BUFF SCOTT, JR.
Not all Forms are Immoral
Slavery can be diagnosed as voluntary or involuntary. An interesting bit of biblical history is that Jacob was a voluntary slave of Laban in that he labored seven years for Rachel, Laban’s daughter. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said to Laban, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel” [Gen. 29:18]
. “Serve” in this passage is translated “servant” or “bondservant.”
At the end of seven years, however, Laban “took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob” instead of Rachel. Jacob was annoyed, and said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you [or was I not a bondservant] for Rachel? Why then did you deceive me?”
Laban explained that in his country and culture, the younger is not
given before the firstborn. Leah was the firstborn. Actually, Laban manipulated Jacob.
A few days after Jacob “went in to Leah,” Laban then gave Rachel to Jacob, but only
on the condition that he be Laban’s bondservant another seven years. Jacob was a bondservant—a voluntary slave
—for a total of 14 years.
Involuntary slavery of an oppressive kind is cruel and reprehensive—regardless of culture, country, or history. This is why the Lord decided to deliver His children from Egyptian bondage—slavery
. They were oppressed and afflicted. “And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them” [Gen. 3:9]
Oppressive slavery once overlaid American history when thousands of African blacks were captured, shipped to this country, and oppressively enslaved for many decades. Finally they were freed from brutal and grievous slavery.
From the biblical research I have done on this subject, it seems the Lord has been tolerant of humane
servitude. As one example, take the case of Philemon and Onesimus. Philemon was a believer but also a slave-owner. Slavery was legal and sanctioned throughout the Roman Empire. Onesimus was a runaway slave or bondservant of Philemon. Somehow, someway, Paul and Omesimus met and Paul became Onesimus’s spiritual father.
I like the way Paul addressed slavery in another letter. “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom [from oppressive slavery]
, avail yourself of the opportunity.”
He added, “Likewise, he who was free when called is a slave of Christ” [1 Cor. 7:21-22]
. Wow! A slave of Christ?
Voluntary slavery is acceptable. Involuntary and oppressive slavery is unacceptable.
The thrust of Paul’s letter to a Christian slave-owner was to notify him that he [Paul] was sending Onesimus, now a believer, back and “receive him as you would receive me.” You will note that Paul did not in any way indicate to Philemon his vocation as a slave-owner was immoral or unethical. Apparently, Philemon was not an oppressive slave master.
Note what Paul writes in another place. “Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers” [1 Tim. 6:1-2]
Believing, non-oppressive, and benevolent slave masters were to be respected. Again, no censuring of slavery as such
. Only the tyrannical and brutal class are to be denounced.
It is intriguing how “slave” and “slavery” can be defined. If, for example, someone hires me to work for him fulltime, he “owns” me to that extent. His instructions are diverse and his “ownership” of me is unquestionable. Most of my life belongs to him. To put it simply, to that extent I am his “slave” or bondservant and he is my “slave master.” About the only substantial difference between his form of slavery and my status as a slave is that he does not own me in the absolute
My basic point is that, as per biblical and social history, slavery in the absolute
is not wrong. Our God of history seems to have been lenient of certain forms. The wrong is committed when slaves are treated like animals and injustices are apparent. Paul’s letter to Philemon, a slave master, supports that idea. You and I are slaves of our Heavenly Father