The Bible and Human Trafficking

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Sometimes people will argue that the Bible was often used historically as a justification for slavery. Sadly, that is true. Regrettably, slave traders and slave owners sometimes did use passages from the Bible to justify slavery. But actually, they almost always misused and abused the Bible. If you read through the whole Bible, you will find that the Bible’s ethical comments on slavery change over time. Early on, the Bible is silent on slavery, other than to acknowledge that it happened. Later, God gives laws that restrict and regulate the practice of slavery. And towards the end of the Bible, slavery is increasingly frowned upon. Paul’s epistle to the slave owner Philemon is especially notable in this regard. And finally, in the last book of the Bible (that is, the Book of Revelation), the practice of slavery is indicted as one reason for severe divine judgment. 

Curiously, you will find that final indictment of slavery at the end of a commodities list. It reads a bit like a grocery list. Except this is a grocery list for a fabulously wealthy civilization.  

At the end of a list of more than twenty commercially traded luxury items, Revelation 18:13 indicates that the wicked, irredeemable Harlot City Babylon also happened to trade slaves. The verse is mostly just an informative list. If you were to summarize it in context, you might say, “So they traded gold, silver, jewels, pearls, linen, silk, ivory, wood, bronze, iron, marble, spices, yada, yada; and, oh yeah — almost forgot — they also traded slaves…” 

And yet two telling Greek words of indictment are added at the very end to that list: ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων, or, in English, human souls. The implicit condemnation of slavery in those two words may be oh-so-subtle and easy to miss. But the condemnation is there nonetheless, because those two words are otherwise simply unnecessary. The list could have just ended with the word slaves, but it goes on with those two words to expound on the what slavery actually entails. These are human beings, or human souls that are being traded and treated as if they were merely commodities. Human trafficking was happening in Babylon.

And perhaps that’s why the Harlot City Babylon is especially wicked and, in the end, entirely irredeemable: because of slavery and human trafficking, because in the City of Babylon human beings have become mere commerical commodities.  

“Okay, but Babylon was just ancient Babylon; right? How is any of that relevant to me?”  

On the contrary, it might be very relevant to us. In the Book of Revelation Babylon actually isn’t ancient Babylon at all. Instead, Babylon symbolizes another city or civilization (or two). In the Book of Revelation, Babylon serves as a cipher for the City of Rome and for the entire Roman Empire. Significantly, at the very same time, Babylon also seems to represent a final, future city or civilization — a future metropolis that meets an abrupt and fiery end.     

My fellow Americans might claim, “Well, the passage definitely cannot apply to us, because we don’t practice slavery here in America anymore. The Civil War took care of that, once and for all. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery ended well over 150 years ago. We are entirely free from the institution of slavery now. Some of our ancestors may have been guilty of that dehumanizing practice; but we are innocent.”  

Okay, good for us. But what about the less overt forms of slavery that do occur here in the United States and around the world? Various forms of human trafficking do occur here and now. Modern-Day Babylon might be closer to home than we want to acknowledge.  

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