Beyond Slavery pp 231-248 | Cite as

The Bible, Slavery, and the Problem of Authority

  • Sylvester A. Johnson
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series


Slavery in the United States occupied national attention and inspired religious, legal, and political battles to an extent that few other issues have. It became one of the most fiercely and continually debated controversies in the nation’s history, leading to massive legal and cultural changes. In this essay, I examine two factors regarding the Bible that shaped the nature of American debates over slavery. First, the Bible is steeped in the ideology of slavery. It comprises writings by authors who conformed to their societies’ customs in embracing slavery as a legitimate practice. Second, the Bible was a symbol of tremendous authority, making it difficult for abolitionists challenging the legitimacy of slavery to use the Bible convincingly in their arguments. Because so few individuals ever conceived of challenging the Bible itself, religious debates over slavery typically concerned what the Bible meant and not the problem of human brutality, per se.


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Copyright information

© Bernadette J. Brooten 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sylvester A. Johnson

There are no affiliations available

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