Discover how white Christian slave owners twisted Bible scriptures to manipulate black people into obedience; and the truth behind each verse.
Now that we’re up to speed on the origin of Christianity, we can understand the kind of religion the founders of the Americas were practicing. After millions of Africans were shipped like cargo to work as slaves for the rest of their lives, the Europeans made it an important aim to convert blacks to Christianity. But why?
Why does a slave need to know his oppressor’s religion? Did they care about the souls of the people they stole? It was because they understood that religion had the power to keep their slaves subordinate. Continuing the free labor and making the master rich is what it was all about. If a slave feared the master, that’s one thing, but if he feared God, that was a whole other matter. Now, what if God was on the slave master’s side?
Before I move forward with how they used the Bible against black people, I want to make note that not all Christian groups back then supported slavery, certain groups like the Quakers rejected it and anyone who owned slaves from being a member of their group.
However, the majority of Christian groups didn’t mind it. British Evangelist George Whitefield, famed for his sparking of the “Great Awakening” revivals in American, overturned a province-wide ban against slavery, and went on to own several hundred slaves himself. I mention George Whitefield and the Great Awakening because it was at this time (1730s) that historians say Christianity was brought to black slaves.
I also found a book titled, “The Religious Instruction of the Negroes in the United States ” by Charles Colcock Jones, a Presbyterian clergyman in Georgia. In it, he details how to make a “negro Christian.” It’s not surprising that white superiority was still affirmed even though he claimed to be a man of God.
Slaves were taught “morals”, and that the only relief they’d ever have from a lifetime of free hard labor and mistreatment was when they died and went to heaven; and that was only if they were good Christians who obeyed their masters. The following are the scriptures used to keep black slaves subordinate. Also note that along with white pastors, black men were also used to “teach” the people the Bible as well.
The curse of Ham’s son to justify perpetual slavery
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without… 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. (Genesis 9:25-27)
Here we see Noah cursing his grandson for the sins of his father—for seeing his nakedness—and blessing the other two sons for covering him up.
When slaves asked the preacher why they were slaves for life, the preacher pointed to this scripture. They taught that Ham and his descendents were black people and that Japheth and his descendants were white people. Therefore, Ham’s son Canaan and all his descendants were to be slaves forever because of this one deed.
But if you read the scripture carefully this curse of servanthood only applied to Canaan, not his entire lineage. Also, it states that Canaan was only to serve the brothers of his own house not some other nation.
Additionally, these deceptive Christians taught that Noah had three sons of different skin colors, but the scripture doesn’t say that either. However, research does show that the children of Ham are found in Africa today. Given that fact alone, even if every dark-skinned person came from Ham (which they don’t), it wouldn’t justify perpetual slavery because of some ancient curse. No, that curse of servanthood only applied to Canaan and him alone.
Obey and submit to your masters
5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:
8 knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)
Another very similar scripture:
22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: 23 and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24 knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. 25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. (Colossians 3:22-25)
You can see how this was banged into the heads of the slaves by their Christian masters. With fear of receiving punishment or blessings from Jesus, this would keep blacks from rebelling. On top of that, the slave was to work for his master as if he was working for Jesus Christ himself.
The next verse of these two groups of passages relate to the slave master. I wonder if these were just as emphasized as the prior:
9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him (Ephesians 6:9).
Also, found immediately following Colossians chapter 3 is this:
Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven (Colossians 4:1).
I can imagine that not all the slave masters followed these latter versus, hopefully some of them did.
Other books of the Bible command obedience and subjection as well:
Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again (Titus 2:9). Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (1 Peter 2:18).
While slave masters were commanded to treat their slaves fairly, they could point to the first Peter passage that stated that even if the slave master was forward, meaning wicked and cruel, the slave still had to obey!
So what’s going on here? Why did God inspire these men to write this? Some would say “it’s stupid to submit to a slave master, especially an abusive one. This is evidence that this bible is the oppressor’s book.” But let’s continue with several passages from the Old Testament that were never read together with the New to give the whole counsel of God.
Scriptures purposely overlooked
And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death (Exodus 21:16). If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you (Deut 24:7).
We see here, God condemns any man who steals another man to sell as a slave. Most of the people who built America were stolen men, women and children. Here’s a few more scriptures that I’ll paraphrase, but you can read in detail on your own:
- Exodus 21:1-36 – slaves were only to serve 6 years.
- Exodus 21:20-21 – if you beat your slave and they die, you will be punished.
- Exodus 21:26-27 – if you beat your slave and they lose either their eye or tooth, they shall be freed.
We see hear that God condemns the Transatlantic slave trade. Any real Christian slave master back then, after reading these passages of scripture, would have to give up his slaves out of obedience to God because they were unlawful to own in the first place. It’s like if someone sold you a stolen car—is it right to keep it? No.
But even without scripture to reveal God’s will regarding slavery, these supposed Christians knew this was wrong. Every man has a conscience and it speaks. But instead of listening to their conscience and the Bible, they chose to submit to their flesh, and justify their wicked activities by twisting scripture; and for their lack of repentance, they will be condemned.
Slave, Servant and Employees
You’ll also notice that the word “servant” is used in the King James version of the Bible (the most likely used version back then) and not the word “slave.” A slave and a servant are two different things. So an enslaved man or woman back then could claim that the passages on obedience and submission didn’t apply to him/her because they were slaves and not servants. A servant was voluntary and a slave was involuntary. Nevertheless, many of the slaves believed the interpretation to obey and submit, and so they did.
Today these passages on servanthood apply to us all who are employed. On some level, we are servants of the company that we work for in exchange for monetary payment. We are to respect our supervisors, follow their instructions and work for them as we were working for the Lord. This means doing our best work, not talking back, not stealing company supplies, not being dishonest, and not being lazy for this reflects on the Christ that’s supposedly lives in us; and we want to be a good example. However, we must be led by the Spirit when faced with opposition on the job because it’s not always God’s will that we accept mistreatment, especially in the form of racism on the job.
But why did God allow slavery?
The Bible clearly shows that God allowed slavery. But why? Let me reiterate, again, the reasons for slavery back then:
- If a person was in poverty and facing famine and death, they could become a slave in exchange for a shelter, clothing and food with someone who had wealth and needed their help.
- If a person owed a debt and couldn’t make the payment, they would have to pay through personal labor, serving the debtee for an agreed amount of time equivalent to the debt.
- If a person became a prisoner of war, they could become slave labor in exchange for their life.
While slavery wasn’t an ideal position to be in, it provided a solution to a problem. But it’s how you treat the slave that God is concerned about and for how long you hold them as a slave. God was definitely against beating slaves to death, rape, psychological manipulation and all the terrible things that went on during the Transatlantic slave trade.
However, God only allowed this great evil to fall on Israel as punishment for their rebellion. Once the punishment is over, God will judge those who he used to delve out the punishment (please read Jeremiah 25: 8-14 for more understanding).
If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
The above passages were used to disempower slaves from fighting back, or becoming unforgiving, resentful and bitter about their oppression. Instead, the slave was instructed let it go, no matter how serious the offense, and continue on with the hope of heaven, and a better life after death.
So while the white man was manipulating scripture to prevent retribution, it was shielding the souls of so many Israelites and allowing God to deal out the revenge himself, for God is the avenger of all those done unjustly (Romans 12:19).
Unfortunately today, too many Israelites—so-called black people—have allowed the offenses of racism/white supremacy to keep them in bondage to unforgiveness, resentment, and bitterness. This isn’t good because Jesus said, “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).
If you struggle with forgiveness, I’ve written extensively about how to forgive through the following articles:
- What Jesus said about forgiveness offenses and fellowship
- How to deal with evil people who mistreat you
- Love forgiveness and healing
Forgiveness is not weakness.