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Why the Slave Bible omitted passages that taught about rebellion or Liberation.

In the Slave Bible Passages that could have prompted rebellion were removed, And verses that reinforced the institution of slavery, were kept.

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” Ephesians 6:5

Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Bible Passages That Could Incite Rebellion

On display at Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.

The Slave Bible, as it would become known, is a missionary book. It was originally published in London in 1807 on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of enslaved Africans toiling in Britain’s lucrative Caribbean colonies.

They used the Slave Bible to teach enslaved Africans how to read while at the same time introducing them to the Christian faith.

What’s notable about this Bible is not just its rarity, but its content, or rather the lack of content there in. The Bible excludes any portion of text that might inspire rebellion or liberation.

Its publishers deliberately removed portions of the biblical text, such as the exodus story, that could inspire hope for liberation. Instead, the publishers emphasized portions that justified and fortified the system of slavery that was so vital to the British Empire.

Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Bible Passages That Could Incite Rebellion

Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion in America at the museum, says the first instance of this abridged version titled, Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, was published in 1807.

“About 90 percent of the Old Testament is missing and 50 percent of the New Testament is missing,” Schmidt says. “Put Simply, there are 1,189 chapters in a standard protestant Bible. This Bible contains only 232.”

Schmidt says passages that could have prompted rebellion were removed, for example:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Bible Passages That Could Incite Rebellion

And verses that reinforced the institution of slavery, including “the most famous pro-slavery verse that many pro-slavery people would have cited,” says Schmidt, were kept.

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” Ephesians 6:5

Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion in America at the museum, says the first instance of the abridged version of the Bible titled, Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, was published in 1807.

“It was intended for use among enslaved Africans in the British West Indies, which is modern day Caribbeans, so Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua,” he says.

Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Bible Passages That Could Incite Rebellion

The Bible is currently on loan from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee., and has been in the museum of the Bible since it opened in November 2017. The university says only three copies of this Bible are known to exist, and that the one on display in Washington is the only copy in the U.S.

Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Key Passages That Could Incite Rebellion

On display at Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.

Museum of the Bible

On display now at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.

What’s notable about this Bible is not just its rarity, but its content, or rather the lack of content. It excludes any portion of text that might inspire rebellion or liberation.

Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion in America at the museum, says the first instance of this abridged version titled, Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, was published in 1807.

As people come from a multitude of backgrounds, Anthony Schmidt of the Museum of the Bible says how they encounter the Bible can vary greatly from person to person.

Elizabeth Baker/NPR

“About 90 percent of the Old Testament is missing [and] 50 percent of the New Testament is missing,” Schmidt says. “Put in another way, there are 1,189 chapters in a standard protestant Bible. This Bible contains only 232.”

Schmidt says passages that could have prompted rebellion were removed, for example:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

And verses that reinforced the institution of slavery, including “the most famous pro-slavery verse that many pro-slavery people would have cited,” says Schmidt, were kept.

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” Ephesians 6:5

Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion in America at the museum, says the first instance of the abridged version of the Bible titled, Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, was published in 1807.

Museum of the Bible

“It was intended for use among enslaved Africans in the British West Indies, which is modern day Caribbeans, so Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua,” he says.

Schmidt says there are several theories behind the editing and omitting of so much of the standard Bible, but the main thought stems from the fact that farmers in the West Indies were opposed to missionaries worked with the enslaved Africans on their land.

“This can be seen as an attempt to appease the planter class saying, ‘Look, we’re coming here. We want to help uplift materially these Africans here but we’re not going to be teaching them anything that could incite rebellion.’ ” Schmidt says. “Coming in and being able to educate African slaves would prepare them one day for freedom, but at the same time would not cause them to seek it more aggressively.”

Visitors are encouraged to write down and share their reactions, with prompts such as “What questions does the Slave Bible raise about how the Bible is used today?”

Museum of the Bible

The Bible is on loan from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and has been in the museum since it opened in November 2017. The university says only three copies of this Bible are known to exist, and that the one on display in Washington is the only copy in the U.S.

Schmidt says the museum decided to create the exhibit, “The Slave Bible: Let the Story Be Told,” because of the attention visitors were already giving it the artifact.

“From the very beginning people have been shocked to see it,” Schmidt says. “It’s drawn a lot of interest. In fact, of all the items we have on display here it’s probably been the most talked about among our guests.”

While the exhibit tells the story of what’s inside the Bible, it also gives people a chance to reflect and respond to the material.

“One of the points of the exhibit is that time and place really shape how people encounter the Bible,” Schmidt says. “What I mean by that is people don’t look at the Bible or approach the Bible or read the Bible in a vacuum. They’re shaped by their social and economic context.”

As people come from a multitude of backgrounds, Schmidt says how they encounter the Bible can vary greatly from person to person and, as such, the exhibit will affect them all differently.

“I hope people take away a greater appreciation for that and maybe even a self reflection to be more cognizant of why you read something a certain way,” he says. “If people can better appreciate that then maybe they can better empathize with others.”

What is the Slave Bible?

The earliest copy of the Slave Bible was published in 1807, an “astoundingly reduced” Bible which “contains only parts of 14 books,” Brigit Katz reported for SmithsonianMag.com. Sections that were removed included the Exodus story, which showed God instructing Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

The account of Joseph’s enslavement, however, remains because his story exemplifies how well-behaved submission is rewarded by God. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian” (Genesis 39:2).

Editors of the Slave Bible were “highlighting themes of being submissive; the same thing goes on with the New Testament as well,” Anthony Schmidt, PhD, Associate Curator of Bible and Religion in America, told CBN News.

Sources do not offer a table of contents for the Slave Bible, but a copy is available for public viewing at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which is on loan from Fisk University until September 2019. Two other copies are known to exist in the United Kingdom.

Who made the Slave Bible and why?

The Slave Bible was published in 1807, commissioned “on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves” for use by missionaries who wanted “to teach enslaved Africans to read, with the ultimate goal of introducing them to Christianity,” according to Katz.

Names of the editors or authors of the Slave Bible are not mentioned. Although their intentions were to evangelize slaves, missionaries had to appease slave owners in the British West-Indies who feared an uprising. This fear was heightened because Haitian slaves overcame their masters only three years earlier during “the only slave revolt in history” in which slaves “successfully drove out their European oppressors to form a new nation,” according to History.com.

Missionaries had to simultaneously respond to the growing abolitionist movement by proving that they had the slaves’ best interests at heart. As they prepared to compile a special Bible for slaves in the West Indies, the missionaries agreed to “uplift materially these Africans” without “teaching them anything that could incite rebellion,” Katz reported.

But it is difficult to completely remove the thread of freedom in Christ woven throughout the Bible.

Slavery in Biblical Context

When Paul was writing much of the New Testament, about “80 percent to 90 percent of the inhabitants of Rome were slaves,” according to Ortlund. Slavery wasn’t based on race in ancient Rome, like it was in the 17th-19th century Western slave trade. Rather, Ortlund said it included foreign prisoners of war and local “men and women who sold themselves into slavery in order to relieve a burdensome debt.”

Most people, hearing or reading his letters when they were first written, were slaves. Yet, Paul’s letters speak to slaves and masters alike: “he expects them to fellowship together in the same church as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Ortlund said.

Peter encourages the Church to “live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16). The Church’s greatest allegiance is to God, and they can glorify Him by “submit[ing] [them]selves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority,” (1 Peter 2:13), including emperorsgovernors, and even earthly masters.

While many in Paul’s audience were literal slaves, the message of Christ was applicable to all who recognized their bondage to sin and wanted a way out of it. According to God’s Word, not just 80 or 90 percent, but all believers were once slaves to sin (Romans 3:23). And those who are saved by Christ are now slaves to Christ (Romans 1:1Romans 6:221 Corinthians 7:22).

Everyone is a slave to something. As Justin Buzzard said at Crossway.org:

“If God is not the center of your life, if he does not hold your ultimate allegiance, then you have been enslaved,” but “every slave master except God will fail you.” Worse still, “when you fail, that master can offer no forgiveness, only misery and shame.” Idols become our slave masters, but “that idol that you love [] doesn’t love you back” and “anything you worship and build your life on other than God will suck the life out of you and destroy you.”

In contrast, the Apostles of Jesus taught that Christ “shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus came to serve and save the world (Matthew 20:28). He freed believers from the chains of sin and death, satisfying the requirements of God’s law through His own death and resurrection.

This message was explosive and unsuitable for an excerpted Bible designed to promote submission to one’s earthly master, but it was well-suited to the abolitionist movement which opposed slavery. God’s complete, undistorted message nurtured abolition in the West and would help make the Slave Bible obsolete.

Oppression of one person by another for personal gain was never part of God’s original plan. When viewing the Bible in its entirety, one understands the true meaning of slavery and servanthood as God portrays it, not as demonstrated in the Slave Bible.

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