed.D, “Black Labor White Wealth, The Search for Power and Economic Justice” (Claud Anderson Ed.D, 2001) 32

[v] Robertson, A.T., Word Pictures in the New Testament. “NT: 4993; LN: 32.34 Rom 12.3 n.p.” Logos Bible Software 4. Defines as “to be in ones right mind”. He refers to an improper sell assessment [in this case self-conceit] as being “a species of insanity”.

[vi] “to cause something to become new and different, with the implication of becoming superior—‘to make new, renewal.’” Louw, Johannes P. and Nida, Eugene Albert, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains Vol. 1, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition “LN: 58.72 n.p.” Logos Bible Software 4

[vii] Afraid of offending whites, afraid of being accused of seeking excuses for failure, afraid of being accused of playing the “race card”, afraid of being seen as militant, incorrectly affirming that the new birth eliminates cultural and ethnic consciousness “God doesn’t see color” , and so on [rw].

[viii] The slave initially was denied the benefit of evangelism and bible teaching on many plantations. It was the legitimate fear of the slave industry, many participants of which were Christians, that bible teaching would render slavery unacceptable to a man. There was also the fear that Christian baptism would legally entitle a slave to freedom. The investors in slavery were eventually convinced that baptism would not entitle the slave to freedom and that the proper version of Christianity would not make the slave resentful of servitude, but more compliant and industrious in his role as wealth producer for his owner.

Thus began the development of two theologies: one for the slave and another for the free. One theology was created that taught the inherent supremacy of whites and their right not only to heaven, but to inherit the earth today. Another theology was spawned that inculcated the natural inferiority of the black and his need of a sponsor, the slave master, in order to live under limited freedom and limited manhood. The inalienable rights of one race did not accrue to the other. The constitutional rights of the slave owners were inalienable because the rights of life, liberty and happiness were provided by God to mankind. In denying these same rights to the African, the black slave was actually placed in different relation to humanity, the bible and to God. This is the basis of slave theology; the truths of the bible are inconsistently applied to blacks versus other groups.

  1. Slave theology reinforced the status of the slave by making his servitude the will of God (the Curse of Ham). This same curse validated the slaves’ unworthiness for freedom until Darwin, when this doctrine became officially scientific.
  2. The institution of slavery was sanctified by the false teaching that the bible endorsed slavery (through the book of Philemon, an argument from silence in the NT and the Old Testament regulation of the institution) and the implication that slavery in Israel was the same as American and European slavery, when in fact these latter types of slavery were punishable by the death penalty in the bible (Ex 21.16; Dt 24:7; 1Ti 1:10). [These scriptures are improperly used to justify segregation. Quite a few bible scholars have supported segregation by using scripture including Finis Dake, C.I. Scofield and Bob Jones Sr.]
  3. The systematic crippling of black marriage and family by the prohibition of black self-defense as an un-Christian violation of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:29), while aggression towards slaves, the defense of home and family and even civil war [against the British and later the northern States] were considered the right and Christian responsibility of whites. This enabled justification of the unhindered rape, beating and murder of blacks. For example, the killing of the British by colonial believers in the War for Independence is justified, while the killing of those same colonials by blacks in slave rebellions are not.      
  4. The continual, over the top depiction of God (Jesus Christ is God) as an Anglo Saxon violates the command of Moses (Ex 20:4) and has significant psychological effect upon the spiritual development of both blacks and whites. This practice continues to this day.
  5. The creation of the false doctrine of segregation and prohibition of intermarriage of blacks and whites maintains the insulation of wealth in perpetuity through a “biblically endorsed” racial caste system . One of the two main reasons for widespread segregation in the Christian church (including churches that reject segregation in principle) in America is the strong desire to separate black and white adolescents. Apparently slave theology enables the continued justification of this practice.
  6. The discouragement of black national or regional cooperation, for any purpose other than the acknowledgment of black social pathology, as militant and a violation of the concept of the oneness of the Body of Christ. This social restriction does not apply to Asian, Latin, European, Jewish or any other body of believers except blacks. The cooperative function of other ethnic groups to promote group advancement within America is considered a cherished right. Thus the same bible that is used to justify racial and cultural separation is used to forbid racial unity as militancy, if practiced by black Americans.

This is an adequate, but not exhaustive summary of slave theology in the United States. Not one of these doctrines has gone away and you will not hear television or radio pastors refute them as heretical, which they are. In fact, the more biblically conservative a preacher is, the more he will tend to agree with these positions [rw]. [See, DeParle, Jason, “The Christian Right Confesses Sins of Racism” The New York Times August 4, 1996]

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