Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

*For the video on this subject, please click this link to watch. God bless!*

In their suppression of their knowledge of God, where they come up with petty excuses to not submit to their Maker, “unbelievers” often bring up the issue of slavery in the Bible.

They claim that since the Bible permits slavery, it is therefore immoral and should not be followed.

Now, leaving aside the fact that if Atheism were true then nothing would be “right” or “wrong”, including slavery since all you would have is one random biological organism which appeared on a random rock owning another random biological organism without any objective standard condemning such a concept, it is nevertheless important to address this argument.

This is because when a Biblical slavery is argued by such people, it is meant to incite an emotional reaction connected with the racist slavery of the American south in the 18th and 19th centuries; or the brutal instances of slavery in the ancient world. One can think of the movie Ben Hur where slaves had chains around their necks and were worked to death.

However, to read such concepts in the Old Testament Israelite servanthood the Bible permits, or the foreign slavery it permits, would be extremely inaccurate and deceptive. The following facts serve as reasons why Biblical servanthood and foreign slavery were not immoral in the sense modern English speakers define slavery.

Opponents of the Bible refer to the Ten Commandments itself to show slavery is condoned. They use Commandment #10 to make this argument

Exodus 20:17 “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

They say that the words manservant and maidservant are just sugarcoated ways of saying slaves. Slave and master are not the best translations of the words “ehbed” and “adon (aw-done)”. The Hebrew words for slave or servant in any relevant OT texts is “ehbed”, which simply means “employee” or “servant” which should not be translated as “slave” in such contexts.

There is nothing inherently lowly or undignified about being an ehbed, but rather, it was an honorable and dignified term. Likewise, in …

Exodus 21:2 “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.”

… the term can refer to a servant of a household. And “adon” in Hebrew means a “boss” or “employer” in these contexts. And “master” is a bit too strong of a translation.

Even when the words “buy”, “sell”, or “acquire” are used for servants/employees, they don’t mean the person in question is just property. Rather, these are formal contractual agreements, which is what we find in the OT servanthood/employee arrangements.

One example of this contracted agreement between employer/employee relationship was Jacob’s working for Laban for seven years so that he might marry his daughter Rachel.

Genesis 29:18-20 “And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.”

Now, indentured servitude existed as a form of debt payment. These employees lived with and worked for a family in order to pay off a debt.

Exodus 21:2 “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.”

Leviticus 25:35,47 “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger’s family:”

Deuteronomy 15:12 “And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.”

This is similar to what took place in 17th century colonial America, where European immigrants could not afford passage into America and so worked for a family in order to pay them back for paying for their passage.

God set up servitude as a last resort means of survival. The OT affirms God ordained servitude for people to be able to survive when all other means of survival were exhausted. People would put themselves into indentured servitude to survive.

Deuteronomy 15:16 “And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee;”

Leviticus 25:47 “And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger’s family:”

The conditions of this servitude must now be discussed in order to dispel Atheist claims. OT servants were more like live-in butlers or nannies. They did not walk around with chains around their necks, enduring racism or being worked to death. The rights and dignity of these indentured servants in the OT make these comparisons to Ben Hur slavery or modern American racist slavery in the south, erroneous.

For example: Exodus 21 demands these servants be treated as persons, not property. If a servant who owed a debt came in with his wife, then after six years they both were allowed to leave together, not just one …

Exodus 21:3 “If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.”

Deuteronomy 15:16 shows that servants often truly loved the leaders of the household and thought of them as family.

Leviticus 25:53-54 says servants were to be treated as men “hired from year to year“And as a yearly hired servant shall he be with him: and the other shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight. And if he be not redeemed in these years, then he shall go out in the year of jubile, both he, and his children with him.”

Not, “ruled over ruthlessly

They were even to be given a regular day off during the week …

Exodus 23:12 “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.”

If a boss injured a servant, the servant was to be set free. Such abuse was not tolerated.

Exodus 21:26-27 “And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.”

Also, Israelite servants could not be sold by their bosses.

Leviticus 25:42 “For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen.”

Lastly, Deuteronomy 15:13-14 affirms once these servants service was over after six years, he was not to leave empty handed … “And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.”

The boss was demanded to furnish him out of his own flock; also with corn, and wine.

All of these facts destroy the emotional response which Atheists want to bring out of people when telling them, “the Bible permits slavery!” The images of slaves in movies tend to be that of slavery in the American south in the 18th and 19th centuries and have been disproven.

Moreover, lifelong servitude was forbidden.

Exodus 21:2 “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.”

Deuteronomy 15:12 “And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.”

These Scriptures command that a servant who owed a debt to be freed after six years. However, if the servant decided to remain with the household longer due to loving the family, he was permitted to stay with that family …

Deuteronomy 15:16 “And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee;”

Exodus 21:5 “And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:”

This shows the servants were to be treated very well. So much so, that many chose to remain with the leaders of the household forever because of the good treatment and care exhibited by the Israelite boss.

Foreign slaves

Now that we have addressed the Israelite indentured servitude, we will now turn to the issue of foreign slaves the Israelites were allowed to purchase.

Leviticus 25:45-46 “Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.”

Israelites were permitted to buy foreign slaves who were in the slave trade. Although this might sound harsh to our ears, some things need to be kept in mind. First, there are no chains around necks, racism, or being worked to death here. Also, such people had rights even if they ran away from their bosses.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.”

This law greatly affected the master’s treatment of the worker, so they wouldn’t want to run away. Also, this is an example of God’s mercy since He permitted the Israelites to rescue slaves out of the slave trade and work for a family in a holy culture when they would be otherwise stuck in some brutal culture where their master could treat slaves however they wished.

Hammurabi’s Code, for example, permitted slave owners to mutilate their slaves by cutting their ears off among other things. By contrast, we have …

Exodus 21:26-27 “And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.”

… which condemns the inhumane treatment of slaves and commanded the release of the slave if they were harmed by their boss. This was incentive to treat them well, which was an oddity in the ancient world at that time. In the ancient world, a master could treat his servant as he pleased.

So much has to be read in, and much has to be omitted, in order for this to be identified as morally evil. So, while the unbeliever, though he has no moral basis to claim anything is actually wrong, claims this slavery was wrong. The fact is, it served as a way of rescuing those stuck in the slave trade who would otherwise end up in a savage land being mutilated.

The Hebrews were to treat these people well on the other hand. And it was common understanding that the foreign slave could run away to another town for asylum in Israel, and would not be returned to his Israelite master. This is utterly unprecedented in the ancient world.

Lastly, according to the OT, such foreign slaves could basically become Israelite citizens themselves. For example, in 1 Chronicles, we see Sheshan give his slave/servant, the Egyptian Jarha, to his own daughter to marry and they even had children together …

1 Chronicles 2:34-35 “Now Sheshan had no sons, but daughters. And Sheshan had a servant, an Egyptian, whose name was Jarha. And Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant to wife; and she bare him Attai.”

Again, this is utterly disconnected from the ancient practice.

Troubling Texts

Now, Atheist’s commonly attack Exodus 21:20-21 “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” Notice first that according to verse 20, the murder of servants is strongly prohibited and was punishable by death. Unbelievers often ignore this and throw it under the bus. However, it is a very merciful truth that needs to be kept in mind.

But what should we make of verse 21? It’s simple. The boss is given the benefit of the doubt that he was not intending to murder the servant, but was disciplining him for doing some moral wrong which he was not supposed to do. In that case, the boss would not be put to death since it would be ruled “accidental”.

It did not mean the bosses should TRY to make it so that their servants died after 2 days, or that this was somehow moral or okay. The text doesn’t say that. It’s simply saying that if such an accidental death occurred after a disciplinary punishment, the boss did not deserve to be put to death. Life for a life applied only when there was conscious intent to murder. But more needs to be said.

What about the part that says the slave is his money in verse 21? This verse seems to suggest the servant was property. This assumption is incorrect. The Hebrew does not say the slave is his money. It just says “that is his money”.

Based on the context given in verses 18-19 in Exodus chapter 21,

Exodus 21:18-19 “And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.”

The text should not be rendered, “the slave is his money”, but as, “the FEE is his money” … in the sense that the fee that the boss would have to pay for medical treatment for the soon to die injured servant was money. Therefore, since the boss would already suffer financial loss for the accidental fatality, he would not be put to death.

So, according to the Hebrew and the proper context, the text does not say “the slave is his money” as Atheist’s falsely assert. It is saying the death was accidental, the boss tried to save the servant by paying for medical treatment (as the context shows), and because of these considerations the boss should not be executed since his punishment for this tragic accidental death was money he paid in trying to save his servant.

Now, unbelievers also bring up …

Exodus 21:7-11 “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.”

These verses mention a man selling his daughter as a maidservant, or in the Hebrew, an “awmaw”, which is sometimes rendered as “slave”. However, based upon contextual considerations, these verses are speaking about a father who sells his daughter, not for slavery, but for marriage. Nonetheless she is designated a servant, awmaw, in verse 7.

Should the terms of marriage not be fulfilled, it is to be considered a breach of contract and the purchaser must allow the girl to be redeemed. She must not be sold outside that family. Always, she must be treated as a daughter, or a freeborn woman, or the forfeiture clause will be invoked.

In sum, it is clear Atheist’s read in to the OT and other forms of slavery and do not allow the texts to speak for themselves. They blindly, without knowledge of the Hebrew, context, or cultural background, attack OT servitude out of ignorance because of their rebellion and hatred for God. They take what is NOT moral at all and twist it into something immoral as an excuse not to submit to their Creator.

Slavery in the NT

Atheist’s often falsely claim that Jesus never condemned the slavery of His day. However, in Luke 4:18 Jesus cites Isaiah 61:1, which in practical application, condemns the slavery of His day.

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,”

Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;”

Unbelievers often argue that since the NT writer’s exhorted slaves to obey their masters in the Roman social system, this is therefore immoral and proves the Bible is false.

Titus 2:9 “Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again;”

Colossians 3:22 “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:”

Ephesians 6:5 “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;”

However, a few points are in order. These texts do not support Roman slavery. The fact is Jesus and the Apostles didn’t create an economic reform plan for Israel and Rome. That’s not the way the Kingdom of God would come about.

The Kingdom of God is inward and culminates with the return of Christ at the end of the world.

So, economic reform was not the goal of the early persecuted Christians. The church was born into an ALREADY existing secular social world. So, when Paul exhorts slaves within the Roman system to behave themselves, he is neither promoting nor advocating the situation they were in, but was calling for good conduct while already in such an existing predicament; in the hopes that the master would see such good conduct and convert to Christianity and be saved.

Titus 2:10 “Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”

It was, therefore, for the benefit of the people’s eternal salvation.

Paul exhorts the slave masters to treat their slaves well. In Ephesians 6:8-9, Paul commands those who are slave masters, in this existing social system, to be good to and not threaten their slaves.

Ephesians 6:8-9 “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.”

Again, this is not advocating or supporting slavery, but calling for humane protocol since people ALREADY existed in this system. And small persecuted Christianity had no means for economic reform for Israel and Rome.

Paul affirmed freedom over slavery. While Paul exhorted slaves to obey their masters, respect them, and be faithful, he also said slaves should seek to purchase their freedom as soon as possible.

1 Corinthians 7:21 “Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.”

This shows Paul recognized that freedom is better than slavery.

All this refutes the Atheist’s objections.

The Bible does NOT support slave and master classes. The following texts affirm the equality of all man which is opposed to the idea behind slavery, such ideas which can be found in Greco-Roman philosophers such as Aristotle.

Galatians 3:28 “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.”

1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

Colossians 3:11 “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

Colossians 4:1 “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.”

Again, unbelievers utterly refuse to mention these verses or hold them in proper context. They just assume Paul supported slavery when, in reality, he was giving protocol for good conduct in the context of an already existing social system. That does not necessitate support.

Though they did not support the slave and master classes, they did not call for a violent uprising against Rome because they did not want Christianity to be characterized or viewed as having that kind of emphasis.

The Bible condemns slavery and the slave trade. In 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Paul calls out those who engage in the slave trade in the context of his list of vices of things to avoid.

1 Timothy 1:9-10 “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;”

Why don’t unbelievers ever mention this in their arguments against God?

Moreover, in Revelation 18:10-14 “Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.”

Babylon is rebuked and judged in the context of treating humans as cargo, trafficking slaves, and idolatrously, and greedily making wealth with merchants. This is the other side of the story which militant Atheist’s do not inform people about when they rant against the Bible on this issue. This is because they do not really care about the Truth. They only care about their personal, subjective truth. Their agenda does not allow them to carefully and responsibly handle issues such as this one.

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