The Bible and Slavery

by Bodie Hodge and Paul F. Taylor
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"Just because human beings are from "one blood" doesn't mean that the bible is anti-slavery..."

This is a response to Paul Taylor’s article "A Leader for Biblical Equality".

Just because human beings are from "one blood" doesn't mean that the bible is anti-slavery. The bible supports and regulates slave ownership and doesn't say that owning a slave is wrong. White Christians have often used the bible to convince themselves that owning slaves is OK and the slaves should obey their "earthly masters". White Christians also owned white slaves during and after the fall of the Roman Empire. So to say that White Christians need to believe that their slaves are inferior to them in order to justify slave ownership is also false. A slave is slave in the mind of White Christians that have owned them and the bible supports slave ownership.

Find me one verse in the bible that condemns owning a slave. I dare you. I've already found several that support it. Your "god" should be destroyed. Here are Bible verses in support of slave ownership new and old testament (Leviticus 25:44-46 (NLT)), (Exodus 21:2-6 (NLT)), Jesus Christ thinks slaves should be beaten too (Luke 12:47-48 (NLT)), (1 Timothy 6:1-2 (NLT)), (Ephesians 6:5 (NLT)), (Exodus 21:20-21 (NAB)).


Andre, we have no idea what angle you approach this issue from. Because of your concentration on what “White Christians” have said, we assume that you are probably neither of light complexion nor Christian.

I, Paul Taylor, am both—by background, I am “White” Anglo-Saxon Protestant, having been brought up in the Church of England in the North of England, in a “white,” working-class family. My Christianity is not due to my Anglican upbringing—my faith stems from the fact that I was born again at the age of fifteen.

I, Bodie Hodge, am what I affectionately call a “Mutt” Christian who is of lighter complexion. I am mixture of German, Irish, English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Native American. In fact, I probably have a few others that I’m not aware of! I received Christ as Lord at the age of nine.

It is possible that our views could be influenced by our background, though we have had these comments checked by a “Black” Christian colleague and a Christian of Asian descent to assure that we are being biblically minded (Proverbs 11:14). You have used the terminology “White.” We are therefore using the term “White” to refer to what we would normally call peoples of European descent (especially Anglo-Saxon origin) and “Black” to refer to peoples we would normally say are primarily of African descent. We do not wish to cause offence by terminology.

You state that “White Christians have often used the Bible to convince themselves that owning slaves is OK and the slaves should obey their ‘earthly masters’.” You are correct. Regrettably and shamefully, “White” people claiming to be Christians have frequently taken verses of Scripture out of context to justify the most despicable acts. I could argue that most of these people were not really Christians; they were not really born again but were adhering to a form of Christianity for traditional or national reasons. Nevertheless, I think we have to concede that there are genuine “White” Christians who have believed the vilest calumnies about the nature of “Black” people and have sought support for their disgraceful views from the pages of the Bible.

There is no evidence from Genesis that the curse has anything to do with skin color.

Some “White” Christians have assumed that the so-called “curse of Ham” (Genesis 9:25) was to cause Ham’s descendents to be black and to be cursed. While it is likely that African peoples are descended from Ham (Cush, Phut, and Mizraim), it is not likely that they are descended from Canaan—the curse was actually declared on Canaan, not Ham.

However, there is no evidence from Genesis that the curse has anything to do with skin color. Others have suggested that the “mark of Cain” in Genesis 4 was that he was turned dark-skinned. Again, there is no evidence of this in Scripture, and in any case, Cain’s descendants were possibly wiped out in the Flood.

Incidentally, the use of such passages to attempt to justify some sort of evil associated with dark skin is based on an assumption that the other characters in the accounts were light-skinned, like “White” Anglo-Saxons today. That assumption can also not be found in Scripture, and is very unlikely to be true. Very light skin and very dark skin are actually the extremes of skin color, caused by the minimum and maximum of melanin production, and are more likely, therefore, to be the genetically selected results of populations moving away from each other, after the Tower of Babel incident recorded in Genesis 11.

The first thing we need to say is that neither slavery in New Testament times nor slavery under the Mosaic covenant had anything to do with the sort of slavery where “Black” people were bought and sold as property by “White” people in the well-known slave trade over the last few centuries. No “White” Christian should think that they can use any slightly positive comment about slavery in these sections to justify the historic Slave Trade, which is still a major stain on the histories of both the U.S. and U.K.

The U.S. and the U.K. were not the only countries in history to delve into harsh slavery and so be stained.

  1. Ham’s son Mizraim founded Egypt (still called Mizraim in Hebrew). Egypt was the first recorded nation in the Bible to have harsh slavery and it was imposed on Joseph, the son of Israel, in 1728 BC, according to Archbishop Ussher. Later, the Egyptians were slave masters to the rest of the Israelites, and Moses, by the hand of God, freed them.
  2. The Israelites were again enslaved by Assyrian and Babylonian captors about 1,000 years later.
  3. Other ancient nations were also involved in slavery; the Code of Hammurabi discussed it soon after Babel.
  4. “Black” Moors enslaved “Whites” during their conquering of Spain and Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century AD for over 400 years. The Moors even took slaves as far north as Scandinavia. The Moorish and Middle Eastern slave market was quite extensive.
  5. Norse raiders of Scandinavia enslaved other European peoples and took them back as property beginning in the 8th century AD.
  6. Even in modern times, slavery is still alive in the Sudan and Darfur.

We find many other examples of harsh slavery from cultures throughout the world. At any rate, these few examples indicate that harsh slavery was/is a reality, and in all cases, is an unacceptable act by biblical standards.

The extreme kindness to be shown to slaves/servants commanded in the Bible among the Israelites was often prefaced by a reminder that they too were slaves at the hand of the Egyptians. In other words, they were to treat slaves/servants in a way that they wanted to be treated.

But was slavery that is discussed in the Bible the same as the harsh slavery? For example, slaves and masters are referred to in Paul’s epistles. In Ephesians 6:5, a better translation is to use the word “bondservant.” The Bible is in no way condoning the practice of bondservants, who were certainly not being paid the first century equivalent of the minimum wage. Nevertheless, they were being paid something, and were therefore in a state more akin to a lifetime employment contract rather than “racial” slavery. Moreover, Paul gives clear instructions that Christian “masters” are to treat such people with respect and as equals. Their employment position did not affect their standing in the church.

Passages in Leviticus show us the importance of treating “aliens” and foreigners well, and how, if they believe, they become part of the people of God (for example, Rahab and Ruth, to name but two). Also, the existence of slavery in Leviticus 25 underlines the importance of redemption, and enables the New Testament writers to point out that we are slaves to sin, but are redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Such slavery is a living allegory, and does not justify the “racial” and “racist” form of slavery practiced from about the 16th to 19th centuries.

As we already know, slavery was common in the Middle East as far back as ancient Egypt. If God had simply ignored it, then there would have been no rules for their treatment and they could have treated them harshly with no rights. But since they did have rights and rules for their protection, it showed that God cared for them as well. However, this is often misconstrued for an endorsement of slavery, which it is not. God listed slave traders among the worst of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:10 (kidnappers/men stealers/slave traders). This is no new teaching as Moses was not fond of forced slavery either:

Exodus 21:16
He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.

In light of such rules, slaves/servants in Israelite culture came about by their own actions, whether from among the Israelites or neighboring cultures.

In fact, take note of the punishment of Egypt, when the Lord freed the Israelites (Exodus chapters 3–15). God predicted this punishment well in advance:

Genesis 15:13-14
13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.
14 “And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.1

Had God not protected slaves/bondservants by such commands, then many people surrounding them, who did have harsh slavery, would have loved to move in where there were no governing principles as to the treatment of slaves. It would have given a “green light” to slave owners from neighboring areas to come and settle there. But with the rules in place, it discouraged slavery in their realm.

Now let us directly discuss the passages that you bring up for clarification:

Luke 12:43-48
43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.
44 Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has.
45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk,
46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

As for Jesus’ supposed support for beating slaves, this is in the context of a parable. Parables are stories Jesus told to help us understand spiritual truths. For example, in one parable, Jesus likens God to a judge. The judge is unjust, but eventually gives justice to the widow when she persists. The point of that story was not to tell us that God is like an unjust judge—on the contrary, He is completely just. The point of the parable is to tell us to be persistent in prayer. Similarly, Luke 12:47–48 does not justify beating slaves. It is not a parable telling us how masters are to behave. It is a parable telling us that we must be ready for when Jesus Himself returns. One will be rewarded with eternal life through Christ, or with eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46)

1 Timothy 6:1-2
1 Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.
2 And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things.

Writing to Timothy, Paul doesn’t give an endorsement to slavery or servants. He merely gives commands to those who are already either masters or bondservants. Again, bondservants or slaves were paid a wage and, being brothers in Christ, Paul makes it clear that they are equals:

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 6:5-9
5 Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ;
6 not with eyeservice, as men–pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
7 with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men,
8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
9 And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Again, Paul in Ephesians is not giving an endorsement to slavery/bondservants and masters but gives them both the same commands. Again, bondservants were to be paid fair wages:

Colossians 4:1
Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Exodus 21
2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him.
4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.
5 But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’
6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the door-post and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

This is the first type of bankruptcy law I’ve encountered. With this, a government doesn’t step in, but a person, who has lost themselves to debt, can sell the only thing they have left, their ability to perform labor. This is a loan. In six years the loan is paid off, and they are set free. Bondservants who did this made a wage, had their debt covered, had a home to stay in, on-the-job training, and did it for only six years. This almost sounds better than college, which doesn't cover debt and you have to pay for it!

This is not a forced agreement either. The bondservants enter into service on their own accord. In the same respect, a foreigner can also sell themselves into servitude. Although the rules are slightly different, it would still be by their own accord in light of Exodus 21:16.

Exodus 21:18-21
18 If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but is confined to his bed,
19 if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted. He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed.
20 And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished.
21 Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.

This passage follows closely after Moses' decree against slave traders in Exodus 21:16. We include verses 18 and 19 to show the parallel to servants among the Israelites. The rules still apply for their protection if they already have servants or if someone sells themselves into service.

Leviticus 25:38-46
38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
39 And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave.
40 As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.
41 And then he shall depart from you––he and his children with him––and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers.
42 For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.
43 You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God.
44 And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have––from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves.
45 Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property.
46 And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.

God prefaces this passage specifically with a reminder that the Lord saved them from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. Again, if one becomes poor, they can sell themselves into slavery/servitude and be released as was already discussed.

Verse 44 discusses slaves that they may already have from nations around them. They can be bought and sold. It doesn’t say to seek them out or have forced slavery. Hence it is not giving an endorsement of seeking new slaves or encouraging the slave trade. At this point, the Israelites had just come out of slavery and were about to enter the Holy Land. They shouldn’t have had many servants. Also, this doesn’t restrict other people in cultures around them from selling themselves as bondservants. But as discussed already there are passages for the proper and godly treatment of servants/slaves.

The slavery of “Black” people by “White” people in the 16th to 19th centuries was harshly unjust like many cultures before. This harsh slavery is not discussed in Moses’ writings, because such slavery was unknown in Hebrew culture. This is not surprising. Paul tells us in Romans 1:30 that people are capable of inventing new ways of doing evil.

“Racial” slavery was opposed because it was seen to be contrary to the value that God places on every human being.

“White” on “Black” slavery was opposed by Christians such as William Wilberforce, not by examining passages on slavery, because the slaveries were of different types. “Racial” slavery was opposed because it was seen to be contrary to the value that God places on every human being, and the fact that God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). The use of the term “one blood” is so significant. If “races” were really of different “bloods,” then we could not all be saved by the shedding of the blood of one Savior. It is because the entire human race is descended from one man—Adam—that we know we can trust in one Savior, Jesus Christ.

You say our “god” needs to be destroyed. If by this you refer to a sort of petty “god” invented by “White” Christians to justify “racist” attitudes, then you are right. The true God of the Bible is not like that. As we have tried to show, yet again, God’s Word, the Bible, teaches that there is only one race of people—Adam’s race—and there is one Savior, Jesus Christ.

A few pointers to remember:

  1. Slaves under Mosaic Law were different from the harshly treated slaves of other societies, more like servants or bondservants.
  2. The Bible doesn’t give an endorsement of slave traders but the opposite (1 Timothy 1:10). A slave/bondservant was acquired when a person voluntarily entered into it when he needed to pay off his debts.
  3. The Bible recognizes that slavery is a reality in this sin-cursed world and doesn’t ignore it, but instead gives regulations for good treatment by both masters and servants and reveals they are equal under Christ.
  4. Israelites could sell themselves as a slave/bondservant to have their debts covered, make a wage, have housing and be set free after six years. Foreigners could sell themselves as a slave/bondservant as well.
  5. Biblical Christians led the fight to abolish slavery.

The issue of racism is just one of many reasons why we oppose evolution. Darwinian evolution can easily be used to suggest that some “races” are more evolved than others. Biblical Christianity cannot be used that way—unless it is twisted by people who have deliberately misunderstood what the Bible actually teaches. Recall Darwin’s prediction of non-white “races”:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes … will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian [aborigine] and the gorilla.2

With sincerity in Christ,

Paul Taylor, AiG-UK
Bodie Hodge, AiG-US


  1. All passages from the NKJV and NIV.
  2. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (New York, A.L. Burt, 1874, 2nd ed.), p. 178.


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