Part 4 of a series
Chapter 25 of Leviticus established Biblical regulation of slavery. Slavery is allowed contingent upon slaves being treated fairly and humanely, but it is not promoted.
Slave owners and overseers are not counted as villains or moral lawbreakers unless they significantly mistreat or abuse their slaves. It is also important to understand that in God’s eyes, earthly status of slave or free makes no difference.
Colossians 3: 9-13 Your new status: Chosen by God, so have a humble and forgiving heart.
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
1 Corinthians 7:19-24 The only status that counts is that you are a bondservant of Christ.
“For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision but keeping the commandments of God.
Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”
Philippians 2: 4-8 Christ’s humility should be your example.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself into nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Protections for Slaves
A number of passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy protect slaves from mistreatment or exploitation.
Exodus 21: 16 Man-stealing/kidnapping in both ESV and NIV
“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” ESV
“Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.” NIV
Exodus 21 20-21
“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.”
Exodus 21: 26-27
“When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.”
Deuteronomy 16:14. The Sabbath is also for bondservants.
“You shall rejoice in your rest, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.”
Deuteronomy 23:15-16 Escaped slaves
“You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.”
In practice, the Jews first investigated whether, the escaped slave had legitimate cause to flee from his master before awarding them sanctuary. The issue of escaped slaves increased tensions between North and South before the U.S. Civil War, primarily because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
In 1860, 803 Southern slaves of a total of 4.0 million left their masters without permission for a variety of reasons. During that same year Southern masters voluntarily emancipated over 3,000 slaves. Although Northern abolitionists aggressively agitated these tensions, the Fugitive Slave Act was far too costly and politically and morally complicated to merit anything but abandonment. Any system of labor that relies primarily on force to motivate and retain workers will have low productivity and costly retention problems.
Failure to positively motivate workers is a business loss that should not be passed on to taxpayers by funding futile law enforcement activities. A more peaceful and less costly system (even to the South) would have left the decision to the receiving Northern state.
Many Northern states, however, did not want to be sanctuaries for escaped slaves. Thus the “underground railroad” went mainly to Canada. Smart Southern slave owners treated their slaves humanely, honestly, and fairly and provided motivational incentives for them.
Deuteronomy 24: 7 Man-stealing.
“If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
Religious arguments over slavery
In the religious argument over slavery, the Southern defense was based on the Authority of Scripture, while the Northern attack was based on the perceived degree of slaveholder abuses or problems such as fugitive slaves, the possibility of breaking up slave families, and incidences of unreasonably severe discipline.
However, it was the abolitionist claim that there was a higher moral law than was revealed in Scripture that was the huge red flag to those who believed in the truth, authority, and moral infallibility of Scripture. The radical abolitionists simply replaced the wisdom of God and the authority of Scripture with the vain and corruptible imagination of men.
They were rightly disturbed by the preaching of such leading abolitionists as Unitarian minister Theodore Parker who said:
“It may be a natural duty of the slave to develop a natural right in a practical manner, and actually kill all those who seek to prevent his enjoyment of liberty” and “It may be the natural duty for the freeman to help the slaves to the enjoyment of their liberty, and as means to that end, to aid them in killing all such as oppose their natural freedom.”
In his autobiography, Parker said that he had studied theology and found the Bible was no more than the work of men and the Church no more divine than a Dutchman’s shop.
An airbrushed misconception of Parker as a great moral philosopher still haunts the establishment internet, although he was a member of the “Secret Six” major financial supporters of the murderous abolitionist John Brown, who slaughtered five Southern settlers in Kansas in 1856 and attempted to start a bloody slave revolt by taking over a U.S. armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1859. Southerners viewed all this remembering the murderous career of abolitionist John Brown from 1856 to 1859, women and children killed in the bloody slave revolt of Nat Turner in 1831, and the horrid massacre of thousands of French colonists in Haiti in 1804.
“By setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.”
—2 Corinthians 4:2