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Unread 07-09-2016, 12:47 PM   #1
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Slavery condemned in Scripture?

I've had two conversations with atheists in the last month regarding slavery and Christianity, and I gotta say I am not sure where I stand on the issue (let alone confident enough to make a case that could be not only plausible, but probable).

There's a few avenues that have been commonly taken:
a) Slavery has always been evil inherently
  • but the Bible is fallible and there was error in what was taught. God gave commands that cannot be construed as morally helpful or guiding today.
  • but the Bible was culture-bound and we can't expect it to recognize and transcend culture that much. The authors were human, even if inspired. We can look back and see that the commands were wrong, for some reason or another, and move on. We can mature past and outgrow the Mosiac law and Pauline epistles.
  • but where the Bible makes commands regarding slavery, it does not condone it but rather accommodate for it (similar to other laws which make provisions rather than simply condemn the actions -- cities of refuge, for example, in light of a family taking revenge for an accident)
  • but the Bible does not call to light all sins possible or even all sins then perpetuated. If the Bible doesn't speak to it, that does not mean it is OK.
  • and the Bible condemns it. Verses which may suggest otherwise don't, and we can interpret the verses which speak more clearly to interpret those less clear. In other words, we can deduce the wrongness of slavery by "good and necessary consequence" of what was taught in the Mosaic law or in Paul's letters (e.g., Onesimus)

b) Slavery is not necessarily evil,
  • but back in Bible times was unlike slavery in the south, especially with respect to man-stealing and indefinite service (rather than jubiliees or something like that); we would be wrong to say that slavery back then was wrong in the same manner as what we decry in the south. It was OK in Biblical times. (Perhaps why we think it is wrong is due to negative associations and connotations with how it was implemented in the New World and colonizing countries)
  • but that does not mean that slavery has ever had a golden age of it being done right, just as marriage, politics, and the church have been fallibly implemented and involve suffering in virtue of the sinful people (to the health and detriment of those in the institutions), not as a function of the institution itself.
  • and our culture is simply wrong. Those who think that slavery is wrong are not thinking it through. (after all, we're slaves to righteousness!)

What do you think? Which do you align with most, or do you have a better way of framing it?

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Unread 07-09-2016, 01:03 PM   #2
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Does 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 come into play? I was reading it this morning and it just stuck out to me. Is Paul really condoning slavery or is he just acknowledging a fact of the day? I don't have a good answer.

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.


FWIW...I have never believed the Bible encouraged or supported slavery. It seems to be addressing something that was a common practice and (in my opinion) give it some moral boundaries. How does that relate to slavery in the US during its early days? Once again, I don't have a good answer. Exodus 21:16 seems to suggest that kidnapping someone and selling him/her into slavery was punishable by death. That's pretty much was the African slave trade did. Biblical slavery seems to be more like indentured servitude. Just some quick thoughts.
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Unread 07-09-2016, 03:40 PM   #3
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How are you defining slavery?

When people talk about the American slave trade that involves a whole lot more than just slavery.
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Unread 07-09-2016, 08:46 PM   #4
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When it comes to atheists (not really such a thing according to Romans ch 1) just plant the seed and move on. The Word says not to argue with fools (not saying you are).
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Unread 07-09-2016, 10:45 PM   #5
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To start, frankly speaking, in my experience talking with an atheist about slavery is too tangential. It turns into a proxy war. But the issue remains significant, so a couple of thoughts.

It is true, so far as it goes, that "slavery" is no monolithic thing so we have to be clear by speaking broadly. And it's easy to get around the abolition of slavery in theory: just change the name. The Law doesn't allow that easy out. It required that slaves be recognized as human beings and therefore have rights before the Law.

The defining narrative of the First Testament is one of God's rescue of an entire race of people from slavery in a foreign land. For that reason, slavery is handled differently from in all other ancient cultures, for those who have ears to hear.

As far as I am aware, Gregory of Nyssa is *the* source of the definitive proclamation that slavery is a moral evil. As you know, he's basically Augustine's counterpart, the big thinker who brought all the Patristics' brilliance to a point. Christian anthropology is both radical and unique.

In medieval Europe slavery nearly disappeared. It returned in the modern era, finding ways to circumvent Christian convictions. "It's another continent, you have no jurisdiction." "The church is a bunch of moral meddlers, we need separation of church and public life." This is a much more difficult history for atheists to own than Christians.

The calling of each Christian is to willingly become a slave to God, to righteousness, and to the service of others. We must therefore regard slaves as our brothers before we feel any fraternity with their masters.

Couple of Nyssa quotes:

How can a man be master of another's life, if he is not even master of his own?

you find in existence worth as much as this human nature? What price did you put on rationality? How many obols did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did you get for selling that being shaped by God? God said, Let us make man in our own image and likeness. If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power; or, rather, not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are irrevocable. God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God's?
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Unread 07-10-2016, 03:09 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean View Post
How are you defining slavery?

When people talk about the American slave trade that involves a whole lot more than just slavery.
Could you flesh this out more? What do you mean by 'a whole lot more'? (Such as, colonialism, etc? Or...?)
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Unread 07-10-2016, 03:11 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cubeguvna View Post
When it comes to atheists (not really such a thing according to Romans ch 1) just plant the seed and move on. The Word says not to argue with fools (not saying you are).
Maybe that foolishness depends on context?

For instance, as much as I disagree with philosopher/apologists like William Lane Craig, argumentation has certainly both bolstered the faith of Christians, and swayed atheists and agnostics to come to Jesus.
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