As you know, history isn’t gracefully written as a stained-glass picture, it’s rugged, sharp, and painful. Yet, you may find yourself repeating old mistakes if you don’t take a moment to sit back and contemplate it. This blog post will concisely examine the historical accounts of slavery and the primary biblical text used to support it while mentioning the contemporary issues that’ve ensued. I’m going to offer the correct insight on the primary biblical text used to support slavery by contextualizing the ancient near east. Further, the idea of racial reconciliation will be introduced to explain Jesus’ design for the first century church and beyond. This post is not designed to offer the ultimate solution to racial matters in America by rendering racial reconciliation as a blanket answer. This paper is created to challenge the white slave master’s principals and their supposed scriptural evidence to encourage malevolent behavior that still carries over to this present day. By using effective exegesis and comparative scriptural analysis, Christians should combat white supremacist’s biblical interpretation, particularly exemplified in Leviticus 25.
Brief Colonial History & the Primary Scripture Used to Support Slavery
The world is comprised of people trying to find the best way to live a fulfilled life. Unfortunately, one’s ideal life can directly or indirectly disturb the peace of those around them. Especially if the “best life” is characterized by capturing and enslaving innocent human beings and subduing them with documented texts to meet self-centered needs. The early history of America is outlined by such. The timeline begins with a group of colonists searching for an improved life but somehow ironically lend the opposite in return by enslaving millions of Africans for their personal gain and sustainment. The colonizers didn’t show mercy when dragging Africans to America. The chilling part is, they were able to build on the idea of destroying people based on a religious book, the Bible. They claim their “good book” affirms their belief of being superior and their God accepts their crude behavior.
You may ask, what qualified these passengers to afford the journey to embark a grim ride from Africa to the New World? The exact answer is unknown. It is abundantly clear that plans shifted and took a turn for the worse on whom the burden rested. This influential book, the Bible, became a deadly literary tool to trap the slaves into believing they were damned by God and deserved the atrocities thrown at them. Leviticus 25:44-46 is one of the most prevailed passages used to support slavery because of the view of “generational inheritance”. The Old Testament text discusses how the procurement of slaves would derive from purchases and trades from surrounding nations. Then it mentions a transfer of slaves from one generation to the next. The Old Testament was generally used by pro-slavery advocates who heavily rationalized that God’s approval of slavery for the Israelites automatically granted their permission to obtain slaves. Yet, slaveholders avoided the New Testament text like a plague unless they felt the need to proof text Paul’s commentary on slavery or point out that Jesus did not explicitly condemn slavery.
The Past Created a Shift to the Greater Contemporary Obstacle
Unfortunately, Christianity has been used to fuel this skewed ideology. Yet, those who subscribe to these beliefs lack the proper critique on this thought process. While reading Faith and Race in American Political Life, Jacobson vouches, “For many whites, however, the idea of using theology to critique racism or to build racial solidarity is foreign—even though their own religions have facilitated exactly those functions.”. White supremacist perpetually uses their culture to shape their version of Christianity. The ultimate function of Christianity is disregarded, which is to liberate the oppressed mentally and spiritually in order to carry out the good work of God. Supporting slavery with the Bible is problematic because it glorifies ignorance and provides a false blueprint to white religious identity which translates to how people are represented in society. Christianity simply does not align to white supremacy beliefs.
One of Many Solutions: Understand the Text by Exegeting
It must be noted that the Bible can be manipulated if not handled with diligence and guided theological insight. Biblical exegesis is a systematic process by which a person arrives at a reasonable and coherent sense of the meaning and message of a biblical passage. So, let’s take a quick look at Leviticus. The book has twenty-seven chapters that covers Holiness which carries the essential theme on the separation between the sacred and profane.
The slavery system in the Old Testament is reflective of the social context in the ancient near east. Appropriating an ancient practice isn’t relatable to our modern day because racialized slavery is a modern-day construct. The poor use of scripture renders conflicts and African American slavery compared to the ancient world becomes a complete anachronism. In the ancient near east, slavery could be seen as an economic benefit for both parties because one can choose to be a slave if they fell on hard times. A common war practice involved capturing those conquered in battle and enslaving them as well. The ancient historians were not writing with the 17th century colonizers in mind because they were writing to simply instruct their society.
As for the term property used in Leviticus, the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary defines the use of property in the ancient near east as rules assessing reparations to be made if one injures or kills the slave of another person. Unlike the slaveholders in America, slaves were ultimately seen as human beings and were treated as such. For example, Slaves were regarded as part of the master’s household (Lev. 22:11 NRSV) and they were required to rest on the Sabbath (Exod. 20:10; Deut.5:14 NRSV).
The Harper Collins Dictionary reminds us that most biblical legislation, emphasizes concerns regarding the master’s treatment of their slaves. The essence of the slave’s humanity was important to recognize and value. For instance, the slave owner was reprimanded for killing a slave (Exod. 21:20). Also, the slave could be freed if the master was responsible for any part of the body being destroyed/missing (Exod. 21:26-27 NRSV). There’s a plethora of scripture that heavily suggests the integrity of the slave and master relationship which wasn’t the case in America.
Jesus also modeled how we should live in the world by stating, we should treat the lesser with great honor and respect (Matt. 25:31-46 NRSV). Jesus constantly walked the streets healing individuals from sicknesses and diseases. He didn’t have a problem touching people casted out of society. Jesus had a way of making people feel whole because he had the divine ability to make them whole. After all the miracles Jesus completed, he stated that his disciples would complete greater miracles if they believed in him! (John 14:12 NRSV) How could this be true for mere mortals? Jesus wasn’t only our model for loving others, he was our model for divine intervention. The greater theological lesson is everyone matters in the sight of God and everyone is valuable. Through spiritual implications, Jesus equips his followers to be his hands and feet in the world for positivity and social justice.
If the colonizers felt it necessary to use a couple scriptures to justify slavery, they should’ve finished reading the entire text to understand the bigger picture. The slaveholders squandered their leadership by using their spare moments on earth to treat God’s people with spite due to not analyzing the text exegetically.
In Matthew 28:16-20 NRSV, Jesus commissioned his disciples to travel and spread the gospel. Jesus specifically stated this knowing that gaining more disciples was a positive consequence of spreading the gospel. Jesus says to make disciples of all nations, implying an exclusive command to spread the love of God to people who don’t look anything like them.
In Acts 1:8 NRSV, Jesus directly stated three specific areas to witness and tags on “to the ends of the earth.” I believe Jesus was encouraging racial reconciliation through this verse. Notice, Jesus did not say to, “forcibly make others conform to Christianity.” Jesus also did not say, “your relationship with God erases your identity.” Racial reconciliation is not about abandoning your cultural differences, it’s about embracing everyone’s cultural difference yet recognizing our overall need for Christ in order to receive eternal life through him alone. There are many churches living out the great commission by spreading the gospel with love one country at a time.
In order to combat the Colonizers improper interpretation of scripture, you must first understand how to contextualize biblical passages. This exegetical exercise is imperative to our faith tradition because it lends the opportunity to clearly hear the voices of the biblical characters rather than putting the words in their mouths and applying their ancient lifestyles to our modern world.
Let’s say your mother texted you every day this week around the same time reminding you to go grocery shopping by Wednesday at 6pm. Your mother reminds you to go grocery shopping by this specific date and specific time because she knows how forgetful you are. She wants to ensure you yield to the instructions because it will allow both of you to easily prepare the meal for the weekly Thursday family dinner night without any delay.
Let’s say your friend randomly reads your mother’s text thread without the proper understanding of your weekly family tradition or your mother’s type-A personality. Furthermore, after your friend reads the messages, she walks away believing that family dinner night should be every Thursday and her mother should text her daily to remind her; even though she’s not forgetful. Wouldn’t this thought process be illogical??? Of course, it would! Her thought process wouldn’t be unreasonable if she understood the overall theme of the message which is, family dinner night is important. There wouldn’t be a problem if she desired to implement that with her own family.
If your friend decided to remain illogical, she would totally disregard the entire context of the situation by choosing to apply your unique life to hers. This is what it looks like when we pick up the bible and proof-text. By doing so, we illogically apply Ancient Biblical stories to our lives without careful assessment and exegesis.
Moving forward, decide to study scripture closely and examine the overall theological message God is trying to reveal to you. Do not simply apply the scripture to your life without proper analysis of the context. The slave master’s didn’t apply this technique and failed miserably spiritually by severely harming those around them. Sadly, their narrative is continuing to be perpetuated by white supremacist in the 21st century who’ve blindly accepted incorrect beliefs. I pray that each one of you will conduct proper exegetical work to fight the justification of social prejudice in our society.
Until Next Time...
Peace & Blessings, XOXO