Jesus and Slavery: How the Bible Talks About Slavery

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What does the Bible say about Jesus and slavery? How does Strobel explain the Bible’s views on Jesus and slavery when he tries to uncover the truth about Christ’s existence?

Jesus and slavery is a much-discussed topic in religion. When it comes to Jesus and slavery, Strobel attempts to reconcile the idea that a benevolent god would accept such things as slavery. Doesn’t this prove Christ is not divine?

Keep reading to find out more about Jesus and slavery, and Strobel’s discoveries.

How Can Jesus and Slavery Coexist?

In both the New and Old Testaments, God is said to be a beneficent and loving being. But isn’t it the height of hypocrisy for an infinitely compassionate being to (1) consign people to Hell and (2) allow them to be enslaved?

What (Or Whom) Hell Is For

Consigning sinful humans to eternal suffering is undoubtedly spectacular, but it doesn’t entail a cruel or mean-spirited God. First, without some sort of deterrent, human beings would sin constantly and egregiously, thereby turning Earth into Hell itself. A case could be made that by creating Hell, God was acting kindly.

Second, God doesn’t consign people to Hell unjustly. Those who have repented, who understand that God is the center of the universe, are never sent and confined to Hell; it’s only those who refuse to repent that stay there for eternity. At the Final Judgment, Romans 3:19 says, “every mouth may be stopped” by God’s law. In other words, all will understand that their fate, however blessed or cursed, is fair.

Jesus and Slavery

Modern humans, with good reason, find slavery morally unconscionable. But Jesus, despite his ethical perfection, never mentions the practice or advocates for its abolition. (In Jesus’s time, Jews and Gentiles alike owned slaves, and there were even slave rebellions during Jesus’s childhood.) Which raises the question: What about Jesus and slavery? How can a morally perfect being have nothing to say about slavery?

The first thing to remember is that slavery in the ancient world was vastly different from slavery as it was practiced in the US. In the ancient world, people contracted themselves as slaves to pay debts, and slaves weren’t exclusively laborers: they served as private tutors for families as well.

Also, slaves in the ancient world hailed from any number of locations and practiced any number of religions. That is to say, unlike American slavery, no particular race was subject to slavery. So what was Jesus’s view on slavery?

The other important fact to keep in mind is that Jesus’s mission on Earth was not the overthrow of the Roman economic system (which relied, in part, on slavery). Rather, Jesus’s mission was changing the hearts of men—freeing them from sin and inspiring them to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. Jesus’s teachings necessarily entailed the abolition of slavery; any human being who accepted Jesus as God would find slavery abominable. 

A case in point is the evangelical awakening in England in the 19th Century. Devoted Christians in Parliament championed legislation to abolish slavery and then advocated the use of the British navy to put a stop to the transatlantic slave trade. They were inspired by Jesus and slavery and the inability to be Christian while also allowing slavery.

Jesus and Slavery: How the Bible Talks About Slavery

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  • How an atheist lawyer-journalist researched Christ and began believing
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  • How to make up your own mind about whether Christ existed

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

One thought on “Jesus and Slavery: How the Bible Talks About Slavery

  • January 29, 2022 at 7:11 pm
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    Paywall? For salvation? For shame, CFC! Slavery isn’t bad because it happened to a specific race. It’s bad because it happened. Your waffling response is weak. This just comes off as defending slavery. Slavery, of any kind, is wrong. Its not that hard to admit, what’s hard to admit is that your savior is wrong for not ending it, and instead, instructed how it should be done and to whom.

    Reply

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