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What do you think is wrong with the following argument?

  1. Bible translations talk of “slaves.”
  2. In the OT no objection is made to having slaves.
  3. In the NT Christians are not commanded to free their slaves but are told to submit.
  4. Therefore, biblical texts approve of slavery.
  5. We know that slavery is wrong.
  6. Therefore, biblical texts approve of something that is wrong.

Remember that when evaluating an argument

  • terms are either clear or unclear
  • propositions are either true or false,
  • arguments are either valid or invalid.

So if you disagree with argument above, you’d have to show that there is

  • an ambiguous term,
  • a false premise, or
  • a logical fallacy (the conclusion does not follow from the premises).

In the lecture below, delivered on October 30, 2015, at Lanier Theological Library, Peter Williams gave a fascinating lecture responding to this argument. Dr. Williams (PhD, University of Cambridge) presides over Tyndale House in Cambridge (one of the finest theological libraries in the world for biblical scholarship) and is an affiliated lecturer at Cambridge University.

His thesis is that using the most common definition of slavery, the Bible does not support slavery.

To make his argument, he examines the key Old Testament and New Testament texts said to support slavery. Along the way, he looks at the biblical words commonly associated with slavery and how their translation has changed over time. He also looks at the logic of the Old Testament world and the way ancient societies were structured quite differently from ours.

The lecture below is under an hour, and then he takes Q&A for around 20 minutes:

For reading on this subject, you could start with the following by philosopher Paul Copan:


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2 thoughts on “Does the Bible Support Slavery?”

  1. Adam Omelianchuk says:

    I would think that [6] does not follow from the [1] — [5]. Why think that the Bible “approves” of slavery if no objection is made to it and we are told to submit to it. No objection is lodged against totalitarian regimes and it seems we are told to submit to them (a la Romans 13); but it does not follow that the Bible “approves” of totalitarian regimes. The best we can say from [1] — [5] is that the Bible instructs us to live under a system we know is wrong. This isn’t a nice thought, but it does at least serve as an insight as to WHY we should do so. When we start uncovering the philosophy behind this instruction, we might come to a better understanding of what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about this troubling topic.

    1. Adam Omelianchuk says:

      Sorry: I meant to say “it does serve to incite us to know WHY we should do so.”

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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