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Does the Bible Condone Slavery and Sexism?

  • Jim Hamilton Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Updated Jul 10, 2013
Does the Bible Condone Slavery and Sexism?
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Slavery and sexism are hot topics in the blogosphere.

Rachel Held Evans has made a name for herself by provoking complementarians and multiplying confusions about the Bible. She spent a year misinterpreting the Bible, then misrepresented what the Bible teaches in a book, and went on all the talk shows. The world loved it that this woman confessing to be a Christian told them all their prejudices about the Bible were justified. Now she’s famous, but what has she done to the Bible’s reputation? What has she done to the Lord’s reputation?

Earlier this year Thabiti Anyabwile and Douglas Wilson had a long, redemptive, exemplary discussion about slavery.

What if we examined these two issues, slavery and sexism, from the perspective of biblical theology? Does the Bible condone either?

Here are the opening paragraphs of my essay, “Does the Bible Condone Slavery and Sexism?“:

Does the Bible condone slavery and sexism? Of course not! The suggestion is ridiculous, but we live in a world where absurd conclusions seem as rational as the truth is preposterous. All sorts of wicked ideas advance on the power of subtle insinuation and grow strong by the sneaking suggestion.

If there is a surface level appearance that an allegation is true, the suggestions and insinuations appear plausible, perhaps even obviously correct. When we look beyond the surface, however, to what is really the case, suggestive insinuations are obliterated by reality. But how many people have the logical, theological, or biblical backbone to push past a veneer, to look past the surface, to think their way through the fog of falsehood to solid truth? This essay aims to get past surface level indications of sexism and slavery to what the Bible really teaches about human beings of all genders and races.

On the surface, the Bible appears to endorse sexism. Women are told to keep quiet in church (1 Cor 14:33–34), to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22–24), and they are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men (1 Tim 2:12). Viewed from a certain perspective, this looks like sexism. One of my tasks in this essay is to show how it’s not, but before we get to that we need to make the other task of this essay just as hard.

The other task of this essay is to show how the Bible neither endorses nor condones slavery, and here again we have a set of statements that make it look like the Bible does just that. On the surface, Israel was given laws that regulated the treatment of slaves (e.g., Exod 21; Lev 25:6, 47–55; Deut 15:12–18), and both Paul and Peter told slaves to obey their masters (Eph 6:5–8; Col 3:22; 1 Tim 6:1–2; 1 Pet 2:18). How can it be denied that the Bible condones slavery?

This essay is not a sophisticated denial of reality. I hope to do more than acknowledge the evidence and say, “nuh-uh.” I don’t want anyone to go away from this essay thinking that Hamilton has done nothing but insist that the Bible does not say what it obviously says.

With the Bible making these statements about women and slaves, how can anyone maintain that it doesn’t condone sexism and slavery? Because it can be shown that the Bible does not present the world as a place in which God intended people to be owned by other people or abused because of their sex. God did not make the world for slavers and sexists. This essay seeks to go beyond the surface level of what the Bible says about these matters into the “deep structure” of the Bible’s teaching about male and female, slave and free.

The essay appears in a new book edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder, In Defense of the Bible, and B&H has kindly granted me permission to post it here. Thanks to the publisher’s generosity, you can download my attempt at a biblical-theological answer to the question, “Does the Bible Condone Slavery and Sexism?” right here for free.


Cross posted at For His Renown.

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