Human Souls: Appeal to the Image of God in Protest Against the Commodification of People

In Revelation 18, John presents his vision of Babylon’s fall. The cries of “woe” from those who have financially benefited from Babylon highlight the city’s economic prosperity and reveal that the means by which she has prospered also serve as the foundation for her fall. When John discusses the cargo that people no longer buy from the merchants, he concludes the list by mentioning “slaves” and expounds upon their identity by noting them as “human souls” (Rev 18:13). Richard Bauckham aptly notes that John “is pointing out that slaves are not mere animal carcasses to be bought and sold as property, but are human beings” (“Economic Critique of Rome,” p. 370)—people created in the image of God.

Though various segments of society have argued that culture has progressed in racial equality, the Bible has consistently addressed these issues. The problem has been that people within the church have failed to live according to Scripture regarding such matters. While many Christians in recent history have noted that slavery existed in the Bible and that the Scriptures never explicitly condemn the practice, they have failed to acknowledge that the Bible gives specific instructions for how people—God’s people—are to behave in a system of slavery. Actions such as the redaction of passages in the development of Select Parts of the Holy Bible, for the Use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands reveals people’s understanding that the biblical presentation of the image of God stands in contradiction with practices like those of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Such practices show that those engaged in them behaved far more like people of their time than people of God.

This paper will use discourse analysis and redaction criticism to reveal that John does not stand alone in his protest of the commodification of people but builds his argument from the foundation of Genesis and aligns with other New Testament writers who note that enslaved people must be treated as people made in God’s image. It will also demonstrate that even those who wielded the Word of God as a tool to fulfill their political agenda of maintaining slavery in the United States were well aware of the command of Scripture but chose to ignore select portions of the Scriptures they professed to believe.

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