Does The Bible Endorse Slavery?

Skeptics of Christianity often argue that they cannot believe in a Bible or worship a God who endorses slavery.  What are they talking about?  It is true that slavery existed in ancient Israel, and that Jesus and Paul did not condemn slavery outright.  So, how can we explain this as Christians?

First, it is important to understand that "slavery" in ancient Israel was nothing like the chattel slavery in the antebellum south.  If the early Americans would have closely followed the Old Testament slavery laws, then chattel slavery would have never existed in America.  That is the focus of this blog post.  Second, while Jesus and Paul did not condemn slavery outright, they taught principles that gradually led to the overthrow of slavery in the Roman empire, Europe, and America.  That will be the focus of tomorrow's post.  

Here are nine proofs that the Old Testament does not endorse chattel slavery:

1. Slavery in ancient Israel was debt-servitude.  It was very similar to the indentured servitude that existed early in our nation's history.  If an Israelite was too poor to survive on his own, or if he could not pay off his debts, he would sell himself as a servant.  

2.  Slavery in ancient Israel was not based on race.  Isrealites were servants of other Israelites.  

3.  Slavery in ancient Israel was voluntary (Ex 21:16).  Slave-trading in ancient Israel was a capital crime.  The only Israelite slaves were those who volunteered.

4.  Slavery in ancient Israel was temporary (Deut 15:12).  You could only have a slave for six years; you had to set him free in the seventh year.  

5.  The law in ancient Israel required the humane treatment of slaves.  Bodily abuse was forbidden; if a master severely injured his slave, he had to set him free (Ex 21:26-27).  If a master killed his slave, he would be put to death (Ex 21:20-21).  Masters were not allowed to treat their slaves harshly (Lev 25:39-43).

6.  When debt-servants were released, masters were to give them generous provisions to start over (Deut 15:12-15).

7.  Runaway slaves were to be given safe harbor (Deut 23:15-16).  

8.  In ancient Israel, slaves were viewed as human beings, not property (Gen 1:27; Job 31;13-15).  

9.  Much was done in ancient Israel to prevent debt-servitude.  Debt-servitude only existed as a necessary means to combat poverty.  It was only a last resort.  To prevent debt-slavery, the Israelites were commanded to leave the edges of their fields, and the fallen fruit from their vineyards for the poor (Lev 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut 24:20-21).  They were commanded to give generously to the poor (Deut 15:7-11; Pr 22:9; 28:27).  They were commanded to lend to the poor without interest (Ex 22:25; Lev 25:35-38).  If the poor could not afford expensive sacrificial animals, they were permitted to offer less expensive animals (Lev 5:7, 11).  All debt was to be cancelled every seven years (Deut 15:1).  And once again, debt-servants were to be released after six years with generous provisions to avoid falling into poverty once again (Deut 15:12-15).  

As you can see, slavery in ancient Israel existed, but it was nothing like the chattel slavery in America.  If early Americans would have carefully followed the Old Testament guidelines regarding slavery, then chattel slavery would have never existed in our country.  

Tomorrow I will argue that the New Testament does not endorse slavery.


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