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In my previous post, I attempted to interact with what I saw as the underlying logic of Black and Tan. I argued that the logic of the book didn’t hold up because (a) Wilson’s assumption about departures from biblical authority didn’t prove true and (b) Wilson commits a genetic fallacy when he links the way slavery was ended (Civil War and Reconstruction) with the way contemporary culture wars are fought and resolved.

Wilson kindly replied to my first critique by first accurately and fairly summarizing my position, a gesture I appreciate and am encouraged by. I’m grateful he has shown both a willingness to interact publicly and privately as well as a willingness to engage the substance of this issue. In his reply to my first point about biblical authority, Wilson distinguished between formal authority and functional authority. He agreed with me that both sides showed a very high allegiance to formal authority, that is, they held a doctrinally high view of the Scriptures. But he thinks my critique of Black and Tan fails because the concern of Black and Tan was for functional authority, “a view of authority shown in obedience, and not just formal willingness to appeal to Scripture to justify what you already wanted to do.”

In my last post, I committed to picking up my critique with some comments about exegesis and application of the biblical texts pertinent to slavery. Wilson’s reply makes for a nice segue since we’re both truly concerned with actual obedience. When I argue that the North privileged different texts—and I agree with Wilson that theological arguments almost always feature this difference—I was not suggesting that such privileging was or should be acceptable as pretext for actual disobedience. To the contrary, I think many anti-slavery advocates were in fact obeying the texts they privileged which is what led them to their abolitionist position. How might that be? Let me attempt a brief exegesis of pertinent texts as an illustration.

Do We Swim Upstream or Downstream on the Issue of Slavery?

Wilson does attempt in Black and Tan to interpret and apply texts of Scripture beyond the household codes and their instructions to slaves and masters. He does, for example, argue from the creation account, the post-flood re-population of the earth, and Acts 17:26 that all men are men, created in God’s image, and cousins descended from the same parents. He also argues that we’re all even more closely related in our common fallenness in sin. That theological anthropology informs his rejection of racism, slavery based on race, and racial vainglory. But when we’ve put the household codes alongside the texts that give us our biblical anthropology, have we yet put all the relevant texts on the table?

We have not. To begin with the household codes, it seems to me, is to begin swimming too far down stream. To take the codes as (a) establishing the legitimacy or permissibility of Roman slavery and (b) authoritative in American chattel slavery, because of its relatively “better” condition than Roman slavery, assumes or overlooks far too much biblical text—biblical texts that abolitionists privileged in this discourse.

What texts am I speaking of? I would privilege all the biblical texts that command love for neighbor (Matt. 22:35-39), love for enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and especially love for brothers and sisters in Christ. This, our Lord teaches us, is the second greatest commandment. All the Law and the Prophets hang upon this command and the command to love God above all (Matt. 22:40). Jesus teaches us that love is the distinguishing mark of true discipleship, a mark that should be so evident that the world will know we’re His disciples (John 13:34-35). The apostle John elevates love to almost a synonym for the gospel itself—”This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” He continues, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us” (1 John 3:11, 23). John tells us we have no right to regard ourselves as Christians apart from love for the brothers (1 Jn 4:20-21).

Now, lest someone think I’m trying to pull a fast one by pointing to a “general principle” to avoid more specific and toothier commands, let me hasten to point out that biblical love is a very fangy creature! It’s not mere sentiment devoid of action. Recall that love is a verb in 1 Corinthians 13. And the apostle John tells us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). I am contending that the command to love should have been obeyed and it should have been the controlling command in the entire debate. I argue that for this reason: love is everywhere commanded and slaveholding is nowhere commanded. We must realize we are comparing a positive injunction against an arguable freedom. Before we insist on obedience to the household codes, which address a matter of Christian freedom (at best), we need to insist on obedience to the greatest commands, which are not a matter of Christian freedom but obligation to God—indeed evidence of whether or not we really know God.

What Does Obedience to the Command to Love Look Like in the Context of Slavery?

Well, how should the command to love be worked out by a Christian master? We have one place in scripture that specifically addresses the relationship between a known Christian slaveholder and a known Christian slave. Philemon.  We’ll come to the household codes in a moment. But consider how the apostle Paul addresses slavery and slaveholding in the one place where manumission is in view. He writes, first of all, to commend Philemon for the faith and love he shows all the saints—that’s the same apostolic wedding of genuine faith and love we saw in 1 John. Then Paul makes his move based on that affirmation.  ”Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my son Onesismus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (vv. 8-11).

I emphasized the two portions in Paul’s words for this reason: I think Wilson is correct to argue that the gospel and the spirit of the gospel remains irremediably contrary to slavery and that the forcible end of slavery is not, from a Christian perspective, the best or first means to use. That, I think, is why Paul refuses to use even his legitimate apostolic authority to “order” Philemon. Moreover, I think Wilson and I agree that the “coercive” power of love is far more explosive, longer lasting, and attended with fewer (no?) side-effects than the use of force. Thus Paul’s appeal on the basis of love.

But—and this is no small “but”—I think Paul’s letter to Philemon exposes the serious and deadly flaw of Wilson’s sense of timing for the eradication of slavery and of Wilson’s seeming identification with the master class’s “right” to own slavers instead of identifying with the slave. Notice how Paul keeps rattling his own chains of imprisonment in Philemon’s ears. Paul identifies himself repeatedly as the prisoner, the bound man, the one without freedom. He could have identified himself as the man of authority, the apostle, the one with right to exert himself over others. He nowhere does. That, I think, is instructive for how Christians should engage discussions involving oppressors and the oppressed. We should normally be on the side of the oppressed in the fight for justice. And when Paul appeals to Philemon to treat Onesimus the way he would treat Paul, the implication is obvious—free him immediately. But we don’t have to rely on the implication; Paul states it in the text and that governs our sense of timing about how quickly love should work in manumission.

Consider verses 12-17, the heart of the letter: “I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you  might have him back for good—16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”

It seems to me that Paul expects this “favor,” his “appeal on the basis of love,” to be granted immediately—not gradually as Wilson argues in Black and Tan. We don’t imagine that Philemon would receive to himself the apostle Paul as a slave (v. 17), but rather as a man and brother. Paul makes explicit—though gentle—his expectation—which he could have ordered—that Onesimus be “no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (v. 16). Paul both frees Onesimus and elevates him in Philemon’s affections. Paul affirms Onesimus’ manhood and his brotherhood. Love—far from misty sentiment—governs this relationship by actively freeing Onesimus. This means that calls for immediate abolition of slavery were consistent with the gospel and with love. Whether the War was just is another matter, but at this point I only want to stress that immediatism was consistent obedience to the scripture. Wilson’s recommendation for a gradual approach does not seem consistent with gospel love. If he amended his position even at this one point it would mean a world of difference for how people hear his argument and perceive him.

I trust we see from Paul’s letter to Philemon the great dissimilarity between American chattel slavery and what Paul addressed, for American chattel slavery reduced Africans to 3/5 human and actively worked against the notion that the slaves’ conversion and baptism should mean their freedom (for a wonderful book-length treatment of this, see Rebecca Anne Goetz, The Baptism of Early Virginia: How Christianity Created Race). Paul maintains assumptions about the nature of man and the effect of conversion on master-slave relationships that are chalk and cheese, oil and water, night and day to the assumptions underpinning American slavery. Which brings us to…

The Household Codes and Their Application

Paul’s earliest statement on slavery and slaves comes in 1 Corinthians 7:21-24. This is an important passage because the overarching theme of 1 Corinthians 7-9 has to do with Christian liberty—the freedom to marry or not marry (chp 7), freedom in worship (chp 8), freedom and rights as an apostle (chp 9). Throughout the section Paul expresses a kind of ambivalence about the “situations” we find ourselves in when we’re called to Christ in salvation. He generally advocates staying in that situation and not letting it bother you, but he permits and encourages actions to change that situation especially when it serves the gospel and deepens our satisfaction in Christ. So he writes, “20Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.”

It would be a mistake to conclude that Paul thinks enslavement itself is not troublesome. That’s not his meaning in verse 21. Rather, the person saved while enslaved should regard his or her relationship to Christ as the main thing, the identity changing thing—from slave to Lord’s freedman. In that sense, the slave should not be troubled by his station. It would also be a mistake to think that Paul believes that the slave should remain in that situation in perpetuity. He anticipates that misunderstanding and breaks his thought with “although if you can gain your freedom, do so.” Which is actually a more direct encouragement than anything Paul says about singles wanting to marry or the status of circumcised/uncircumcised. To them he never says “do so,” but to the slave he does. The apostle sees freedom as a positive good to be pursued.  This point seems to get lost in a lot of this discussion because Black and Tan sets up at least some forms of slaveholding as morally neutral. People go on to then argue for the rights of slaveholders against the right of slaves to pursue freedom. That does not seem to be the apostle’s perspective here. And that has some implications for how we read the household codes in tension with these other verses.

Wilson rightly exegetes the instructions given to masters and slaves in places like Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-4:1; and 1 Tim. 6:1-2—all written after Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 7.Though Paul calls the masters to treat their slaves in a respectful way and slaves to obey their masters—even wicked masters in 1 Tim. 6—his primary concern is not the maintenance of slaveholding as a system. In other words, in instructing Christians in their duties in whatever state they find themselves in when converted Paul is not also commending the system as a neutral or positive good. A Christian soldier should behave like a Christian even if his country sends him to fight in an atrocious war. A Christian accountant should behave like a Christian even if her multi-national company has questionable investments overseas. The Christian responsibility to submit or lead in those settings does not amount to an endorsement of the setting. We’ve seen in Philemon and 1 Corinthians that Paul expects freedom when freedom comes into view.

So, I think Wilson goes beyond what the household codes warrant when he infers from these passages that (a) slavery must have been permissible in the apostle’s mind as a “neutral” (keep in mind, Wilson does not argue that slavery was a positive good), (b) that we may safely assume that at least some of the masters and slaves addressed would have been in relationship with each other and in the same church (that’s just an assumption, an argument from the silence of the text), and (c) therefore the way slavery ended was in disobedience to these texts. We might respond: (a) Paul clearly encourages freedom; (b) We could just as readily assume that the masters and slaves in view were not related to one another; and, (c) These texts say nothing about the continuance of slavery as a system or anything about how slavery should be ended. None of these assumptions are necessary to the text.

That a Christian slaveholder could be a member in good standing in a church, as Wilson contends, doesn’t settle the issue. Surely he may have been a slaveholder when he was called to Christ (1 Cor. 7), but just as surely Paul would appeal to him/her on the basis of love to immediately free their slave and receive them as brothers in the Lord if they were Christians (Philemon).

Which brings me to one final point, briefly. When Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:10 that “man stealing” or “slave trading” is “contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” I don’t think he means the Transatlantic stealing and shipping of slaves was wrong but the subsequent purchase, holding, breeding, and keeping of slaves was okay. I don’t think that text countenances a difference between trading and holding, and that’s key to Wilson’s view of the permissibility of slaveholding in the South. The Southern holding was a consequence of the stealing. To try and separate the two would be like a thief defending himself by saying, “Yes, I stole the money, but the poverty I left the family with is just something they have to endure.” That will never do. That thief, biblically speaking, is obligate to return what he stole and then some! That generations later there were people born into slavery who only knew slavery is immaterial. They were only in the country due to the trafficking of persons, which thus far everyone agrees was wrong. Righting that wrong, it seems to me, meant scrapping the entire system built on the wrong. If there were going to be a permissible system of slavery in the South—a Christian country as Wilson sees it—it needed to be built upon indenture, voluntary servanthood, usually premised on debt obligations or poverty and not race.


There’s more that needs to be said about the condition of slaves and their treatment, about the South as a Christian nation, and about State’s rights, and about Wilson’s post-mil views and how it affects the book’s argument. Perhaps a subsequent post will deal with some of those things. But the heart of the issue is whether we obey in practice all the texts of scripture. And that, I would argue, requires more than a simple application of the household codes. Without love we are clanging gongs. Without love we are nothing. We have to start with love and work it all the way down to the particulars.

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97 thoughts on “Slavery and the Bible: The Perspective of This Abolitionist”

  1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Not to presume that anyone would comment on this post, but if you do, let me remind us to speak in love always. No cheap shots at persons, assuming motives, or scoring points with clever barbs. If your neck is tight or your eyes red or you’re screaming in your head as you think to comment, please stop before you post. Pray for the Lord’s grace and only then speak the truth in love. I welcome the discussion, but I attacking one another is not discussion. Let’s keep it edifying.

    Grace to all,

    1. True, let’s be edifying. However, I feel the “paleo-Confederate” advocacy, the denial of the need of the Civil War and the immediate end to slavery, etc., are morally equivalent to holocaust denial.

      Hypothetically, how would evangelicals respond if a high-profile evangelical leader espoused holocaust denial?

  2. T.Newbell says:

    Thank you for your study of the Word and research. It has been a blessing to read your work. I really sense your pastor’s heart. I just can’t thank you enough.

  3. Justin says:

    Thank you again, Pastor Thabiti. I pastor a small church and teach New Testament to high school students in Richmond, VA. We recently covered Philemon in class, and the eyes of many a student widened when we read vs. 12-17 out loud. I think sometimes it requires hearing those words spoken aloud to feel the power and weight of what Paul is doing there.

    If I could offer one other point… I believe Pastor Wilson is postmil, not amil.

    1. Justin says:

      Nevermind that last point. :)

  4. Tom says:

    Much of the Old Testament tells us the story of how God lead His people out of slavery and into freedom. I believe that this story should also be considered when informing our biblical understanding of how to view slavery.

  5. Aaron says:

    Thanks for this wonderful, sound, post, Thabiti. I wonder if the “love” concept should be applied here in this dicussion, as we seem to have a fundamental different reading of some large points of history.

    Even if the paleo-confederate views on the south and the war are correct. . . at this point, wouldn’t it be the loving thing to do to stop with the sympathetic statements towards slave owners, minimization of the situation southern slaves found themselves in, and a loving “dropping” of those most offensive parts of the case? I would hope so.

    If we want to talk about the good/bad of the civil war, let’s have that conversation without the attendant inflammatory issues.

  6. Jason Stover says:

    Thank you Thabiti for your careful and thorough treatment of this subject. I am benefiting immensely from this discussion between you and Wilson.

  7. Ahmad says:

    Thabiti (or Wilson),

    Can you help me, and perhaps others, by stating (or restating if I missed it early on) the definition of slavery being used in this discussion?

    Thanks for the informative discussion and appropriate tone!


    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Ahmad,

      In the case of American chattel slavery, the definition would have to be something along the lines of “forced, usually perpetual, race-based servitude.”

      Hope that helps. And there remains on the table a discussion about whether American slavery can accurately be compared to the slavery Paul addresses. A discussion I’ve not commented on at length to this point.


  8. Wesley says:

    Addressing some of the commentary, I don’t believe that Wilson is trying to be unloving or purposefully abrasive in defending slave-owners. I think his main point is to say that they weren’t necessarily not Christian, but still failing to reach the fullness of Gospel love (a point that Thabiti wonderfully illustrates through Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus). But rather, you see today the constant vilification of men who were faithful Christians in other places, though not in the area of slavery, not to downplay slavery.

    I would think that Wilson sympathizes with the faithful Christian slave-owners, not against freeing their slaves, but rather against the overreaching federal government. From what I’ve read in this discussion, it would seem that the powers of the federal government is his focus, so the slave-owners become his tools in the formation of his argument. He’s not favoring slave-owners to slaves. It seems that he’s on the side of the slave when he makes the connection between the political state of the 1800’s to the current political state and says that the state of the slave now is worse than it was then.

    Perhaps you could argue that there was no connection between now and then, but I think you’d have to assume that the North had taken the sizable log out of its own eye before it forcibly removed the also sizable from the South’s.

    As an aside, I don’t believe labeling yourself a “paleo-confederate” necessarily means that you assume the entirety of the legacy of slavery, in much the same way that labeling yourself a patriotic American ties you to the legacy of state-sanctioned child murder (even the celebration thereof as a basic human freedom).

    Thanks Thabiti and Douglas for this edifying conversation!

    In Christ

    1. Aaron says:


      Fair enough. . .I don’t impune Rev. Wilson’s motives. I’m just asking if the law of love might lead him and others to drop those most hurtful points of their case. I’m happy to talk about the over-reaching federal govt., the sins of the civil war, etc. . . But, you can do that without bringing up the historical disagreements that are a) in dispute and b) hurtful to many.

  9. Kris Drees says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    Thank you again for your clear, pastoral and empassioned exposition of the Scriptures!

    Because of Christ,

  10. Dan S says:

    I want second all the comments thanking you for modeling Christlike disagreement over a thorny issue! Thank you!

    I have a question:

    If the elders of a church follow Paul’s example and lovingly encourage a slaveholder to show love to his slaves and immediately give them freedom. What if he does not respond to their encouragement? What if he provides a way to freedom but does not instantly provide it?

    Should they force him to obey by the use of church discipline?

    Should they petition the government to force obedience by the use of the sword?

  11. Kyle says:

    Hey Thabiti!

    Thank you so much for this discussion. It is a breath of fresh air to see two people discuss such a controversial subject with civility, graciousness, and love.

    I was wondering if you had a thought to share on Douglas’ final words in his responding blog post to you. Basically he was saying if immediate abolition is justified, even through war, then why do we not go to war over the abolition of abortion? Just curious!

    Thanks for your time and insight!


    Here’s the quote:
    “Why are we back-seat-driving for the Virginia plantation owner, or the Massachusetts farmer, when there is an abortion clinic just three miles from your house? What are we going to do about that, and why? Anything you praise a century and a half ago is praiseworthy now, right? Anything you condemn now should be condemned back then, right? If you would shoot somebody for doing “bad things” then, you should shoot somebody for doing worse now, right?

    Confronted with the present evils, we cannot deny that they are evils. The death toll from abortion is approaching 100 times the death toll of the Civil War. And in this, future black generations have been heavily and disproportionately targeted. Does anybody deny that? If you allow Margaret Sanger to speak for herself, this targeting of blacks was a design feature. We know what that white woman thought of her ‘human weeds.’ Where are the black prophets?”

  12. Andrew Lohr says:

    Racism is sin; US slavery was not OT slavery, for freeing slaves after 6 years, with supplies, wasn’t happening here; freeing slaves may’ve been more routine in the Roman Empire than in the old South, i.e. US slavery differed from NT slavery (and since the meaning was different, the word needs to be used with care); freeing slaves is at least the trend and preference of the Bible, with the Exodus as a very very important example; I’m glad slavery and Jim Crow are gone here; there’s an interracial church called “New City Fellowship” of which I call myself a friendly alumnus…

    But I Tim 6:1-2 does seem to presuppose a situation in which some Christian slaves have Christian masters and that this situation will probably continue for awhile. From I Cor, the slaves should be seeking, or at least preferring, freedom; that being so, the masters should be ready to grant it, as Philemon (and the OT and Scripture in general) might well encourage them to do. But that’s not quite the same as immediate manumission in every case. The Bible rocks the slavery boat as a whole; that doesn’t force everyone to jump overboard now. And since US slavery differed from Roman slavery, applying I Tim to 1860 adds complications I won’t tackle.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for very thoughtful comments and contribution to the discussion. Two quick reactions:

      1. I would agree that 1 Tim. 6:1-2 seems to address a situation where slaves and their masters are in the same church (Ephesus). It instructs the slave in his responsibility to the master as long as they’re serving them. But even the repitition of the word “serve” and “service” suggests something different than the forced enslavement of American chattel. More importantly, however, the text says nothing about masters and their responsibility. There’s no contradiction between saying slaves have a responsibility (specified in 1 Tim. 6) and master’s have a responsibility (specified elsewhere and at least strongly suggestive of manumission in love). In other words, we can’t argue from the slave’s Christian responsibility to act Christianly that the master has the right to enslave.

      2. I don’t think it’s fair to “punt” as you do in that last sentence :-). That’s right at the heart of the issue. It has a lot to do with precisely how much rocking of the slavery boat the Bible does create in the American context. I’d love to hear you expand your thinking there.

      Grateful for your contributing. Grace to all,

    2. Philip Larson says:

      The Bible does not require that we release a slave after 6 years. It requires that a fellow Hebrew (profession Christian) be released after 6 years.

    3. Philip Larson says:

      Again, the Bible does not require the release of slaves after 6 years. It requires the release of a HEBREW after 6 years. That’s quite different. So were I a 19th-century slaveholder, I would have a duty to endow those with a credible profession with (I forget the details, but it would more than set them on their way), but such a thing is not general in the least.

      1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Hi Philip,

        I’m not sure whether you’ve left that comment for me or for Andrew. But I would simply say that you can’t simply transfer the requirements God gave Israel over to the Church. There are significant discontinuities that affect how we apply those passages.


  13. Carl Mathews says:


    Praise God! Thank you for your Love of Christ, His church (as you point us back to the gospel in how we relate) and His Word (as you explain text and defend truth)! I love both you and Doug’s clarity and care for each other! Even when there is disagreement it doesn’t always has to be devise. Bring to bear the emphasis of love for the scripture as the grounds for all relating was such a blessing to my soul! May I love with the love that I have been shown.

    Wilson’s recommendation for a gradual approach does not seem consistent with gospel love. If he amended his position even at this one point it would mean a world of difference for how people hear his argument and perceive him.
    I look forward to hearing Doug’s response to this. It would be extremely helpful!

    1. Sam says:

      “Wilson’s recommendation for a gradual approach does not seem consistent with gospel love.”

      If I read Wilson correctly, his response might be something like this: How much is gospel love consistent with saying, “We’ll kill you unless you release your slaves”? While certainly never spoken, that IS the effect of fighting a war over slavery.

      If we say that the Civil War was the better way to end slavery than waiting for the gospel to finish its work, then how do we also condemn (as we should) the murder of abortion doctors and the destruction of violent destruction of abortion clinics?

      I realize I am full of contradiction in all that, but internal contradiction seems to be part of the nature of this discussion, doesn’t it?

      1. Sam says:

        I got an extra “destruction of” in there.

      2. John K says:

        The problem with talking about whether the Civil War was the better way to end slavery ignores the ambiguity about whether the war was a war to “free slaves”. Slavery I see as the major point which brought about Southern secession. The main reason the North fought the South initially was the secession itself, not the slavery behind it. If the war had been a short war, slavery would have remained in some fashion. Ironically, it seems that the South could’ve kept slavery around by tolerating the election of Lincoln (or voting for Douglas, the pro-slavery candidate who would’ve beaten Lincoln with a solid South vote) and given up the dreams of expanding slavery that drove much of the sectional conflict from 1846-1860. To some extent, by not doing this, the South brought the destruction of slavery upon themselves. Taking this point, Douglas Wilson could’ve easily blamed the South for the destruction of slavery as well as the North and the Civil War.

  14. Peter G. says:

    Thanks for these posts, Thabiti. They’re very helpful. I wonder if at some point you might share a short annotated bibliography on both the history of slavery in the south and the Bible and slavery.

  15. Matt S says:


    Thank you for this post. It is very good and I agree with everything you wrote. I think you have pointed out some flaws in Wilsons positions.

    With that said, I wish you WOULD deal with whether or not the war was just. If you believe it was, I think Wilson asks the right question- “why are you not a clinic bomber?”

    1. Kris Drees says:


      I think that Pastor Thabiti said he would answer that question in a future blog. You might find an answer in just war theory which is an attempt to glean from the Bible principles to guide the practice of warfare. One tenet of just war theory is that a just war must be declared by a valid government. An individual would not constitute a valid government and could not declare war. Therefore, an individual declaring war on a clinic by bombing it would be committing an unjust act. A more difficult question would be if certain states should ban together to force all the states to outlaw abortion?

  16. Andrew Lohr says:

    On a sideline, Pastor Thabiti made one or two remarks that sounded as if Pastor Wilson’s postmillenialism bothered him a bit, so here’s a post setting forth, without reference to slavery, reasons to think postmillenialism (that the Gospel will prevail worldwide before Jesus comes back) is found in many places in Scripture. If we can discuss slavery in brotherly love, seeking light with a minimum of heat, perhaps also eschatology, though not at length on this thread?


  17. Dan Glover says:

    Thanks to both of these Pastors for their example of peaceful and loving exchange. In a discussion on a subject such as this, it would be easy, and sinfully natural, to caricature one another and thereby to score easy points. Neither has done this.

    If these two Christian brothers could go back in a time machine and intervene as consultants on the issue of the institution of slavery in the South, they would have both been advising toward the same thing and on the same basis: end slavery because the love of Christ for our brother/neighbor compells us and the Gospel of Christ leads us in that direction. I think this is important for those following this discussin to keep in mind: both of these men believe slavery was wrong and needed to end and both believe that because of their committment to Scripture, to God, to the Gospel of Christ and to their neighbor who was made in God’s image.

    To both Pastors: I would like to see some discussion on the biblical passages dealing with slavery in the Pentateuch and the Mosaic law, where YHWH instructs Israel about their own treatment of slaves while frequently reminding Israel of their past as slaves in Egypt. One doesn’t have to listen to very many old “Negro Spirituals” and “work songs” to understand that those who were enslaved in the South identified with the condition of Israel in Egypt or in her Babylonian captivity and frequently were calling upon God to liberate them.

    Also, Pastor Anyabwile, it seems to me that Paul’s letter to Philemon supports your position of the gospel implications for slave owners ultimately being to free their slaves. I don’t think Pastor Wilson would disagree with this. However, in Paul’s gentle address and referring to his own chains rather than on insisting on his apostolic authority (which he states that he could have done), his approach to the issue of liberating slaves seems to be more akin to the position of the gradual working out the implications of the gospel into the lives of the slave owners and slaves than to the position of an authority demanding, legislating and enforcing that this happen immediately.

    Blessings to both Pastors on their continued discussion.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for the encouragements and the comments, friend.

      You write at the end of your comment: “his [Paul’s] approach to the issue of liberating slaves seems to be more akin to the position of the gradual working out the implications of the gospel into the lives of the slave owners and slaves than to the position of an authority demanding, legislating and enforcing that this happen immediately.”

      I think you slip a bit into contrasting apples and oranges. You compare gradual emancipation with “authority demanding” emancipation. Those aren’t the only two options. Paul can–and I’m arguing he did–set aside his authority and appeal on a deeper basis (love) for immediate emancipation. We can have immediacy without necessarily having force. That’s what Paul teaches us in Philemon, and I tend to think that’s the best understanding of how the gospel and love should work in this situation.


      1. Dan Glover says:

        Pastor Anyabwile,

        I heartily agree with your clarification. My comments were coming with the situation of how slavery was actually dealt with in the South in the back of my mind, as opposed to how Pastor Wilson advocates that it should have ended – I guess that is the apple and orange I was thinking of. Pastor Wilson is arguing for a gradual (which doesn’t necessarily mean slow, but rather “by grades”), gospel-as-leaven approach to societal change. He says that is how it should have happened in the South. I want to be careful not to presume or put words in Pastor Wilson’s mouth, but I think he is envisioning not a situation in which everyone would mind their own business and pray that God would work in the hearts of slave owners to change their own minds eventually, say over generations, but a situation more akin to how slavery ended in Britain. It wasn’t that abolitionists printed a few leaflets and then sat on their hands and let things “unfold naturally”. They used every means available to them within the bounds of the law along with occasional forays into civil disobedience. There was real immediacy to their actions, but they didn’t take up arms over it. Thinking of William Wilburforce and others of his ilk, they fought slavery fiercely, viewing the slave as a fellow human being in God’s image and a Christian slave as a brother in Christ, understanding the battle they fought to be out of Christian love. However, in fighting that battle out of love, the majority (there were radicals there too) did not believe it right to fight the violence of slavery with the violence of war. I think the British abolitionists would have seen slaughtering hundreds of thousands of fellow image-bearers in the cause of emancipating even millions of fellow image-bearers as nonsensical and counter productive. They would likely have seen that as breaking the law of love in order to keep it.

        At any rate, I agree that the abolition of slavery called for immediate, love-based action and I think that both you and Pastor Wilson agree that the action that was taken was not the right/best one. What you don’t agree on (yet…) is what that action ought to have looked like if the parties who saw the truth that slavery ought to end had also seen the equally important truth as to the method of how it ought to be ended.


  18. Tom says:

    A couple questions:

    First, why should we see Philemon as normative and applicable to all master / slave relationships? Certainly, Philemon wasn’t the only Jewish or Christian slave holder. If Jesus or Paul desired the immediate manumission of slaves, I would expect them to address this in a not-so-oblique manner. Consequently, Paul writes Philemon personally to address a unique and specific situation, and not as a normative pronouncement to a/the church. What Paul wished to communicate to the church on this issue is found in the household codes.

    Second, was it conceivable in the first-century that a believing master could love his slaves and still keep them as slaves? Must love = manumission? Must love = acknowledging equality of personhood? Can a man love someone / something whom he views as his property?

    1. Dan Glover says:

      Hi Tom,

      Good questions. One remark: while Paul’s letter to Philemon was private and about a specific situation, the church clearly believed it to be a “public” document and applicable to the life of the broader church as it was included in the Canon of Scripture. I think the exegetical principle of good-and-necessary-consequence applies when considering the application of this letter to the broader life of the church.

      1. Tom says:

        Dan, while I don’t necessarily disagree, I don’t think Jesus / Paul viewed slavery (at least as practiced in the 1st Century) as antithetical or incongruent to the gospel or to loving one’s neighbor. If it were a gospel issue or a violation of the second greatest commandment, we would expect a bit more said against it than what is found in Scripture. Consequently, I think we misinterpret Paul’s letter to Philemon if we view it as Paul attacking (albeit subtly) slavery in general and not as Paul addressing a situation specific to Onesimus and Philemon.

        1. Dan Glover says:

          Hi again Tom,

          I just want to point out a clarifying fact of Paul’s letter to Philemon that might help set a firmer context for the contents of the letter and its broader implications, whatever those might be. In Paul’s opening greeting, he addresses the letter not only to Philemon but also to two other individuals whom he calls by name and then to the local church in general who met in Philemon’s home. Also in the greeting, Paul states that Timothy is with him, and in his closing remarks, Paul sends along greetings from five other gospel co-workers who are with him. The implications seem to be that Paul wants to ensure that this situation be dealt with openly and before the whole church, of which it is likely that Philemon is a leader or at least a prominent member (the church meeting in his home).

          As to how this situation should be dealt with as a church, that seems to me to be open to more than just Pastor Anyabwile’s interpretation. A key aspect to this situation is that Onesimus has become a believer since presumably running away from Philemon. He ran away from Philemon as an unbelieving slave but now Paul is sending him back as a believing brother. He is calling on Philemon to do the right thing by the gospel and recieve Onesimus as a brother, which is clearly in Paul’s mind the most important way for a believer to view a fellow believer no matter what other social or cultural differences or distictions they might have (and this fits with the famous “in Christ there is neither” statement). But I agree with you, Paul’s desire for Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in the Lord doesn’t necessarily mean that he must free him from his status as a bondservant. There is another way of reading this epistle other than as an appeal by Paul to Philemon to free Onesimus and that is that Paul is calling Philemon to think of his bondservant now first and foremost and in all ways as a brother on equal standing before Christ, whatever the comparative social standing/societal roles of the two might be. This alternate reading would be fully consistent with the household codes in Paul’s other epistles.

          On either reading however, and including the broader context of Paul’s household codes, it is clear that Paul’s main concern is not that the gospel calls believers to maintain the social status quo with regards to slavery but rather that in all circumstances, every Christian must live as unto the Lord first and to love and serve their brother and neighbor second. In this case, that means Paul’s main instruction to Philemon is to treat Onesimus as a dear brother, just the same as he would treat Paul. I don’t think this has to involve freeing Onesimus immediately, but rather that Philemon treat Onesimus as a brother immediately, which eventually should lead to Onesimus’ emancipation. I think the underlying principles of the gospel (esp. as spelled out in Ephesians) points ultimately in the direction of liberty.

          All that said, I don’t think the state of slavery in the South is directly comparable with the type of bondservant-master relationship of Philemon and Onesimus. It could have been in particular slave-master relationships, but as a whole I don’t think it was. For one, the church in the South hadn’t allowed the dividing wall of race to be broken down and as such, God’s people of one shade didn’t embrace and welcome God’s people of another shade into full fellowship – they didn’t worship together or come to the same Lord’s table together. This problem has as much or more to do with the Jew-Gentile table fellowship issue in the NT church as it does with the slave-master teachings.

          1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

            Dear Tom and Dan,

            Good stuff. A couple reactions:

            Tom, you wrote: I don’t think Jesus / Paul viewed slavery (at least as practiced in the 1st Century) as antithetical or incongruent to the gospel or to loving one’s neighbor. That’s a really important statement to justify. First, it’s an argument from silence. Second, the parenthetical qualification you give is an important one in dispute in this issue. If 1st century Roman slavery was of a different order than American chattel slavery, then your conclusion would seem hasty and incorrect. I think we have to be careful not to develop too much of our position from what folks did not say. Third, where American slavery is concern in particular, do we really think Jesus and Paul are okay with the forcible removal of any people from their homes, packing them in ships to unknown distant lands, forcing them and their descendants into perpetual labor all on the basis of their skin color??? Yikes! That’s a really massive claim or assumption from silence, don’t you think?

            Dan, how do you understand Philemon 16 when it says, “no longer as a slave…”? That would seem to pretty clearly warrant manumission. I fully admit that Philemon could not be moved by Paul’s appeal to love and keep Onesimus in bondage, but the issue is Paul’s intent. Doesn’t verses 15-16 not suggest Paul means Onesimus to be set free–“have him back forever,no longer as a slave…”? Help me out with Paul’s intent.

            Grateful for the exchange and your contributions,

            1. Dan Glover says:

              Pastor Anyabwile,

              I take the passage the way you do, and agree that this seems to ultimately be Paul’s intent. However, I recall another potential reading as speaking about how Philemon is to now regard Onesimus (who was previously useless to Philemon – an unbeliever – but is now useful to both Paul and Philemon – he is a fellow brother in the Lord and a partner with them in the gospel mission). In this reading, Paul is not telling Philemon to release Onesimus but rather telling him how to regard and treat his brother, as a brother above all, not as a servant/slave. By this alternate reading, Onesimus may still formally hold the position of bondservant and Philemon retain the position of master but that is no longer to be how they regard each other in Christ. They now have a relationship orientation that trumps all others they have. They are unified now in a way that makes their master-slave relationship pale – they are now full brothers in the Lord, on equal standing before Christ. Where Philemon used to regard Onesimus as a bondservant, he is to now see him as Christ’s freedman, and as a brother in full fellowship in the church. Do you see what I mean? Philemon must view Onesimus as a brother first and foremost, as Paul treats Philemon, not as one under authority, as Paul could have done in this exhortation to Philemon but didn’t, even though that authority relationship still exists. You (and I) may not agree with that understanding of what Paul is calling Philemon to do in this epistle but I can see how it could be read that way fairly consistently with the broader context of Paul’s teachings on the subject.

            2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Dan,

              I do see what you mean. I agree that that alternative reading is a possible reading. But I do not think it’s a likely or the most natural reading. Essentially we have Paul saying “have him back for good” (v. 15). Then he explains what he means in the clause that follows the hyphen–“no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” On the alternative reading you’re proposing, we’d be reading something like this: “receive Onesimus back–as a brother in the Lord, but better than a slave, as a really dear brother in the Lord.” I think that reading makes the first clause (“no longer as a slave”) redundant and meaningless. It wouldn’t add anything that wasn’t there later in the clause.

              But it seems Paul is saying something specific when he says “no longer as a slave.” It seems unnatural, given the context of the letter and the following phrases, to construe this as a synonym for “as a brother in the Lord.”


            3. Tom says:

              My statement: “I don’t think Jesus / Paul viewed slavery (at least as practiced in the 1st Century) as antithetical or incongruent to the gospel or to loving one’s neighbor.” To which Thabiti responds: “That’s a really important statement to justify. First, it’s an argument from silence.”

              Given both Jesus’ and Paul’s clarity when it comes to the gospel and dealing with issues that were antithetical or incongruent to the gospel, I think the silence in this case is deafening. Paul certainly had multiple opportunties to frame the issue of slavery for the church as unambiguously opposed and antithetical to the gospel, yet the commands he repeatedly sent to the churches regarding slavery are found in his haustafeln. Basically, he commands believing masters and slaves to maintain the paterfamilias relationship, but to remember that both master and slave ultimately will be held accountable to their heavenly master for how they treat each other. If Paul believed the paterfamilias relationship violated the gospel, why would he repeatedly commend it to the church? Consequently, in the end, we have anything but silence from Paul on this issue.

              Thabiti writes: “…Do we really think Jesus and Paul are okay with the forcible removal of any people from their homes, packing them in ships to unknown distant lands, forcing them and their descendants into perpetual labor all on the basis of their skin color?”

              Although Greco-Roman slavery was NOT based on skin color, we do see people groups who were conquered by Rome enslaved and moved and sold throughout the Empire. Many were sent to work in the mines, forced to be gladiators, forced to work in the fields, etc. While some argue that GR slavery was not perpetual, that really depended on the situation and relationship. Some slaves were more like indentured servants or serving to pay off their debts, but not all. Why do I mention this? Because this was slavery in the first century, and this is the slavery repeatedly addressed by Paul in his household codes.

            4. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Tom,

              Thanks for replying, friend. On the first reply, you’re still arguing from silence. We could just as easily argue from the silence the opposite point of view. Such arguments cannot carry the day. What seems clear is that Paul’s primary concern is indeed the gospel and its implications for the life of the church. If he had zero exposure to anything like American chattel slavery (an assumption I realize is in dispute and I’ve not yet commented on), then there’s no reason to expect his letters would address such a practice as such. It’s unknown to him. My only point here is that we can’t fill the silence with assumptions that may or may not be true and then construct an entire “theology of slavery” from it. It’s building on sand.

              Regarding your second reply, I don’t think you actually answered the question. You shifted to GR slavery. The question asks us to speculate (and I know it’s speculation) about the particular features of American slavery and what might have been the Lord’s and Paul’s response to it.

              Thanks for engaging, friend.

          2. Tom says:

            Hey Dan,

            Thanks for your response. This may seem like stating the obvious, but I think it’s important to remember: Onesimus was a runaway slave who probably stole from Philemon.

            In Roman society, what would be the typical punishment for this type of behavior by a slave? Answer: death.

            Should we not see Paul’s appeal to Philemon in this light? That is, Paul is appealing to Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother in Christ instead of treating Onesimus as he deserved to be treated? Paul’s letter wasn’t a letter arguing for manumission but for clemency.

  19. Thomas B. says:

    Pastor Thabiti, thank you for the gracious way you have handled this dialogue. There is much to be learned in the wisdom you and Wilson have displayed in this discussion. I have a two questions that are related: (1.) was going to war the loving/Biblical way to abolish slavery in America? (2.) What would be the loving/Biblical way to abolish the current genocide of American children of all races through abortion?

  20. Josh Manning says:

    Very good discussion. I look forward to seeing Pastor Wilson’s response, and the continued conversation that develops from this. I do wonder, however, if perhaps the freeing of a slave in Philemon being seen as the overarching goal of ending slavery everywhere in the Roman Empire is not reading a little bit into the text. There were different types of slaves in the Empire, and varying degrees, and some of those in positions as slaves were a lot better off than they would have been on their own. There was no perceived injustice to some of the slavery there, it was just a social and economic reality. So while Philemon was to free his slave, and slaves were to seek freedom if able, but don’t you think it is reading into the text a little bit if we say Paul wanted the “immediate abolition” of all slavery.

    Now in the American South, it was a different situation. It’s not even fair to use the same word to describe the varying Roman practices as parallel with the American practice. Please don’t read into my defense above of any toleration for American slavery.

    I appears that for Paul, love and slavery in the Roman Empire could coexist at times (although in Philemon, whatever the situation, love was equal to freedom). I am not drawing that as a direct comparison to American slavery. End rant.

    1. Josh Manning says:

      Should have been a question mark at the end of the first paragraph, sorry!

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your contribution and your question, brother. I appreciate both.

      Just for clarity: I’m not arguing that Paul has “the overarching goal of ending slavery everywhere in the Roman empire.” Given his postmil view, Wilson might argue that that’s the goal of the gospel in places where it takes root and progresses. But, personally, I don’t think Paul aims at the Roman empire at all. He aims at the Church, and it’s in the Church where the gospel must be applied most consistently and deeply. If Paul’s teaching in Philemon and 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy 1 are obeyed, I can’t see any eventuality other than an end to slavery on the surer grounds of Christian love.

      One thing we really must take seriously in all of this is that the Bible nowhere commands a Christian to own a slave. The very best we can say, then, for American Christians holding slaves is that maybe the household codes allows it if we can equate American slavery with Paul’s context. But nowhere is it necessary or obligatory, and that, I think, means the burden of proof is on the one wishing to do so and that burden of proof must be higher than mere inferences from the household codes–keeping in mind that we must curtail the use of our freedom so as not to cause others to stumble into idolatry or to blaspheme the gospel. In other words, even if a Christian were “free” to hold a slave, he is not by that reason obligated to do so or “free” from higher-order gospel concerns.

      Finally, if the 1st century and American contexts are dissimilar, we should be extraordinarily careful about using the household codes as grounds for slaveholding. We may be building our houses upon shifting sand.


      1. Darius T says:


        I wonder if a parallel to Biblical polygamy could be useful here. God never explicitly banned polygamy in the OT (or the NT, for that matter), but He also never commanded any man to take an extra wife. He implicitly implied repeatedly that the BEST situation was having just one wife. You could honor and love multiple wives, but that wasn’t ideal.

        In both marital relationships and slavery, if you were converted to Christ with several wives or slaves, in both situations, God didn’t command that the husband would have to divorce some of His wives or immediately loose his slaves. He made allowances that wouldn’t force people to suffer and bring shame on the name of Christ. I could see this holding true in some cases of American chattel slavery. Love was the ultimate goal, not freedom and utopianism. What God DID command was that you treat your wives, your slaves, your children, etc. with fairness, gentleness, and love. In some cases, that love meant giving a slave his freedom or letting a wife go free of her marital vows. But not always.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Darius,

          I don’t think the analogy to polygamy is helpful. By definition, “adultery” rules out polygamy. And unless memory fails, we don’t see any example of it in the NT.

          It’s also important to keep in mind that because the Bible records something does not mean it approves of something, even when it remains stubbornly silent. I think polygamy is in that category. I think it’s also better to read the household codes as belonging in that category. The Bible records it for us accurately, but we don’t have one positive warrant or commendation of slavery anywhere in the NT. That’s a massive omission if, in fact, the Bible is quite sanguine about the practice.


        2. Darius T says:

          Okay, thanks. I didn’t mean that the Bible affirms polygamy or slavery, or that is even neutral about either practice. Rather, I meant that God seems to place other Gospel considerations above having no slaves or having just one wife. If, say, the Roman jailer had slaves and/or multiple wives when he was converted, the New Testament tells us that he would not have been necessarily wrong if he kept those slaves or wives. In both cases, other considerations were paramount. Sin has consequences, some of which are responsibilities toward others. A man shouldn’t have a child out of wedlock, but once he does, he has duties toward that child.

          On the other hand, an NT follower of Christ was definitely not to acquire more wives or slaves.

      2. Tom says:

        Thabiti writes: “…If Paul’s teaching in Philemon and 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy 1 are obeyed, I can’t see any eventuality other than an end to slavery on the surer grounds of Christian love.”

        Again, this is based on an unproven assumption that a master could not love his slave or that a slave could not love his master. In other words, you’re arguing that there must be an egalitarian relationship for true Christian love to be present. I don’t see this assumption necessarily proven in history or in Scripture.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          No, Tom, it’s based on verses 15-16 of Philemon. Paul instructs Philemon to receive Onesimus back not as a slave. He makes that appeal on the basis of love. How would you treat those verses?

          As for egalitarianism, I think that’s established with regard to human dignity and how we’re to regard one another in the “no longer Jew or Greek, slave nor free” passages. We no longer regard any man according to the flesh, but American slavery was built upon regarding people according to skin color. Such regard, by definition, is not love, at least not love in a biblical sense. Sure, masters and slaves can love each other in a sentimental sense (some even married). But remember, we’re talking about actual obedience here, not just affection.

          Thanks for the contribution you’re making. Grace and peace,

          1. Tom says:


            Thank you again for your interaction. As I wrote to Dan, given the historical context, I view Paul’s letter to Philemon as an appeal for clemency and not as an appeal for manumission.

            As for regard to human dignity, in the first century slaves were viewed and treated like property regardless of their skin color. The paterfamilias had virtually no restrictions on how he could treat his slaves (at least until the later first century). That is the historical context in which Paul lived and penned his household codes. As I’ve argued above, neither Jesus nor Paul saw a conflict between the second great commandment and the paterfamilias relationship. When given the opportunity to address the issue of slavery directly, neither point to the paterfamilias relationship as unloving or incompatible with the gospel. Rather, we see them apply the gospel to the existing relationship (“in Christ”) as a means to regulate it.

  21. Andy James says:

    Many thanks are due on my behalf, Brother Thabiti, for your continued commitment to both the Lord and His infallible word. With this post in particular, you have made the counterpoint to Wilson’s argument much clearer in my mind. I believe that this will prove to be edifying to the Church. Grace and peace!

  22. Philip Larson says:

    A general comment: It seems that Thabiti has, more or less, the usual black view, that we needed the Federal government to trash the South in order to restore anything like godly justice because of the evil they suffered. And if I read Doug correctly, the Civil War was a foreview of the wickedness that we see today because high places have been exalted (the Federal government).

    So if white-ish Christians and Christians of African descent are to come together (which MUST happen), something has to coalesce in our view of the civil magistrate. May it happen soon.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Or, we can be united in Christ and refuse politics the ability to divide us. Perhaps politics keeps us too involved in the affairs of this world rather than the orders of our Commanding Officer?

  23. Darius T says:

    Josh, why couldn’t you draw a parallel to SOME instances of American slavery? We know that many slaveowners in the 19th century South treated their slaves very well, almost like they were part of their own family. On the flip side, many slaveowners did quite the opposite. In the former situation, it MAY have made more economic and relational sense to remain a slave than to work for freedom in a country and economy that probably didn’t deal well with free slaves. All this speaks to the potential validity of Wilson’s argument that a person could be a good Christian and yet own slaves (or conversely, not fight for one’s own freedom).

  24. Nicholas says:


    Thank you for tackling this difficult and complex issue in such a thorough and humble way. And also for showing such an example of high level disagreement among fellow Christians.

    One of the distinctions I have not seen Doug address is the difference between private action and state action. Although I have not read B&T, his blog posts seem to indicate that he may be blurring them together (as in his challenge to you regarding bombing clinics). There is certainly a difference between, say, John Brown’s attempt at abolition and the government’s use of US troops to (ultimately) achieve the same end. Likewise, there is a difference between personally taking up arms against an abortion clinic and using state power to enforce the law against that clinic. In fact, the latter starts to approach a “gradual” approach to eradication.

    And it is difficult to argue, Biblically, that a government does not have authority to put down an insurrection—especially when that rebellion is over an immoral cause. (One could make a legal case against the such use of force, based on the intricacies of our domestic laws, but placing more weight on that than on the underlying moral and Biblical case seems to be taking them in backwards order. It is one thing to balance two divine principles. It is another entirely to say that the human law trumps the divine principle.)

    And presuming, for the sake of argument, that a gradual approach to abolition was Biblically mandated, the Southern states opted to break away prior to any direct action being taken against slavery. It was in in anticipation of future Northern action and in response to the lack of western expansion of slavery. It is consequently not difficult to characterize the succession movement as a preemptive attempt to prevent gradual eradication. The secession documents (the Confederacy’s equivalent to the Declaration of Independence), specifically of Texas and Mississippi, make that abundantly clear.

    Doug appears to be trying to make political/legal points in his arguments. Yes, the result of the war and the post-war amendments was a major modification to the original federalist method developed by the Constitution. The original founders crafted the federal/state system on the presumption that the states would protect individual rights, while the federal government would not. The experience (and expansion) of slavery, however, showed that states could abuse rights just as badly as a national government could, thus casting doubt on the soundness of that original presumption. But how those two government entities balance is more a question of prudence in devising our structure of government, rather than a question of morality. And it is somewhat disingenuous of Doug to argue that the explicit intent of protecting slavery cannot be held against paleo-confederate political theory, while he simultaneously holds the unforeseen and unintentional legal effects of the Fourteenth Amendment with regards to abortion against its crafters.

  25. Henry says:


    Thanks for your gracious response, it is so nice to see someone engage so fruitfully.

    I’m not sure if you are aware but the appeal to 1Cor7:21 and 1Tim1:10 overlooks some pretty key translation issues, see the relevant headings in this article:

    It seems that the current translations have departed from the historic translation of these verses, perhaps for apologetic reasons.

    It would be good if you would engage this. Thanks again.

  26. JMT says:

    In the situation with Onesimus and Philemon it seems that Paul was trying hard to apply God’s law in a gracious and evangelical way: “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.”(Deut 23:15-16)

    (Kudos on the excellent dialogue. You and Wilson are showing how brothers ought to speak the truth in love to one another.)

  27. Joshua Butcher says:

    I’ve enjoyed from the sidelines the delightful exchange between you, Pastor Anyabwile, and Pastor Wilson. It seems there has been some convergence, or perhaps simply clarification of preexisting harmony(!), which I hope will be good not only for the two of you as acquaintances and brothers in Christ, but for all those looking on.

    I do have one question in light of your most recent post. Granting all that you’ve written, and thinking in particular about Paul’s appeal to love for the manumission of Onesimus, what is your view concerning the way in which the abolition of slavery was accomplished in the United States? Do you consider the actions of the Federal government to have been consistent with the Scriptural case against slavery, or as something of a fortuitous result of improper action, or something else? If you find it helpful to compare the U.S. case to Great Britain’s abolition in any way, please do.

    I ask because I can see that your abolitionist argument seems to favor a Church-based, bottom-up appeal rather than a Federally legislated mandate. Am I misjudging your position on this point? If not, then it seems that you and Wilson are converging even more on the issue of procedural way in which slavery was ended, as well as on the issue of obedience (which I think Wilson’s latest post admits). Thank you again for spending your time and effort responding to Pastor Wilson’s book, and in doing so in a charitable fashion.

    My thanks also and in advance for any reply you may offer.

  28. Pisaster says:

    Wow my conscience was very disturbed while reading the quoted sections of these articles. Though I am glad that Mr. Anyabwile could untangle the pieces since americans are so far removed from the moral issues of in-your-face slavery.

  29. Nigel Hunter says:

    Pastor T-

    I’m waiting for the last post about why you won’t sit down with Wilson to really jump in. But I’d be remiss not to point out the time and effort you are taking to engage in the comments. For any pastor, that is a generous gift and gentle instruction on how to engage with people who are eager to learn.

    Thank you for making the most of this discussion. Praise Jesus that His heart for clarity and connection is vibrant in you.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Nigel,

      Thanks for all you’ve contributed to this conversation. But I’m not sure why you think I would not sit down with Wilson. I don’t think I’ve ever said that. Also, as I understand it, we’re talking right now. Who knows? We might reach the end of this and find there’s no need to sit down and talk further. But whether we do or not isn’t, in my opinion, a measure of anything since we’re already corresponding both privately and publicly. I’m thinking we all need to resist either a kind of voyeurism that just wants to view this as theater or a partisanship that wants to see some intellectual sparring (even if politely done). We’ve all probably had enough of that.


      1. Nigel Hunter says:

        Pastor T-

        Fair. I misread the last paragraph of your introductory post:

        “and, (4) a short reply to Mr. Wilson’s offer of a meeting. I’m not looking to be sensational or to engage in a rhetorical alley fight. I’m certain I’m not Mr. Wilson’s equal when it comes to rhetorical jabs and hooks, and I don’t think our “dukin’ it out” will actually advance any understanding or dialogue. I welcome you to the dialogue as well, and hope you’ll join me in trying to raise it in ways that edify.”

        For me, it isn’t voyeurism. Like I said before, I am black in his backyard. I deal with guys that listen to him that use the internet and electronic dialogues as a crutch or substitute for face to face conversations. I would love for anyone (you, Mason, Bradley, Holmes, Loritts, Carter, Rhodes, anyone!) to come to town and demonstrate how we can engage on this topic.

        This back and forth is a recorded and research-able conversation but I think we lose much more than we gain when we say this is an appropriate and equal substitute for real time discussions. I also see this give and take as susceptible to the charge of an electronic version of theater or partisanship.

        I am not trying to take anything away from what is happening here, please hear that. But blog posts and book reviews are deluxe bacon cheeseburgers (my favorite) compared to a NY Strip (my luxury).

        Thank you.

        1. Thabiti says:

          Hi Nigel,

          lol on the cheeseburger and NY strip! I could eat a deluxe bacon double right now! :-)

          And you’re certainly correct that this give-and-take can be open to charge of theater or partisanship. You can certainly get hints and indications of partisanship in some comments. That’s the stuff I pray the Lord’s Spirit puts to death in all of us.

          As I post this I’m praying for your labors and your hometown engagement on such issues. Grace and peace,


          1. Nigel Hunter says:

            Pastor T-

            Can’t tell you how edifying the Holy Spirit is to me through you in this whole thing. I’ll be sure not to duck you next time I see you. Thank you, Brother, for praying. That is more than enough.

            1. Thabiti says:

              Grateful the Lord is encouraging you. Holla at a bro next time we’re in the same spot. Grace and peace to you,

  30. katecho says:

    Kent Will, on Doug Wilson’s blog wrote: “I tend to think that the exclusive focus on the South, when we discuss this issue, keeps us from looking at circumstances that are closer to the heart of the issue (not to mention uncomfortably close to home).”

    This is a great observation. I agree that the expressly unbiblical nature of Southern slavery overwhelms our instincts and interpretations of Scripture on the topic. We want to get so far away from Southern slavery that our sensitivities are no longer biblically tuned.

    I join everyone else in really appreciating the tone that Pastors Doug and Thabiti are holding up for our example. It magnifies the impact of everything they are saying and gives the exchange itself a very historic feel, like we are finally moving forward in a significant way. I hope the Spirit will continue to use these men to move the wings of Christian culture that they each represent.

    It seems that key agreements by both men have enabled us to stand at the threshold of being able to talk about what happened in the South in isolation from the general topic of slavery as we learn about it in Scripture. This is a huge achievement. Both parties agree that the kidnapping and racism of the South invalidated that whole institution. It never should have happened. That is settled. The question of how it should have been ended seems to have produced general agreement as well, if not complete agreement. Doug seems to grant the possibility that inherited or elderly Southern slaves could have been retained, for a time, in a manner that onlookers could consider compassionate on the part of the slave holder. I think both sides agree that there were at least some pockets of mutual affection within Southern slavery in spite of the wicked origins of the whole deal. Regardless, it had to go anyway.

    I’m not in a rush to put Southern slavery to bed, but I’m much more interested in how the two men view biblical slavery entirely on its own merits, void of any race complications or kidnapping complications. I get the impression from Pastor Thabiti that he does not seem comfortable with any legitimate grounds for slavery in the first century or today. He seems to appeal to brotherly love as completely antithetical to slavery, in principle. I’d like to hear more from him on this. I’m not yet convinced of that given the reality of debt. I’d like to hear both mens’ views on the importance of the role of debt restitution.

    I have come to understand slavery as forced (coerced/involuntary) labor to pay back a legitimate debt. The debt can be civic, personal (man to man) or moral (between man and God). Debt seems to be absolutely essential to any proper application of slavery. If there is no such debt owed, then there is simply no basis for coercion of labor, and freedom is the default. I realize that some see extreme poverty as grounds for indenturing oneself into slavery, but I would differentiate this from true slavery because it is voluntary. Providential circumstances may call for it, but by definition it is not coerced by others. Indenturing by the poor seems more like a mutually agreed employment contract. It is a binding contract, but voluntarily entered, hopefully with an end in view. In other words, I see a basic freedom of association and freedom from coercion surrounding indentured service. I hesitate to call it slavery because of this. I want to reserve the term slavery for the case of involuntary/forced restitution.

    I realize that we are uncomfortable with the idea of force today. We have politicized our morality (as someone else recently noted), and we now insist that every creditor or victim of crime must abandon their claims of compensation as if it was their moral duty to “do their fair share” and forgive all debts. We have come to presume forgiveness of debt as a right. Forgiveness is no longer a great and profound mercy, but an expectation to be demanded from the moral high ground. I wonder if we have come to this lopsided conclusion because we are now a nation of debtors and we find ourselves unable to love in the direction of debtor to creditor. What does that love and responsibility even look like? Where is it being found in our modern culture?

    In any case, we simply can’t escape the practical reality of debt and credit. A breakdown of contractual justice is a breakdown of society. Creditors may be despised today, but there is basic biblical injustice in the refusal to make a creditor whole. Their claims are legitimate in millions of cases every day. Scripture affirms the justice of creditors in demanding restitution. The challenge seems to be in identifying which sorts of debts may rise to the level of forced restitution. If a debtor is employed, the State can confiscate and garnish wages to force restitution, but if the debtor is not employed and is otherwise able-bodied, what options remain? I’d like to see a serious discussion here, because I think Scripture has a lot to say about this question, and I think it is as relevant today as it ever was, if not more so, given the levels of debt we are increasingly giving ourselves permission to carry.

  31. Dan Glover says:

    Hi Pastor Anyabwile,

    Regarding our discussion above on the reading of Philemon 16, and Paul’s instruction to Philemon to treat Onesimus as “more than a slave”, it seems commentators are split over the two readings we were discussing. I don’t have a big selection of commentaries on Philemon, but of the ones I have, F.F. Bruce (NICNT) sees Paul calling for Onesimus’ manumission whereas N.T. Wright (TNTC) and P.T. O’Brien (WBC) see Paul not as calling for his freedom but for Philemon to regard him no longer primarily as a slave (although he remains one) but far more as a brother. Douglas Moo (PNTC) points to Paul’s reference to Philemon now treating Onesimus as a brother “both in the flesh and in the Lord” as allowing for Paul’s call for manumission (which I think is the most plausible understanding of why he states both “in the flesh” and “in the Lord”), but Moo doesn’t commit definitely to either reading. In his footnotes, he does helpfully list which commentators take which perspective:

    Manumission reading: Bruce, Wall, Walter, Reinmuth, Barclay, and cautiously Fitzmyer.

    Remaining a slave but primary orientation toward Onesimus now as brother in Christ: Wright, O’Brien, Lohse, Harris, Barth/Blanke.

    This is not intended to be tedious but to hopefully assist any who are interested with further pursuit of the arguments. Also, from reading the 4 commentaries I have on this, one thing they all do agree on, whether they believe Paul is calling for manumission or not, is that the far more fundamental call Paul makes is for Philemon to now view Onesimus as his brother in the Lord, which clearly trumps all other ways of viewing a fellow Christian no matter what their other circumstances of life and relationship.

    May God continue to use this discussion between you and Pastor Wilson, and all those commenting/participating both here and on his blog, to bring about Christ-centered, gospel-driven likemindedness on the majors and Spirit-filled charity on the minors.


    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Dan,

      That’s a very helpful comment and contribution. Thanks for doing the homework and sharing!


  32. Dan Glover says:

    I put a quote by Vern Poythress, from his great little book, “Symphonic Theology”, up over at my blog which I think is very pertinent to how this conversation has been unfolding.

  33. Rick Davis says:

    I’m loving this back and forth dialogue. This is exactly what I would have loved to see between Dr. Bradley and Pastor Wilson last summer when this issue broke out. Good stuff all around.

    I do have a little picky correction to make. A slave was never considered 3/5 of a human. That’s actually a misconception. When the Constitution was written, the question arose over whether to include the slaves as part of the population statistics when assigning a state’s number of Representatives for Congress or number of Electors in the electoral college. If the South had its way and slaves were counted 100%, the South would have a ridiculous majority both in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. However, the suggestion of many in the North that slaves should not count at all for these purposes was unacceptable to Southerners. James Madison proposed the idea that 3/5 of the slave population could be counted for representative purposes, thus bringing an end to the impasse.

    So the 3/5 number had nothing to do with the individual worth of a person or slave. It was a political compromise for census and representation purposes.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks for joining the conversation! You’re correct to state that the Three-Fifths Compromise had to do with apportionment of seats in government and the distribution of taxes. In that sense, it had nothing to do with the humanity of African people.

      But, at least in African American circles, it’s emblematic of the fundamental denial of black humanity upon which so much of pro-slavery sentiment was built. The further irony, of course, was while slaves were disenfranchised in every way their presence was being used to the advantage of their oppressors in this “compromise.” The South gains more power by this compromise, while continuing to disenfranchise and enslave Black people. That such a compromise could be made regarding Black life and would never be thought of regarding White life contributes to the sense that this was fundamentally dehumanizing and racist.

      But on the specific reasons for the compromise, you’re exactly correct.


  34. Peter Hyatt says:

    Reading both pastors’ blogs, and the comments, there is an overwhelming sense of unity, which, given our culture today, has a nice feel to it, with a sense of digging towards the truth.

    Thank you to both pastors.

    Peter Hyatt

  35. There is a reason a Christian slaveholder could be a member in good standing and that cannot be ignored but an adulterer could not. And that reason leads to your only direct reference in the Bible with respect to slavery and a prohibition, namely 1 Tim 1:10.

    But before that reference, you article suffers greatly, I believe, from your refusal to deal with the obvious and clear in favor of the less clear. Paul does not treat matters of morality, nor do the Scriptures, dubiously. If slavery is a moral issue then its immorality would be doubtless, always, but it is not treated as such in Scripture and that problem will never go away no matter the appeals to “kindness” or “brotherly love” or arguing from silence and assumption that Paul considered slavery problematic.

    But to 1 Tim 1:10. The word, andrapodistés, is not with reference to anyone or everyone selling a slave, that is all slave-traders, rather it is used with reference to those not legitimately obtaining slaves, i.e. kidnapping, as opposed to a conquered people or legitimately obtained slave in some other acceptable manner.

    Thus, there may be an argument regarding American slavery with respect to Africans being kidnapped by other Africans and sold but even then, that was not always the case and again, the condemnation is still upon the kidnapper. In many cases these were conquered tribes selling what they conquered, namely other Africans.

    In the end you have very little ammunition in the form of dogmatics, if any at all, on the subject matter and at best appeals to the personal application of general passages which can at best be prescribed to the conscience of the individual who feels it must be done so (even then he must be rightly applying it and not out of context) thus it cannot be prescribed dogmatically to others.

    I believe you have some due diligence, if you are going to open up a dialog about race to deal with the offensive and unbiblical practice of Race Based Special Interest Theology of the Bradleys and the Reformed Blacks of America. Their racially ceded doctrines are an atrocity to a sound use of Scripture.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Dear Alex,

      I find you concluding paragraph unhelpful in tone and spirit and completely unrelated to anything going on in this discussion. If you want to debate exegetical points, fine. I’m all for that. But let’s keep the discussion civil by leaving off ad hominems and labeling of that sort. If you would like to address those parties, please do so with them on their sites.

      As for 1 Tim. 1:10, I stand behind my treatment of that text. Incidentally, it appears that Wilson and I are pretty close on this issue. More on that in a later post.

      Your argument would force us to conclude that benefitting from an immoral activity (man-stealing) is permissible when the immoral activity is not. Now, I suspect you don’t really believe that. Let’s say someone in your family stole a load of money from a bank and you, though you weren’t involved in the robbery itself, pocketed half the haul. Who of us would say you were in the clear morally? In fact, we’d likely argue you had a moral responsibility to turn in your family member and return the money. In keeping the money and keeping silent you would be complicit in the robbery. The same holds true for those benefiting from the slave trade. If the procurement of human slaves was immoral, benefiting from that practice was immoral. Christians should especially recognize that.

      The immediate rush to the household codes and insisting upon a strict adherence to them without regard to the larger moral context of the Bible seems to me to be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. Excuse me, please, for saying so. I really don’t want to, but feel I must.

      Grace and peace to you,

    2. Steve says:

      Gracious. I can only applaud the sound exegetical work of Pastor Thabiti (it needs no further contribution from me), but as a white Reformed (EPC) pastor working in the Seattle area, it’s hard for me even to fathom the worldview that stands behind a comment like this, or (to a lesser degree) the arguments of Wilson and his supporters. Pastorally, the question I would like answered is “Who in the world is going to be better enabled to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ by your defense of slaveholders in the Old South?” The contemporary socio-political agenda (which, to be fair, is owned quite honestly by Wilson, or so it seems from the blogs) – the real Kingdom here is, as always – the Gospel!

      According to the last US Census, our particular suburb is more racially diverse than the island of Manhattan. In particular, we have a very significant East African community, deriving mostly of Ethiopian and Somali immigration or descent. Our church has been blessed to see many of these folks join our membership over the past decade or so. Many more “check us out” on Sundays and throughout the week. It makes my blood run cold to imagine somebody saying from the pulpit (something that would never happen) “legitimate slavery from conquered tribes.” Lord have mercy.

      In an ethical case that is exegetically murky (although in fact I find the “abolitionist” case much more compelling) – why in the world would we adopt and defend the perspective that destroys fellowship and renders us less and less like the great City of Rev. 21 (i.e. segregated, rather than gloriously integrated)?

      1. Steve says:

        The final sentence of the first paragraph ought to read “The contemporary socio-political agenda . . . IS ONE THING – BUT the real Kingdom issue is . . .” My apologies.

  36. Brian Metzer says:

    Thabiti, in Wilson’s response to this post, he gave a hypothetical situation of a new Christian inheriting the family plantation along with slaves and suggested that, in agreement with you, love indeed would be practical and might dictate not immediately releasing slaves. This seems extremely short-sighted and weak about the power of the gospel (which I think is ironic). Suppose this hypothetical young believer were encouraged by his pastor to release his slaves… Could he not go with tears and apologize to them, free them on the spot with no further demand, but simultaneously offer safety, harbor, a place to stay and work, with good treatment – but free? And if indeed there was such good affection between some owners and slaves, would they not have willingly done so?

  37. John K says:

    Just to remember that if we’re talking about a Federally mandated abolition by arms vs. a gradual emancipation based on the working about of the Gospel, that it wasn’t the identical situation with the North vs. South. As I have said before, the Civil War was initially a response to secession by the South, not Southern slavery (yes, the secession was largely caused by slavery, but was still not the main focus of the North). Also, gradual emancipation was a fantasy. It’s like hoping someone with $30,000 in debt will become debt free only to see their debt ballooning to half a million. That was what was going on with the South on the eve of the Civil War; they had plenty of churches and some (in many respects) good theologians (Thornwell, Dabney, etc.), but the church was being influenced by slavery, not the other way around. Slavery was growing in the South, not shrinking. Ironically, Lincoln was an advocate of a gradual approach not by Federal force (though he wanted to stop slavery expansion, he repeatedly promised that he would not touch slavery in the states where it already existed) that might take as much as 100 years. But the South seceded instead of following the “gradual” approach.

    1. John K says:

      Just to clarify, Lincoln’s approach was to stop all expansion of slavery into new territories and forbid new slave states, but to allow slavery to continue to exist in the slave states that already existed (and of course the international slave trade was forbidden).

    2. Yes, you’re right. And your comments are very relevant to this debate: contrary to Wilson’s suggestion, the North was pursuing the gradual approach and the South was committed to slavery. Further proof of that is that it took more federal action about a century later to deal with the racists policies the South still clung to. To imagine that the South was poised to gradually relinquish is sheer fantasy — fantasy in the opposition to fact.

      1. Joe Rigney says:

        Both Johns,

        Not to belabor the point, but Wilson doesn’t argue that the South was “poised to gradually relinquish their slaves.” They weren’t, which is why God judged them in the Civil War, a point that Wilson makes both in the book and in this blog discussion. Wilson does argue that gradual emancipation was a better and more biblical option than immediate, revolutionary abolition, and it was one that the South ignored until it was too late. To argue otherwise is to argue against a straw man.

        1. Since the South was violently opposed to a gradual end of slavery, then that wasn’t an option. It’s Wilson’s contention, isn’t it?, that it was an option.

  38. Dear Mr. Wilson,

    Interesting. The problem isn’t that you’ve committed a “thought crime”. The problem is that you are wrong.

    First, slavery was not gradually diminishing. Robert Fogel has shown in his Nobel Prize winning research that Southern slavery was fantastically profitable, efficient, and causing the Southern economy to grow at twice the rate of the North’s in the decade prior to the Civil War. He believes that if the Civil War had been delayed much longer, the South could likely have won and then extended slavery geographically and prolonged it indefinitely.

    That the South clung to racist policies for almost a century following the Civil War, giving them up only under further federal action, is further evidence of the degree of commitment to racism inherent in Southern culture.

    I am a Southerner, a “Son of Confederate Veterans”, a erstwhile flyer of the Confederate flag — all while not being myself racists. But I’ve had to face the overwhelming historical evidence that the Confederacy was about racism and slavery, notwithstanding opportunistic, self-serving rhetoric about “states’ rights.”

    Second, the North did, in fact, choose the path of gradualism, as evidenced by the election of Abraham Lincoln. It is not as though a radical abolitionists was elected president and the South responded to that imminent threat. The South was so committed to slavery, as Alexander Stephens explained and several of the secession statements of the Southern states express, that they were willing to start the war.

    The suggestion that slavery would have gradually faded away like dew on a summer morning, is sheer fantasy — and fantasy in the face of historical fact.

    Further, the identification of oneself as a “paleo-confederate” (i.e. a confederate in the image of the original confederates) is, in fact, to identify oneself with a racist and oppressive ideology. One cannot, accurately and historically, claim that the original confederates were simply committed to state’s rights and that racism and slavery were merely the particular issue the states wanted to be free to choose concerning. First, that line of reasoning appears identical to the pro-abortion reasoning that it’s really an issue of “pro-choice” (when in reality the fetus is given no choice at all). In the slavery debate, the slaves were given to rights at all.

    Second, the Northern states had a right to elect Abraham Lincoln; the Southern states were reacting to an exercise of states’ rights by the North.

    Third, the de facto result of Southern states exercise of their rights would have been the enslavement of people. It would have been unjust, the Biblical criteria about what constitutes a just war. The Southern cause (i.e. the “paleo-confederate” cause) was unjust.

    Finally, the crucial difference about whether to take up arms against slavery and against abortion is the lack of a competent authority leading us to to oppose abortion. One of the criteria of a just war (besides a just cause) is whether a competent authority is leading it. You maybe right in condemning John Brown’s raid and also, today, violent attacks against abortionists. But then to cast that same doubt about the legitimacy of the United States’ cause in the Civil War (if that’s what you’re doing) is to confuse the issue. John Brown did not have competent authority to raid Harper’s Ferry. Abraham Lincoln did have competent authority to put down the Confederacy. It could well be argued that the Southern states had competent authority to form a Confederacy, but since their cause was unjust (the preservation of slavery), they fail the just war test. If a competent authority called for the armed suppression of abortion, — for example, even a state government, like Texas, declaring that it would jail abortionists and it’s national guard would resists any federal attempts to stop them — then, in that case, we might have a legitimate ethical debate on our hands. Until then, your apparent attempts to cast our now lack of legitimacy to use violence to stop abortion back onto the United States’ cause a century and a half ago, is simply confused and confusing.

    The US’s cause in the Civil War had all the marks of a just war: called by a competent authority; to achieve a just result, etc. The South’s lacked the just result. The pro-life cause today (so far) lacks the competent authority.

    1. Darius T says:

      John, now you’re just being a troll, posting the EXACT same comment on multiple sites. Come up with different material than “Wilson is wrong and immoral because I say so and because I worked for Fogel, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on slavery, which you should read.” Repeat ad nauseam.

  39. Jason K says:


    I think we can ignore trolling in an effort to keep things as civil and on track as possible. Most of the comments are helpful, and Anyabwile’s posts are on topic and well done. Likewise Wilson’s on his site.

  40. What a blessing it is to see two brothers engage in disagreement in such a charitable and Christian way. I was speaking to another brother at Church yesterday and we both shared what a blessing it has been to see how you two (Wilson and Thabiti) are modeling for us how Christians ought to engage with one another in love while speaking honestly and boldly. A rare blessing to behold. I believe this unites and serves the Church greatly.

    I saw the opposite of this and its effects when another brother came to me and shared how he had heard there are some Christians believe such and such. It ended up being a misrepresentation of Covenant Theology and it saddened my heart to see how often a brother can misrepresent another brothers views out of ignorant zeal and divide the family of God. So again, thank you so much to the both of you for showing both a love for the truth and a love for the people of God!

  41. Jim McAlister says:

    This very profitable discussion was instigated when Doug Wilson deigned to call into question the justice of the Civil War, which, in the eyes of most who have taken part in these threads, was a war over slavery (with which sentiment I largely agree). Bryan Loritts could not shake the horror of calling that “good war” into question, less still, to argue that slavery was countenanced in Scripture as Wilson asserted and which formed his central premise – that calling into question (or ignoring) God’s ethics on the question of slavery was to provide cover for calling into question His views on both murder (of inconvenient fetuses in or ex utero) or homosexuality, just as is happening among Christians today. The unavoidably pointed question of Black and Tan is, if it is wrong (and it IS, says Wilson) to use force in the remedy of gross, horrific injustice done to children by their murder, why do we so glorify that done to remedy the lesser evil of slavery? Mind you, Wilson claims to think (and I believe him) that slavery is an evil result of the fall. He vociferously condemns racism and racial vainglory. Yet he argues that the Law of God recognized and constrained slavery as does the New Testament, though the neighbor-love at the heart of both “puts it in the way of ultimate extinction”, to quote Lincoln.

    Beyond raising this straighforward question, which has been so well discussed, Wilson referred to himself as a “paleo-Confederate”, which Loritts (along with frequent commentor John Carpenter) seemed to take as a kind of veiled code for latent racism, while Wilson, in line with his argument, meant it to refer to one who subscribes to the Founding premises of the Articles of Confederation – particularly the provisional, at-will nature of the original union – that provided a means of nullification and secession. In Wilson’s view, the South and North, and ultimately the descendents of the slaves, would have been better off had that occurred. In THAT sense, he is, rather than a Confederate as most of us have come to think of them, a Confederate in the same way as George Mason and Patrick Henry, both anti-Federalists. But for Bryan Loritts, this is simply an unacceptible viewpoint. Perhaps to a lesser degree that also holds true for brother Anyabwile, because one of Wilson’s most contested points is that slavery would have inevitably ended in God’s own time. The point and counter-point over Fogel and Engerman’s contention that slave labor was, in fact, viable economically in Time on the Cross and Fogel’s later arguments about the entrenched social nature of slavery in Without Consent or Contract, or even Vic Hanson’s approving narrative of Sherman’s March to the Sea in light of the 1000-year enslavement of the Messenian helots by the Spartans in The Soul of Battle certainly give rise to doubts about slavery’s demise. And for Loritts, a day’s delay would have been too much.

    One of the more unfortunate aspects of this discussion, which I am hopeful will lead to more discussion still, is the persistent suspicion (or outright accusation) of racism that found its way into the discussion. When Loritts references the “African Diaspora” or that Wilson must live in a place not “real popular with the bruthas”, it is obvious that some topics are considered off-limits to those without the proper credentials. It can be difficult to have a meaningful relationship with the “Other” if they will never let you forget that you are. You can tell that the dominant Progressive narrative of Charles Beard, Eric Foner and others has become the overwhelmingly accepted one in our abysmal textbooks when such a thoughtful, fair-minded man as Tabiti Anyabwile echoes the lie that the 3/5 Compromise indicated that black slaves were only fractionally human. He was gracious to recant when challenged. Racism and a view of blacks as sub-human, or ill-equipped for life as freemen was absolutely the basis for resisting the solvent of the Gospel upon slavery. But as Lincoln amply illustrated in his debates with Stephen Douglas, the Founders had done much to put slavery in position to be resisted and constrained, ultimately in a measure intolerable to Southern politicos.

    We can debate endlessly on whether or when slavery would have ended in the absence of the Late, Lamented War, but in fact it DID end. The open question that Wilson surfaces is whether we will “kick the tires” of the idea that government force is required in the service of justice (Islam would vote “Aye”). The logic that lauds the Civil War in an unexamined fashion is the same that hailed the equally tragic War on Poverty, and that now sees abortion as a right to privacy, and will soon see homosexual marriage as having equal standing with marriage as God ordains it. And it is the logic whereby 94% of black evangelicals could vote to re-elect a man who actually showed up to vote to allow fetuses who miraculously survived abortion to be left to die. Yes, I think we still have a long way to go on the question of race. Dr. King, call your office.

  42. Damon Green says:

    Thanks for sharing your comments and thoughts. I first thought about the subject of Church and Slavery when I was an undergraduate, but I lacked theological training and did not know how to study it out properly… Years later, I am thinking about tackling the subject in my thesis for my M.A. at RTS…

  43. Burt Grusy says:

    Sorry, I didn’t read all 98 or so comments. I loved the article, thank you. I’d point out also that Garrison and Lovejoy and the like never wanted violence for abolition it just lead to war. They wanted pastors to call it sin and for Christians to love their brother and see the slave as made in the image of God and a brother, hence Josiah Wedgwoods famous image of a slave praying to God with the words “am I not a man and a brother”? In a somewhat related topic check out this site!

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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