It is often supposed that the Bible accepts without question the institution of slavery. The implication is, of course, that the Bible is wrong, and that we now know better.
But does the Bible itself contain a critique of slavery? Ian Paul thinks so, and offers the following texts for consideration:
Genesis 1:26f – God created human beings in his own image. ‘In contrast to other ANE texts, there is a universality here to the image of God in humanity; it is not confined to one sector or class of humanity…This foundational text…offers a critique of any system which seeks to divide different groups of humanity into fundamentally distinct categories.’
Lev 25:23; Psa 24:1 – All things belong to the Lord; human ownership is always provisional. …
‘Slavery’ is one of those words that tends to prompt a knee-jerk reaction. ‘The Bible condones slavery; how can we then take the Bible seriously on this or any other matter?’
But hold on for a moment, urges Gordon Wenham. Maybe we are too ready to read back into the Old Testament teaching on slavery our own ideas about what is actually meant by that term. Maybe ‘slavery’ isn’t even the best word to use. What if Exodus 21:2, instead of being translated,
‘When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.’
‘When you buy a Hebrew worker, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.’
For the more prosperous to take on the more destitute as their employees, or ‘slaves’ was, in fact, an act of kindness. …
In any account that we might give of the Christian Church, we must honestly acknowledge its failures. There have been occasions – too many occasions – when it has accepted the world’s values and priorities, and accommodated itself to the prevailing culture, and rationalised its own unfaithfulness.
Among its most notable failings we must mention:-
Its approval and even glamorisation of the medieval Crusades, when European knights rode forth to recover the holy places from Islam by force.
Slavery is ‘a state of servitude by which a man is the property of another man.’ Thus defined, it is a violation of an individual’s fundamental rights as a human being, and tends to breed cruelty and exploitation.
Slavery probably originated about 10,000 years ago. Slaves were often people who had been captured in war, or were criminals or people who could not pay their debts.
Conventional wisdom runs as follows: slavery was tolerated uncritically by New Testament teachers such Paul, and allowed to continue unchallenged by Christians until the 19th century. …
For many, the story of Christian missions is a story of oppression of other people and their cultures.
The activities of missionaries are often linked with those of colonists and criminals. As one 1990 children’s book has it, “The Europeans regarded the Aborigines as a heathen people who needed to be converted to Christianity, and put to work for the benefit of Europeans…Aboriginal lands were confiscated, their children taken away and put in Christian mission stations, their water holes poisoned, and many of their people massacred.”
Missionary influence is said to spread through fear or by gaining rice-bowl converts. …