Slavery, the Bible and the Word of God

[Our] belief is that the Bible is inerrant. It was without error in all of its claims about the nature of the world and the nature of God.1

The Bible, for many Christians, is the Word of God. It’s God speaking to the world through intermediaries. Although divided into Old and New Testaments, Christians read it as a single account. Reading the Bible is intellectually uncomfortable. Many Christians believe that questioning the Bible is querying the Word of God. Querying the content causes rifts in the Christian community. Fundamentalists take an especially hard line against those who query the Bible in any way. A literal reading of the Bible is problematic for fundamentalists in the endorsement of slavery.

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect,

so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.2,3

Timothy says, slaves ‘should consider their masters worthy of full respect’. Slaves should hold their masters in ‘full respect’ because slavery is endorsed by God. That endorsement demands slaves ‘submit’ to their masters because God demands it,

in reverent fear of God submit yourself to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”4

British fundamentalists aren’t clamouring for slavery to be legalised. They regard it as abhorrent. Only a criminals promote slavery in 21st century Britain and when caught and convicted there’s general rejoicing. God’s view is ignored.

The Old Testament is distinctly unhelpful if you want to follow the Word of God. “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do.”5 Exodus 21: 2-11 is grim reading for 21st century Christians6 but was loved by 19th century American slave-owners.

If his master gives him [the slave] a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.7

However God does mitigate slave-owners’ behaviour. There are instructions as to what is right conduct for slave-owners. God says, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”8 A cascading concept of slavery, if you wish, where slavery is a normal relationship.

The reformation of slavery took decades. The American Civil War was brutal, whilst the British buy-out of slave-owners in 1833 was expensive. In the 21st century secular law is universally accepted. Slavery is abhorrent. The same cannot be said about God’s alleged attitude towards abortion.9 Abortion isn’t only banned in Northern Ireland but draconian punishments support the ban. As scripture is hostile to abortion and endorses slavery perhaps Northern Irish politicians should legalise slavery.10

Fundamentalist Christians take the Bible as God’s definitive statement. The Bible is the Word of God. And to quibble over any part of it is to open up the possibility that it isn’t the word of God. Slavery is an intellectual and religious problem for fundamentalist Christians in Britain.


2 Timothy 6:1


4 1 Peter 2:18

5 Exodus 21:7

6 This is a brave effort at denying that God endorsed slavery.

7 Exodus 21:4

8 Colossians 4:1 Hebrew slaves were better treated than others. They were to be freed after six years. Exodus 21:2


10 Slavery was banned in England in1774 and in the British Empire from 1833.


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