Laugh at the Slave Owners’ Self-Serving ‘Slave Bible’? We Can’t. We Have Our Own
On display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a poignant, not to say shameful, historical curiosity. It’s a so-called “Slave Bible” from the British West Indies: an abridged version of the written Word of God meant to communicate only the essentials of the Christian faith.
Arguably it does contain those essentials. What we notice first, though, is what its editors left out. Any verses which could have be construed as critical of slavery were deliberately dis-included. The entire story of the exodus from Egypt, for example. (The Stream‘s David Mills describes the Slave Bible’s shocking deletions here.
The abridging was done to create a Bible masters would allow. Their approval was necessary to have the opportunity to present the Gospel to slaves. The “Slave Bible’s” existence acknowledges the value of their souls. That’s not nothing.
However, it’s impossible to address the soul sincerely while concealing known truths from the brain. Thankfully, we know better than to create a Bible pandering to the sensibilities and interests of a powerful elite. No one does that anymore. It’s just a memory. Or … is it?
I’m afraid we have our own versions of the slave bible.
The Fear of Man
The Slave Bible put the fear of man before the fear of God. It emphasized conflict avoidance, providing slaves no disconcerting quotes they might use to challenge masters. Hope for eventual liberty was censored out, even in the form of historical precedent.
This Bible’s publishers were not men of wicked intent. They were pragmatic. They recognized How Things Are In Today’s World. These men strove to fit the Gospel to contemporary sensibilities. They set the Word of God to the tune of the times. After all, the Bible hadn’t been written in a world of slaves, masters, and complex situations, had it?
Actually, it had been. Yet like all of us, the publishers saw their own times as demanding unique treatment. They needed a special Bible for special times. They came up with one.
But this abridged Word of God doesn’t give us the real, the full, Word of God. It corrupts it. Not only did it shortchange the slaves, it coddled the masters. Its implicit message to them was that the “stuff” which might prick masters’ consciences was all “optional.”
By contrast, in the American South — where the “slave bible” was never used — there was a rich tradition of slaves identifying with the Hebrews in ancient Egypt. Spirituals like “Go Down, Moses!” remain with us, evidence that slaves drew the obvious conclusions.
Just an Embarrassing Footnote
Do we modern Christians have our own versions of the “slave bible”? Yes, several. In 1995, The New Testament and Psalms, An Inclusive Version was published by Oxford University Press. Its appeasement of “modern” sensibilities earned it the nickname “the politically correct Bible.” As the publisher’s description puts it, the Bible is designed “to reflect a more inclusive, less pejorative view” and “to use language that emphasizes a universal community rather than a particular gender or other favored group.”
Pragmatic, some would argue, not to burden the basic Gospel message with controversial content. You want modern people to listen to God’s Word? Don’t offend them with the un-modern parts. After all, the original Bible was simply not written in a sexually broken world, shot through with predation, resentments and delusions …
More recently, we got the Queen James Bible. It’s “a big, fabulous Bible,” the Amazon description says. It’s “edited to prevent homophobic misinterpretation,” and “in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.”
The next step in our fast-moving world is going to be a “Women’s Bible,” one which feminists will graciously allow. This new version will change all the teaching about men and women to fit feminist beliefs. Any teaching that suggests created differences, and especially any suggesting a hierarchy, will be cut out. (One suggested “upgrade” will actually reverse the genders of Biblical characters — a “trans-translation” of sorts.)
The step after that will be a “Progressive’s Bible” emphasizing leftist political causes. It will excise things that make Leftist elites uncomfortable. These “lite” translations will avoid pricking the consciences of the elites, and will alter any Biblical quotes by which they might be criticized.
The Old Bargain
It’s the same old bargain, in other words. Slaves in the West Indies, unfamiliar with the Bible, didn’t know what was being left out. In the same way, young people in the modern West may well have their first interactions with a sanitized Bible, meant to save their souls without helping them engage God’s revelation in the context of their world.
All these corrupted Bibles keep the soul on spiritual life support, while abandoning the body and mind to the spirit of the age. They extend salvation as a consolation prize, while consigning body and mind to the miseries of the age. They may try to whisper the Good News, but only while glancing over their shoulders nervously.
In short, while trying to do good by “updating” the Scriptures, their editors are creating contemporary Slave Bibles.
Of course, with or without the un-doctored Bible to back them up, people will still struggle against oppression, bondage and lies. However, a doctored Bible denies them the assistance of Scripture and abandons them to make their own way. All they can do is protest sexual misbehavior and disappointment with feminist rage, or feminist coercion with belligerent machismo. The ancient truths would actually give them a fighting chance against cultural forces.
And the intact Bible’s immediate relevance to our society, also bears witness to the Bible’s eternal promises. But a Bible that promotes lies about this world, won’t inspire much trust in its message about the next.
In another two centuries, I hope the new Slave Bibles will be obscure, embarrassing curiosities. Because what they aren’t, is Good News.