During the slave era, whites’ justification for slavery was that servitude was essential to human progress and social order. They also believed that slavery allowed for equality amongst themselves because it prevented a society of unskilled laborers. Furthermore, whites argued that slavery was actually beneficial to blacks since they were inferior to whites and truly incapable of managing any other position in life other than that of a slave. But the most common justification that whites used to substantiate slavery was the bible, especially the New Testament.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
However, those slave masters completely dismissed the verse that came directly after informing slaves to honor their master:
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
1 Timothy 6
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 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers.
9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
1 Peter 2
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
When slave owners would reference the Old Testaments to justify slavery, they failed to understand or respect that slaves in the Old Testament were indentured, meaning that most were enslaved through “contractual” arrangement.
According to the Old Testament, most contracts were established for a seven year period, while others were year to year. Once a slave’s contract had been satisfied, the slave was then freed and viewed as an equal citizen.
2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him.
Many slaves even sold themselves into servitude because they were destitute, desperate, and out of options. Therefore, they’d agreed to work or be enslaved for a set period of time in exchange for food, shelter, or whatever it was that they were lacking at the time.
However, during Antebellum slavery, slaves would emphasize the gospel in the Old Testament, especially the scriptures that referenced slaves brought out of bondage. The biblical story of Exodus, in which God chose Moses to lead the enslaved Jews of Egypt into a promised land of freedom, played a central role in black Christianity. Slaves identified themselves as a chosen people, whom God in the fullness of time would deliver from bondage. Furthermore, slaves found other heroes and symbols in the Bible as well: Jonah, who overcame hard luck and escaped from the belly of a whale; David, who vanquished the more powerful Goliath; and Daniel, who escaped from the lion’s den.
The most important aspect of the Old Testament is the fact that it contradicts many of the teachings of slavery referenced in the New Testament. For example, the Old Testament teaches that masters are to refrain from any form of physical assault or violence toward slaves, and in certain cases, slaves are to be freed if injured by their slave master.
20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result,
26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
Other scriptures that slaves typically referenced from the Old Testament includes:
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
5 As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. 6 Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children,
10 So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”
In terms of race, the bible doesn’t use the term “race” when referencing people, but instead referred to them as a “nation.”
26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
Most importantly, no where in the bible does it specify that white people are superior to blacks, and therefore, have the right to overpower and own them. However, what’s interesting about slavery is that slave masters proclaimed to be faithful Christians that lived strictly by the teachings in the bible. However, if that were true, and they didn’t actually cherry-pick the Christian doctrine for the purposes of power, how were they able to avoid the scriptures which emphasized their God’s love and equality for all men, women, and children?
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Overall, if whites had simply honored Leviticus 25:44, which tells them to only buy slaves from their nation, Antebellum slavery may never had happened.
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves
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