Thoughts on Slavery

I recently told a Christian co-worker about my plan to return to the states at the end of the next academic school year. We got to talking about how intimidating it is to return home after being away for almost 9 years. I mentioned that the next year and a half would be spent saving up money to buy our first home. At this point, in a sincere attempt at being helpful, my brother suggested that I go into debt to flip some real estate on that the local market in order to build up even more money for a down payment on a home.

Since I was introduced to Dave Ramsey and my family worked its way out of debt, I can’t hear about such “investment opportunities” without thinking of Proverbs 22:7, “The borrower is slave to the lender.” This time was no exception. All I could think about was being enslaved to a mortgage for a piece of property in this host country where it is not uncommon for the laws to work against foreigners and fail to protect them, particularly from locally sponsored ventures. For me, it’s one thing to go into debt for the house that I’m going to live in. It’s another to put nearly all of my savings at risk on a property deal for a chunk of sand in a place that I’m trying to leave in the hopes that the overly inflated market is going to yield a 20% or more return on my investment. I think the financial term for this is “too risky”, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about slavery and what the Bible says about it. At first glance, it appears to some folks that the Bible isn’t exactly against slavery. One point that I’ve heard people use to criticize the apostle Paul, the Bible and Christianity is that none of them, in their own ways and times, opposed slavery as strongly as they should have. Particularly with regards to Paul, who gets credited by these folks as the “real” founder of Christianity, I’ve heard people say that he should have encouraged Christians to resist Rome on the issue. While I’m certainly not sympathetic to the detractors, I do see that the argument does capitalize on a fact: there is no Biblical condemnation of the practice of owning slaves. There is plenty of condemnation for the abuse of human beings, both slaves and free people. There are regulations in the law of Moses for the proper treatment of slaves, which includes both setting them free and retaining them for life. Paul teaches slaves and their masters how to relate to one another under the lordship of Jesus, while encouraging those Christian slaves who can gain their freedom to do so. I would sum up the Biblical position on slavery this way: Freedom is better than slavery, but slavery is not the worst thing that can happen to a human being.

I don’t say that glibly. My wife and I recently watched “Amazing Grace”, the story of Wilberforce’s efforts to abolition slavery in the British Empire. I comprehend the atrocious abuse which attended the slave trade as it was depicted by the film. However, not all instances of slavery in the Bible describe a similar existence for slaves. Joseph, from the time he was bought from his brothers until the time he was put over Potiphar’s house was a slave. It’s reasonable to assume that the quality of his life, if it was ever so bad as that shown in the Wilberforce film, improved quite dramatically…apart from that stint in prison. Daniel and company were slaves in Persia and it seems that they also lived fairly well in spite of it. Basically, some slaves had horrible lives and some didn’t. A slave with a master who followed the law of Moses or who exercised his authority bearing in mind that he must answer to Christ, his own Master, may not have seen his circumstances as being all that bad. It’s not uncommon for people to give up freedom for security, even today. Conversely, a slave with a lawless master may have wished for death daily until it finally came. Even the Israelites found slavery in Egypt, where they had food, clothing and shelter, more appealing than dying in the wilderness.

Perhaps I should look more closely at the Bible’s perspective on slavery.

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