The website EvilBible.com has some rather provocative things to say about the book Christians regard as God’s Word. According to the site’s authors, slavery is “rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments” and that the Bible “clearly approves of slavery in many passages.”
“Christians should perhaps consider admitting that their Bible was written in a primitive, barbaric age and as such represents the primitive, barbaric attitudes of that age,” says Austin Cline, a regional director for the Council for Secular Humanism and About.com’s Guide for Agnosticism and Atheism.
Critics are correct that the Bible contains numerous references to slavery (Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon), and many of these references imply an acceptance of the institution. The danger is that when Americans think of “slavery,” they conjure up an image of whites enslaving Africans – the institution of slavery that our nation experienced. This is NOT the type of slavery referred to in the Scriptures.
The only sane, valid way to interpret and understand the Bible is the historical-grammatical method. You must understand the historical context of the Bible’s references, determine the timeless principle, and go from there. The Bible’s matter-of-fact or sympathetic references to slavery do not automatically mean a comprehensive and complete endorsement for all forms of slavery throughout all of time. Slavery in the Bible is mostly of the indentured servitude variety, and was almost always on a term basis – 7 years, 14 years, and so forth.
It is true that 18th century southern plantation owners used the Bible to excuse slavery and talk their slaves into submission, but this does not make their twisted interpretation valid. Permanent, race-based, comprehensive slavery is NOT endorsed by the Bible.
Most critics of the Bible who resort to the slavery argument probably know this, but they are serving an agenda that goes far beyond issues of racial justice and equality. They are not interested in condemning slavery so much as they are in undermining the Bible, and they will resort to whatever means necessary to do so – even distorting its meaning to make it stand for something it does not.