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The Slave Bible: The Past Informs the Future

For Black History month 2023 I decided to buy “The Slave Bible” and as I perused the pages what I discovered was a deeply troubling part of the history of the Christian faith. “The Slave Bible was published in 1807 and commissioned on behalf of The Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves in England. The bible was to be used by missionaries and slave owners to reach slaves about the Christian faith and to evangelize slaves.” As they prepared and compiled this special bible the goal was to “uplift the Africans without teaching them anything that could incite a rebellion”. As you read through the bible it becomes obvious why some sections of scripture were altered and even removed.

For example, only 5% of the entire book of Exodus was included in the edited version which is only 2 chapters out of 40 in the standard bible. There was no mention of God using Moses and others to free the enslaved Israelites and eventually lead them through the desert into the promise land. The book of Ephesians starts at chapter 4 omitting the first three chapters that speak to the finishing work of Christ on the cross and its purpose to destroy the walls of hostility between people groups and to create in himself one new humanity, making peace, and reconciling people to God. The book of Galatians leaves out half the chapters including chapter three that states there are no slave or free, Jew or Greek, male nor female for those that are in Christ. These are just a few examples of many parts of the bible that were excluded. These kinds of intentional omissions are a clear admission from the slave owners, missionaries, and editors that they knew God was clearly not in support of enslaving others, yet they still manipulated the words of scripture for their own gain and for the exploitation and abuse of others. Yikes!

One might ask “Why does this matter 215 years later? Haven’t we grown as a people and country, overcoming so much of this prejudice and hate?” These are valid, good questions I have been asked over the years from Christians and I do believe we have grown BUT I also believe it is critical to continue to understand our past as clearly as we can, so we do not make similar mistakes in the future. I would attest that even in our times I find people using scripture to defend or dismiss anything that has to do with race, and it breaks my heart. I have heard people say things like “abortion is clearly a biblical issue, but race is political or social, not found in the bible”. These kinds of ways to dismiss someone’s race, ethnicity, culture, or skin color is another version of editing out pieces of scripture to adhere to a narrative that makes one feel more justified in their views and can lead to the marginalization, dismissal, and harm to our neighbors. Dare I say that these interpretations and views of scriptures, though not overtly so, might just be a more subtle version of “The Slave Bible”. I strongly believe the famous phrase, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” which convicts me to make sure that even in the most subtle ways we are not bending the narrative of scripture and the heart of God to serve our own gain, agenda, or advancement. Simply put I’m personally convicted this week to ask God to remove in me all the ways I use God and scripture to advance my own agenda and put in me more humility to continue to grow in the wisdom of God. I invite you to pray a similar prayer with me this week and let’s see what God will do in our hearts, souls, and mind.

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