Does the Bible Condemns Slavery? Yes.

On slavery, Fr. James Martin quotes this article:

“Where the Bible mentions [same-sex sexual] behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well and nowhere attacked it as unjust.” [A Deeper Tenor Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM]

And then Martin draws the conclusion that if the Bible can be wrong on slavery, it can be wrong on homosexuality. Fr. Longenecker refutes this claim here: Correcting Fr Martin….Yet Again Again Again

Does the Bible condemn slavery anywhere? Yes.

Jeremiah 34 describes a situation in which Jerusalem was surrounded by an enemy army, and the prophet Jeremiah told the king at Jerusalem, Zedekiah, to open the gates and let the enemy in, because it was God’s will. The king refused to obey, but being crafty and (despite his lack of holiness) knowing that God hates slavery, he decided to free all the slaves instead of obeying the will of God through the prophet. God was so pleased by this act, despite the blatant disobedience of the king to the prophet, that He caused the army to withdraw. Then, after the enemy had departed, the king ordered all the slaves to be rounded up. So God brought back the army and leveled the city. This shows that God hates slavery. It could not be clearer.

The situation is muddied by the fact that indentured servitude is also mentioned in the Bible. Some translations say “slaves” and like terms when they should say “servants”. As Cardinal Avery Dulles explains: “Radical forms of slavery that deprive human beings of all personal rights are never morally permissible, but more or less moderate forms of subjection and servitude will always accompany the human condition.” [‘Development or Reversal?’, First Things, October 2005.]

The inaccuracies in some translations allow some commentators to claim, incorrectly, that the Bible approves of slavery. Actually, when some Israelites abused the system of indentured servitude, under which the servant had rights and the ability to depart in the Sabbatical year (every 7th year), the prophets of the Bible cried out against this abuse.

Now in New Testament times, many pagans converted to Christianity, and they found themselves in the situation where they owned slaves, obtained before they became believers. Some of the slaves, too, converted, and wondered what they should do. If they freed their slaves, in that society, the slaves would simply be captured and at best returned to slavery — at worst they would be tortured or killed as if they had escaped. The society would not permit these new Christians to free their slaves. Saint Paul, knowing this circumstance, advises the masters to treat their slaves as brothers, much as a Christian would treat an employee today. And he told the slaves two things: not to worry if they remain in slavery (especially to a Christian) for a time; and to obtain their freedom if they had the opportunity. This does not show approval for slavery, but toleration in a circumstance where it cannot yet be overcome.

[1 Cor]
{7:20} Let each and every one remain in the same calling to which he was called.
{7:21} Are you a servant who has been called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you ever have the ability to be free, make use of it.
{7:22} For any servant who has been called in the Lord is free in the Lord. Similarly, any free person who has been called is a servant in Christ.
{7:23} You have been bought with a price. Do not be willing to become the servants of men.

The teaching not to be willing to be servants of men is of course a rejection of slavery. His advice to obtain your freedom when you have the ability is also a rejection of slavery. But if you are unable for a time, do not be concerned, for you are free in the Lord.

Slavery is also incompatible with the teaching of Christ to love:

{5:44} But I say to you: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. And pray for those who persecute and slander you.

{13:34} I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also must you love one another.

The Bible does not approve of slavery, but condemns it. If we are to love as Christ loves, and to love even our enemies, there is no room for slavery. Neither is there any room for lust or disordered sexual acts.

The Magisterium has long condemned slavery, so we see that the correct interpretation of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture is given to us, very clearly, by the Church. It is therefore absurd to claim that the Bible approves of slavery, or is silent, and even more absurd to extend this false accusation against Scripture into a rejection of the clear condemnation of unnatural sexual acts by divine revelation. For the Magisterium has also condemned homosexual acts. Therefore, a comparison with slavery does not allow us to doubt the Biblical condemnation of either sin. We are Catholics who believe what the Church teaches.

Pope Leo XIII: “This zeal of the Church for liberating the slaves has not languished with the passage of time; on the contrary, the more it bore fruit, the more eagerly it glowed. There are incontestable historical documents which attest to that fact, documents which commended to posterity the names of many of Our predecessors. Among them Saint Gregory the Great, Hadrian I, Alexander III, Innocent III, Gregory IX, Pius II, Leo X, Paul III, Urban VIII, Benedict XIV, Pius VII, and Gregory XVI stand out. They applied every effort to eliminate the institution of slavery wherever it existed. They also took care lest the seeds of slavery return to those places from which this evil institution had been cut away.” [Catholicae Ecclesiae, Encyclical on Slavery in the Missions, n. 1.]

Pope Pius X: “It is true that soon afterwards the worst of these indignities — that is to say, slavery, properly so called — was, by the goodness of the merciful God, abolished; and to this public abolition of slavery in Brazil and in other regions the excellent men who governed those Republics were greatly moved and encouraged by the maternal care and insistence of the Church.” [Lacrimabili Statu, n. 1.]

In addition, Sacred Scripture is inerrant. All that the Bible teaches as true is certainly true. To say otherwise is heresy. So this attack on the Bible by Rohr and Martin is a very grave error; it implies that the Bible is or may be in grave error on a matter of morals. That is an heretical claim. And heresy includes not only obstinate denial, but obstinate doubt.

Seven Words on the Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

This entry was posted in Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Does the Bible Condemns Slavery? Yes.

  1. dom64verona88chrysostomos says:

    My dear Friend,
    It’s the exact Verity!
    The miserabilous sinner that which I’m knowing to be.
    Yours faithfully, with my prayers for your dear Mother.

  2. says:

    So the pope just met james martin in a celebrated visit. Cameras and all the pomp. Explain this.

Comments are closed.