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Heed Every Word of the Bible, Christians? Then Slaves Must Obey Their Vicious Masters

For a great many Christians, the Bible is an inerrant source of inspiration, a divine book whose every word is to be heeded.

Edgewood Church of Christ: “We often refer to the Bible as the Word of God because God chose to speak to us through a written revelation, but one thing many fail to realize is that the Bible is actually inspired word for word by God himself. Many today have the false impression that the Bible is an inspired book of thoughts or ideas. This could not be further from the truth. Each and every word of the Scripture was given to the Bible writers from the Holy Spirit.”

A God-Blessed Man: “It is obvious that in the words of the Bible that we as Christians are to heed every word.”

Flames of Truth Ministries: “We need to know that every word of the Bible is true so that we can look at our sins through the Word.”

St. Thomas Assemblies of God: “The Bible is your resource for absolute truth. In a day of spiritual confusion, moral relativism, and intellectual hypocrisy, you hold in your hand a direct communication from God, which gives you spiritual clarity, moral certainty and intellectual revelation. The Bible consists of more than little black letters on a page. It is a ‘contract’ in force between God and man. Every word is true and unchanging.”

The Bretheren in Christ Church: “If we cannot be sure of the accuracy of every detail in the book, how do we decide what is God’s and what is man’s? How do we know which parts to follow and which to ignore? If the Bible is only partially inspired, then Jesus and Paul’s admonitions to the believers to pay attention to such minute detail become ridiculous….. Ultimately, to have a sure foundation on which we base our beliefs and actions, every word of the Bible must be true.”

Stephen Colbert: “It’s God’s logic as written in the Bible, every word of which is true. And we know every word is true because the Bible says that the Bible is true, and, if you remember from earlier in this sentence: every word of the Bible is true.”

OK, so that last one is delivered as critical satire. Still, it reflects a real sentiment among Biblical literalists. Colbert’s not kidding: the Bible describes all of its words as “God-breathed.” 2 Timothy 3 declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

If you really believe this, then you’ve got to believe in some pretty hideous moral values. Take 1 Peter 2, for instance: “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”

Hear that, slaves? You not only should submit to your masters when you’ve been beaten for doing wrong; you should submit to your masters when you’re being beaten but haven’t done a single thing wrong. It’s the Bible! Every word is true, and every word is useful for your instruction.

This isn’t a hypothetical argument. Thomas Stringfellow, in 1856′s Scriptural and Statistical Views on Slavery, expresses a typical pro-slavery sentiment of the time in describing the Bible:

“When such enslaved persons came into the church of Christ let them (says Peter) “be subject to their masters with all fear,” whether such masters be good or bad. It is worthy of remark, that he says much to secure civil subordination to the State, and hearty and cheerful obedience to the masters, on the part of servants; yet he says nothing to masters in the whole letter. It would seem from this, that danger to the cause of Christ was on the side of insubordination among the servants, and a want of humility with inferiors, rather than haughtiness among superiors in the church.”

Josiah Priest wrote similarly in 1852′s Bible Defence of Slavery:

“The whole drift of the passage is plain and easy. It enforces the duty of submission, in all things not sinful before God, upon the slaves; even in extreme cases of harsh and cruel treatment; and that from the consideration that the God whom they serve, will be glorified by it, and the religion they profess will be commended to the hearts of all men. Could Peter, moved by the Holy Ghost, have done all this, if the very relation of master and slave, was, in itself, and, independently of all contingent abuses, a sinful relation?”

If you believe that the Bible is the ultimate and inerrant source of moral values in the universe, then you’d better get behind the forces for slavery in the world. If you can’t stomach slavery, then there must parts of the Bible that you reject.

8 comments to Heed Every Word of the Bible, Christians? Then Slaves Must Obey Their Vicious Masters

  • Dave

    Jim, an exhortation to those who find themselves in humbling circumstances to bear up with dignity, even when abused, seems to be given to those who want to be “Christ-like,” as they are being told to show the same forbearance as Jesus who “being reviled, reviled not again.” The reason given (1Tim6) is that “the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” In another place (1Cor7) servants are told to take advantage of any opportunity that arises to be made free. Since 99% of the world’s population are just slaves on the global plantation, it shouldn’t be hard for modern believers to relate to this.

    • Jim Cook

      Dave, the verb in the command is to “submit.”

      • Jim Cook

        And then there are other other passages in the Bible in which God approves of or demands slavery:

        Exodus 21
        Exodus 22
        Leviticus 22
        Leviticus 25
        Numbers 31
        Deuteronomy 21
        Ephesians 6
        Colossians 3
        1 Timothy

        New Testament, Old Testament. Proclamations of Popes, Proclamations of Prophets, Proclamations of “The Lord” himself. Support for slavery is all over the Bible. Those who believe (as do the Christians I’ve quoted) that every word of the Bible provides a solid model for moral values have got some explaining to do.

    • Bill

      So ‘slave’ here doesn’t actually mean ‘slave,’ eh? I am relieved to hear that you too view the Bible’s teachings as metaphorical, Dave, and not literal word-for-word truth. For if the Bible here literally condones slavery and enjoins its cheerful acceptance, how could any person of goodwill possibly accept it?

      Now that the literal/metaphorical debate is so handily dispatched, let’s talk about that whole lake of fire thing, and the Anti-Christ, and heaven, and God, and the Son of God, and a four thousand year-old Earth, and Adam and Eve, and….

  • Dave

    Indeed Jim, “servant” KJV is rampant throughout the Bible; Sometimes translated as “slave.” Blueletterbible.org is useful in finding the myriad references to servants, and it is interesting that “employee” does not appear in the text. Today, a Lowe’s employee wearing that cheesy smock is not far removed from Biblical servitude. Let them walk away from the job as though their time is their own and let’s see if their master won’t cut them off from their daily portion. As recently as the early 19th century in America freedom from apprenticeship of the young to various tradesmen had to be purchased.

    Servitude is with us to this day, and our economies are built on it. Most political jostling comes from this fact, and also the many masters to whom we owe fealty. “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye also have a master in heaven.” (Col4) That command, as all commands given from heaven in the OT and NT, is probably less for the ordering of society and more for the ordering of the hearts of believers who deal daily with this world’s realities.

    • Jim Cook

      Sorry, Dave. I’ve read the Bible and from that reading of the Bible the whole hey-it’s-really-just-like-working-at-Lowe’s minimization doesn’t cut it for me. Take Exodus, for example (one example among many). Exodus is central to moral claims, housing what people since have constructed to be the “Ten Commandments.” Right after the “tenth commandment” comes some more commandmenting in Exodus 21. Exodus 21: 1-6 does NOT describe an employee at Lowe’s, unless they’re using the awls to mark the clerks for perpetual servitude. The judgments of the LORD (in New American Standard Bible Translation since you’re getting fussy about versions), Exodus 21: 1-6:

      “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them: If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. 3 If he comes [a]alone, he shall go out [b]alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out [c]alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to [d]God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”

      When a slave is set free, his lord gets to keep his wife and children if the slave was given another slave as a wife. If the slave doesn’t like that and wants to remain with his wife and children, then he needs to pledge himself to lifelong slavery to the lord. As saith the Lord, the slave “is his money.” (Exodus 21: 21). This is not Lowe’s employment.

      Exodus 22: 1-3 … how to be sold into slavery: “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. [b]If the thief is [c]caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. 3 But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”

      This is not Lowe’s employment. The Lord is setting down rules for how to sell people.

      Shall I go on? There is just no way to go around the fact that the Bible endorses slavery, from popes and prophets and the Lord himself in both New and Old Testaments. If you take the Bible as literal truth and a moral foundation (and you think slavery is a bad thing) then this is a problem.

  • Dave

    Not offering a defense of slavery here, but more a defense of history as I understand it. Thomas Stringfellow (a great jerk with a cool name) aside, those were people whose heads were filled with the visions of their day, as are ours. I know a man who actually went to Sudan before it was cool and purchased twelve young girls, bringing them eventually to the U.S. and settling them in families. He took a 50 calibre round in his knee on the way out from a helicopter gunship and nearly bled to death as he calmly talked to his wife on a SATphone about the situation. Has no regrets, as he believes he is following the God of the Bible. Go figure.

    • Jim Cook

      Dave,

      I agree with you here. The Bible is an excuse for people to take what they already think is a good idea and through selective quotation to proclaim divine endorsement of that idea. Religion used in this way provides a weak argument from authority that unfortunately has been used to continue hideous practices. The selective quoters in the 22nd century will look back at the selective quoters of the 21st century and declare, as people do today, “I can’t believe that people used the Bible to support that immoral practice!”

      I think where I may disagree with you is in my position that we ought to stop basing moral judgments on Bible verses and start teaching ourselves and our peers to think independently.

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