"all of the specific references to slavery in the Bible seem to sanction it.
This is a statement that you can read in a recent post. Either this person is Biblically illiterate and is simply throwing out statements about which he knows nothing at all. Or, I would have to suppose that he is deliberately trying to mislead those who would love to believe what he’s just said.
It’s true that slavery in New Testament times, and Old Testament times for that matter, was a fact of life. But it certainly wasn’t acceptable for Paul, Jesus or any of the other New Testament writers. So why didn’t Jesus spend His time on earth trying to rid the world of this despicable practice? Well, He did, in a way. In fact He brought freedom from the effects of slavery to any and to all who wanted that freedom. You see, Christianity is about a relationship with one’s Creator that brings freedom despite circumstance. Jesus says that a life of integrity, meaning, context and purpose can be had no matter what one’s station in life, no matter what one’s race, no matter what one’s nationality, no matter what one’s gender. In one particular passage, Paul is addressing slavery when he says, "Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you . . ."
I suppose that if you stop there, you could have the beginnings of a case that Jesus thought slavery was no big deal. However Paul goes on to say, "although if you can gain your freedom, do so" 1st Corinthians chapter 7. Paul is saying, ‘slavery is not good, escape it you can; but neither is slavery the most important thing in this life’. Paul is saying, ‘don’t be distracted from the most important thing in life, by something that is less important’.
‘There are no references in the Bible that don’t sanction slavery’? Hardly! In fact because of the way that slavery is usually carried out, Paul announces in 1st Timothy 1:10 that 'those who take part in the trading of slaves will deserve eternity in hell'. The reason I say, "The way that slavery is usually carried out," is because slavery in ancient Hebrew society served as an important social safety net. There wasn’t any welfare system. There wasn’t any unemployment insurance. Many times, the only way to feed oneself and one’s family was to sell oneself into slavery. Nevertheless, human nature led back then, and has led right up to the present day to horrendous abuses. This is the world that we have chosen to create for ourselves.
Since all people are desperately wicked, desperately wicked people are all God has to work with. That is why He laid down guidelines for the ‘given’ practice of slavery in ancient Hebrew culture. He is saying to those who lived in a society where slavery was normal practice, "Masters, treat your slaves in the same way [with respect]. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him, Ephesians 6:9. And Colossians 4:1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
Is slavery as it is usually carried out supported or sanctioned in the Bible? Absolutely not. Is it accepted as a fact of life? Yes. God has accepted, for a time, the world that we have chosen for ourselves. And to that end, just like cancer, earthquakes, war and other events that bring difficulty in our lives, God provides a means of coping in a healthy manner with things that can’t be changed.