Biblical Masters and Slaves: A defense of God’s established order

I’ve not read Uncle Tom’s Cabin until this week. Shame on me. It is a monumental and courageous book. I have been meditating on how a generation of Christians justified slavery. Slavery was so entrenched in the religious culture, to NOT believe in slavery was labeled anti-biblical and secular. Liberal.

On April Fools I wrote a satirical defense of biblical slavery based on the arguments of the antebellum South. I didn’t get it done in time, obviously. I present it now with this little disclaimer. *I am using satire. I believe slavery was practiced in biblical times, but that does not mean we MUST practice slavery to be biblical or godly. I wrote a post on why I believe slavery is wrong, here.*

The Bible and common sense make a clear case for slavery.

1.       The relation of slave and master is not sin.

“There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral.” Rev. Alexander Campbell

a.       The Ten Commandments confirm both the lawfulness and rightness of slavery. (Exodus 20:5, 20:17).

“The Oracular Decisions of God have positively declared that the Slave-Trade is intrinsically good and licit, [and that the holding of slaves] is perfectly consonant to the principles of the Law of Nature, the Mosaic Dispensation, and the Christian Law” wrote one Raymond Harris in Scriptural Researches on the Licitness of the Slave-Trade. Thus, he said, slavery has “the positive sanction of God in its support.” (

b.      The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, affirm that people can be owned as property, regardless of spiritual equality. (Gen 12:16; 12:50; 16:9; 24:35-36;26:13-14; Lev 25:44-46; Josh 9:23; 1 Kings 8:2; 8:6; 9:20-21; Job 1:15-17; 3:19; 4:18; 7:2; 31:13;42:8;1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:11; Philemon).

“It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts. Let the gentleman go to Revelation…Slavery existed then in the earliest ages, and among the chosen people of God; and in Revelation we are told that it shall exist till the end of time shall come. You find in the old and new testaments – in the prophecies, psalms and the epistles of Paul; you find it recognized, sanctioned everywhere.” [ Jefferson Davis, Vol 1, by Dunbar Rowland, pp. 286 & 316 – 31]

2.       God ordained slavery as one form of government over depraved mankind.

a.        After the Fall, God intended the superior to rule the inferior; husband to wife, parent to child,  teacher to scholar, commander to soldier and master to slave.

b.      God made Ham lower than Shem and Shem lower than Japeth.  “Shem was blessed to rule over Ham. Japeth was blessed to rule over both.” (Slavery Ordained of God by Rev. Fred. A. Ross, D.D.)

“When the great Patriarch was moved upon by the Holy Ghost to speak as he did on that occasion, we have no doubt but he did it with real pain and sorrow of heart, and yet it must be done, as it was dictated by the influence of the Eternal’s mandate: “Oh Ham, my son, it is mot for this one deed alone which you have just committed that I have, by God’s commands. thus condemned you and your race; but the Lord has shown me that all your descendants will, more or less, be like you, their father, on which account it is determined by the Creator that you and your people are to occupy the lowest condition of all the families among mankind, and even be enslaved as brute beasts, going down in the scale of human society, beyond and below the ordinary exigencies of mortal existence, arising out of war, revolutions and conflicts, for you will and must be, both in times of peace and war, a despised, a degraded and an oppressed race.” (Bible Defense of Slavery ,Josiah Priest)

3.       Slavery is only evil in some circumstances. We should encourage Masters to use the Golden Rule in their treatment of their slaves.

a.       Most slaves are happy and glad to be cared for.

“The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care nor labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters.” George Fitzhugh

b.      There are cases of cruelty and injustice in all systems of power. So, there will be cases in the system of master and slaves.

c.       Slavery elevates the African.

“We would remind those who deprecate and sympathize with negro slavery, that his slavery here relieves him from a far more cruel slavery in Africa, or from idolatry and cannibalism, and every brutal vice and crime that can disgrace humanity; and that it christianizes, protects, supports and civilizes him; that it governs him far better than free laborers at the North are governed..” George Fitzhugh

4.         Abolitionists have  eroded the foundation of Scripture. If you say the Bible does not mean what it says in this case, can we trust it at all? Next you’ll  be liberating wives from their husbands!


I think it bears repeating.

I believe slavery was practiced in biblical times, but that does not mean we MUST practice slavery to be biblical or godly.

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2 thoughts on “Biblical Masters and Slaves: A defense of God’s established order

  1. A very good point. The Scriptures have been used for centuries as props to the power of those in power, and as justification for their continued place in the hierarchy. The same arguments now used to keep women in their place, once were meant to keep slaves in their place; and the same arguments were also used to keep the peasantry in their place.

    “God bless the king and his relations
    And keep us all in our proper stations.”

    But this is not what the New Covenant is about. May His Kingdom come!


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