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I have recently finished reading the New Testament and I am collecting my thoughts about what I read in this series of posts. As this is the first post, I obviously can't link to any other posts in this series, unless of course you are reading this in the future and I have come back and edited things. I figured, why not start off with a bang and look at what the New Testament says about Slavery?
When looking back on the noteworthy verses in the New Testament which mention slavery, the first question I wanted to answer is how many of them seem to cast slavery into a bad light. I have heard the statement from atheists a number of times that there is not a single verse admonishing slavery, and given that I have never seen a Christian counter that statement with an example, it seems pretty credible. Nevertheless, I looked for such verses and found a few potential candidates. These verses aren't particularly strong, I'm not surprised Christians don't try to use them as a defense, but they deserve to be looked at nonetheless.
The first is 1 Timothy 1:9-10 which puts "enslavers" in a list of various kinds of evil people along side the unlawful, ungodly, murderers and homosexuals as well as a few other groups. This passage casts these people in a bad light and seems to say that those who engage in these activities are generally bad people. However, given that it is thrown in a big list of bad things, and it doesn't go so far as to explicitly say to stop enslaving people, this verse isn't very effective on it's own to argue that the bible is against slavery.
There is one other incident in Philemon where Paul tries to argue that Onesimus should be released from slavery. I could imagine someone advancing the idea that this is an argument against slavery in general, but this would be a fairly dishonest interpretation of the scripture in my opinion. I think it is pretty clear that the plea from Paul was about a single slave who he cared for on a personal level, rather than a broader statement on slavery in general.
As far as I noticed, that is the extent of the verses in the new testament that can even be manipulated to have an anti-slavery message to them. It's possible that there are other verses like the 1 Timothy verse that slid under my radar, but it is hard to imagine any bigger statements that passed me by.
What about the other side of the coin? Are there any clear messages that the New Testament says about slavery? The strongest message seems to be a message to the slaves themselves that they should be obedient to their masters. Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, 1 Timothy 6:1, and Titus 2:9 all give this exact message, 1 Peter 2:18 takes it a step farther and tells slaves that they should treat their masters with respect even if the master is unjust. This verse speaks volumes, it doesn't give an example of behavior that the slave should put up with that I have come along 2000 years later and decided was unjust. It says that unjust treatment (according to their metrics of that time) should be considered acceptable when a slave is the recipient.
Everything isn't directed at the slaves though, the slave masters have some instructions as well. Ephesians 6:9 tells the master that he should stop threatening his slaves, the reason behind this instruction seems to be that he should know his place, and his relationship with God should be the same as his slaves relationship with him. A similar message is seen in Colossians 4:1. There you have it, this religion explicitly says it wants to make slaves out of it's members.
One final example, there is a story in Galatians 4:21-31 which involves Abraham and his two sons, one from a slave and one from a free woman. In the story the slave woman and her child were cast out in order that her son would not take any of the inheritance, this action is applauded as "we are not children of the slave". Abraham is a monster in this story, he throws a woman and her child (his child!) out on the street. He should be railed against, not applauded. It would seem that these people thought of as slaves merely property to be discarded when it is convenient. Slaves are so low, that it is appropriate to abandon them even when they are your own children.
Christians will often try to claim that the New Testament did not endorse slavery, or that slavery in the bible was a very different thing from what we think of today. I think the verses I provided today demonstrate pretty well that such claims are woefully misinformed in the best case, and downright dishonest in the worst.