Does God approve of slavery?

Discussion in 'Religion' started by James R, Jan 26, 2021.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    It's not hard to find a lot of Christians who are willing to defend the OT verses I have quoted, right along with the NT ones.

    I must say, though, I'm puzzled as to why my motivations in starting this thread seem to be such a focus in the replies, as opposed to people wanting to engage with the actual topic, or to try to answer the questions I have asked in a honest way.

    Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I'm trying my best to make the bible look bad, by highlighting some of its proclamations and commandments concerning slavery, which I assume many of us would frown out at in the modern era (although I have actually heard many people try to defend them). Let's assume, also, that this makes Christians and Jews angry at me, because they don't think I'm being fair to their God or to their Holy Book.

    Then what? What follows? I can think of quite a few responses, such as (1) an attempt to defend the bible by claiming that's not it's real message, or that I've made a mistake, or something; (2) an acknowledgment that the bible is not very good on slavery, but that we, in the modern era, are free to ignore those bits or reinterpret them or qualify them, for some (given) reason; (3) an argument that it's acceptable to cherry pick parts of the bible that are suitable - or not - for modern times, and ignore the more unsavory parts; (4) an argument that True Believers in the Christian God don't need to regard the bible as the ultimate authority on certain moral matters, including slavery; (5) an argument that some other sources or texts "update" the bible in some effective way, which clarifies that God doesn't support slavery after all. I'm sure there are many other possible responses.

    So far, though, I'm mostly seeing complaints that I've failed to take into account this or that other thing - often the details are unspecified - which would negate or reduce the impact of the words of the Holy Book. I've also seen the common "two wrongs make a right" response attempted here, already: that if some other religion approves of slavery, then why am I not taking that religion to task instead, while ignoring Judaism/Christianity?

    Is it your position that Christians are free to ignore inconvenient or unsavory parts of the bible?

    Are you a Christian yourself?

    If it is okay to cherry pick the good and leave out the bad, I'd like to ask what criteria you use to decide what is good and bad in the bible - or what are "core" features of God's Word and what are "non-core", ignorable, parts. I hope a believer can help me with this.

    Do you regard the bible as the Word of God, or just as another flawed text written by fallible human beings?

    If believers cannot rely on the bible as an accurate reflection of God's Will, then two questions follow: (1) Does God approve of slavery? (Note, this is the original question in the thread title, and it remains unanswered.) (2) If not, then how do you know, as a believer? If not from the bible, then what is the source of your knowledge of God's Will?

    The verses I have quoted read clearly as a guide on what to do with slaves, and on what slaves themselves ought to do.

    You seem to be saying that we are free to ignore those parts of the bible.

    What criteria are you using, then, to decide which parts of the bible ought to ignored, and which parts are to be regarded as "good" guides for helping individual people live their lives?

    Are you saying the bible is not a very good moral guide? Are you saying that there's some other standard that supercedes that Word of God?
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    The question I ask in the thread title is not "Did the bible's authors approve of slavery?", but "Does God approve of slavery?"

    Are the answers to those two questions different? Would that not suggest that the bible does not accurately represent the Word of God?
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  5. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I seek clarity here.

    Are you saying that the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, or other religious authorities, have the power/right/authority to override or ignore or reinterpret the plain words of the bible?

    Does that make the Church, or the Pope, or the ecclesiastical authorities, more authoritative than the bible itself, when it comes to deciding what is, or isn't, a teaching of Christianity?
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2021
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  7. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    While interesting, that seems rather beside the point of this thread.

    I'm not so sure.

    I think that it is probably not uncommon for hunter-gatherer societies, for example, to regard conquerered members of neighbouring tribes effectively as property to dispose of or do with as they wish. Their religious beliefs presumably do not contradict that assumption or practice.
  8. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Please read my reply to exchemist, above. I have many of the same questions for you.

    Are you saying that various Jewish commentaries effectively overrule, or supercede, or reinterpret the Talmud itself, and that they should be regarded as better authorities that the recorded Word of God in the bible?

    I would also be interested in some specifics. How do the commentaries you mention address the rules in Exodus, quoted previously?
  9. Q-reeus Banned Valued Senior Member

    And you really cannot figure from what you above quoted e.g. "It's easy to show all the NT prominent figures/writers including Jesus and Paul believed and taught the End Times were upon that generation.", that the correct answer HAD to be your second option?! That's apart from my various earlier statements elsewhere that I view the bible both OT and NT as NOT Holy Writ.
    Not too bright apparently. But one senses another and darker explanation, which unfolds as we progress further here.
    No and here again you know or should know better. What is not clear to you about the passage from your first quote above?:

    "Hence to start some campaign to abolish it beforehand would only invite a harsh backlash that would be a huge impediment to their main aim of proselytizing as a somewhat urgent imperative. Save souls now, leave the rest till later."

    Nothing there implies a cavalier indifference to slavery - it was a matter of priorities, contrary to your cunning, provocative take on it on display above.
    You lie. The support clearly came before I used the term bogus. And you know it. Just being provocative as usual. Having just slapped 20 penalty points on me for reacting to provocations elsewhere at SF, I'm sensing your provocative distortions here might be a 'golden opportunity' to slap more on if as I am here, pointing out dishonesty in your calculated responses to my #10.
    What skimming? Read your own post more carefully. You never quoted Exodus 21:4, which btw reads (KJV):
    "If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself"
    Is that a serious question? Or do I have to formally point out you deliberately excluded by never mentioning Islam at all? The thread title gave every reason to include Islam in the mix.
    No but it means you have been quite selective in what to include and what to exclude.
    And that highlighted bit is why I consider you to be habitually disingenuous and devious. Where is there any hint of wanting to be an apologist for Islam's slavery record, given this from #10?:
    "I also notice you deliberately exclude Islam from the equation. Islam was and remains in certain quarters a notoriously aggressive upholder and plier of the slave trade."
    Nice bit of provocation to finish off. There was no angry tone in my #10, but you have gone out of your way to provoke anger with your #20.
    I'll just be amused to see if you can construe my defense here against your provocations to be 'more unacceptable behavior' accumulating a whole further whack of penalty points. Maybe enough to have me instantly permanently banned. Cue sera sera.
  10. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Great. Then things are easy in your case.

    You can just answer the question of the thread: does your God approve of slavery? And, just as importantly: how do you know?

    Are you insulting me, Q-reeus? Tut tut! Weren't you just warned for that kind of thing?

    You still haven't really explained why those oh-so-busy bible writers never thought to mention, even once, that slavery is a bad thing, according to God. Well, apart from your claim that they were all hopelessly distracted by thoughts of the end times. Maybe you're right. And maybe they just forgot to record where Jesus spoke out against slavery.

    I wonder how they would have responded to the question "Does God approve of slavery?"
    This is the real point of your reply, isn't it? You're upset that somebody reported you for hurling personal insults, and I applied our site rules by issuing you with an official warning for insulting other members.

    Try learning from the warning rather than simply rinsing and repeating your habitual behaviours.
    Bah bowm! Strike 2!

    Read the opening post again, and this time I really mean it: don't skim!

    You can apologise to me when you're done.
    Stop being a baby.

    I never explicitly mentioned Hinduism - or Scientology, or Zoroatrianism, or South American animism, or Vodoun, or any of hundreds of other religions - either. Nor did I exclude any of them.
    So include it! Jeez.

    Read the thread title. Read the first line of the opening post (don't skim!).

    Also, realise that every post that anybody ever makes here includes some content and leaves out other potential content.

    I didn't mention Syrian archeology or epidemiology or World Series Poker in my opening post, either. I guess that means I deliberately set out to exclude all of those things from the following discussion.

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    Because, you know, I'm such a manipulative schemer and all. Shock horror! Oh the humanity! Little Old Q-reeus is all put out!

    So, on the one hand, you're complaining that we're not discussing Islam, but on the other hand, you don't want to discuss it.

    Points for consistency there, Q-reeus.

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  11. Q-reeus Banned Valued Senior Member

    The thread title is "Does God approve of slavery?" - no 'your' in there. Or you meant to exclude unbelievers from participating?
    Ha ha ha. Confirming my 'thesis'. It was nominally an accurate observation, so to construe it as insult is misdirected. But you know that.
    Given your focus is entirely on Christianity for whatever reason that is, it has to be said there is no condemnation of slavery in the NT. In particular the early Church being Jewish in composition would have taken their cue from the OT approval of slavery. But given the NT emphasis on universal brotherhood would have rejected application of the worst OT slavery rules.
    Yeah I must admit it was there. But I realize now why I overlooked it. This is how you wrote the start of that passage:

    "This is from Exodus, Chapter 21.

    21 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them...."

    It's universal practice to write chapter and verse as e.g. 21:1, instantly recognized as 'chapter 21, verse 1'. Your way of doing it leads one to take that quote as starting at 21:21, as you only began verse numbering from verse 2, for whatever peculiar reason.
    Which is why I didn't read further, given I knew the worst example was back at 21:4.
    There you go again - deliberate provocation.
    Islam has almost certainly the world's largest active following, and being one of the three so-called Abrahamic religions, and rapid intrusion into the West, had every reason to be included. Hinduism indeed could have been added, but uniquely has it's own awful caste system as a stain.
    Sublime to the ridiculous. And again you know it.
    Well I have been consistent but you may be going insane (which is fair comment given your bizarre reinterpretation of all I have clearly stated on exclusion of Islam's role). Or you can try and deal with what I have actually written re Islam, instead of deliberately or deludedly twisting things completely out of shape. Such as to give you a fake cheap 'win' of sorts.
  12. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    [Civilization was built on slavery, and so were the belief-systems of civilized societies.....]
    It is by way of elaborating the direct reply to your OP question : "All institutional gods approve of slavery". and thus very much on point. You were concentrating on the one god whose adherents wrote a book you can quote from - but they are by no means exceptional in their attitude.
    All peoples create gods as a magnified reflection of themselves; their social structure, their preoccupations, interests, desires and fears. When their needs and ideas and environment change, they adjust their perception of the gods to suit the new conditions.
  13. Bells Staff Member

    And yet the problematic passages are still there and we get the 'well, just ignore those bits' or 'those bits don't really count' reasoning from those who follow the particular ideology in question.

    Or in the case of Titus 2:9-10, they changed slave to bondservant..

    That was in one of the latest updates.

    Funnily enough, Paul's instruction for slaves is similar to his instructions for women..
  14. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Scripture can't be just re-written, obviously. In the case of slave v. bond-servant, it seems the original Greek is δοῦλος, which seems to be thought a broader term than just slave.

    But my point was that, in the older branches of Christianity, there is a second source of authority, in the form of the bishops of the church, who claim "Apostolic Succession" via their ordination. This gives them authority to interpret scripture - though not of course to rewrite it. So they make commentaries from time to time, which sometimes point out that the ancient world differed from our own and that we need to read some passages making allowance for the culture of the time.

    There is no doubt that slavery was seen as a bad thing right from the beginning, but in the early church Christians were not in any position to challenge the order of the society in which they found themselves. The Wiki article I linked to in post 7 describes how the issue has been treated over the centuries. It looks to me as though it was recognised as an evil from very early, but as the church came to exercise power, it got influenced by the interests of those that profited from it and did not condemn it as forcefully as one would have hoped it might. The episode of Pope Paul II in the 1500s is illustrative: he issued a condemnation of it, which he was forced by the power of Spain to retract. So it's been a very messy and inglorious history.

    But to return to the thread title, the answer is easy for any Christian today: no Christian would claim God approves of slavery.
  15. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    They've always used it selectively. How many Christians do you know who keep kosher? I know, Peter had a dream wherein God changed His mind - very conveniently, just when the apostles were spreading The Word to people who were never going to change their dietary habits and food production methods. Christianity is like Microsoft - always updating when it suits them, whether the users want the change or not.
  16. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    As an ex-believer... Once I realized that the Garden of Eden is a myth or, at best, an allegory. That meant that Jesus died to save us from an allegory. I figured the whole book had to be suspect.

    Now days I find better insights into the human conditions from Douglas Adams books.
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  17. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    The differences between Christian hermeneutics and Midrashic hermeneutics have always fascinated me. Christians have always taken great pains to not wholly rewrite scripture--through from early to late Middle Ages, with the Church essentially providing safe haven for those who might otherwise be secular scientists, philosophers and the like, many thinkers and movements took considerable liberties (neoplatonists, scholastics, apophatic traditions and the like--many of whom, for all intents and purposes, were essentially atheists and/or agnostics)--whereas Midrashic commentators (Midrash proper, roughly 5th century to 12th/13th century, but more especially, contemporary midrash), bluntly, literally made shit up to get their point across. (Fuck, that was a long and convoluted sentence--apologies again, my head's still a bit fuzzy.). I mean, I've read countless translations and renderings of Genesis and I've yet to see any mention of Cain's dog!

    Personally, I'm partial to the Midrashic approach: sometimes you simply cannot spin shit into gold, no matter how hard you try.

    I don't know about that. I think you'd find many a Baptist or Evangelical sort in the U.S. who'd maintain that their god tacitly supports slavery. Then there's slavery in the Proudhonian/Marxist sense (wage slavery)--there are anti-capitalist Christians out there, I'm sure, but not a whole lot of 'em. Most in the U.S., in fact, are very much of the capitalist sort.
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  18. Bells Staff Member

    It was also dependent on each region..

    While their European counterparts were leaning towards calling for the full abolishment of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade...

    Two slaveholding states, Maryland and Louisiana, had large contingents of Catholic residents; however both states had also the largest numbers of former enslaved persons who were freed. Archbishop of Baltimore, John Carroll, had two black servants - one free and one enslaved. (He is also alleged to have been related to a slave descendant, Sister Anne Marie Becraft.)

    In 1820, the Jesuits had nearly 400 slaves on their Maryland plantations. The Society of Jesus owned a large number of enslaved individuals who worked on the community's farms. Realizing that their properties were more profitable if rented out to tenant farmers rather that worked by enslaved people, the Jesuits began selling off their bondsmen in 1837.

    In one of the more famous examples of this, the Jesuit leadership of Georgetown College, in Washington, D.C., sold off 272 enslaved persons in 1838 (often known as the Georgetown 272 or GU272) in order to raise money for the struggling school.[121] Most of these people ended up near Maringouin, Louisiana, where many of their descendants still live.


    Despite the issuance of In supremo apostolatus, the American church continued in deeds, if not in public discourse, to support slaveholding interests.[citation needed] Some American bishops interpreted In supremo as condemning only the slave trade and not slavery itself. Bishop John England of Charleston actually wrote several letters to the Secretary of State under President Van Buren explaining that the Pope, in In supremo, did not condemn slavery but only the slave trade.[122]

    In In supremo apostolatus, Pope Gregory XVI admonished and adjured "all believers in Christ, of whatsoever condition, that no one hereafter may dare unjustly to molest Indians, Blacks, or other men of this sort;...or to reduce them to slavery...". Catholic bishops in the Southern U.S. focused on the word "unjustly". They argued that the Pope did not condemn slavery if the enslaved individuals had been captured justly—that is, they were either criminals or prisoners of war. The bishops determined that this prohibition did not apply to slavery in the US.[citation needed]

    Answering the charge that Catholics were widely supporting the abolitionist movement, Bishop England noted that Gregory XVI was condemning only the slave trade and not slavery itself, especially as it existed in the United States. To prove his opinion, England had In supremo translated and published in his diocesan newspaper, The United States Catholic Miscellany, and even went so far as to write a series of 18 extensive letters to John Forsyth, the Secretary of State under President Martin Van Buren, to explain how he and most of the other American bishops interpreted In supremo apostolatus.
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  19. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Well yes there is always a wacky fringe to any group.

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  20. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Well I don't profess to be expert in this area but there is a clear difference between the post-Reformation sola scriptura Christians and the older branches that maintain the idea of apostolic succession. There is a passage in the Wiki article on sola scriptura that addresses it:

    "The Catholic Church teaches that Christ entrusted the preaching of the Gospel to the apostles, who handed it on orally and in writing, and according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches."[54] For the Eastern Orthodox too, "the Holy Bible forms a part of Holy Tradition, but does not lie outside of it. One would be in error to suppose that Scripture and Tradition are two separate and distinct sources of Christian Faith, as some do, since there is, in reality, only one source; and the Holy Bible exists and found its formulation within Tradition".[55]

    Catholics apply to apostolic tradition many of the qualities that evangelicals and other Protestants apply to scripture alone. For example, the 1978 Evangelical declaration Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, states: "We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us. We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind."[56]

    Since the Catholic Church professes that apostolic tradition and scripture are both the word of God, Catholics can affirm that many of these propositions apply equally well to tradition: It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which cannot be reduced to human insight or heightened consciousness.

    This ties in with the question of what constitutes apostolic tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that this tradition is given "by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit".[57]

    There remains some confusion on the matter among both Catholics and non-Catholics. This confusion can be seen in those who interpret Catholic researcher James Keenan to claim that the doctrines given by apostolic tradition have changed. Keenan reviewed the history of moral theology, and in particular a change in the approach of moral theologians, specifically in the twentieth century. Keenan noted that Mark D. Jordan said that medieval texts he had reviewed appeared to be inconsistent. This refers to medieval traditions and not to apostolic tradition or doctrine. Keenan, however, says that John T. Noonan Jr. demonstrated that, "despite claims to the contrary, manualists were co-operators in the necessary historical development of the moral tradition". According to Noonan, "history cannot leave a principle or a teaching untouched; every application to a situation affects our understanding of the principle itself."[58]

    This is not to override the meaning of the bible but it most certainly does give the bishops of the church implicit authority to interpret it for their flocks and to develop doctrine that goes beyond the specific words written in scripture. (That is pretty obvious, actually, when one considers all the theological structures, doctrines and practices that have arisen over the centuries.)
  21. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    I realize the Civil War was a "long time ago", but as is obvious from the riots a few weeks ago, we still aren't over it. Here's a quick line from the Texas Articles of Succession:

    "...the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations..."
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  22. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Why-ever not? The entire book is the product of a succession of Roman Catholic - and later, Eastern Orthodox and later still, Lutheran - editorial committees - as well as translators and transcribers, and there is reason to believe that they (at least) filled in some missing or obscure bits. For sure, they discarded some writings and elevated others, while also making pronouncements about the relative sanctity of various aspects of their god and prophets.
    The books that make up the Bible were written by various people over a period of more than 1,000 years, between 1200 B.C.E. and the first century C.E. The Bible contains a variety of literary genres, including poetry, history, songs, stories, letters and prophetic writings. These were originally written on scrolls of parchment, as opposed to being encapsulated in "books" as we think of them today.
    Over time, the books that were deemed authentic and authoritative by the communities who used them were included in the canon and the rest were discarded. Although the bulk of that editing work ended in the late 300s, the debate over which books were theologically legit continued until at least the 16th century when church reformer Martin Luther published his German translation of the Bible.
  23. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Wow. All that bluster and you still couldn't bring yourself to respond to the question of the thread.

    Does your God approve of slavery, or not? Do you have an answer, or don't you? If you do, be sure to explain how you know that answer is correct.
    I assumed that believers would reference their own preferred gods - you know, the ones they say they believe in.

    I don't know what your problem is. If I don't mention something, that doesn't mean I'm excluding it. I haven't mentioned popcorn in this thread, up to now, but that doesn't mean I've excluded it from all discussion.

    No, it was a weak attempt by you to insult me. Childish and petulant. That nervous laughter tic, by the way, is always a tell, no matter who does it.
    You are incorrect about my "focus", once again, and I have already made the same point you are making here. So, we agree on that, at least.

    Does your God - a non-Christian god - approve of slavery, or at least fail to condemn it? Do you know?

    Twice. And instead of a straightforward apology from you, we get the following mealy-mouthings:

    You are incorrect about "universal practice", about "your way of doing it", and about "peculiar reason". In other words, three incorrect assumptions all the in space of 2 sentences.
    Thank you. That's why I included it.
    It is included.
    Of course it isn't. You just can't bring yourself to admit you have been wrong all along, again.

    Please think carefully before you insult me again like that. I will overlook this for a second time, but not for a third. Grow up.

    You haven't attempted to answer the thread question from the perspective of Islam, either, as you know.

    But please start with the God you, personally, believe in. At least you can claim some knowledge of that God.

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