Slavery

Comments from a reader:

Here are a few things the bible has to say about slavery: 

It’s OK with God if you slowly beat your slaves to death. After all, they are your money.

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money. Ex. 21:20-21

It’s okay to beat your slaves; even if they die you won’t be punished, just as long as they survive a day or two after the beating (see Ex. 21:20-21). But avoid excessive damage to their eyes or teeth. Otherwise you may have to set them free. Oh well, it’s a heck of a lot better than what would happen to you if you did it to a non-slave. (See verses 21:24-25)

And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake. Ex. 21:26-27 

This is another difficult subject, but my view on slavery is that it is wrong today, and it was wrong in Paul’s day, and he knew it, of course. We should only be enslaved to the righteousness of Christ (Romans 6:19). In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul says, “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so.” Paul is saying that he knows slavery is an unjust evil.

However, as in dealing with Onesimus in Philemon, Paul recognizes a more explicit biblical principle. Slavery was in common acceptance by the Roman government under which Paul lived. In Romans 13:1-7, we are explicitly commanded to obey our government. Unjustly freeing a slave was against Roman law, so Paul sided with the governing authorities.

Perhaps the closest analogy today is abortion. Since our government condones abortion, are we entitled to stop paying our taxes? Romans 13:1-7 says no, since God has put that government in place for a reason, and we are explicitly commanded to obey it and pay our taxes. Of course there are some limits at which peaceful civil disobedience is in order. For details on this, please see the article “What is the Role of Government” on the main web page.

The question then arises about passages such as Colossians 3:18-4:1 and Ephesians 6:5-9 regarding slaves submitting to their masters, as to whether or not these scriptures are still relevant today. They are indeed still relevant, but in a different context. First of all, this sounds to me like an employer/employee relationship. Secondly, if we should someday find ourselves enslaved (through a rebellion against the government, martial law, etc.), then these would be directly relevant to us.

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