Jack asked:

A friend commented to me how the bible talks about slavery.

Mark Brumley replied:

"There is slavery in the bible. The ancient Israelites had slavery. In Paul's day, slavery was part of the social fabric of the world in which he lived. Take Paul's little letter to Philemon in the New Testament ... If you read that over carefully, you will see, although he doesn't set out to abolish slavery ... his focus in the Church was to proclaim the gospels and to get Christians to live holy lives consistent with the gospels and so on. They weren't out primarily to reform society, they set out to change social norms and all that. Nevertheless they did that by virtue of the gospel message. You can't love God and love your neighbor as yourself without having an impact on society around you ...

If you read that little letter from Paul to Philemon you'll see he's talking about this runaway slave Onesimus. And Philemon was the owner of the slave. Both Onesimus and Philemon were Christians, converted to Christianity and were following Christ and so on. Onesimus runs away and runs into Paul, and then Paul knowing that he was dealing with a runaway slave writes to his master. Basically he says, you really need to treat this slave as a brother in Christ, because that's what he is ... Paul doesn't spell out the idea that all slavery is wrong, but he does ... establish a principle that says we need to treat other people as they are in Christ. And therefore he implies that there's something incompatible between treating this man as a brother in Christ and his status as a slave. In fact he says receive him back not as a slave but as a brother.

Now over the centuries slavery was such a deeply rooted institution in the ancient world that it was very difficult even for ... great Christian thinkers like Augustine and so on to imagine the world could really function without slavery on some level. Nevertheless, many early Christians emancipated slaves and Christianity treated slaves as essentially equal in the Church, and in fact there had been popes that were former slaves and so on. And for most of what we call the middle ages, slavery in the Christian west really disappears. It reemerges at the time of the renaissance during the age of exploration and the rise of nationalist states and there's a [ difese? ] with it in Christendom. And a number of popes are very critical of the slave trade and things of that sort. It takes several hundred years after that for slavery to ... be abolished. Partly because there's some ambiguity in the thinking in the west about slavery.

Eventually the teachings of the Church came to see that slavery was a problem. And that was not just in the Catholic church, as we know in this country especially but also in England. Christians were at the forefront of the abolition of slavery movement. So it was a complicated phenomenon. I've not really don't it justice here but I hope that gives you some flavor of how a Christian might approach addressing that issue."


Catholic Answers, "Open Forum" (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2013)

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Show air date: October 3, 2013

Name of show: Open Forum

Guest comments by: Mark Brumley

Question appeared in show: 6:16

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