“Slavery, Humanism, and the Bible”:
Selections from Lehre und Wehre
By C. F. W. Walther, 1863
Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores, 2000
Revised by Old Lutherans, 2023
The following selections were from several issues of Lehre und Wehre (Doctrine and Defense), published in St. Louis in 1863; all of the articles translated in this paper are from Volume (Jahrgang) 9. They have been pieced together for ease of reading. The first two articles were published in several issues of Lehre und Wehre and are joined together here for clarity. Where the articles spanned issues is indicated by a horizontal line. Bible quotations are from The New English Bible, Oxford University Press, 1971.
It is an irrefutable fact that humanism has not only supplanted Christianity among a large part of the current population, it has also infected Christian theology in its very inner core, has poisoned and weakened it. We define humanism as the belief in a human ideal, the belief that man within himself has the ability to develop into a state of completeness and achieve happiness. Therefore, in order to reach this ideal state nothing else is needed than to grant each person as much room as possible to develop freely and without restraint. Freedom and equality, equal rights, equal possessions, equal enjoyment and pleasure, are thus the goal of man’s striving, the attainment of which will eradicate poverty and suffering from this earth. Happiness will have found its domicile on earth; there will be heaven on earth.
This humanism is as old as the fallen world itself. As soon as man had fallen away from God, he became aware of the bitter consequences of his sin, of the curse under which God had placed this earth because of him. Despite all that still had remained for man, he felt dissatisfied, unhappy, and wretched. However, instead of recognizing his sin as the cause of his wretchedness, seeking to return to God and His help, he saw the consequences themselves as the cause, and deemed that he could achieve happiness by gaining what this world has to offer.
Therefore, the church’s antithesis of this humanism in the world of unbelievers is as old as the church itself. Already during the first world Cain’s unbelieving race sought their salvation in exploitation of the earth (Gen. 4:16-22), while the believing race of Seth (though already diminishing in numbers) renounced worldly happiness and possessions. They sought their salvation in the proclamation of the name of the Lord, that is, the promise of the one who would smash the head of the serpent and all evil, in the promise of the coming redemption from sin, death and hell, upon which they based their hope for eternal life, happiness and salvation (Gen. 4:25-26). We find the same conflict in the race after the flood. Paganism evolved which made creatures and things of this world the object of its utmost desire, to the point where it elevated creation, i.e. the creature, itself as its god and its final refuge. Meanwhile, the church— through Abraham— considered itself to be an earthly pilgrim, was waiting for a city whose builder was God and continued to seek its promised heavenly home. When finally the one whom all the prophets referred to as “the comforter of all heathens” appeared, the Jews, lost in their earthly anticipations, expected to hear from the mouth of the promised one nothing other than the pronouncement of the start of a complete, happy age. When he, the hope of all people, opened his mouth, they heard: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They had expected to hear: “Blessed are you, for now you shall become rich.” Instead they heard the opposite: blessed are they, regardless of their worldly riches, whose spirit and heart is poor, those who are rich as if they were not, and those who are poor consider themselves rich (Matt. 5:3, cf. Luke 6:20, I Cor. 7:29, II Cor. 6:10).
Though Christianity is directly opposed to humanism, we find this concept accepted and practiced by name-only-Christians throughout the centuries. In the history of our Christian church we are confronted with numerous pages where the most consequent humanism is theoretically presented as the only right belief and openly and freely confessed. The grossest depiction of it appears during the 14th century among certain groups of The Brothers and Sisters of Free Spirit, especially the Turlupines, the Adamites and the Luciferians, who express their common theory thus:
Everything which is done in love is pure, because the spirit which is God dwelling in us cannot sin; neither can worldly desire damage the spirit. On the contrary, it redeems by disintegrating marriage and property and the feeling of uncleanliness resulting from unnatural fissure.
It was this spirit which was apparent during the time of the reformation among the farmers of Swabia and Thuringia— under the leadership of Thomas Münzer; among the Anabaptists under Jan von Leide, and the Libertines of Switzerland. It was no other spirit but the spirit of humanism which promised Adam heaven on earth, promised to relieve him from his earthly burdens, thereby making all men into abolitionists and communists, with equal rights and possessions, making all superiority in these things a punishable transgression. Though the first two of these groups base their humanism on doctrine and promises of Christian revelation, and the latter on a pantheistic system, the underlying spirit is the same. For instance, the farmers stated in their “Twelve Articles”:
3) It has been the custom that we were considered property, which is abominable, in view of the fact that Christ has redeemed and saved us with his precious blood, the lowly shepherd as well as the highest placed, none excluded. Therefore Scripture tells us that we are to be free. 4) It has been the custom that no poor man has the right to game, birds, or fish in the water, which seems to us to be entirely unseemly and unbrotherly, selfish and not at all in accord with the word of God… When God, the Lord, created man He gave him dominion over all creatures, over the birds in the air and fish in the waters, Gen. 1:28, 30. God the Lord created animals for man’s free use. (Luther’s Works, Walch, XVI, 26, 27)
Münzer expressed what these articles demanded with the words “Omnia simul communia” which means all things should be communal and distributed according to need and ability. It is understood, of course, that with this new “order” there was no mention of rulers and lords. Ranke explained:
The concept was that since all are the children of one God, and all have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, it followed that there should be no more inequality in possessions or rank. Münzer preached everywhere about the liberation of Israel and the establishment of a heavenly kingdom on earth.
At that time, what was the position of the church? It certainly did recognize the misuse of power by the privileged classes which had driven the oppressed into desperation and delusion. The church declared the farmer’s rebellion to be a well-deserved, divine punishment, and demanded that oppression of the poor and the tyranny against subordinates cease. It called for improvement of the shamefully flagrant, social and civil conditions of the underclass. However, the church did not succumb to the temptation to perceive the distinction between master and servant, sovereign and vassal, rich and poor, as incompatible with the Gospel. The church, together with its attempt to change these conditions, denounced with a loud voice the wrongful application and explanation of the Gospel of Christ and His Kingdom.
Pertaining to the first point, Luther wrote in his Ermahnung zum Frieden auf die zwölf Artikel der Bauernschaft in Schwaben, (Admonishment to Peace on the Twelve Articles of the Swabian Farmers), written in 1525:
First, we can’t blame anyone here on earth for this rebellion other than you lords and sovereigns, especially you blind bishops, mad monks and clergymen. To this day you are determined and do not cease your efforts against the Holy Gospel, even though you know that it is the truth and you cannot contradict it. In addition, in your worldly administrations you do no more than abuse and lay on taxes so as to increase your own glory and arrogance, until the common man can no longer endure. Know this, dear lords, God is making it so that your fury cannot nor will it be tolerated any longer. You must change your ways and accept God’s word. If you don’t do this willingly, others will do it for you in a destructive manner. If the farmers don’t do it, someone else will. Even though you may slay them all, they are undefeated, God will call forth others. For he wants to slay you and He will slay you. It is not the farmers, dear lords, who are opposing you, it is God Himself who seeks to destroy you and your madness.
However, after Luther spoke in this and similar manner to the lords and preached to them the Word of God, he turned to the subordinates, the farmers, and chastised their rebellion. Among other things he said:
What, there is to be no serf because Christ has redeemed us all? What is this? This means that Christian liberty is turned into liberty of the flesh. Did not Abraham and other patriarchs and prophets own serfs? Read what St. Paul has to say about servants, who at that time were all in bondage. Therefore this article is directly opposed to the Gospel and it is rapacious, for everyone who is a bondman to remove himself from his master. A bondman can very well be a Christian and have Christian freedom, just as a prisoner or sick person can be a Christian, but yet is not free. This article proposes to make all men equal (This is literally what Luther says in the original—“alle Menschen gleich machen.” I wonder why the American edition would alter the sense.) , and turn the spiritual kingdom of Christ into a worldly one, which is impossible. For a worldly kingdom cannot exist where there is no class distinction, where some are free, some are prisoners, some are masters, and some are vassals, etc. As St. Paul says in Gal. 3:28, that in Christ both master and vassal are one. (See also XVI, 60, 61, 85, 86.)
Luther’s coworkers were in agreement with him. Amongst other things, Melanchthon writes in his Schrift wider die Artikel der Bauernschaft (“Statement Against the Farmers’ Articles”):
It is wanton and violent that they do not want to be bondmen. They are citing Scripture, that Christ has freed them. This pertains to spiritual freedom: that we are assured that through Him our sins have been forgiven without our own doing, and that henceforth we may look to God’s blessings, that we may beseech Him and be hopeful; that Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on those who believe in Him so that they may oppose Satan and not fall under his power like the godless whose hearts he has in his power. He forces them to commit murder, adultery, etc. Therefore, Christian freedom is of the heart, it cannot be seen with the eye. Outwardly a Christian submits joyfully and patiently to all worldly and social order and makes personal use of it. He can be a bondman or a subject, he can avail himself of the Saxon or Roman law regarding the division of goods. These things do not, however, influence the faith, indeed, the Gospel demands that such worldly order be maintained for the sake of peace. Paulus writes in his letter to the Ephesians 6:5-7: “You slaves, obey your masters with fear and trembling, with a willing heart, as serving Christ, not merely with outward show of service to curry favor with men, but as slaves of Christ, do wholeheartedly the will of God.” And in Colossians 3:22, he writes: “Slaves, give entire obedience to your earthly masters… Whoever does wrong, will receive what he has done wrong.” Joseph too was a slave in Egypt for a long time, as well as many other saints. Therefore, the farmer’s demands have no basis, indeed, it seems necessary that these wild, insolent people as the Germans are, should have less freedom than they have now. (See also 48, 49)
So writes Melanchthon, the one so finely educated by humaniora, the humanist in the best meaning of the word. He was at the same time, however, an obedient and humble Christian, and a theologian who saw through the false wisdom of the blind world which concerns itself only with matters of the flesh.
This battle by the Church was not in vain. The terrible flames which would consume the entire social and governmental order of Germany, threatening to leave behind nothing but the terror of destruction, soon died down and after some time extinguished completely. However, humanism, which wants to be independent of God and men, wants man to renounce the happiness and life to come as something which is dubious. It wants man to find within himself such happiness as will surely change the earth into heaven and promise equal happiness to all. This humanism is the chiliasm of the secular world; it is its religion. It always appears with force wherever Christianity waivers. When at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century Deism raised its head in England, moved on to France and finally was exported to Germany, there were many heralds of humanism. Rousseau stands out as a proponent of humanism. It was he who first expressed the idea that man by nature is pure and good, and that in order to achieve happiness, he needs to leave all that is unnatural and return to nature, to himself, to become human again. He spoke in a truly magical manner which, like a sweet poison, saturated the hearts of millions. This idea developed into the evermore common theories of undeniable, inherent human rights, of inherent freedom and equality, that only the democratic-republican constitution as well as the socialist and communist theories of the “new times” were acceptable. These theories came to fruition in the world-shaking catastrophe of the first French revolution whose well-known slogan was “freedom, equality, and brotherhood.” They incorporated these tenets in their constitution of 1791 as the basis for their model state, and proclaimed that “human rights” was the most important principle of all state laws. It is known what pinnacle of human and national happiness this grand humanistic experiment did achieve. It was a happiness in which all of hell’s murderous spirits triumphed over the world with their demonic laughter against humanity itself, which caused terror even among humanists abroad.
Nevertheless, these first seeds of humanistic theories germinated, grew and were nourished, first through the German rationalismus vulgaris and then the German pantheistic and materialistic, philosophical systems. Communism or some other form of ochlocratic state, abrogation of all monarchies and the church, extermination of all nobility and proclaimers of Christianity and all religions (whom they refer to as Paffen), that is what these public speakers of the race are presenting as the ultimate national happiness. They refer to it as the beginning of the golden age, as predicted down through the centuries by all prophets of the human spirit. The masses who have fallen away from God and who are renouncing their hope for eternal life, the masses who have been charmed and deluded, upon them they are trying to inflict brutality and bestiality as humanity.
In this respect, how is our America doing? The founding of our union occurs exactly at the time when humanism was in its youth and had the attraction of something new. In addition, it seemed to furnish the only basis for a new republican state, which obviously could not become a reality without absolute freedom of religion. Thus humanists like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and others gained immense influence, not only in the formulation of our government, but also in the ideas, concepts, and views of the people. These elements of destruction and dissolution were greatly strengthened during the last decades by whole hordes of men with revolutionary tendencies. None of them acknowledge God and eternal life, for them earthly life is the only goal of human existence. They see the beginning of common human happiness in the realization of their tenets of common freedom and equality.
Especially during recent years, Christian communities have had to face trial by fire. But, to put it bluntly, they have not passed this trial. Not that the American theology— if we want to mention it— has only just now succumbed! It has been quite obvious for some time, that in addition to the various sects with their false teachings, many humanistic ideas and efforts of the modern world have found their way into Christianity. Wherever in the old world there was a revolutionary movement against a monarchy, the religious press here has announced their support of the rebels. Wherever atheistic journalists and their correspondents reported wrong-doing by a European sovereign, they have busily claimed that this was further evidence that only under a republican constitution the masses could achieve happiness; that the model republic for the entire world was the American one, and that the world was yet to enjoy freedom and happiness under such an ideal constitution. Participation in temperance agitations has almost become a test of godliness among the believers. Reverends of all so-called denominations are members of all lodges. They not only assert their freemasonic, deistic philanthropism in the hidey-holes of their meetings, but also from their pulpits, their publications and their administrations. Not one important discovery or invention is made which is not shown by the local theologians as new proof of the grandeur, the fruitfulness, the creative and all-overcoming power of the human intellect, and as actual evidence that finally the age of progress and enlightenment has come. Earlier centuries are denounced, with great pride and self-complacency, as times of darkness, superstition, barbarism, and subordination. The local theology is carried along by this stream of fashionable, current opinions. They do not even shy away from serving movements who are obviously nothing other than affirmation of the spirit of these days; movements which are quite easily such that one can perceive them as the beginning of the world’s terrible, final drama of the battle of the anti-Christian powers against the estates of state, church, and home.
The question about slavery has been foremost in the hearts and minds of many. In following issues, we intend to deal with this question. Of course, not as it relates to political issues, for we have nothing to do with that, but as it relates to Christian-religious morals.
Before we discuss the agitating question of slavery, we wish to reiterate that we are not concerned with emancipation, which for political reasons is being considered by the government, for this is not a theological issue. For us Christians here too the word of God applies: “Be subject to those who are in authority over you.” What we are dealing with here is the question whether slavery itself, that is, the relationship between slave and master, is a sin; or does sin adhere to this relationship merely in concreto, as all relationships between sinful men, for instance between poor and rich, seller and buyer. Is therefore slavery a sin which must be unconditionally opposed, or should Christians concentrate on doing away with the connected sinfulness, so that the relationship between slave and master is according to God’s will and order, according to the laws of justice, fairness, and love. We therefore hold that abolitionism, which deems slavery a sin and therefore considers every slave holder a criminal and strives for its eradication, is the result of unbelief in its development of nationalism, deistic philanthropy, pantheism, materialism, and atheism. It is a brother of modern socialism, Jacobinism and communism. Together with the emancipation of women it is the rehabilitation of the flesh. As proof of this blood-relationship it suffices to point not only to its history, but also to the close union between abolition-minded representatives of Christianity and the abolitionist tendencies of anti-Christians and radical revolutionaries in church, state, and home. The more their non-religiosity increases and reaches the pinnacles of theoretical atheism and indifferentism, the more fanatically they fight for the principle of slave emancipation. Often they have no economic interests and even oppose those who do. Therefore, a Christian abolitionist, who finds himself in the company of such as these, should become aware of the wrong path he has chosen. How could it be possible that these enemies of Christianity and religion per se, all those who are intent on doing away with the existing religious, political, and economical order of things to realize their humanistic utopia, that especially they would be so enthusiastic for something good and holy, for “the final reason of Christianity” and so greatly exert themselves? Can a Christian accept that now, in the 19th century, Christ’s word has come to naught through progress, enlightenment, and civilization? “Can grapes be harvested from thorns, or figs from the thistle tree? A rotten tree does not bear fruit.” We can only pity those Christians who have forgotten all this and with best intentions, in the desire to work for a Christian-humane purpose, have allied themselves with the enemies of Christendom, and have come under the banner of anti-Christian humanism and philanthropy, thus having lent themselves as mediums of the spirit of the age.
However, we do not demand that these our erring fellow-Christians be satisfied with these á priori reasons. Regarding questions of morals or religion, Christians do not acquiesce until they have the answer to the question: “What is written?” They are ever mindful of the words of the prophet: “Yes, according to the law and witness. If they do not say this, they will not see the sun rise” (Is. 8:20). The Christian’s thoughts are as Solomon’s: “A man may think that he is always right, but the Lord fixes a standard for the heart” (Prov. 21:2). Therefore, he “gladly compels every human thought to surrender in obedience to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:6). When man has found the clear witness of Scripture, even though it may go totally against the grain of his own intellect, heart, and his entire view of the world, he will say together with Christ: “Scripture cannot be set aside” (John 10:36). For such Christians then, who are Christians according to John 14:23, 8:31, 32, 47, we will consult Scripture which alone is “the true fount of Israel,” which alone is the true guide upon which all doctrine and teachers are to be fixed and judged.
In order not to commit any blunders, it is necessary that we agree with our opponents on the definition “slavery.” However, we do not know a better definition than the one rendered by the magister Germaniae, Melanchthon. It is found in the appendix to his examination of those who are to be publicly ordained and given the office of the ministry (1556). There he says:
Civil slavery, which is approved by God (as Joseph and Onesimus were slaves), is the lawful removal of the ability of ownership, the freedom to chose one’s vocation or employment, and to move from one place to another. (Corpus reformatorum, Vol. XX!, p. 1096)
There is no doubt that Holy Scripture, Old and New Testament, deal with slavery in this sense. Though the word “slave” is not contained in our German Bible, the words “man-servant” (Hebrew Aebed, Greek Doulos) and “maid-servant” (Hebrew Amah or Schiphchah, Greek Doule) have the same basic meaning. They are often used in reference to those without civil freedom, or to vassals, those whom we now refer to as “slaves.” That is why Melanchthon, in a citation from the New Testament quoted in the previous issue, translates the word Douloi with Leibeigene and Luther himself often translated the Hebrew words Aebed and Amah with “man or maid-servant owned by another,” i.e. a slave (Gen. 47:19, 15; Lev. 25:39, 42, 44), and the Hebrew word Schiphchah with “maid-servant owned by another.” It is clear that this translation is correct, that the meaning of the words Aebed, Amah, Schiphchah, Doulos, and Doule mean nothing other than maid- or man-servants owned by another person, as is apparent by usage and context. Thus the servants of Abraham “men born in his household and those purchased from foreigners” (Gen. 14:14, 17:12) and the maid and man-servants are juxtapositioned with the “free” (Eph. 6:8; Gal. 4:30-31; 3:28; 1 Cor. 7:22). It is deceptive when the laity are told that whenever Scripture (especially the New Testament) speaks of maid- or man-servants it speaks of hired workers, which these days are called “maid or man servants.” The Hebrew and Greek languages have specific words for these, in Hebrew Sachir (from the root word Sachar = to hire out for wages). Compare Job 7:2; Lev. 19:13 (“a laborer”), Ex. 12:45 (“a hireling”), and the Greek Ergates in Matt. 10:10; 20:1 (“a worker”), or Misthotes in John 10:12 (“a hireling”).
What then do we read in Holy Scripture about slavery? Certainly it is not our intent to deal completely with every mention of slavery in Scripture. One can find relative instructions in every good, complete biblical archeology. It should suffice to highlight that which expresses God’s view of the morality and immorality of these political and economical issues.
The first mention of slavery we read in Scripture is the prophetic oath Noah utters over his godless son Ham, when he tells him that as a godly punishment his descendants shall be the slaves of slaves to his brothers (Gen. 9:20-27).
In the following we learn that almost all wealthy saints of the old covenant owned such slaves. According to Gen. 12:16, Abraham, the father of all believers, already acquired such servants in Egypt, and later we learn that he had 318 of these, able to bear arms, who were born in his house (Gen. 14:14). In the report about the institution of circumcision (Gen 17:12) slaves are mentioned which “were purchased from foreigners, not of your own seed.” Following that we read that Isaac (Gen. 26:12-14), Jacob (Gen. 32:6), Job (Job 1:3, 31:53), Solomon (Eccl. 2:7), and others, all had slaves, some of them in great number.
Further we read in the Holy Ten Commandments that slaves are to be considered as family members, whom the master bids obey just as he bids his children obey. The third commandment: “You shall do no work, neither your son, your daughter, your maid- or man-servant…,” and in the tenth commandment God Himself solemnly declares again blessing for all who will keep this commandment, and a curse for those who will not: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.” In the words of Ex. 20:17: “Do not lust after your neighbor’s wife, his man-servant, his maid-servant, nor his oxen, his ass, or anything which is your neighbor’s.”
We also read that Moses, as commanded by God, established the law that convicted thieves, who were unable to make restitution for the goods they had stolen, could be sold into slavery (Ex. 22:3). In addition, the Israelites were allowed to purchase slaves, but with one condition: an Israelite sold into slavery to another Israelite for non-payment of debt had to be freed in the seventh year of his slavery. The Jewish people were to demonstrate also with their civil laws that they were free people of God, and because of the promised Messiah they were to retain their division into tribes until the coming of the Promised One. Thus the “slave” was to return to his father’s house, unless he chose not to be freed, in which case he had to remain as a slave “forever.” In regard to Hebrew slaves, it was also the law that if the freed slave had come into bondage without wife and children, he was discharged without wife and children. In these cases, they remained the property of the master (Ex. 21:1-6; Lev. 25:39-43).
For slaves purchased from heathens there were different rules. “Should you desire to own slaves, you shall purchase them from the nations round about you, from your guests and the foreigners among you, and from their descendants which they sired in your land. Those you may have to own, and your children after you, as your property for ever and ever, and shall have them as your slaves” (Lev. 25:44-46).
In this manner God defines the relationship between master and slave as a civil, physical, and temporal order. He reiterates this order by defining all manner of duties of the master to the slave, and the slave to the master. The master is to consider his slaves as family members and is therefore responsible for their spirituality (Gen. 17:12; 18:19; Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14; Ex. 12:44), not regarding them as free persons, but as slaves (Prov. 29:21), treating them with justice, fairness, and love (Job 31:13). Exodus 21:26-27 decreed that if a slave was brutally treated, where his master struck him and the slave lost an eye, the master was bound to set the slave free as a recompense for the lost eye. Servants and slaves were so tightly bound to the family that for instance, if the family was that of a priest, the servants enjoyed priestly privileges, even though a married daughter was no longer entitled to these privileges. We read in Lev. 22:10-12: “No one shall eat of the holy gift, nor may a stranger lodging with him nor his hired man. A slave bought by the priest with his own money may do so, and slaves born in his horse may eat of it. When a priest’s daughter marries an unqualified person, she shall not eat of the holy gift.”
The slaves themselves are under the obligation of honor, which includes love, loyalty and obedience towards their master. So says the Lord in Malachi 1:6: “A son shall honor his father, and a slave his master.” When the Egyptian slave girl Hagar ran away from her mistress after she had been chastised, the angel of the Lord, that is the Lord Himself, appeared to her and asked her: “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She answered: “I am running away from Sarai, my mistress.” And the angel of the Lord said to her: “Go back to your mistress, and submit to her ill treatment.” In this manner God Himself decided when a slave girl tried to emancipate herself.
From all this we can conclude that according to Holy Scripture (here the Old Testament) God did not initially institute slavery or servitude as he did the state of matrimony or civil authority. Neither did He institute absolute monarchy, the class of the poor or any other social burden in life. Rather He deemed them punishment for sin itself and considered them as a “duty-relationship” based on the fourth commandment. Furthermore, he declared slaves to be the indisputable property of their master in the tenth commandment, in societies where such a relationship is lawful, just as He confirmed all other worldly and civil freedoms, burdens, rights, duties, ownership, etc.
We willingly agree, however, that if the Old Testament alone spoke of such slavery, there would still be room for the idea that the morality of such a relationship has not been proven beyond all doubts. The people of Israel received from God, through Moses, their civil laws. These civil laws, though, could not punish all that which is punished by “moral law,” the law of the eternal will of God Himself. Therefore, because of the wickedness of man a lot could not be held to be moral, but things were allowed which were directly in opposition to the “moral law” in order to maintain civil peace, based on the old axiom: aliud jus poli, aliud jus soli, “a different law for heaven, a different law for the earth.” One might think that this relationship between master and slave could fall into this latter category.
For instance, divorce was allowed, according to Deut. 24:1, with a letter of divorce “if the wife does not win her husband’s favor.” And yet, when the Pharisees referred to this passage, our Lord directed them to God’s institution of matrimony as the eternal valid order and added: “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. It was not like this in the beginning. I say to you: If a man divorces his wife for any cause other than unchastity, and he marries another, he commits adultery. And whoever marries the divorced woman, is also committing adultery” (Matt. 19:3-9).
Does the question of master-slave therefore also belong to the category which during Old Testament times were permitted, according to worldly law, but according to moral law and conscience were sinful and therefore punishable by God? Does it belong to those liberties which were only granted on behalf of the stiffnecked people but was not used by those who wanted not only to keep worldly law but also wanted to remain faultless in the face of God? Does this belong to the New Testament where only moral law is valid, and Old Testament dispensations have been canceled? The manner in which not only Moses, but other prophets of the Old Testament deal with this issue makes it quite clear that it does not belong into the latter category, but concurs with moral law. In order to achieve certainty, let us therefore search the New Testament.
Even though during the times of the apostles, under the Roman Empire, slavery was closely tied to the injustice of raiding by the envious and everlasting thirst for conquest of the Romans (often with the worst types of tyranny, where the masters had the right over life or death of the slaves, a right which was not withdrawn until Antonin), we never read that the apostles themselves denounced slavery as a sin against the law of “love thy neighbor.” Neither did they denounce the authority of Nero, despite this monster’s horrible abuse of his power. They do, however, emphasize the masters’ responsibilities. Thus writes the holy apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Ephesians: “You masters also must do the same by them (the slaves), give up the use of threats, remember you have the same master in heaven, and He has no favorites.” In a similar manner he writes to the Christians in Colossae: “Master, be just and fair to your slaves, knowing that you too have a master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). At the time, however, the same apostle admonishes the slaves to obey their masters. In his letter to the Ephesians, after having addressed children and parents regarding their duties to one another: “Slaves, obey your masters with fear and trembling, single mindedly as serving Christ. Do not offer merely the outward show of service, to curry favor with men, but, as slaves of Christ, do wholeheartedly the will of God. Give the cheerful service of those who serve the Lord, not men. For you know that whatever good each man may do, slave or free, will be repaid him by the Lord” (Eph. 6:5-8).
He uses almost the same words as he counsels the slaves in his letter to the Colossians in Col. 3:22-25. Paul also asks the bishop of Titus in Crete to remind the slaves: “Tell the slaves to respect their masters’ authority in everything, and to comply with their demands without answering back; not to pilfer, but to show themselves strictly honest and trustworthy; for in all such ways they will add luster to the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10). He gives the same pastoral advice to Timothy when he writes to him: “All who wear the yoke of slavery must count their own masters worthy of all respect, so that the name of God and the Christian teaching are not brought into disrepute” (1 Tim. 6:1). Unanimous with Paul, because he is inspired and driven by the same Spirit, Peter writes, after having explained his basic principle: “Servants, accept the authority of your masters with all due submission, not only when they are kind and considerate, but even when they are perverse. For it is a fine thing if a man endure the pain of undeserved suffering because God is in his thought” (1 Peter 2:18-19). Thus Peter equals obedience and disobedience of a slave to his master to obedience and disobedience to authority per se, and declares the disobedient slave and the one who has incited him to be a rebel.
Who then can read all of this, in his heart accepting Holy Scripture as the word of God, and still consider the relationship of master and slave to be a sinful one, offensive to God’s will and order and to the spirit of the Gospel which therefore must be abolished? Is every slave owner a thief, a robber, and a denier of the truth and therefore guilty; and if he wants to be just before the eyes of God must he release his slaves? How could than the apostle give instructions to the masters, as he does, and how could the apostle demand from the slaves that they obey their masters “as Christ” and to “give them all honor,” even those masters who mistreat them, to submit to them for “the sake of their conscience”? Can one give rules and instructions to a thief and robber to treat that which he has stolen in a decent and righteous manner? Does one consider a thief and robber who has unlawfully set himself over us “with all honors” and submit even to those who mistreat us “for the sake of conscience”? Or does one want to believe that the holy apostles thought up such teachings only for political reasons, and for political reasons explained the duties of master and slave, based on the fourth commandment; that the Gospel actually condemns slavery and demands emancipation? Did they avoid this issue because they feared the power and rage of those in authority and did not want general unrest and change?
What Christian could speak in such a blasphemous manner of God’s chosen saints and His word? No, those who say of themselves: “We cannot agree with falsehood, neither do we pervert God’s word, rather we confess the truth and stand fast before God against the conscience of others” (2 Cor. 4:2); they cannot turn light into dark and evil into good for political reasons or fear of their fellow man. Had the Holy Spirit enlightened them that slavery is an immoral practice which is irreconcilable with the spirit of the Gospel, they would have boldly spoken out against it. They would have demanded its abolishment from all those wanting to be saved, without compromise, just as they have fought any other ungodly ways of the pagan and Jewish world. They would have demanded that they desist, or else lose salvation. They were under the command: “What I say to you in the dark, you must repeat in broad daylight; what you hear whispered, you must shout from the housetops” (Matt. 10:27). They had the promise: “However, when He comes who is the spirit of truth, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13). And they knew that Christ “had not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34), and to “light a fire on earth” (Luke 12:49) which would burn them too. And note, not fearing this sword and fire, they fearlessly “disclosed to them the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). Therefore, far be it from every true Christian to suspect that these “chosen instruments” (Acts 9:15) who did not shrink from the fight with the whole word, namely the rich, would have agreed with the worldly view concerning slavery.
Had the apostles only admonished the slaves and bade them to be obedient and loyal to their masters, one might think that slavery was a cross to be borne patiently. To be a slave owner, however, would be incompatible with Christianity, such as a Christian is required to patiently endure the tyranny of a despot, but may himself not be a tyrant. However, as we have already learned, the apostles of the Lord did not only admonish the slaves, they also admonished their masters and instructed the latter not how to set their slaves free, but how to treat them properly. Even escaped slaves whom they converted, were sent back to their masters from whom nothing else was demanded but to accept them as their spiritual brothers (Philem. 10-19). It is quite clear that the apostles did not only address pagans and Jews, but Christians as well, as can be ascertained from a letter Paul wrote to Timothy, in which there is explicit mention of “believing” slave owners. It states: “If the masters are believers, the slaves must not respect them any less for being their Christian brothers. Quite contrary, they must be all the better servants because those who receive the benefit of their service are one with them in faith and love” (1 Tim. 6:2). It is not the intention of the Holy Spirit that the slaves of believers should get the idea: “My master is my brother in Christ, therefore I am his equal. Consequently he should free me, and I need no longer serve him.” To the contrary, they should think: “My master is my brother in Christ, before God I am his equal, he has no greater father in heaven, no greater savior nor spirit, no better mercy and justice, no greater hope, than I. So I will not concern myself with the physical inequality in which I find myself here on earth, but I will serve him all the better as a dear brother in faith.” In another letter the apostle writes: “For the man who as a slave received the call to be a Christian is the Lord’s freedman, and equally, the free man who received the call is a slave in the service of Christ” (1 Cor. 7:22).
It is noteworthy at 1 Tim. 6:1-2 that the apostle, after first having defined the duties of slaves—both those belonging to believers and non-believers—addresses Timothy himself with these words: “This is what you are to teach and preach. If anyone is teaching otherwise, and will not give his mind to wholesome precepts—I mean those of our Lord Jesus Christ—and to good religious teaching, I call him a pompous ignoramus. He is morbidly keen on mere verbal questions and quibbles, which give rise to jealousy, quarreling slander, base suspicions, and endless wrangles: all typical of men who have let their reasoning powers become atrophied and have lost grip of the truth. They think religion should yield dividends” (1 Tim. 6:2-5).
Truly, we cannot understand how a believing Christian can read this and still agree with the humanists of our times that slavery and serfdom are unjust. We assert that anyone who still has regard for God’s Word will be pierced by these words into his very heart. Anyone dreaming this modern world’s dream of abolition should perceive these words as God’s slaps, waking him from his dream. For here the apostle, in the Holy Spirit, explains in plain words that all he had said before, concerning the slave’s conduct towards his master, should be taught by every preacher of the Gospel; and that he who teaches otherwise is in the dark and knows nothing, no matter how brilliant he considers himself. Such a man, therefore, is to be avoided by the believing Christian! This must, therefore, be a matter of consequence and great importance, on which hinges God’s honor and man’s salvation. And so it is! For the Christian this is not merely a neutral, political issue. The question is not: Is it advantageous for a state, a country, a people, to lawfully abolish slavery? The question is: Does the law of love and justice demand that all people enjoy equal civil liberties and rights; is it right or wrong to use the existing civil law which enables one to exercise rights over another person; is it right or wrong to acknowledge and accept such a law? The question is whether the old canon—Evangelium non abolet politias—the Gospel does not remove political law—is a lie, and whether the Gospel demands civil equality. The question is whether Christian freedom, that is the freedom we received from Christ, is a physical, civil one; whether Christ was the kind of Messiah expected by the Jews, who would free his people from earthly oppression; whether the Gospel contains elements of rebellion which seek to do away with worldly law. The issue is whether the apostle’s words are the truth applied to all conditions: “Where there is authority, it is ordained by God.” According to the old logical principle Non variant speciem plusve minusve suam, (“more or less does not change the essence of a thing”), every other involuntary relationship of subservience especially in a monarchy where voters do not elect their leaders, would also be against the law of human rights. Furthermore, it is a question whether it is a sin to be rich while the neighbor is poor, and whether love and “inherent equal human rights” demands that the rich use his possessions to prevent the poor from falling into slavery and thus effect emancipation via sharing of goods. It is a question whether he is a thief, who, though he lawfully acquired his possessions, cannot prove whether those from whom he acquired them legitimately owned them; whether all owners, based on the origin of their property, are thieves and should be treated as such. And finally it is a question whether the large number of saints mentioned in Holy Scripture in the Old Testament who owned slaves, were in reality tyrannical thieves of men, and whether Holy Scripture is the holy, eternal, unchanging word of God, or man’s composition to effect a quasi-godly approval of oppression and a product of papal lies and deceit (as claimed by atheists).
“What then,” comes the cry, “does the Gospel not demand compassion for the often terrible conditions of slavery? Does the Gospel demand that one remain unsympathetic to the tears and sighs forced from these slaves by inhumane masters? Does the Gospel not demand that at least one works on removing these horrible atrocities so often connected with slavery? Or does the Gospel cover all these obscenities, this total spiritual neglect, injustice, destruction of marriages, cruelty, etc., with a halo?” We answer: “Far from it!” We have already pointed to Gen. 18:19, 17:12; Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:14; Ex. 12:44, 21:26-27; Job 31:13; Eph. 6:8-9; Col. 4:1, where it is shown how slaves are to be treated by their masters. We also remind of scripture which deals with abduction or selling of men into slavery and the punishment thereof (1 Tim. 1:10; Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7). To see to it that these godly rules are observed, especially by authority, this we consider to be the true task of each Christian who lives in a land where slavery is lawful. Such efforts, where slavery itself remains (in principle: Abusus non tollit usum, sed confirmat substantiam, “misuse does not abolish proper use but rather confirms the essence of a thing”), which would result in a Christian, just, loving, formulation of this political and economical condition which would honor God and serve man. Such efforts are worthy of the diligent efforts of the true Christian.
May this suffice as proof that slavery is not against Christian morals. In the following issues we intend to let our true theologians of old speak to this matter. Their comments will make clear that we have no hidden agenda underlying our protest against acceptance of the humanistic, revolutionary leaven into our Lutheran theology. We are merely concerned with the preservation of purity of our Lutheran, biblical theology. We have long since given witness privately, and in publications, of our opposition to the current political confusion and the dangerous abolitionist movements which are anti-Gospel and anti-Christ.
We come to the close of this year’s foreword by declaring our serious fight against the spread of humanism, which has already infiltrated our church with its deistic and atheistic concepts of philanthropy, as the most important issue for this year.
II. The Old Lutheran Scholars About Slavery.
True to our promise, we are now citing some of our old scholars on the question of slavery. Quite properly, we start with Luther. He mentions slavery often, especially in his exegetical writings. In his explanation of Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians, Paul’s words give him the necessary impetus. We quote:
1 Cor. 7:20-21: “Everyone should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let that trouble you, but if a chance for liberty should come, take it.”
At another time Paul reiterates this counsel. At that time there were still many who were slaves, as still are to this day. Just as a spouse is to relate to the other spouse, which is also a form of slavery, so shall a slave relate to his master, if his master owns him. That is, his slavery is no hindrance to his Christian belief. Therefore, he should not run away from his master, but remain with him, whether his master is a believer or not, whether he is good or evil; except in cases where the master keeps or forces the slave from his belief, then it is time to escape and run. However, as mentioned above concerning a Christian spouse, that applies also to a Christian slave of a non-Christian master. “…But if a chance for liberty should come, take it.” Not that you rob your master of yourself, and run away without his will and knowledge. This does not mean that you should remain in bondage though you want to be free and your master is willing to set you free. Paul merely wants to inform your conscience so that you know how both these states are free in the sight of God— whether you are a slave or not. He does not want to deny you the right to become free, with your master’s agreement, rather to assure your conscience that you are equal in the sight of God, free to honor God. For Christian doctrine does not teach to steal another’s property, but rather to honor all commitments one has towards another.
Verse 22: “For the man who as a slave received the call to be a Christian is the Lord’s freedman, and, equally, the free man who received the call is a slave in the service of Christ.”
This means: It is all the same to God whether you are free or a slave; just as circumcision does not matter: none of these are a hindrance to faith and salvation. In this respect I might say: in matters of faith it is of no consequence whether you are rich or poor, young or old, handsome or unattractive, educated or uneducated, a lay-person or a cleric. Whosoever was poor when called into the faith is rich in the sight of God. Whosoever was rich when called into the faith is poor in the sight of God; whoever was young when called is old in the sight of God; whoever was unattractive when called is handsome in the sight of God. And vice-versa: The uneducated one is educated before God; the layperson is a cleric before God. All this is to show that our faith makes us equal in the sight of God, and that before God there is no difference between persons or class. Therefore here too: Whoever was a slave when called to faith is a freedman of God, that is, God values him the same as if he were free. And again: Whoever was a freedman when called to faith is a slave of Christ, that is, he is no better than the slave. It is as Paul said in Gal. 3:28: “There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freedman, male and female; for you are all one person in Christ Jesus.” For there is equal faith, equal property, equal inheritance and all is equal. So you might also say: “If a male has been called, he is female before God, and where a female has been called, she is male.” Therefore, the words “slave of Christ” do not refer to the service for Christ, but mean that he is a slave among men on earth, because he belongs to Christ and is subject to Him. Thus, he is equal to the freedman, and the freedman is equal to the slave, and yet he belongs to Christ because he is His slave.
Verse 23: “You were bought at a price, do not become slaves of men.”
What has been said here? Just now he taught that to remain a slave for slavery is no hindrance to the faith, and then he admonishes not to become a slave? Without doubt this is a statement against men’s teaching, which wants to negate such freedom and equality in faith and burden the conscience. It becomes clear that this is what he means when he says: “You have been bought at a price…” He is referring to Christ here, who has redeemed us from all our sins and laws with his own blood (Gal. 5:1) This redemption does not occur in a worldly manner, and it disregards all relationships men have with one another, such as between slave and master, husband and wife. These relationships all come to naught, for here something spiritual is happening, in the knowledge that before God we are no longer bound by the law, but we are all free of it. Before we were prisoners of sin, but now we are without sin. Whatever worldly obligations or freedom remain, however, are neither sin nor virtue, they are merely external comfort or discomfort, sorrow or joy, just as other worldly possessions or unpleasantries. With either of them we can live freely and without sin.
Verse 24: “Thus each one, my brothers, is to remain before God in the condition in which he received his call.”
Here he reiterates for the third time the concept of Christian freedom, that all external things are free before God. A Christian may therefore use them as he likes; he may take advantage of them or leave them. Then he adds: “before God,” which means it is between you and God. For you are not performing a service to God when you marry or remain unmarried, are a slave or free, or become this and that, eat certain things only. Neither are you offending God if you do the one or the other. Finally, all you owe God is to believe and confess. Concerning all other matters He gives you the freedom to do as you want, without risk to your conscience. Neither does He care whether you release a woman, run away from your master or keep a promise. What does He care if you do these things or omit them? But since you are obligated to your neighbor by becoming his slave, God does not want to deprive anyone of his property by demanding freedom for another. He wants you to honor your commitment to your neighbor. For even though God does not care for His own sake, He does care for your neighbor’s sake. This is what He means when He says: “Among men or your neighbor I will not free you, for I do not want to take what is his, until he himself sets you free. But for me you are free and cannot come to ruin, whether you hold on to or let go of things external.” Therefore, note and understand this freedom properly, that the relationship between you and God is not like the one between you and your neighbor; in the former there is freedom, in the latter there is not. The reason for this is that God gives you this freedom only in what is yours, not what is your neighbor’s. Differentiate, therefore, between what is yours and what is your neighbor’s. For this reason a man cannot leave his wife, his body is not his, it belongs to his wife. And again. The physical body of the slave is not his own, but it belongs to the master. Before God it is nothing whether a man leaves his wife; for the physical body is nothing to God but has been freely given by God for external use. Only the inner faith belongs to God, but men must honor their commitment to each other. Sum total therefore: We owe no one anything except to love them and serve our neighbor with our love. Where there is love there is no danger of conscience or sin before God with eating, drinking, clothing, living this way or that— where it is not offensive to one’s neighbor. We cannot sin against God in this manner, only against our neighbor.
Now it must be noted that the word “call” here does not refer to position (status) into which one is called, as one says: matrimony is a position, the priesthood is a position, and so on, each has such a call from God. St. Paul is not referring to such a “call” here, rather he is speaking about the evangelical call which means: Remain in the call to which you have been called, that is, as the Gospel calls and finds you, there remain. If you are married when receiving the call, remain in that position; if it calls you while in slavery, remain in slavery into which you have been called. What then? If it is calling me while in a sinful position, must I remain therein? Answer: If you are in the faith and love, that is, you have received the Gospel’s call, do whatever you will, go on sinning; but how can you sin if you have faith and love, since by faith things are done for God and by love for your neighbor. Therefore it is impossible that you would be called while in a sinful position, remaining in it. However, if you so remain, you either have not been called or you have not perceived the call. For this call causes you to change from the sinful position to the devout one so that you cannot sin as long as you remain within the call. You are free before God by faith; but for man you are everyone’s servant through love. From this you can determine that monasticism and spirit-mongering are wrong for our times, for they join forces before God with external things, though God readily releases them they strive against faith’s freedom and God’s order. Again, they ought to be committed to man in that they lovingly serve everyone, yet they obtain their freedom and are of no use or service to anyone but themselves, striving against love. Thus it is a foolish people, reversing all of God’s rights, wanting to be free though they are committed, and committed where they are free, and yet aiming to obtain higher seats in heaven than the ordinary Christian. Indeed, they will be seated in the abyss of hell, they who perverted heavenly freedom into hellish constraints and made loving servitude into hostile freedom. (Walch Tom., IIXX, 1123-1130)
Melanchthon writes further:
Aristotle rightfully denounces those who, based on their unlawful and excessive desire for freedom, indict the type of slavery accepted by international law. However, we would be greatly more justified to indict the Schwärmerei of our times, who under the guise of the Gospel are calling people to freedom, insisting that slavery is against the Gospel. Since we have already discussed this matter quite often, let it suffice for now to remind the reader that just as the Gospel does not negate the command: “Honor your father and mother,” neither does it disapprove of masters or slavery, but rather confirms them by its witness and teaches that for the taming of the godless, human masters and slaves are necessary. And these things are being made use of by the saints, as well as other good creatures of God… The concept that according to natural law all is common is being explained in that it applies to man’s nature as it was before the occurrence of original sin. Speaking of the current condition, after the fall, we rightfully ascertain that the apportionment of things is a matter of natural law. And I do not agree with the assertion of the old lawyers that based on natural law all is common; for they are speaking of the current natural condition which indicates that apportionment of things is necessary. Thus they say: “According to natural reasoning that which previously belonged to no one will be apportioned to the one who takes possession.” This assertion teaches that based on natural reasoning one gains a thing by simply taking possession. Natural reasoning here means natural law. I am saying this in order to warn the reader not to be fooled by those declarations which praise those platonic communes which because of their newness tempt the uninitiated, giving opportunity for vast, destructive, errors. No other virtue adorns Christian cognizance more fully than when one conscientiously honors the state’s laws and its heads. Therefore statements which speak against public peace must be far removed from the Gospel. If someone says that community of goods is a godly law, let your reply be: “Thou shalt not steal.” For that command demands that everyone keeps that which is his. If someone insists that community of property is an evangelical prerogative, answer with St. Paul’s statement which refers to lawful orders of government as God’s order, Rom. 13:1. If someone argues that community of property is based on natural law, reply with the judgment of reason, proving that based on the sinful nature of man it is impossible to have property in common. For the slothful would want to be sustained by the labor of others, against natural law, which is validated by the words of Gen. 3:19: “You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your brow…” (Corpus Reformator, XVI, 426, 427, 432, 433)
Luther writes about Johannes Brenz, whom he respected highly:
Among the Israelites, there were two systems of slavery. One concerned Israelites who were sold to other Israelites or to foreigners living among them. About these the law says: “When your brother is reduced to poverty and sells himself to you, you shall not use him to work for you as a slave. His status shall be that of a hired man or a stranger lodging with you; he shall work for you until the year of jubilee. He shall then leave your service…” (Lev. 25:39-41). Concerning those who sell themselves to foreigners, it says: “One of his brothers shall redeem him…” (v. 49). Shortly thereafter it says: “…you shall not let him be driven with ruthless severity by his owner. If the man is not redeemed in the intervening years, he and his children shall be released in the year of jubilee…” (v. 53-54). The other dealt with conditions for slaves which the Israelites purchased from foreigners or had taken as prisoners of war. There conditions were much more severe. Here the law says that “These may become your property and you may leave them to your sons after you; you may use them as slaves permanently” (v. 46). These never gained freedom, not even during the year of jubilee, except when their master released them or they were redeemed with money, or in cases of disability (see Ex. 31). One can thus see that the conditions for slaves were sometimes severe, sometimes more easily bearable. Though the experts of the law contend that slavery is against natural law, for according to natural law all men are at first born free. However, because of sin, slavery is one of the bonds with which those who are mentally weak are held to their duties; and those who are reckless and irresponsible are controlled.
Therefore, God does not condemn civil law where slavery is legal, as long as it is bearable and not in conflict with Love with which we are to treat our neighbors; where the master does not have the right to mistreat or kill the slave according to his own desires, treating them like beasts of burden, but must provide sustenance and discipline for the slave, as discussed by Syrach. The Holy Spirit Himself expressed that God does not abhor slavery among men, and that the wicked and wild must be held in check and punished with the yoke of slavery when He cursed Canaan: “Cursed be Canaan, slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers” (Ex. 9:25), and to Esau He said: “…the older shall be servant to the younger” (Gen. 25:23). And St. Paul says: “Every man should remain in the condition in which he was called for the man who as a slave received the call to be a Christian…” (1 Cor. 7:20-21). Elsewhere he admonishes the masters, not that they should set their slaves free if they want to be Christians— though this is allowed and would be a great mercy— but that they demonstrate justice to their slaves and to remember that they too have a master who is in heaven. (About Leviticus, Chap. I, p. 902, 903)
Brenz, the old, enlightened theologian, is very certain that the duty of the slave against his master is part of the fourth commandment. Instead of proving this, he uses it as proof. About Gen. 16:9 he writes:
Let us analyze what the angel is saying to Hagar, the slave woman. First he orders her to return home and obey her mistress according to the law. We can see from this that we are dealing with a good angel, for Satan’s angel does not teach lawful obedience, but unlawful rebellion and riots. (ibid)
Luther says about Caspar Cruciger, his co-worker on Bible translation: “His books are ample proof of the spirit in which he teaches and advances God’s word.” Cruciger writes the following, among others, about 1 Tim. 6:
To instruct people of various social positions, St. Paul also instructs the slaves of their duties. Here we have to accept that the Gospel does not abolish civil slavery or the difference between freedmen and slaves. Indeed, as the Gospel confirms other political issues, so it also confirms freedom, dominion and slavery. Other testimony by St. Paul regarding masters and slaves must be viewed in the same manner, in opposition to that of the Schwärmgeister (those filled with the spirit of religious visions) who strive to abolish dominion, property rights, slavery, and similar political orders. Without doubt, at the time of our church’s beginning there were some, wrongly informed, who had similar views, as if man ought not be burdened with slavery. These views caused dissension among the slaves. For these reasons St. Paul often repeats the relevant commandment, adding that they should not desecrate the Gospel. For men, upon hearing that the Gospel negates political relationships, become fearful of the Gospel and insult it. Even believers must diligently beware of such vexations. (In epist. Pauli ad Tim. Argentor, 1540, pp. 257-258.)
Martin Chemnitz, the well-known, incomparable, “Second Martin” (“Alter Martinus”) of our church, citing Scripture in his Loci dealing with the slave owner’s duties, continues:
However, the slaves’ duties are more carefully defined because their conditions are harsh, and seem unworthy of the Christian confession, in that those who have been freed with the blood of Christ should be under men’s yoke of slavery. St. Paul describes the obedience of slaves by first explaining that they are not in slavery as the result of chance or human oppression, but that God Himself has established these differences of occupation. Therefore they are to be obedient to their masters for thus they are doing God’s will, for God has in this manner given their (the slaves’) labors to their masters. Consequently they need not doubt that God regards these labors as if having been done for Him. (Loc. Th. II, 64.)
Friedrich Balduin, professor in Wittenberg (d. 1627), writes concerning 1 Tim. 6:1-2:
The apostle begins with the slaves, as his letters often do, especially those letters to Asian congregations, such as the Ephesians, the Colossians, and Timothy. He was compelled by five reasons.
- There were many slaves in Asia who were well reputed, as Agesilaus, king of the Lacedaemonians, used to say that the freedman among the residents of Asia were wicked while the slaves were good. If these slaves were to be converted to Christianity, they needed to be instructed that though their worldly position was disdainful, it was nevertheless pleasing to God as long as they would diligently perform their duties according to their positions.
- Hebrew slaves obtained their freedom after six years (Ex. 21:2). To prevent Christian slaves from demanding the same of their masters, they are commanded by St. Paul’s apostolic authority to be subject to their masters, as explained by Augustinus in his 77th question about Exodus.
- Already at that time there were people who misunderstood the apostolic doctrine of Christian freedom, which frees from sin, death, hell, and other spiritual enemies. These people understood this to mean political freedom as if Christians are not subject to authority and sovereignty. This instruction was therefore necessary because the Gospel does not negate political law. This issue is treated by Chrysostomus in his 16th Homily, a commentary on this text.
- Disgust expressed by the heathen had to be dealt with lest they become more repulsed by the Christian religion when they observed immorality even among the slaves. For the heathen did not base their judgment on words, but on works and conduct, says Chrysostomus in his fourth homily on the letter to Titus.
- The lifestyles of the slaves themselves demanded repeated instruction of this kind, Chrysostomus continues. It was accepted as fact among all peoples that slaves were usually impudent, intolerant, spiteful, sly, and scarcely able to accept the doctrine of virtue; not because of their very nature, but because of their consociates and negligent lifestyle. Concerning morality they seem to have been totally neglected by their masters. For these reasons then the apostle often reminds the slaves of their duties.
In our text he gives them two rules: One pertains to those slaves whose masters are unbelievers; the other to those whose masters are believers. The first one: “Slaves are to honor their masters, so as not to revile the name of God and His doctrine.” Slaves are different from laborers, though. Laborers serve many. They are also called banausi and also thetes. The Athenisians called them thessae because they were low-class women serving for hire. Among these same Athenisians the “thetic” class was the fourth after the census which included tradesmen and day laborers which were excluded from holding public office and were exempt from tax.
Slaves, however, are those whose service has become the property of another. Of these it is said that they have either been born into this class or have been made slaves. Born into it because they were born by women slaves; made into slaves by political power, e.g., by being a prisoner of war or, as a freedman over twenty years old, who sold himself into slavery. The apostle is not talking about hired laborers here, because they are not owned by any one master, and are under the rule of 1 Thess. 4:6. “No man must do his brother wrong in this matter or invade his rights…” He is speaking of slaves, of whom he says are “under the yoke,” for they are not their own masters but tied to a master.
Slavery is indeed a yoke under which one suffers. It is a lowly and terrible state, for nothing is lower and more terrible than to be given to another as his own, and if one obtains something, it is obtained for the other. “Yoke” (zygos or zygon) is a pair of oxen, tied together. As a metaphor it relates to slavery. Plato speaks of the yoke of slavery, describing the hardship and misery of slavery. Those who are under the yoke of slavery are called by the apostle to “honor their masters.” He defines as “their masters” those who have authority over them, regardless of their social position or their religion, as long as they are masters of slaves. He wants these not only to be honored— something which is often against the slave’s will— he also wants them deemed to be worthy of honor, because God Himself has found them worthy of this honor, He defined the difference between slave and master. This is made clear in the fourth commandment which says to honor father and mother, names which also apply to our masters and all those who have been set over us. He refers to “all honor” which slaves owe their masters, for there is also an honor which is due only to God and which we exclude here, of course. This honor to which masters are entitled, is not only reverence, but all acts of kindness, and everything else which is not against God. The basis for this rule is: “So as not to revile the name of God,” namely among the heathens. For, as we said above, the heathens do not judge our belief by words, but by the actions and lives of men.
Homer writes about slaves in his Odyssey that they have lost half of all virtues, that slaves usually are evil and sly and are perceived as such. For these reasons, terrible punishments were devised by governments in order to curb this evil and increasing audacity. Therefore, says Chrysostomus in his fourth homily on the Epistle to Titus, once the heathens notice that such an impudent, insolent type of people are influenced by our religion and become controllable, honorable and humble, their masters will respect the tenets of our religion, though they (the heathens) may be ignorant and unreasonable. Obedient slaves can be of great service to our church. As Chrysostomus himself adds, the more wicked they once were, the more the power of the Gospel becomes apparent through them once they have become believers.
This is the other rule for slaves: “Those whose masters are believers ought not despise them because they are brothers, but rather be all the more of service to them because they are one with them in faith and love.” Converted slaves could have objected that all Christians are united by Christ, and therefore it is iniquitous that one assume authority over the other, or that one should become subservient to another. The apostle answers that Christians should not scorn their masters. The relation through Christ refers to the soul, the faith, word and sacrament, and salvation itself, where there is no difference between slave and freedman (Gal.3:28). However, concerning their vocation and social position, they are different. Therefore, they ought to be even more willing to serve those masters whom they know to be believers. These faithful he calls “brothers” of the church.
It must be noted here what Hieronymus said to contradict Helvidius towards the end. Holy Scripture uses the term “brothers” with four different meanings: based on nature, based on race, based on kinship, and based on affection. Based on nature, brothers are those with the same parents like Esau and Jacob; based on race such as all Jews (Deut. 15:12); based on kinship as Lot is referred to as Abraham’s brother. Brothers based on affection are divided into two categories— spiritual and general. In the spiritual sense all Christians are brothers, according to Psalm 133:1 “How good it is and how pleasant for brothers to live together.” In this sense then slaves become the brothers of their masters who are believers, because all people are of one father and therefore in brotherhood with one another. 1 Cor. 5:11 states: “I now write that you must have nothing to do with any so-called Christian who leads a loose life…” However, the apostle adds three reasons why slaves should obey their masters who are believers.
- “Because they are believers.” Common faith works toward greater love, and the apostle advises elsewhere to do good works but first of all to those who are fellow believers (Gal. 6:10).
- Because they are “loved.” The Greek word agapetos usually means a loved one or one who already is being loved by another. Hieronymus comments on the epistle to Philemon that it means the same as being worthy of love, because the run-away slave Onesimus is referred to as a beloved (agapetos) brother (v. 16), which means that he is worthy of love. Christian masters are loved by God, therefore worthy of the love of men. Others use the words “gentle, kind, not testy but affable.” All this is the result of the Christian religion, for the sake of which slaves are to honor these masters even more.
- Because “they are the recipients of good deeds.” Chrysostomus relates these words to the slaves as if they receive more good from their masters than the masters receive from the slaves. However, because this is the same for slaves of believers and non-believers, this explanation does not fit. We tend to agree instead with Ambrosius who speaks of “God’s good deeds,” which is otherwise referred to as God’s mercy which He grants, through Jesus, to the slaves as well as to their believing masters. That is why some have added the word “God”: “They are recipients of God’s good deeds,” which is not found in the Greek text. Because all believers receive God’s mercy in Christ, no one is to scorn the other, nor should the believing slave deny his service to his master.
These are the rules for slaves. According to the apostle’s admonishment they should not only be taught, but also be impressed upon the slaves. It is in their nature to defy those masters whom they know to be their equal concerning spiritual blessings, against whom they easily rebel unless they are regularly reminded of their duties. He goes on to discuss false teachers, who either scorn certain doctrines concerning domestic life and therefore claim to possess superior wisdom and concoct new, but useless ideas, or are otherwise not sound in their faith. (Commentar. in Epp. Pauli Francof, 1664, pp. 1367-1369)
Michael Reichard, during a Latin disputation held in 1617 in Wittenberg, answered the question “Does slavery disagree with Christian freedom?” thus:
Erasmus of Rotterdam writes about Eph. 6:5: “Among the Christians the words master and slave seem to be scorned; for as baptism makes us all brothers, how then is it fitting for a brother to call the other ‘slave’”? However, it is quite wrong to mistake Christian freedom for civil freedom. We need to realize that man must be regarded in two vocations and social positions. First as a Christian and in fellowship with God, all of which relates to spiritual matters. Here of course is the highest measure of equality between masters and slaves, for in Christ we are neither man nor woman, neither slave nor freedman (Gal. 5:13); in love we serve one another. Such services were probably performed by men while in the state of innocence; as it is fitting that the younger obey the older and the inexperienced obey the experienced. Secondly, man is also viewed as a citizen, which pertains to matters of physical and external nature. Here there is a difference between freedmen and slaves, but neither does being a master increase Christian freedom nor does slavery decrease it. Christian freedom is not of external relations, nor is it part of civil law; but it belongs to Christ’s kingdom which is spiritual. Therefore, slavery can coexist with Christianity and Christian freedom as well as submission of children to their parents.
Politicians and theologians view the origin of slavery differently. The former are of the opinion (according to Plinius in the Seventh Book of Natural History, ch. 56) that the Lacedaemonians were the first Greek people (among which slavery was unknown for a long time, according to Herodotus’s witness in the Seventh Book) to espouse the concept of slavery; as it spread, the victor would not slay those whom he had actually captured (manu cepissent), keep them for himself (servarent) whereby they became servants (servi) and were consequently called slaves (mancipia). Horace refers to this in his Epistles, Book 1, Ep. 16 when he says: “If you can sell the prisoner, do not slay him” (“vendere cum possis captivum, occidere noli”).
The apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 2:19 “…for a man is the slave of whatever has mastered him.” However, the origin of slavery accepted by theologians is much older. They refer to slavery as a consequence of sin, and rightly so. Man was made in the image of God, but it is God’s nature to rule, not to obey. Therefore it follows that it is not in man’s nature to be a slave. For this reason then, while in the state of innocence, men were not masters over men, for they willingly did everything in order to do the will of the Creator. However, after the fall all this changed, and soon dominion of men over men and the difference between master and slave developed as punishment for sin on both parties. For the master is subject to much toil and endless dangers. The slave must submit to another’s will, and neither of them lives his life without severe hardships. They are both suffering the just punishment from a just God. That is why Scripture mentions the first slave after the flood, Gen. 9:25 where Noah says: “Cursed be Canaan, slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” Ambrosius refers to this section of scripture in his Book of Elisha and Fasting, Chapter 5: “If there had been no dipsomania, there would be no slavery today.” That is why God Himself later on gave the law, defining the duties of slaves in the Hebrew republic (Ex. 21ff.). Based on these, the condition of our slaves is much more bearable.
All of this leads us to believe that slavery is a God-pleasing condition, ordered by Him; a condition under which everyone can live as best as possible and do God-pleasing works, even though there are enough tribulations. Some of these are because by nature we are not suitable for slavery, some of them are because we were born to pride and arrogance. It is much easier, though, to serve than to rule, especially if one deals with wicked, stupid, people. For these reasons we repeatedly read apostolic admonishments concerning slavery, such as Eph. 6:5; Co. 3:22; 1 Tim. 6:6; 1 Peter 2:18, and so on. (Quaestiones Illustres Ex Epp. Ad. Phil. et Col. Erutae Aut, F. Balduino, Disp. 8, Mich. Reichard. pp. 5-7)
III. A Later Lutheran Theologian About Slavery.
We could refer to many more testimonials by old Lutheran teachers. The above, however, suffice to show to what conclusions they have come, concerning Christian doctrine and slavery. After having cited a number of these testimonials, we now turn to a newer theologian.
Dr. G. C. A. von Harless writes in his Ethics:
It is the relationship of Christian brotherhood under whose guise the slaves attempted to change the God-ordered difference between master and slave into a false equality; or, in the name of Christian freedom tried to replace Christian obedience with disobedience and rebellion. (Compare admonishments to the slaves by St. Paul and Peter: “If the masters are believers, the slaves must not respect them any less for being their Christian brothers. Quite the contrary, they must be all the better servants because those who receive the benefit of their service are one with them in faith and love” (1 Tim.6:2). “Servants, accept the authority of your masters with all due submission, not only when they are kind and considerate, but even when they are perverse. For it is a fine thing if a man endure the pain of undeserved suffering because God is in his thoughts” (1 Peter 2:18, ff.). The perverse attitude of the slaves is often met with the equally perverse attitude of the masters. They either think that they must yield their right over the slaves in order to demonstrate to them the concept of Christian brotherhood, or, under the pretense of their Christian rights, they harbor selfish and cruel harshness.
The spirit of Christ reacts against this self-delusion or deceit of all sorts. By His power we transfer to relationships within the family those principles with which we are already familiar, we realize that within the family too there is godly order and structure. These are not to be torn down but to be fulfilled, filled with the power of the spirit of Christ, which is a spirit of righteousness as well as of self-denying, merciful love. According to the apostle, in this manner then the slaves obey their masters “as serving Christ” (Eph. 6:5), and the masters forget the state of slavery in their treatment of slaves “as their brothers.” (See also Philem. 15)
Therefore, the form is not changed (1 Cor. 7:21), but everything is new through the spirit of Christ’s freedom, which gives the proper content to all earthly form, excluding all selfish misuse which is perversion of earthly form. (See also 1 Cor.7:22). (Christian Ethics, 5 ed., Stuttgart 1853, pp. 287, 288.)
Concerning Eph. 6:1 and following, he writes:
The apostle discusses the issue of slaves also in Col. 3:22ff; compare Tit. 2:9ff.; 1 Tim. 6:1 ff.; 1 Cor. 7:21 (where I accept the explanation of the Greek elders “if you can obtain freedom remain a slave,” as the right one, based on language and content), also on 1 Pet.2:18. The apostle shows that even under these conditions the power of the Gospel can be manifest in the individual, not by repulsion of slavery, but in that the curse of slavery turns into a blessing through ready obedience.
The Gospel does not abrogate external consequences and punishment for sin. First it waits to see if the contrite, unfettered heart can be turned around. Neither does it say to the Christian slave: “break your fetters.” It breaks the fetters for him in that it removes the master’s cruelty in his fear of a higher master. The repulsion of the slave turns into willing obedience towards him who is the lord of both slave and master. External slavery is neither a product nor a hindrance of the power of the Gospel’s truth. Once the truth takes over, whatever external issue does not agree with it will disappear on its own. It penetrates the roots of the dead tree and with renewed life-power it casts off the dead leaves. Human wisdom cleans the hard trunk of the dead leaves, making it more visible in its ugliness.
I cannot understand, however, how one can consider the concept “general(?) human dignity and human rights” as the doctrine by which the Gospel abolishes slavery— defining it as a doctrine based on Gospel. Heathen antiquity already had this realization. “They are slaves? No, human beings. They are slaves? No, companions. They are slaves? No, fellow servants (conservi)” said Seneca. Antiquity does not lack good principles, suggestions for proper authority and proper service (“serve freely and you will not be a slave,” says Menander).
However, none of these realizations led to abolishment of slavery. Heathendom was not able to get beyond the following: “Every freedman is under a law, but the slave is under two, the law and his master.” That which caused slavery to remain slavery was done away with by Christianity, in that it gave one redeemer to both master and slave, where there is only brotherly love, no slave and no freedman (Gal. 3:28; Philem. 16), but all are one in Christ.
Faced with such a freedom, could the apostle advise to remain in earthly slavery? Or should he at least advise it (1 Cor.7:21) where the concept of Christian freedom was in danger of being misused for the flesh? It is evident that the ancient church did not use this section as perverted ascetics (compare Ignatius im Briefe an Polykarp, chapter 4), as also taught by Thedoret’s comments to 1 Cor. 7:21: “He did not mean this hyperbole to be a generalization, but saw its use in preventing escape from slavery under the guise of religion.” And the master remained master, and the slave remained slave, even though they had become brothers in Christ.
Forward. “Vorwort,” No. 1, January 1863, pp. 1-8 and No. 2, February 1863, pp. 33-46. ↑
It seems that these brothers and sisters of the free spirit, with their ways of the flesh, free love, and communism, have already robbed our “young Germany” of the glory to have introduced something new, and impress on our era the stamp of emancipation. ↑
Cf. Ranke’s Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, 3rd. Ed., Ch. II, pp. 144-183 (German History During the Reformation). ↑
It is the same Rousseau who turned over his five illegitimate children to an orphanage, and on his deathbed declared that he was returning his soul to nature in as pure a condition as he had received it.
Paffe = a cleric, referred to in a contemptuous sense. ↑
We are quite aware of what kind of antagonism we are inviting in that we are discussing the issue based on God’s word. We are quite aware of what terrible weapon against us we are placing into the hands of those who oppose slavery. However, the word and honor of God is higher than all else. What God has made known to us in His word, we will confess, for as long as God allows us to live, no matter how the world and its charmers rage against us or laugh at us. We are not conformists, rather we stand on God’s word. We know that ultimately God’s word and the truth will be victorious, and all who have fought against this word will see that they have fought against God himself, in vain. We see quite well that the wild waters of the new spirit will not be dammed. Unobstructed they flow their way, washing away all that now exists. We, however, do not want to throw ourselves into this stream and perish in it. We will raise our voices, though weak, and give witness against it, hoping for the day when it will be apparent that “God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom.” That day will grant, without doubt, that for which Christendom has prayed for nearly two thousand years. Amen! ↑
We are therefore inconsiderate of those who have themselves confessed that they will no longer accept the Bible as the word of God if it justifies slavery, but rather condemn it as a work of tyranny. It is clear that these have never truly regarded Holy Scripture as God’s word. Should this article prompt rebuttals, we will only deal with those who seriously consider our biblical explanations. Others, merely expressions of power under the influence of Zeitgeist, empty humanistic declamations or even malicious insinuations with political motives, will be disregarded, no matter how long or seemingly thorough they might be. According to Hamann “those with the emptiest heads have the loosest tongues and most prolific pens” (See Hamann’s Schriften III, 10).
Immediately before that, Melanchthon defines civil liberty thus: “It is the physical ability, as decreed by law, to move one’s body in an honorable manner, from locality to locality, to freely elect an honorable vocation, to own property and to dispose of it at will, as well as enjoying lawful protection of person and property; while Joseph could not move his person from locality to locality neither could he take it away from his master. However, the emphasis is on ‘as decreed by law’ because freedom is not uncontrolled licentiousness. . .” (see also p. 1095).
It is a given that these words also have other, related meanings, just like other words; and it is not important here.
Translator’s note: Leibeigene means literally the proprietary right over the person of another, i.e. a vassal, bondman, or slave. ↑
Therefore Luther says about the ninth and tenth commandments in his Large Catechism, as can be found in our Book of Concord: “God has added these two, that it should be considered a sin; he forbade that one covet his neighbor’s wife or property, especially because under Jewish rule servants were not free to serve for hire, as they do now, but rather they were owned by their masters together with all they might have.” ↑
These latter consequences are readily understood by our radical men of rebellion. The same spirit which in Europe declared the rank of princes to be an outrage in this century, who strove to depose them and replace them with democracy as the only rightful order; this same spirit compels them here to denounce slavery as a degradation of free-born man. It drives them to communism, demanding women’s emancipation (though they quite clearly agree that the female, according to God’s order, is in a certain kind of slavery). Every Christian who aids these agitators concerning slavery, is in the service of this radical-revolutionary spirit. Horrified, they will find out that these contemporary revolutionaries will not be satisfied, that after having achieved once, they will determinedly go on. By then regret over the coalition with these men of radical advancement will be too late. ↑
“The Old Lutheran Scholars About Slavery.” “Die alten lutherischen Lehrer über Sclaverei,” No. 3, March 1863, pp. 79-84, No. 4, April 1863, pp. 118-120, and No. 5, May 1863, pp. 142-147. ↑
Even Calvin could not avoid recognizing that this teaching about servanthood was Biblical. He writes about Ephesians 6:5-9: “The apostle is not speaking about servants who are working for a salary, as is the case today, but about that of those whose servanthood was permanent, unless they were set free out of the goodness of their masters. Their masters had bought them with money for the purpose of misusing them for the dirtiest of services, and by law they had the power of life and death over them. To those servants, he commanded that they should obey their masters, so that they should not dream, but that they might obtain a freedom of the flesh through the gospel…He testifies, however, that they are obedient to God when they serve their earthly masters faithfully; as if he wished to say: do not be sorrowful that you have been brought into servanthood through human arbitrariness. It is God who has placed this burden upon you, who has lent your services to your masters. So the one who does the duties which he owes his earthly master with a clear conscience, not only fulfills his obligations to a person, but to God.” (John Calvin in N.T. Commentary. Ed. A. Tholuck. II, 68.) About Philemon, said Calvin in his commentary about the epistle to the same: “Philemon was not one of the common people, but a coworker with Paul in Christ’s vineyard, and yet his lordship over his servant, which was his through the law, was not taken from him, but he was only instructed to grant forgiveness to the same, and to reinstate him, yes, Paul pleaded on his behalf, that he should receive his former position.” (U. a. D. G. 371.) ↑
See Luther’s introduction to his explanation of Genesis.
Translator’s note: There is no satisfactory one-word translation of the German word Schwärmer; he is a person whose views are not based on fact, but rather on his own visions and imaging. The word Schwärmer can be used with negative as well as positive connotations. ↑
Translator’s note: The German word used is Liebesdienste, i.e. services as an expression of love. ↑
“A Later Lutheran Theologian About Slavery.” “Ein neuerer lutherischer Theolog über Sclaverei”, No. 6, June 1863, pp. 186-187. ↑
The question mark is by Harless himself. ↑