In the game of “dueling texts” I will certainly lose when the topic of slavery is raised.

When my opponent informs me that the Bible supports the institution of slavery, I refuse to believe it in spite of Peter’s clear instruction to slaves to

accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. (I Peter 2:18)

Although the vicious practice of slavery was a major economic institution and a common practice in all the years and all the cultures in which the Bible was written, nowhere does the Bible ever condemn the practice of slavery, and in a number of places it gives at least tacit approval.

When a slave-owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives for a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. (Exodus 21:20,21)

Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. (I Timothy 6:1)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Ephesians 6:5,6)

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to answer back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Saviour. (Titus 2:9, 10)

In spite of all the “biblical evidence” to support slavery, my heart recoils when Pastor Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church preaches,

are there certain situations where God did indicate slavery, or for people to beat their servants? Absolutely. Absolutely. Of course! But you know what? It’s all right. And I agree with all of it. Why? Because the Bible is God’s Word. That’s why.

Slavery was not a benign harmless institution in the ancient world, anymore than at any other time in the history of this execrable practice. Slaves may have occasionally been treated with respect but, as a rule, they were brutally mistreated. Slaves were viewed merely as property and whatever the master chose to do with his slave, the slave must accept his fate. But, regardless of how it might have been practiced, my heart knows that one human being owning another as property is always wrong and has always been wrong. No Bible text can make it right.

When it comes to the game of “dueling texts”, I will always lose if the topics are: self-mutilation, remarriage of divorced persons, women’s hairstyles, women’s role in church, genocide, baby-smashing, or slavery.

In the game of “dueling texts” there are issues on which I do not have a leg to stand on if the only admissible argument is the quantity of biblical passages that can be cited.

I cannot appeal to an equally compelling Bible text to support my belief that a divorced person can be legitimately married to another person after their divorce, because there is no such text. I have no clear recourse to a single obvious Scripture text to condemn genocide, child abuse, slavery or the subjugation of women. I can only appeal to my heart and say that the truth within me tells me that it will always be wrong to practice self-mutilation, or for one human being to own another as property, or for women to be placed in a subordinate position in any part of the human community.

When I listen to my heart, I know God would not encourage anyone to “accept the authority” of a “harsh” master. My heart knows there must be something more I need to understand.

So, when Scripture contradicts my deepest inner knowing of what is true, I follow my heart. Paul affirms,

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3:16)

I seek to allow my life to be governed by this Spirit that dwells within me. This Spirit speaks to me often and powerfully through the words of Scripture, but is not confined to or controlled by the words of Scripture. I need to allow my understanding of the Bible to be directed by the Spirit, not make the Spirit subordinate to the words.