Notes and Excerpts from Dabney’s NT Argument for Slavery


  • doulos- properly of involuntary service, a slave, servant, as opposed to eleutheros
  • misthios-employed for hire, hired, hired servant
  • misthotos-hired hand, hired servant, hireling
  • eleutheros-freeborn in a civil sense, one who is not a slave of one who ceases to be a slave, freed, manumitted free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation in an ethical sense: free from the yoke of the Mosaic Law

From A Defense of Virginia and the South

  1. The NT never overturns what the OT supports.
    “The mere absence of a condemnation of slaveholding in the New Testament is proof that it is not unlawful. In showing that there is no such condemnation, we are doing more than we could be held bound to do by any logical obligation: we might very properly throw the burden of proof here upon our accusers, and claim to be held innocent until we can be proved to be guilty by some positive testimony of holy writ. But our cause is so strong, that we can afford to argue ex abundantia; to assert more than we are bound to show.” (Defense, 149)
  2. NT slavery was has harsh a form of slavery as ever.
    “The slavery of that day, as defined by the Roman civil law, was harsh and oppressive, treating the slave as a legal nonentity, without property, rights, or legal”remedy; without marriage, subject, even as to his life, to the caprice of his master, and in every respect a human beast of burden. Again: to this institution Christ and his apostles make many allusions, for illustration of other subjects; and upon the institution itself they often speak didactically. Yet, while often condemning the abuses and oppressions incident to it, they never condemn the relation.” (Defense, 150)
  3. Jesus and the NT writers catalog sins with no mention of slavery, the so called cruelest sin.
    “To the argument that the bible gives general, and not every specific, moral rule (If God had intended to denounce it as a general sin, he would have!): But why does Revelation omit a number of particulars, and state general principles? For the lack of room, it is said. The other plan would have made the Bible too large. Now we ask, as the case actually stands in the New Testament, would not a good deal of room have been saved as to slavery, by simply specifying it as wrong ? It is a queer way to economize space, thus to take up a subject, define it at large, limit, modify it, retrench its abuses, lay down in considerable detail apart of its duties and relations; and then provide by some general principle for its utter prohibition!” (Defense, 152)
  4. Christ applauds the faith of a slaveholder after healing his slave and thus sanctioning his continued service. (Matthew 8:5013; Luke 7: 2-10) “Should not Christ have said:  ‘Honest Centurion, you’ owe one thing more to your sick fellow-creature: his liberty. You have humanely sought the preservation of his being, which I have now granted; but it therefore becomes my duty to tell you, lest silence in such a case should confirm a sinful error, that your possession of him as a slave outrages the laws of his being. I cannot become accomplice to wrong. The life which I have rescued, I claim for liberty, for righteousness. I expect it of your faith and gratitude, that instead of begrudging the surrender, you will thank me for enlightening you as to your, error.’ But no; Christ says nothing like this, but goes his way and leaves the master and all the people blinded by his extraordinary commendation of the slave-owner, and his own act in restoring the slave to him, to blunder on in the belief that slavery was all right.” (Defense, p155)
  5. The Apostles separate ‘Slavery and its Abuses. (e.g.”Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.” Coll 4:1)
    It’s hard to give a slave what is equal when slavery itself is allegedly the essence of inequality! “Let the reader note then, that the type of slavery prevailing where the apostles preached, was, compared with ours, barbarous, cruel, and wicked in many of its customary incidents, as established both by usage and law. Slaves were regarded as having neither rights nor legal remedies. No law protected their life itself against the master. There was no recognized marriage for them, and no established parental or filial relations. The chastity of the female slave was unprotected by law against her master. And the temper of society sanctioned the not infrequent use of these powers, in the ruthless separation of families, inhuman punishments, hard labour, coarse food, maiming, and even murder.” (Defense, 157)
  6. Slavery no Essential Religious Evil
    “The Apostle Paul teaches that the condition of a slave, although not desirable for its own sake, has no essential bearing on the Christian life and progress; and therefore, when speaking as a Christian minister, and with exclusive reference to man’s religious interests, he treats it as unimportant. The proof of this statement may be found in such passages as the following: 1 Cor. xii. 13, ‘For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free: and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.’ Galat. iii. 28, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female; for we are all one in Jesus Christ.’ So, substantially, says Colos. iii. 11. But the most decisive passage is 1 Cor. vii. 20,21: ‘Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.’ (Paul had just defined his meaning in the phrase “calling in which he was called,” as being circumcised or uncircumcised, bond or free.)” (Defense, 158-159)
  7. Slaveholders fully Admitted to Church-membership.
    (Acts 10: 5-17; Eph 6:2; Col 4:1) For example, Paul wrote to Philemon, a church member and minister who held services in his home, precisely to affectionately encourage him to send back a runaway slave.  Also note that Paul addresses the Colossians as the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Collossee,” and gives specific instructions to slave holders! (Defense, 161-167)
  8. Relative Duties of Masters and Slaves recognized
    “Another fact equally decisive is, that the apostles frequently enjoin on masters and slaves, their relative duties, just as they do upon husbands and wives, parents and children. And these duties they enforce, both on master and servant, by Christian motives.” (Defense 167ff)
  9. St. Paul reprobates Abolitionists.
    “One passage of the New Testament remains to be noticed. It is that which commands the exclusion of Abolitionist teachers from church communion, 1 Tim. vi. 3-5. St. Paul had just enjoined on this young minister the giving of proper moral instruction to servants. The pulpit was to teach them the duty of subordination to masters, as to rightful authority; and if those masters were also Christians, then the obligation was only the stronger. See v. 1, 2. The apostle then proceeds, v. 3, ‘If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to whole some words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness’ (the opposite teaching of abolitionism contradicts Christ’s own word,) ‘he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.'” (Defense, p 185-6)
  10. The Golden Rule Compatible with Slavery.
    ..Christ’s giving the law of love cannot be inconsistent with his authorizing slaveholding; because Moses gave the same law of love, and yet indisputably authorized slaveholding.” (Defense, 195)”[the common interpretation.] It would become every man’s duty to enable all other men to do whatever his own sinful heart, mutatis mutandis, might prompt. “It is clear, then, that our Saviour, by His Golden Rule, never intended to establish so absurd a law. The rule of our conduct to our neighbour is not any desire which we might have, were we to change places; but it is that desire which we should, in that case, be morally entitled to have.”  (Defense, 195, 197; emphasis original)
  11. Anti-slavery proponents would make Christ afraid to condemned slavery. He alluded to it, used it to establish points, and did not refuse to speak out on all major sins.

Dabney’s points and sequence.

  1. Definition of Doulos
  2. Slavery often mentioned; yet not condemned.
  3. Christ applauds a Slaveholder.
  4. The Apostles separate slavery and its abuses.
  5. Slavery no essential religious evil
  6. Slaveholders fully admitted to church-membership.
  7. Relative duties of masters and slaves recognized.
  8. Philemon and Onesimus. (There is a typo in some editions which lists points seven and eight both as point eight).
  9. St. Paul reprobates Abolitionists.
  10. The Golden Rule is compatible with slavery.
  11. Was Christ and his Apostles afraid to condemn slavery? Why would they catelog several times the most prevailing and aggregious sins of their time, yet fail to mention the one that our contemporaries say is the core of evil?



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