Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

All Forms of Slavery?

April 18, 2013

Thabiti Anyabwile and Doug Wilson have concluded their discussion, but in the conclusion section, Thabiti posted an item claiming it was a point of common agreement between the men:

3. The logic of the gospel is jubilee logic. This means that the messianic promises all looked forward to the day when the liberation of the world from every form of slavery would begin, and the arrival of Christ was the inauguration of God’s kingdom. This liberation from slavery begins with liberating men from their slavery to sin, but it necessarily and inexorably includes all other forms of slavery as well—whether the forms of slavery as they existed in the ancient world, or the more recent forms in our country.

Sorry, guys, but minimally we’re still slaves of our Lord.  We’re more than that, but we are that.  That metaphor for our relationship to God remains.  We are not slaves to sin, we’re slaves to God.

The gospel does not demand the liberation of human slaves.  The command to masters is not “free your slaves,” but rather masters are commanded to treat their slaves equitably, with the very reason being that they themselves have a master in heaven.

Ephesians 6:9
And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. 

Colossians 4:1
Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

This is very similar to the commands to husbands to love their wives:

Ephesians 5:24-25
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

In both cases, the metaphor between the master-slave relationship or the husband-wife relationship is not subversive of the relationship, it reinforces it.  These superior-inferior relationships are not intrinsically evil – they are actually pictures of our relationship with God.

Moreover, Paul presumes that there will be believing slave owners.  He writes:

1 Timothy 6:2
And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

In other words, even though the Gospel does make all Christians brethren, that does not mean that believing slaves should stop serving believing masters.

I realize that modern American culture (and more broadly Western European culture) is highly anti-slavery.  We, as Christians, need to rise above the culture and stand on God’s revelation, rather than the changing morals of human society.  That means that we can be critical of systems in which there is abuse of slaves by masters, but we don’t have to declare our Lord sinful for having us as his slaves.  We don’t need to conform the gospel to our culture, we need to acknowledge the places where the gospel opposes the culture.

We call Jesus, Lord, not just because he is our King but also because he is our Master, recall that Colossians 4:1 (quoted above) states: “Οἱ κύριοι (kurioi – masters), τὸ δίκαιον καὶ τὴν ἰσότητα τοῖς δούλοις (doulois – slaves) παρέχεσθε, εἰδότες ὅτι καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔχετε κύριον (kurion – Lord/Master) ἐν οὐρανῷ.”  If you really think that “all other forms of slavery” are wrong, then how can you claim to be a “δοῦλον δὲ κυρίου” (doulon de kuriou – Slave of the Master or Servant of the Lord, 2 Timothy 2:24).


The Bible and Slavery – Some Limitations

April 2, 2013

In a previous post (link), I discussed the volatile topic of slavery and the Puritans and I mentioned that the Bible does not prohibit slavery, it merely regulates it.  The regulations on slavery include a number of points:

1) Slaves as Household Members

Male slaves who were not Hebrew were to be circumcised and afterwards admitted to the Passover (Exodus 12:44) as distinct from aliens and hired servants who were not welcome to the Passover (Exodus 12:45).

2) Slave Term of Ownership

Hebrew slaves were permitted to be enslaved for a maximum of six years (Exodus 21:2 and Deuteronomy 15:12).  However, the male Hebrew slave could obligate himself to perpetual slavery, perhaps for the sake of a fellow-slave wife and children (Deuteronomy 15:17).

The rationale was essentially that the Hebrews were released from slavery in Egypt by God and were not to be made slaves, but instead treated like hired servants (Leviticus 25:35-42).  The rationale was further that the Hebrews were specifically the slaves of God (Leviticus 25:55).

Moreover, at his release, the Hebrew slave was to be furnished freely with meat, bread, and wine (Deuteronomy 15:13-15).

3) Murder of Slaves Prohibited

If a slave (male or female) was beaten to death, the owner was required to be punished (Exodus 21:20).  There was a limitation on this for the case where the death could not be closely linked to the beating (Exodus 21:21).

4) Maiming of Slaves Prohibited

If a slave suffered the permanent loss of a body part or major function, the slave was to be liberated immediately (Exodus 21:26).

5) Jubilee Release of Slaves

In the year of jubilee, male slaves and their children were to be released (Leviticus 25:39-42 &54).

6) Redemption Permitted

If a Hebrew sold himself into slavery to a foreigner in the land, the Hebrews could redeem him based on the wages of a hired servant for the amount of time remaining until the jubilee Leviticus 25:47-53).

7) Safe Harbour for Escaped Slaves

The Hebrews were not to return foreign slaves to their masters (Deuteronomy 23:15).  Instead, they were supposed to permit the slaves to live within the walled cities of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:16).

8) Foreign Slave Wives Liberation at Divorce

If a female slave was acquired by war and her owner decided to marry her, then he was required to let her go free when he divorced her, as opposed to selling her away (Deuteronomy 21:10-14).

9) Limited Manner of Enslavement

It was not permitted for the Israelites to enslave other Hebrews or resident aliens by kidnapping them (Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7).

Perhaps there are more verses that could be brought to bear on the subject.  I’m sure that the regulations above are insufficient for Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment anti-slavery proponents, but the regulations were actually pretty substantial.  While slaves were recognized as property of their owners (see the 10th commandment for example) and while God uses the master-slave metaphor to describe his relationship to us, the regulations on slavery in Israel maintained the fact that the slaves had the image of God and consequently were to receive the sign of the covenant, were to be treated leniently, were not to be killed, and were to be freed in many cases.


P.S. I would welcome in the comment box any further limitations on slavery that I’ve overlooked.  I would not welcome any general anti-slavery comments.  Perhaps there will be a time and place for those comments elsewhere another time.

Puritans, Slavery, and Exodus 21:16

April 1, 2013

A dear reader (name removed to protect the innocent) wrote (slightly edited below):

Exodus 21:16 (KJV) And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.

a) It’s common knowledge that numerous Puritans owned slaves, and at times were even chaplains on slave ships.
b) Were Puritans generally theonomist?
c) Do you know whether they ever considered that verse? It says “or if he be found in his hand”. Man-stealing, and also owning the stolen “good” were worthy of capital punishment on the OT Law.

At most this would show that the Puritans were in the wrong and were inconsistent.

I answer:
a) Which puritans exactly owned slaves and/or were slave ship chaplains? I can’t recall that being the case for Owens, Burroughs, Manton, Boston or even Baxter, but perhaps I’m missing something. Even in the Americas, Puritanism was primarily a Northern thing – which was generally not associated with American slavery. The supposed “common knowledge” sounds like the lyrics to that “Precious Puritans” rap song by the aptly named artist “Propaganda”, but I cannot recall it actually reflecting the situation of any of the notable Puritan writers.

b) I don’t know how you define “theonomist.” It would be anachronistic to call the Puritans reconstructionists. But if you mean “theonomist” so as to include Calvin – most of them tended to be theonomist, within a range of variation. Radical separation of church and state was for the Anabaptists during the height of Puritanism.

c) Exodus 21:16 prohibits kidnap of a man (“steals a man”), whether to sell him into slavery or not (“and sells him” or “if he is found in his hand”) on pain of death. Within the context of the Torah, this did not apply to prisoners of war or men who were purchased as slaves. Strictly speaking, the verse does not apply to people who buy slaves who were enslaved by a man-stealer.

Henry Ainsworth (technically a non-comformist) (1571-1622) in annotating the verse just mentions that the “man” here refers specifically to an Israelite, but doesn’t provide other commentary on it. The reason for this argument is the parallel account in Deuteronomy 24:7.

John Lightfoot (1602-1675) had some gleanings on Exodus, but those gleanings don’t mention this particular law, that I noticed.

Andrew Willett (1562-1621) had a rather detailed work on Exodus, including some discussion of this law, but I (sadly) cannot locate a copy of it.

Symon Patrick (1626-1707) was probably too late to be a Puritan (great ejection was 1662) but he is a 17th century Anglican to comment on it – and he doesn’t find any general prohibition of slavery. He seems willing to read “man” more broadly than Ainsworth to include foreigners and foreign slaves.

John Calvin’s Harmony does not explicitly comment on Exodus 21:16, but at Deuteonomy 24:7 he states:

The same punishment is here deservedly denounced against man-stealers as against murderers; for, so wretched was the condition of slaves, that liberty was more than half of life; and hence to deprive a man of such a great blessing, was almost to destroy him. Besides, it is not man-stealing only which is here condemned, but the accompanying evils of cruelty and fraud, i.e., if he, who had stolen a man, had likewise sold him. Now, such a sale could hardly be made among the people themselves, without the crime being immediately detected; and nothing could be more hateful than that God’s children should be alienated from the Church, and delivered over to heathen nations.

Matthew Henry (Presbyterian, 1662 – 1714) comments on Exodus 21:16:

III. Here is a law against man-stealing (v. 16): He that steals a man (that is, a person, man, woman, or child), with design to sell him to the Gentiles (for no Israelite would buy him), was adjudged to death by this statute, which is ratified by the apostle (1 Tim. 1:10 ), where men-stealers are reckoned among those wicked ones against whom laws must be made by Christian princes.

At Deuteronomy 24:7, Henry states:

II. A law against man-stealing, v. 7. It was not death by the law of Moses to steal cattle or goods; but to steal a child, or a weak and simple man, or one that a man had in his power, and to make merchandize of him, this was a capital crime, and could not be expiated, as other thefts, by restitution—so much is a man better than a sheep, Mt. 12:12 . It was a very heinous offence, for, 1. It was robbing the public of one of its members. It was taking away a man’s liberty, the liberty of a free-born Israelite, which was next in value to his life. 3. It was driving a man out from the inheritance of the land, to the privileges of which he was entitled, and bidding him go serve other gods, as David complains against Saul, 1 Sa. 26:19

John Gill (Reformed Baptist, 1697–1771)at Exodus 21:16 states:

And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him
One of the children of Israel, as the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, and so the Septuagint version: but though this law was given to the Israelites primarily, yet was made for men stealers in general, as the apostle observes, who plainly has reference to it, ( 1 Timothy 1:9-10 ) :

or if he be found in his hand;
before the selling of him, as Jarchi notes, since he stole him in order to sell him, he was guilty of death, as follows:

he shall surely be put to death;
with strangling, as the same Jewish writer remarks, as on the preceding verse; and Jarchi sets it down as a rule, that all death in the law, simply expressed, is strangling.

Likewise, John Gill at Deuteronomy 24:7 states:

If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel 
Whether grown up or little, male or female, an Israelite or a proselyte, or a freed servant; all, as Maimonides F6 says, are included in this general word “brethren”; though Aben Ezra observes, that it is added, “of the children of Israel”, for explanation, since an Edomite is called a “brother”. Now, a man must be “found” committing this fact; that is, it must plainly appear, there must be full proof of it by witnesses, as Jarchi explains this word:

and maketh merchandise of him;
or rather uses him as a servant, and employs him in any service to the least profit and advantage by him, even to the value of a farthing; yea, if he does but lean upon him, and he supports him, though he is an old man that is stolen; this is serving a man’s self by him, as Maimonides F7, which is what is forbidden as distinct from selling him, as follows:

or selleth him:
to others; and both these, according to the above writer F8, using him for service, and selling him, are necessary to make him guilty of death; not the one without the other; but reading them disjunctively, as we do, gives the better sense of the words:

then that thief shall die;
by strangling with a napkin, as the Targum of Jonathan; and so Maimonides F9 says, his death is by strangling:

and thou shall put evil away from among you;
both him that does evil, as the Targum of Jonathan, and the guilt of it by inflicting due punishment for it; and so deter from such practices, and prevent evil coming upon the body of the people, should such a sin be connived at; see ( Exodus 21:16 ) .


F6 Hichot Genibah, c. 9. sect. 6.
F7 Ib. sect. 2.
F8 Ib. sect. 3.
F9 Hilchot Genibah, c. 9. sect. 1. So R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 67. 1. interprets it of service.

Matthew Poole (Noncomformist, 1624–1679) at Exodus 21:16 states:

i.e. in the manstealer’s hand; q. d. though he he keep him in his own hands for his own use; for still it is a theft, and he is made that man’s slave, and it is in his power to sell him to another when he pleaseth, and therefore deserves death.

(Poole refers the reader back to Exodus 21:16 at Deuteronomy 24:7).

The Geneva Bible (1560 edition is the only one I checked) did not have any comments on either verse.

Frankly, I’m not aware of any pre-19th century author that treats “man stealing” in itself as equivalent to slavery absolutely. Rather, I think uniformly it would be viewed as condemning an illicit way of obtaining slaves.  I don’t want to address how slaves might licitly be obtained, but two ways seem obvious: voluntarily and as prisoners of war.  Moreover, in view of the regulation of slavery under the Mosaic law, it would seem nonsensical to interpret Exodus 21:16 or Deuteronomy 24:7 as providing for civilly administered capital punishment for all slave owners.

That said, as far as I can tell the colonial laws of Massachusetts (which I’ve picked because of their obvious connection to the New England Puritans) did have a law specifically against man-stealing, and it was a capital offense, and the explicit justification was Exodus 21:26.

So, no – I don’t think the charge of inconsistency can rightly be laid at the feet of the Puritans, both because the Bible does not absolutely forbid slavery (it merely regulates it) and because the Puritans (at least the American ones) did punish man-stealing with death (on the books – I did not check whether or how often this was enforced).

One other thing to consider: being the chaplain of a ship is a role that speaks to a concern for the spiritual needs of those on the boat.  It is not, as far as I know, an endorsement of the particular enslavement of the particular people on the ship nor an endorsement of slavery in general.  After all, wouldn’t you gladly be a prison chaplain to a bunch of prisoners who were wrongly imprisoned?

I believe that the well-named rapper, Propaganda, alleges that the Puritans took the position that there were two images of God (one for slaves and one for free men).  I would love to see his documentation as to which of the Puritans ever taught such a thing.


P.S. I realize that I mentioned the word “slavery,” which is a hot-button topic for some people.  If this is you, remember that the topic of this post is narrowly limited to the question of what the Puritans believed and whether the Puritans were consistent in their application of Old Testament law to the civil laws they enacted.

You’re Treating me like a Slave!

December 4, 2012

In a previous post, I rejected the idea that women, and especially wives, are at the same level with slaves (link to discussion). As I said there, they are not.

In fact, the difference between the two is partially illustrated by Abraham’s treatment of Hagar and Sarah. Recall:

Galatians 4:30-31
Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

The difference between bondwoman (Hagar) and freewoman (Sarah) could hardly be more stark.

Our wives (in Western societies) are not slaves. We don’t even have wives who are also slaves as did some of the Israelites. The may grumble about their domestic duties being some form of slavery, but truly they are not slaves or equivalent to slaves.

What about our children? They may also grumble about being “slaves,” but there is more merit to that particular grumble. Recall that Scripture says (in close proximity to the discussion above):

Galatians 4:1-2
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

Of course, there are some important differences between slaves and children. Nevertheless, there is a comparison that can be legitimately made there.

I don’t say that to encourage you to permit your children to grumble that you treat them like slaves. Rather, when they do, here’s your chance to redirect the conversation to Scripture.


In Praise of Slavery and Piracy

March 17, 2008

Joseph’s brethren famously sold Joseph into slavery:

Genesis 37:28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

Later Joseph explained that this was intended as evil by the brothers of Joseph, but was intended by God for good.

Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

It’s not the only time God has used slavery to achieve His ends for the good of a nation.

Around the turn of the 5th century, a man named Maewyn Succat was taken prisoner by Irish raiders: pirates/slavers. God worked in this providence to make of that man a missionary to the Irish nation, leading ultimately to the Christianizing of the island of Ireland.

God’s Providence is mysterious. It is said that Mawyn, or Patrick as he came to be called, believed that his enslavement was a punishment for a particular sin that he had committed. Perhaps, in part, that was true. But in hindsight, God’s greater purpose in the event was to save Irish souls by the voice of a Welsh preacher.

There are still today many Irish souls in need of salvation, and there are no more Irish pirates to import Christian slaves. In some ways, the Irish condition today is more dangeous now than it was then, for there are many lost who call themselves Christians, whereas then there were few if any. Any modern-day Patrick has an enormous challenge, to shed the light of the gospel in place that thinks it knows what Christianity is, and yet is trusting not in Christ alone for salvation, but in some human system.

While much of Ireland, and much of America as well, celebrates the day with drinking large quantities of green beer, perphaps a sober prayer to God for renewed missionaries to the Irish people is in order. Whether they are brought as slaves (which seems doubtful), or however God chooses to send them, let us be eager that God’s flock be gathered unto Him.

May God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,


Fictional Dialog with Arthur Legalist

December 19, 2007

is Gnu Believer interviews Arthur Legalist in this recent dialog:

G. Believer: Welcome, Arthur. Why have you agreed to come on the show?
A. Legalist: Well, I want to talk to you about a real problem I’ve noticed.
GB: What’s that?
AL: It’s really the worst sin of our time. It has destroyed many lives.
GB: What’s that? Non-Christianity, Murder, Idolatry, Adultery, Profanity/Blasphemy, Covetousness, Theft, Disobedience to Parents, Sabbath-breaking, or Lying?
AL: No, not exactly.
GB: Failure to Love God or our neighbor?
AL: No.
GB: What then?
AL: It’s the scourge of [omitted].
GB: Interesting. The folks who led me to Christ taught me that our rule of faith and life is Scripture – but I don’t know Scripture that well.
AL: (nodding)
GB: So, pardon my ignorance, but where does the Bible condemn [omitted].
AL: Well, it doesn’t explicitly do so, at least not in so many words. The Bible doesn’t say “Thou shalt not [omitted].” But the only biblical position that Christians today can have is one of total avoidance of [omitted].
GB: Didn’t Paul sort of encourage [omitted]?
AL: Yes. That’s true, but it’s been abused.
GB: I’m not that sage, but does the Bible say that if something is abused it must be prohibited?
AL: Not in so many words.
GB: So, whose rule is this?
AL: Well, it’s mine – but its the only sensible and proper thing. We Christians are called to be wise, and this is the wise thing to do.
GB: Again, I’m not such a seasoned Christian as you are, but perhaps a better solution would be to curb the abuse of [omitted].
AL: NO! WE MUST STOP [omitted] NOW! And if you don’t agree, I’m going to see to it that trouble comes your way.

Now, consider for yourself what was omitted from that dialog.


It’s a very dangerous thing to start accreting rules of life that are not Scriptural.

May God be thanked for all that He gives,


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