Episode 23: Slavery and the Bible

Show Notes

In this episode, our hosts Gabriel Said Reynolds, Francesca Murphy, and Tzvi Novick are joined by Mark Noll, professor emeritus from the history department of Notre Dame. Together, they discuss how slavery was understood and depicted within the Bible and use of Biblical verses in controversial debates about race and slavery in early-modern America. How exactly were pro-slavery advocates misinterpreting Scripture? What was the original historical context for verses regarding the treatment of slaves in the Old and New Testaments?

Our hosts first explore the idea and practice of slavery generally in the antique world. As Tzvi explains, there does seem to be evidence of the acceptance of slavery as an institution; when the Bible discusses slavery, is it simply incorporating a widespread practice, or is it condoning a philosophical statement about human nature? How does the experience of slavery of Israel in Egypt become an occasion for reflection on the relationship between work and rest, God’s redemptive love for Israel, and human relationships?

However, in the heated context of early-modern America, as Mark Noll explains, Biblical passages were latched onto both to support and condemn the institution and practices of slavery. This raises questions about the hermeneutics of Biblical interpretation, especially of Genesis 9 and the enslavement of Canaan, as well as the pervasive entwinement of religious and scientific racism. How was Scripture used to support alleviation of harsh practices? What role did political divisions play in Scriptural interpretation? How can scripture be a voice for liberation and justice? Join our hosts as they probe these sobering questions.

Further Resources:

Noll, Mark. God and Race in American Politics: A Short History. Princeton University Press, 2008.
Noll, Mark. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Featured Guest


Mark Noll is professor emeritus of American history at the University of Notre Dame. His research probes questions of race and religion in early-modern America. He is currently working on a new book related to the Bible in 19th-century America, covering especially the question of slavery. 

Professor Mark Noll

professor emeritus of American history

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