My Question: Slave trade and the Bible

Good morning people of God. Please I need answers and resources to help me deal with Bible and slavery. In Africa you find Christianity, Islam and the African traditional belief (now africanism and it’s teachings). Africanism is now on the rise in Africa. These movement consider Christianity as the white mans great lie and invention to enslave Africa. In other sense the Bible promotes slavery, so that it allowed christianized European countries back then to enslave blacks and consider us as low lives. Thus, those who brought Christianity to Africa are the same people who enlsaved us (Africans) and exploited us. Slavery indeed did brutalize Africans and destroyed our self worth. The wounds of slavery lives on in Africa and gets worse whenever international news of African suffering and poverty is broadcast. Thus as long as slavery is concerned the white man put Africans in such predicament. I’m a Christian, I have more reasons to believe in God and his word. I have friends who have turned to Africanism and it’s very hard for me to defend the Bible and slavery.

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@Eric! Thank you so much for bringing this really important issue to the forum and for sharing a bit of what you encounter in your context in Ghana. I pray that God blesses our conversation here as we begin to look at this from several different angles. :pray: I have never been to your part of the world, but I have the privilege of counting several amazing Ghanian and Nigerian Christians as my friends. (I very much hope one day to come visit!)

One thing I feel compelled to recognise straight off is that I believe it is absolutely valid to critique the philosophies (and, consequently, theology) that upheld that barbaric and brutalising system. The ‘Christianity’ that made such a system possible absolutely needs to be demolished, and, in its place, the true Gospel of liberation needs to be proclaimed.

As Ravi is fond of contending, ‘Never judge a philosophy by its abuse.’ That is, as Christians, we believe that it is/was an gross abuse (indeed, a desecration) to use the words of the Bible to justify the existence of such an institution like the trans-Atlantic slave trade (and its subsequent forms, which particularly are/were seen in the US).

A couple of thoughts on what you’ve specifically brought up…

The contention that the Bible promotes slavery (such as was found on your continent and mine) OR teaches that some people are less than human (a ‘low-life’ as you put it) is a lie. It is simply not true. Paul elaborated on Jesus’ radical vision of reconciliation by writing to the church in Galatia:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. [Gal 3:26-29]

It is true that neither Jesus nor Paul nor any of the other disciples are recorded as necessarily calling for the overthrow of ‘slavery’ in that time, but they are clear that one who is enslaved is not less of a human…which is what those who upheld the Transatlantic system believed. The institution they advocated for was forbidden in the Torah:

Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession. [Exodus 21:16]

My dear brother @WarnerMiller wrote a very moving reply on this thread with some of his refections on this, which I thought you might find of interest.

Also, @Luna found an interesting series on YouTube that addresses this question and others, and I wonder if she would be willing to share a couple of relevant nuggets she learned from them on this subject? :slight_smile:

Another great resource to consider is the work that our brothers and sisters at the Jude 3 project do. They deal mainly with the African-American context, but many of the same issues overlap on both continents. I would recommend this one to begin with, where my dear friend Abasiano Udofa (who’s Nigerian) discusses encountering this same objection that you have described.

Ok, I feel like I’ve written a lot to begin with, so I will leave it for others to chime in!

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I also found this article (also by Abasiano) a very thought-provoking to read… :slight_smile:

“Africans in the new world resisted the “Christianity” of their slave masters. “Slave master Christianity-ism was rejected by most Christian slaves, but under its cover they began to develop an indigenous theological outlook and practice.”[2] Slaves were originally not allowed to become Christians, but once many of them did, they were often able to distinguish the difference between the oppressor’s “Christianity,” and the Christianity that proclaimed a God on the side of the oppressed.”

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Thanks for your responses.

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Good afternoon, Eric,

This is a question (or set of questions/ideas) that I also have wrestled with some time ago, and as Kathleen noted, there are a lot of underlying thoughts that should be clarified. I am not an expert and present these only as thoughts that have aided my search for God’s truth in the same discussions. :slight_smile: I apologize in advance for the length of this reply, yet I believe the seriousness and depth of your question require significant, thoughtful answers.

  1. My first request toward this discussion would be to ask your friends to define slavery. It is much easier to discuss difficult topics when you have concrete definitions. For the purposes of this discussion, can we agree that the general definition of slavery is the act of owning another human being who has no rights? There are many definitions, including being forced to work by someone else, being under the control of another person without any right or ability to leave or make any choices without punishment, etc. Slaves eat when and only if they are given food, they sleep when and only if they are permitted to, they must do what they are told no matter how awful it is and if for any reason they will not or cannot, they are punished up to and including death. Is this accurate to your definition?

  2. My second submission for thought/discussion is that history proves that slavery is not in any way a white man’s creation. In the early 2500s B.C., the Sumarians are cited as having slaves. In Scripture alone, we see the Israelites as the slaves of the Egyptians (Exodus 1), the Israelites enslaving the Gibeonites, (Joshua 9), Nehemiah, Daniel, Azariah, Ezra, Hananiah, Mishael, were all slaves or servants of the Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. The Greeks and Romans had slaves as well, and none of it appears to be relegated to white® people owning only darker people. (This article is helpful, although not complete in answering these questions: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/misguided-focus-1619-beginning-slavery-us-damages-our-understanding-american-history-180964873/) Indeed, white Europeans have been slaves to other white® people for even more centuries. In Abu Dhabi today (2019), slavery is a huge issue, and very few of their slaves are African. I remember reading a story about slavery in Abu Dhabi just a few years ago and being astounded that other countries still actively support slavery to this vast extent. They promise great jobs and accommodations and then immediately steal workers’ passports and promptly enslave them as forced laborers who have no other options. And the working conditions are nightmarish.

Look at China today as well. Foxconn is an example of another form of slavery. There are many, many people still enslaved today worldwide.

  1. Contention three: Men enslave as many women today as at any point in history. One of the biggest people groups who still are actively, viciously enslaved worldwide is women. And this is where you might be able to make some inroads with your friends. Is there sex trafficking in Africa? Do men ever force women to do anything? Does not Islam allow men to brutally treat women who don’t do what they want them to do? Even women who are not their own family members? Are Indian girls not wed against their wills to men many times their ages? How many brutal rapes have splashed the pages of Indian news agencies in the past few years – rapes that have ended in the murder of the women? Do those not restrict the freedom of women all across that country? Are your friends realistic and honest enough to see the slavery that may exist in their own towns or even homes? Is the freedom of men more valuable than the freedom of women, both of whom are human beings regardless of their skin shade? As a woman, I ask your friends: as many men as have forced themselves upon so many women, should I hold them accountable for others’ actions as they are holding all white people accountable for the actions of some?

Additionally, only in the last couple of centuries has color seemed to be a focused factor in slavery, although even then it has not be exclusive. Read the life history of John Newton who had been a slave trafficker and ended up as a slave himself.

And yet, was it not also white men and women who ran the underground railroad? Who fought and died for the freedom of black slaves in America? Were not many Christians involved in significant efforts to forcibly destroy the accepted practice of African slavery in the United States? If the Bible truly did promote slavery, then why would Christians work so hard to destroy it and thus go AGAINST Scripture? But Scripture has not promoted the enslavement of African people, though it has acknowledged the existence of slavery.

Another contention I submit is that all mankind’s (and womankind’s) nature is vicious, regardless of what nationality or culture or location. It is not relegated to one nationality or skin color. Our pride desires to rule over others, and I humbly submit that this is the ultimate underlying cause of any form of slavery. Again, we cannot lay that at the feet of God as something He either instituted or promoted. Would that not be actually an insult?

With your permission, I would like to address your other statements: “In other sense the Bible promotes slavery, so that it allowed christianized European countries back then to enslave blacks and consider us as low lives.”

May I ask how/where the Bible promotes slavery? To my knowledge, and I am open to being proven wrong, the only slavery the Bible actually promotes is ours to Christ. I absolutely believe the Bible acknowledges the existence of slavery, but I have not seen that it promotes slavery as mankind makes it – a cruel, selfish, sinful, brutalizing practice. We must remember that when God created this world, slavery was not any part of that creation. Even Eve was not a subordinate slave, subject to Adam’s whims and selfish or brutal desires. No indeed! She was a perfect completion of him, made in the image of God every bit as Adam was. Slavery is a sinful result of the corruption of God’s perfect world, not something that He created and stated was good. I think that is VERY important to note.

In addition, the book Songs of Solomon is about a beautiful, drop dead gorgeous black woman who was a willing spouse to a non-black man (presumable Solomon). Their descriptions of love are real, personal, and held up as an incredible example of how God loves us and how we are to respond to Him. There is not coercion, force, beatings, anger, arrogance, or any of the other emotions and actions so often associated with slavery. This is the antithesis of the promotion of African slavery.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to Philemon as he sent Onesimus back to him per the laws in place, he intreated the master to treat his slave as a brother, not as a slave. Does not Christ in us change the way we act toward others?

In II Peter chapter 2, when Peter admonishes servants to be “subject” to their masters, it is not a statement affirming the acceptability and “greatness” of slavery – no, indeed! Peter was acknowledging the legality of slavery under the laws and governments that existed at the time, but his focus was on their hearts before God in an environment that showcased all of the fallen brutality of mankind.

I have read multiple stomach-turning accounts of the abuse of slaves in America and many other countries, some African people and some from many other cultures. I have been appalled into a state of shock over the venom and violence that comes forth from the heart of man when unrestrained by the hand of God. I have often considered the words of Genesis 6 in relation to that brutality. Verses 11-13 state: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” I believe that slavery is a corruption of man’s very soul, treating those made in the same image of God as he is in an abominable manner. But God is not blind to the suffering of slaves, something that Jesus subjected Himself to every day on this earth having left the crowning glory of His rightful place in heaven.

I also submit that is has been “science” that has promoted the idea that Africans are lesser human beings, not Scripture. image https://www.google.com/search?q=evolution+of+man+chart&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=0vhKtzR73pZzoM%3A%2C3RVTE2ClgidthM%2C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kSZ0I31Ed7WFSX3od1WsaLVvROdZw&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjg3JKP7fvkAhXiqFkKHb5aCY4Q9QEwBXoECAYQDg#imgrc=0vhKtzR73pZzoM:

This “evolutionary chart” has been pushed on civilization for more than 100 years, and multitudes of people (of African and every other national descent) have accepted it as scientific fact. It is the lie of evolution that has perpetrated the notion that Africans have truly come from apes and whiter people are “more evolved” and therefore more important – the whole terrible and illogical argument of survival of the fittest. I have multiple friends of African descent, and in the many discussions we have had about this and so many other considerations), I sometimes asked them: “If we were both in an accident and dreadfully hurt, would the first responders call a veterinarian for you and a doctor for me? NO! We would BOTH go to the DOCTOR because we are BOTH human beings. No animal issues, no missing links. We are both completely human and we both need a doctor.” Yet evolution, under the guise of science that is SUPPOSED to be able to be repeated and verified, still perpetrates that Africans are lesser human beings than other lighter-skinned people, more related to animals (apes) than human beings. I respectfully submit that this is a vile human invention, not a Scriptural issue. And it isn’t even a logical theory at that. But so often, loud, vociferous self-proclaimed scientists make a claim that is accepted without actual evidence. It is one of the reasons I implore Christians of all nationalities to never use the word, “interracial” when referring to people. There are no interracial marriages or relationships! There is only ONE human race with many cultural identities. There are not higher races and lower races. One human race coming from Adam and Eve and carried on through the line of Noah. One human race, completely made in the image of God. It is logical that Adam and Eve had children of all different shades of skin tone. Genetics and epigenetics offer a huge understanding of how this works, and it utterly destroys the pretense of one human culture being “higher” or “lesser” than any other one.

I had a conversation with a male friend of African descent a few years ago about why African men are so absent in the overall family structure. It was greatly enlightening, and I was so grateful that he took the time to rationally discuss this with me instead of allowing it to become an emotionally charged conversation. He postulated that because slave families were torn apart so many times, boys did not have the example of fathers to learn how to become proper fathers, how to learn self control, not forced control, how to love. It totally made sense that true love was withheld because it hurt too much to keep getting ripped apart. Husbands and wives could be sold separately, as could children. They would see abuse of someone they loved and not be able to do anything about it. The reasons are multitude, to be sure, and fallout is real and intense.

And yet that also raises the question: Are we truly nothing more than a product of our circumstances? Do we have no choice in what WE do and choose today because of what happened to us as children or what happened to past generations? While this is specifically addressing African slavery in America, does it not apply to all injustice in all segments of humanity?

You also stated, “Slavery indeed did brutalize Africans and destroyed our self worth.” May I ask you to expound on the self-worth portion of that? What exactly do they mean by that?

And I will leave you with one more thought – just because someone claims to be a Christian does not mean that the spirit of God dwells with them and is working out the fruit of the Spirit in them. I believe vicious, violent people who claim to be Christians are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. And it brings to mind the verse that says, “Don’t be deceived – God will not be mocked. Whatever a man sows is what he will reap.”

Thank you for bringing this discussion to the forefront, Eric. I believe it is one that needs to be addressed thoroughly by true Christ followers who deal with injustice on many, many levels, including slavery. I wish we could have this conversation face to face as we could hear the level of each others voices and see the kindness in eyes and the thoughtfulness that truly goes into such a discussion. Please hear this as it was written – as an open response to a brother in Christ who is struggling with the same questions I have or have had. May God grow us together in Himself as we seek to honor Him in the middle of truly difficult discussions, and may He bless your search for truth in this, Eric.

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@Eric.
This is a cut and paste from a thread on the subject in the members lounge. I felt that it was a good exchange then and I believe that it will help you sort through your questions. By no means is this to be understood as an answer to your very important and heartfelt question. The argument that I presented was three fold. And I am posting it here in the hopes that you will find it useful as you sort through this very deep and volatile subject.

A. There was slavery long before any evidence of a written word of God, OT or NT.

B. Slavery and race were not synonymous, one didn’t explain the other.

C. The morality of slavery was discussed as far back as Aristotle (perhaps even further) and it was a moral and ethical conundrum for Rome as evident by Seneca and his writing.

  1. Roman slavery had three distinct periods.
    a. The first, a brief rural phase under which the farmer tilled his moderate holding in person, assisted by his sons and his slaves, and occasionally by hired hands-a system under which the slaves were comparatively few, and mainly of Italian or at least Etruscan origin.
    b. The second period: Roman slavery was entered upon early in the 4th cent. B.C., when the national economy of Italy began to experience a revolution, the earliest evidence of which is the enactment of the law of 367 B.C., compelling a landholder to employ along with his slaves a certain proportion of free laborers. Big farming drove the need and the system for labor was most likely derived from the Carthaginian slave plantation-system, with which the Romans came in contact in Africa and Sicily. The new system was demand driven and purely capitalist in nature and was just like that of America, based on the methodically-prosecuted hunting of man. For owing to the way slaves were used, with little regard to their life or propagation, the slave population was constantly on the wane, and even the wars that continually furnished fresh masses to the slave markets could not cover the deficit.
    c. The third period – Roman expansion and with-it slavery lasted about a century into what is called the third period. This period was marked by a cessation of military expansion and Roman power resulting in a shortage of slaves. (conquest being the primary source) Historically when problems bring change and “It is in Hadrian’s time that the new spirit of humanitarianism and cosmopolitanism-that great social and spiritual change of so deep significance for the future of the world-in the main an outgrowth of Stoicism (q.v.), becomes a real factor in legislation. Hadrian is the first imperial representative of this new spirit, the operative principles of which had long before been formulated by Seneca and put in practice by that ‘noblest type of a true Roman gentleman,’ Pliny the younger. Of Seneca it has been truly said that ‘no modern has more clearly discerned the far-reaching curse of slavery.’”
  2. Roman Slavery was not racial in nature. Race and slavery were not the same thing and the one did not explain the other’s existences.
  3. Roman slaves were not segregated from freeborn in work or types of job performed, with the notable exception of mining operations. Because of this they had no cohesion as a group or any notion of a class consciousness. Some held positions of considerable power not only over fellow slaves but also over freeborn. Imperial slaves and freedmen (belonging to the Roman emperor) were considered the most powerful of all. They were the familia Caesaris, the “emperor’s household” (note Phil 4:22) and were assigned administrative positions. The apostle Paul met one of them, Felix, the imperial freedman of the emperor Claudius, who served as Roman procurator of Judea (Acts 24:22–27).
  4. In ancient slavery, an educated slave was prized. In cities throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, slaves were trained and served as physicians, architects, craftspeople, shopkeepers, cooks, barbers, artists, thespians, magicians, prophets (e.g., Acts 16:16–24), teachers, professional poets and philosophers.
  5. Roman slavery gave us gladiators that killed each other as entrainment and sport for the people.
  6. The main sources of ancient slaves were warfare, piracy, and the international slave trade. Warfare was by far the many supplier of slaves. In his campaigns in Gaul between 58 and 51 B.C. alone, Julius Caesar is reported to have shipped back to Italy nearly one million Gallic (todays French) prisoners of war. Paullus under order from the senate sold to the speculators and wholesale agents who would accompany the invading Roman armies 150,000 free inhabitants of 70 communities in Epirus which had sided with Perseus during the Macedonian wars. The defeat of the Cimbri and Teutones contributed a like number to the Roman slave-market. Titus sold 90,000 Jews into slavery in the conquest of Palestine.
  7. The professional slave-hunters and slave-dealers also added to the supply chain. They robbed the coasts of Syria and the Greek islands’ so effectively that about 100 B.C. the king of Bithynia pleaded, as a reason for his inability to supply the required military contingent, the ravages of the Roman revenue-farmers among the able-bodied population of his kingdom. At the great slave-mart in Delos, where the Eastern dealers disposed of their human cargoes to Italian middlemen, as many as 10,000 head were said to have been landed and sold off in a single day. There was perhaps hardly any branch of trade better organized than the slave trade itself, the foster-mother of all other trades of the time.
  8. Roman law held that slavery was an institution of the law of nations by which, contrary to nature, a person is subjected to the power of another. Slavery is remarkably the only case in the extant corpus of Roman law in which the law of nations and the law of nature are in conflict. Although Roman law, in contrast to Aristotle, considered slavery to be against nature, this did not mean that it was considered morally wrong; the jurists clearly presumed slavery to be legitimate, proper and morally right.
    Needless to say, this is a very condensed list of differences that stood out to me. I chose them for contrast and not as a means of justifying or mitigating American slavery only to stress that historically slavery and race are not synonymous. I realize that In America this would be a hard sell but it still does not change history.
    I would like to add one more comment. I thought it was of interest to note that there was tension, spanning 400 + years, between those that thought that slavery was natural, Aristotle and those that disagreed, Seneca. This discussion was going on well before the New Testament era, I will close with a quote from S. Dill, Roman Society, 'Seneca has never risen higher, or swept farther into the future than in his treatment of slavery. He is far in advance of many a bishop or abbot or Christian baron of the middle age."
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Thank you for this question and the many helpful answers. Slavery does appear in the Bible because it was the norm in the societies around Israel. The OT does not try to overturn slavery, which was probably not economically feasible, but it does provide laws to limit and soften it. For example: Leviticus 25:39 “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves.” Slaves were also to enjoy the Sabbath day of rest. If a slave was injured and became blind he/she was to be set free. etc. Although they were not allowe to enslave fellow Israelites, in Exodus 21 we read: “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." I am not sure what the difference is between a ‘slave’ and a ‘servant’ in this context as there is reference to ‘buying’ but the key point is the temporary nature of the arrangement. ANother was God has to imprtove the situation. Finally, I wanted to comment that, as I understand it, Europeans did not start slavery in Africa but one AFrican tribe would enslave members of another tribe defeated in battle and for many years, Arab traders had a slave trade alaong the eastern shores of the continent.

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