Does the Bible Endorse Racism and Slavery?
September 24, 2020
by Jerek Petrous, DDS, MS
The topic of slavery and racism couldn’t be more relevant in this age of social justice we are in right now. It goes without saying that racism is evil. Genesis 1:27 makes very clear that all are created in the image of God. The image of God, or Imago Dei in Latin, refers to the fact that humans were made uniquely and separately from all the rest of creation in a way that reflects God’s image in our moral, spiritual and intellectual essence. It means that in certain aspects, and in an imperfect sense, we resemble God. It is because we are image bearers of God that our lives have intrinsic worth, and this of course goes for all humans. It is precisely because we are made in God’s image that racism is evil. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about this frequently as the basis for civil rights. He argued that the brotherhood of man is dependent upon the fatherhood of God. Reject the latter and you erode the foundation of the former.
However, if there were no God, racism wouldn’t be objectively evil. Objective evil wouldn’t even exist outside of our own imaginations. At best, racism would just be a social convention that is a product of socio-biological evolution. Although an atheist can say and truly believe racism is wrong, they have no justification for this belief based on their god-less worldview. If you remove God, you remove objective right/wrong, and if there is nothing objectively wrong, then saying that racism is wrong would just be to assert that you personally don’t like it (similarly to saying that you don’t like vanilla ice cream). It would remain purely subjective.
But if racism is wrong, then why does the Bible not speak out sharply against slavery? In fact, some might argue that it almost seems in a way to condone it. What are we to make of this? If God is perfectly good and the Bible was inspired by Him, then how could the Bible speak of slavery in any way other than in condemning it? Before jumping to conclusions, as is often done on this topic, it is important to unpack this a bit.
In ancient times, people became slaves in one of two ways. One way was as a captured combatant in war, which was far more humane than simply chopping off their head with a sword. The other primary way that someone became a slave was when one had a massive debt that needed to be paid off and the debtor had no possible way of paying it. In those days, selling yourself into slavery to remove a debt often times was a far better option than being broke and homeless, especially since being homeless in those days was quite brutal (no homeless shelters, no Medicaid, no hospitals, no food banks, etc.).
The variety of slavery seen in ancient times contrasts very sharply with new world slavery we hear so much about in our history books. New world slavery, such as the transatlantic slave trade, was very different in that it had kidnapping as its basis. What’s interesting though is that the Bible unequivocally forbids this type of slavery in both the Old and New Testaments (Exodus 21:16, 1 Timothy 1:10). The Bible makes it very clear that this variety of slavery is objectively evil. To assume that the type of slavery mentioned in the Bible is equivalent with the type of slavery that haunts our nation is profoundly ignorant to say the least.
At the end of the day, God is perfectly good and is the standard of all goodness, and this is reflected in His Word. Because all humans are created in the image of God, all humans have intrinsic worth which clearly makes racism and slavery objectively wrong.