God is a Slave Owner’s Best Friend and the Bible is the Instruction Manual

God is a Slave Owner’s Best Friend and the Bible is the Instruction Manual

Among the Confederate monument controversies that have made national news over the past few years is one in Williamson County, Texas. 

I live in the county seat of Georgetown, where the majority of residents hold conservative religious, political, and social views. 

One expression of their respect for tradition is the twenty-foot Confederate soldier statue in front of the courthouse. Nearby are a half-dozen additional statues and historical markers recognizing prominent figures.

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Three years ago, a liberal religious advocacy group called Courageous Conversations began a controversial campaign to add a small marker to acknowledge African Americans’ role in the Confederacy.

Like almost everywhere else, the issue at the center of this local controversy is whether the statue insults black citizens by honoring the institution of slavery.

Some assert that the Civil War was really about states’ rights or northern aggression, but the 1861 Texas Ordinance of Secession is clear:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the states and the confederacy were established exclusively by the white race for themselves and their posterity, and the African race was rightfully held and regarded as an inferior race, and in that condition only could their existence be beneficial or tolerable.

Because the 1861 Constitution of Confederate States of America called on the “favor and guidance of Almighty God,” it is entirely appropriate to ask if the God of Judeo-Christian Scripture sanctions the institution of chattel slavery. This article provides a definitive answer to this important question.


This is the dark side of Jesus the “Prince of Peace.”


A Brief History of Slavery 

The origins of slavery date back to the ancient tribes of our early ancestors who, after fighting and killing each other for many millennia, came to the realization that it would be more advantageous for the conquerors to enslave rather than kill their adversaries. 

The economic benefits of a system of forced labor in which one person owns another person became immediately apparent, and the concept was quickly extended to the acquisition of personal servants. 

For this reason, the institution of slavery is found among both primitive and advanced peoples. Slavery was common and accepted in classical Greek and Roman civilizations. 

In Athens, about fifty percent of its half-million inhabitants were slaves who were essential laborers in the heralded democracy. Prominent citizens like Plato and Aristotle owned household slaves. 

The early Christian church tolerated slavery mainly because it was an unavoidable economic necessity. The first influential Christian to condemn slavery was Bishop Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century C.E. Although he argued that slavery is morally wrong, he did not unambiguously advocate the abolition of the practice. 

Following the colonization of the Americas and the opportunity to extract the wealth from the land, Africa became an unwilling labor pool from which millions of people were captured and transported to the new colonies. 

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England maintained a monopoly on the slave trade due to its dominance of the seas. 

The first cargo of slaves arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, coincidentally the same year that a democratic government was instituted in the colony. 

Although they acknowledged the injustice, several eminent U.S. founders, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves, as did most wealthy landowners, to carry out the extensive labor required on plantations. 

By 1850, out of a total population of nine million people in the South, about three million were slaves, most of whom worked on just a few thousand large plantations where cotton was a major crop. 

The movement to abolish slavery began in the seventeenth century, and the practice was outlawed in the British Empire in 1833. The abolitionist crusade in the U.S., starting in the 1820s with the emergence of revivalism, demanded immediate freedom for slaves. 

It is ironic that abolitionist sentiment had its roots in evangelical Christianity because scripture unequivocally sanctions slavery. In fact, some Southerners argued that abolitionists were defying God’s will by opposing slavery. 

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing all slaves in the Southern states. In December 1865, slavery was abolished by the ratification of the U.S. Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment, followed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which granted former slaves full citizenship and (if they were male) the right to vote. 

There can be no doubt that slavery was an accepted societal institution throughout history up to the early nineteenth century. 

Only then did Western nations become sensitive to the moral questions raised by the ownership of humans as acquired property by other people.


Christian clergy in the South at the time that abolition was gaining strength found justification for slavery in scripture.


Slavery in the Bible

Ethical concerns about slavery were not a consideration for the compilers of the Hebrew Testament, which contains more than eight hundred references to slaves and servants (these two terms are used interchangeably throughout scripture). 

The Genesis stories about Abram, Hagar, Jacob, and Joseph established the framework for the Biblical view of slavery. Additional verses in other Pentateuch books outline the rules that govern the relationship between master and servant. 

These are exemplified in the sagas about David and Solomon and their slave laborers in the Histories. It is undeniable that scripture teaches that servants are the property of their owners. 

The much shorter New Testament includes about one hundred fifty references to slaves and servants. Obviously, it would not be feasible to review every mention here. 

It’s also not necessary because there is never any condemnation of the institution of slavery, and Christians today are primarily concerned with the declarations about slavery issued by Jesus, Paul, and Peter. 

Therefore, only a few major slavery episodes in the Old Testament are cited. God’s rescue of the ancient Israelites from enslavement in Egypt is the foundational event in early Hebrew history, creating the basis for the covenant between God and his chosen people. 

The Exodus story concludes with the delivery of the Ten Commandments by Moses at Mount Sinai, along with detailed guidelines to instruct the Israelites, who were once slaves themselves, on how to be masters to their own slaves (see the Ten Commandments for Slave Masters at the end of the article).


Jesus never criticized nor condemned slavery, and he did not forbid people from owning slaves.


With this unequivocal background, there can be no doubt that God the Father approved of the institution of slavery, and his son and spokesmen continued the tradition. Jesus’ approval of slavery is readily apparent in his inclusion of servants and their masters in eight of his parables (see the summaries on the later part). 

Because he never criticized nor condemned slavery, and he did not forbid people from owning slaves, he tacitly endorsed the practice.


Five slave parables are noted for their extreme violence through murder, killing, or maiming.


In one of these parables, he explicitly authorized the cruel master-slave relationship when he recommended whipping disobedient slaves: The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. 

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:47-48). 

Five of the eight slave parables are noted for their extreme violence through murder, killing, or maiming with phraseology including:

  • delivered him to the torturers 
  • cut him in two, grind him to powder
  • cast him into outer darkness
  • weeping and gnashing of teeth
  • beaten with many stripes, and
  • slay them before me.
Interspersed with this very disturbing language are several standard expressions of Christian imagery: 
  • kingdom of heaven
  • my heavenly Father
  • kingdom of God, and
  • beloved son. 
The central figure of the master or the son is Jesus himself, and the consistent theme in these five violent stories is that those who disobey Jesus or reject him as Messiah will be punished with unending torture in hell. 

This is the dark side of Jesus the “Prince of Peace”, who condemned interpersonal violence, even in self-defense, while granting authority to slave owners to discipline their slaves. This is the divine mandate used to justify the beatings of black slaves in Southern states. 

Jesus also endorsed the rules in the book of Exodus for slave owners, and two of his miracles involved slaves: the healing of the centurion’s slave (Luke 7:1-10) and the restoration of the slaveboy Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:50-51 and John 18:10). 

In the Epistles, Paul decreed that slaves should obey their masters with respect and fear in everything, just as they would obey Jesus. And for their obedience, they will be rewarded in the next life:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 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. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 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 (Ephesians 6:5-9). 

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism (Colossians 3:22-24). 

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. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing (1 Timothy 6:1-4). 

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 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 (Titus 2:9-10). 

The apostle Peter emphasized that slaves are obligated by Christian faith and fear of God to submit to their owners, no matter how brutal. He said that it is commendable when slaves endure unjust suffering that is willed by God:

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. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 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. To this, you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:18-21).

The Bible’s three leading Christian figures to testify in unequivocal language to the legitimacy of the institution of slavery, yet Christians today abhor the concept as much as anyone. There is no better example of selective disregard of scriptural mandates.


Some argued that abolitionists were defying God’s will by opposing slavery.


From the founding of the nation in the 1770s to the beginning of the Civil War, the issue of slavery fractured Protestant denominations, including Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. John Wesley called American slavery “the vilest that ever saw the sun.” 

Ironically, abolition was inspired by the Protestant churches in the North because, in their view, slavery was considered to be incompatible with Christian values! 

It should not be surprising, then, that Christian clergy in the South at the time that abolition was gaining strength found justification for slavery in scripture.


The Bible that condoned slavery back then is the same Bible used today.


For example, in 1845, a South Carolina preacher named Richard Fuller declared, “God-sanctioned slavery in the Bible, and therefore it cannot be wrong.” 

It should also be noted that surveys indicate that most Americans today believe that slavery was the worst moral evil to ever afflict American society.


What does this definitive scriptural documentation mean for atheists, civil libertarians, and social progressives who view Civil War monuments as tributes to an embarrassing and shameful aspect of American history? 

What are the implications of biblical truth for activists who generally reject all forms of religious mythology?

First, the irrefutable conclusion that emerges from this focused review is that the God of Judeo-Christian scripture sanctioned slavery as an honorable human relationship.


Scripture teaches that servants are the property of their owners.


He is the slave owner’s best friend, and his perfect word, the Holy Bible, is the slave owner’s instruction manual and rule book. Furthermore, God’s designated spokesmen—Moses, Jesus, Paul, and Peter—amplified and extended his pro-slavery mandate for the Judeo-Christian community. Second, it should be made perfectly clear that Confederate statues and historical markers are primarily symbols of slavery. 

Although some defenders of Confederate honor deny that this was the major issue, others argue that their ancestors sincerely believed that slavery was a God-ordained practice. Both the ancestors and descendants are, in fact, correct. 

The Bible that condoned slavery back then is the same Bible used today. Third, in an effort to mitigate antagonism and promote harmony, we should avoid the slavery debate with those who regard the statues as memorials to their deceased forebears who gave their lives to defend the beloved Southern way of life. 

Instead, we should channel our energy to correcting the present-day inequalities, oppression, and unfairness that minorities of all races, ethnicities, and orientations experience in America. 

Fourth, we should seek compromise and accommodation by proposing to place explanatory plaques, historical markers, and additional statuary near the Confederate memorials, with the goal of clarifying and balancing official community recognition. 

This should be done in a way that satisfies—as much as is possible—the competing interests and viewpoints of all parties, realizing that no solution will please everyone.


After Courageous Conversations’ effort of three years to add a small marker to Georgetown’s Confederate soldier statue, the conservative county commissioners summarily voted down the proposal on November 14, 2017.


Jesus’ Eight Slave Parables

  • 1. Unmerciful Servant [Matthew 18:23-35]
Those who do not forgive others will not be forgiven by God and will be tortured forever. 
  • 2. Wicked Tenants [Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19]
Those who do not recognize Jesus as Messiah will not enter eternal life.
  • 3. Wedding Banquet [Matthew 22:2-14]
Those who reject God’s generous offer of salvation through his son will be thrown into hell.
  • 4. Unfaithful Servant [Matthew 25:45-51, Luke 12:42-48]
Those who are not prepared to receive the kingdom of God will be sent to hell.
  • 5. Talents/Minas Matthew [25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27]
Those who do not use God’s bountiful resources productively will endure everlasting suffering.
  • 6. Watchful Servants [Mark 13:32-37, Luke 12:35-40]
Be ready for Jesus’s return, because only God knows when he is coming.
  • 7. Great Banquet Luke 14:15-24 
Those who are too busy to accept God’s invitation will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.
  • 8. Master and His Servant [Luke 17:7-10]
Don’t expect to be rewarded for only doing what is required of you.


The Ten Commandments for Slave Owners

from Exodus 21:2-32 (with specific verses in parentheses) 
  1. If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything (2).
  2. If he is bought alone, he is to go free alone. But if he has a wife when he’s bought, she is to go with him (3).
  3. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman, and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free (4).
  4. But if the servant declares, “I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free” then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life (5-6).
  5. If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she is not to go free as male slaves do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners because he has broken faith with her (7-8).
  6. If he selects her to be his son’s wife, he must grant her the rights of a daughter (9).
  7. If the son takes on another wife, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing, or marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money (10-11).
  8. Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property (20-21).
  9. A slave who goes blind in one eye from being punched by their master is to be freed as compensation for the eye. The same goes for an owner who knocks out a tooth, and this applies to male and female slaves (26-27).
  10. If a slave (male or female) is gored by a bull, the bull’s owner must pay the slave’s owner thirty shekels, and the bull must be stoned to death (32).


Brian Bolton

By Brian Bolton

A retired psychologist living in Georgetown, Texas. He dedicates this article to the memory of the late Bible scholar A.J. Mattill, Jr., who called the Bible “the slave owner’s best friend.”

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