The blog “Slavery and the Bible” by Thomas Kidd (@ThomasSKidd) of Baylor University is a thoughtful comment upon the complexity of the bible’s approach to slavery. In it he raises questions regarding the uniqueness of American slavery and discusses its applicability to the institution during the times when the bible was composed. The blog may be found at the Reformation 21 (@Reformation21) website.
The following is a brief excerpt from a paper I wrote in seminary entitled “Slavery in Scripture.” The paper’s primary theme addresses the applicability of New Testament references to slavery to the American brand of the institution. The paper also speaks the continuing impact of the theology that developed in order to justify slavery and how this theology still serves as an important element of a system designed to achieve the same objectives that slavery achieved in its time.
This particular excerpt deals with the issue of God’s regulation of questionable practices in scripture and how this concept applies to slavery in general and American slavery in particular. I must apologize in advance that the formatting of this blog excludes my footnotes.
Excerpt from “Slavery in Scripture” by Richard Walker
“God’s regulation of the institution of slavery does not mean that He is in agreement with it. God regulates a number of human activities that have no origin in His plan for mankind. God regulates divorce, which He hates (Malachi 2.16 c.f. Matthew 19.8). Polygamy was not God’s plan for mankind as demonstrated in the Garden of Eden. God allowed and regulated it as an alternative for the protection of women. In the New Testament, God instructed the church to return to the original standard (1 Timothy 3.2 “the husband of one wife”). Note that God regulates polygamy (Exodus 21.9-11); but He does not regulate homosexuality (Leviticus 20.13). He regulates manslaughter (Numbers 35), but he does not regulate murder (Exodus 21.13). God does not regulate sin.
“God implemented laws in Israel not only for ceremonial purposes and types, but to maintain order among sinful individuals. Law in this sense recognizes forensically the moral limitations of mankind and places restrictions upon the expression of the sin nature. Under the function of law, certain behaviors are allowed but limited, other actions are prohibited altogether. Biblical limitation upon a behavior does not make that behavior into a virtue. The bible regulates drinking alcohol, but that regulation does not make it a virtue.
“God regulates divorce which provides a limited solution that pre-empted even more extreme solutions that would corrupt God’s purpose and function for marriage in society. The same regulation is applied to manslaughter [or the the application of capital punishment in cases of it], where the next of kin was justified in seeking justice in the form of capital punishment (Genesis 9.6; Numbers 35), but a way of escape was mercifully provided to the guilty to avoid the escalation of bloodshed beyond the requirements of capital punishment. In each case we find God regulating an imperfect solution in the place of ever worse alternatives. In no case do we find God in the position of regulating sin, which is the situation found in American slavery. To demand that individuals submit to kidnapping and enforced racial servitude under brutality and rape is not in view in the commands to slaves in the N.T. Such a situation would put God in the position of violating His own character and justifying crime and racial prejudice, not to mention the abuse of the scriptures by their false application in the pronouncement of a racial curse [the so-called Curse of Ham], a thing unheard of in scripture or reputable theology.
“Therefore the N.T. commands to slaves cannot be applied to American slavery except to condemn the institution as criminal.”