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« Should Christians Impose Their Moral Standards on Society? | Main | When Statistics Lie »

February 17, 2012


Yes, the Bible does in fact condone slavery. Exodus 21. "Slavery" means owning people as property, and has nothing to do with race. Talking about race and Paul are misleading distractions in this article.

Exodus 21 doesn't show that God thinks slavery is hunky-dory. Here's an excerpt from a previous post on this:

God regulated divorce, and yet He explicitly said He hates it, so the regulation of the practice did not mean He condoned it. Therefore, one cannot assume that God's regulation of slavery meant God condoned slavery.

If you read the rest of that post, it explains more.

I'm pretty sure that people who run methedone clinics don't really condone opiate addiction, either. But whatcha gonna do? Fix it or forget it?

Gotta go with Amy's point... regulation does not imply condoning. It's not a coincidence that the modern abolitionist movement was based on Biblical principles.

The southern baptist convention was founded on the belief that the bible condoned our southern standard slavery.

Its a matter of opinion, just like the question of homosexuality.

"If his master have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself." Exodus 21:4

Equivocating this is silly. The Bible assumes slavery is in the natural order of things. That, included with the ghastly murderous tales, makes it clear to me that man's hand is all over the Bible. Pretending that it is the inerrant word of God makes peope discount the Bible entirely. And that is a terrible shame, because there is a great deal of profound wisdom in that book, too.

Thank you so much for this post! I have been troubled by the existence of slavery in Hebrew culture, and the Malachi reference in its context helps a lot. I Read the 2009 post, and the whole thing is a gem. Noticed it was posted at 3:00, lol!! Thanks again.

Is slavery wrong? Is owning another person as property immoral?

Is divorce immoral?

Does the Pope wear a funny hat?

I think I get it now.

God's hands were tied - the way the culture was - he couldn't just ban it.



How droll. Since you seem to have it figured out, with your vast knowledge of ethics, history, psychology, theology, sociology, philosophy, and so on, d'you figure you would have done better than the Ancient proto-Israelites in their situation, or just God himself in his?

Saying "God's hands were tied" makes it sound like God had no control over it. But,I can't even bring myself to believe that because if God predestines and predetermines all creation and all that happens,that would indicate that He is in complete control of all things whether it be good or evil. Isn't that what it means when we say "His will be done"? So,I wouldn't question His sovereignty on any controversal issue. Since we're dealing with slavery,my question would be: What purpose would God have in the manifestation of slavery in all forms in the world? For example, Amy pointed out that God hates divorce yet their was a certicate of divorce that was permitted. Now,in the New Testament,Mark 10:1-12,Jesus reveals to the people that it was Moses who constituted the certicate because of the hardness of their heart. In essence,God had to expose the hardness of the people's heart so that they would see their sin and turn from their wicked ways. It didn't surprise God that Moses allowed the divorce nor were God's hands tied. It's a very hard thing to grasp that God purposed such a thing to come to pass. Nevertheless,God had a purpose for such controversal things. I would never question His sovereignty nor would I see such things going against His will,but I would ask,what does He want to reveal to us concerning this controversal issue of slavery? We can also remember when God caused the Israelites to be taken captive to Babylon. That was a very bad situation,but we know that it had something to do with their disobedience to God. So,it wouldn't make sense to try to deny slavery in the Bible,but rather,see the good that God purposed in its existence. God does not like sin,but sin is in the world for a purpose for which our sovereign God only knows.

Just because slavery actually exists,I agree with Amy that it does not mean God condones it,but I believe that God has a purpose in its existence. God does not condone many things,but seeing God as the Creator,we should be aware that such things exist because of Him.

I think that many people have one idea of slavery. They assume it's like that in the American South. However, the word "slave" has had many definitions and applications throughout history. In fact, the word has many definitions and applications in the Bible. In many cases, the word "indentured servant" would be preferable when speaking about much of the slavery mentioned in Scripture.

Many people entered into slavery because they owed money which they could not repay. They worked off their debts as slaves and were released from their contract when the debt was paid off. And there was, of course, the year of jubilee -- when all slaves were freed whether their debts were completely paid or not.

I also think that people fail to understand the situation in that culture in that time. There was no welfare or social assistance. It was a kindness to take in women and children who had no one to look after them. They were often treated like members of the family. They were not considered mere chattel.

God set regulations regarding slavery in the Bible the same way that he set rules regarding adultery, theft, ownership of land, human relationships, etc. They were there to establish some stability in what was an unstable world. Society was only one step away from chaos at any given time. It's a mistake to view that culture through 21st-century eyes and demand that things be done the way we think they should be done now.

I think that many people simply haven't done the research to gain an understanding of the topic. it's certainly much too complicated to explain in a blog. Paul Copan has written about the subject and there is a great deal of material online at A Christian Thinktank for those who would like to study it in-depth.

Mary Lou I totally agree with you. You have effectively elaborated on the point that I was making. I think,indeed,that some of us have not looked more deeper into why certain forms of slavery exist and you have mentioned some profound examples. That's why I think we should look more deeply into why God purposes the existence of slavery in all its forms. We talk about how Paul talked about slavery,but how would we take it when also refers to himself as a "slave or bondservant of Jesus Christ"? There are many instances in New Testament scriptures where Paul,John and Peter refer to themselves as "bondservants of Christs". Then there is being a "slave of sin" and being a "slave of righteousness". So,even slavery in the way its used can be taken out of context.

It seems like we as Christians could benefit if we were as interested in considering God's purposes, and the context of when and why a thing was written, when talking about other moral issues as we are when it comes to slavery.

the same word translated as "slave", was also translated as "servant", it was used to denote servility when addressing someone of higher rank, or social stature. So to use the term "slavery" as a Western idea is irrelevant, and anyone doing so is not being serious about going to the trouble to find out what is actually being defined. If a king was a vassal, he was the "slave" or (ebed) servant of the emperor. Common men/women, both free and debtor were called "ebed", translated slave or servant. Also its worth noting that sometimes it was a choice of the slave, to sell themselves due to a debt they obtained, if they were Israelite, they were freed every week of years, their debt absolved. They were not simply viewed as property like the western idea of slavery, they had legal rights that protected their agreement as well as the masters investment. The debt/payment was a legal arrangement between the slave or the slaves parents, in which case the situation was an elevation or advantageous outcome for the slave, moving out of poverty. Using slavery as an argument against the Bible will only work if the other side has a surface reading of the Bible behind their belt or better yet, not willing to investigate and look for consistency.


Bennett,I agree with your point because honestly if we were to consider God's purpose in the many controversal issues that we encounter on a daily basis,a lot of things would be set straight. Most importantly,we as Christians could also be set straight as well. We declare things to be wrong and we just fall into the wrong and insensitive way of projecting and judging it. Instead of being so insensitive and unloving to say,for example,the gay community(something I was guilty of)and other moral issues,we should approach the subject in a more open manner as discovering what purpose God has in predestinating such things to exist and come to pass. I don't mean like opening up ourselves to end up accepting or tolerating what is wrong and sinful,but being more opened to why it's there and why God purposed it,and then,ultimately, what God has called and chosen us as Christians to do to help to affect a supernatural change in some way to redeem and reconcile the world unto Him. The way Mary Lou elaborated on some of the various uses of slavery really opened up some closed doors,and I appreciate Dale's feedback as well. Like I said,there's no way we can deny the various forms of slavery in the Bible just as any other controversal issue,but it does not mean that God condones it. We have to be careful how we read and interpret scriptures as well as any other book having controversal information. Unless we understand the full CONTEXT(seems like my favourite word)of what we are reading or viewing concerning controversal issues of any sort,we will continue to run into confusion upon more confusion. We can say so much to justify slavery just the same as how we can say so much to ultimately condemn it,but it's good that it's being addressed in this post. It's a step in the right direction and we can properly deal with all our confusion and misunderstandings about this topic.


Spoken like an enlightened man!

A little homework goes a long way. Spend a little time reading about slavery in the ancient near-eastern world and you'll come away with a better understanding of the differences between modern and ancient slavery, and between slavery as practiced in Israel and everywhere else at that time. Did you know that slaves in Israel had the same rights and responsibilities as every other citizen? I didn't either.

God vs Slavery. God's hands are not tied and He probably doesn't condone slavery even if the Bible does have rules about the treatment of slaves. Could it be that God just doesn't intefere in our God given exercise in free will.

Having complete knowledge about our sinful nature, God knew that slavery will be practiced by those powerful enough to enforce it. Like divorce He gave mankind rules of conduct regarding treatment of slaves in order to protect the slaves. An outright ban on slave owning would be disobeyed and slaves would be treated more harshly.

In time most of mankind would come to the conclusion that owning another human is not in line with the teachings of Christ and would be abolished. God knows that our fleeting time on earth ends. He may just may be more interested on getting us to our eternal home.

Peter,I agree that God does not condone slavery,but there is no such thing as God interfering with a so-called free will of man nor is there any thing to suggest that the freewill of man is God-given. I don't know why we always fall into this trap. For example,something good happens and we attribute it to the hand of God,and then something bad happens and we take God from it and attribute it to Satan or the so-called freewill of man. We often preach or teach the complete sovereignty of God and then turn it around and act like man purposed and instigated all the works of creation. The problem is,some of us have the wrong concept of what freewill is. Free will is not the freedom to make choices. It's more broad than that. Free will is the ability of a person or entity to make choices FREE FROM CERTAIN KINDS OF RESTRAINTS. In other words,it's the ability to make choices free from causes,reward or consequences. And most certainly that's not the case with mankind. Every and any choice that is made by us is always preceded by a cause no matter how simple it is down to biting our nails. Yes,we do have the ability to make choices,no doubt about that,but it's not free from causes and consequences. If we preach,teach and believe that God is the Creator and the Sustainer of all things; If we trust and accept that His sovereignty is above all,then that means that here we have a God who predestines, predetermines all creation; an all-knowing God who is not surprised by any occurances in the world. Neither can we suggest that He allows things to happen as if they were not already predestined by Him to occur. Ultimately,if I'm teaching that the will of God stands above all,that would mean that I would have to declare that He causes all,and I mean,ALL things to happen as it IS ACCORDING to His will. The Scriptures clearly demonstrates this with the examples of God causing Pharoah's heart to be hardened against letting the Israelites go so His glory could be displayed; God causing the opposition of Joseph's brothers to get rid of him,and causing the opposition of Potiphar's wife to land Joseph in jail so that He could demonstrate His power in Joseph by enabling him to interpret dreams which would further land Joseph in the governor's position so that Joseph could deliver his family from the times of great famine in the land. I could go on with more examples but time is of the essence. The point is, what causes us to make the choices that we make? Why do we find ourselves in the situations that we're all in? Circumstances cause us to make the choice to move or not to move, and I submit and decree that God is the ultimate cause of all things whether it be good,bad,or controversal. We can't deny the slavery exists in the Bible and in the world and we certainly can't deny God's involvement in it. So,it would be better for us to reason with what purpose God had in the existence of slavery. What was He demonstrating through slavery? There is sin in the world: What was He demonstrating through sin in the world?

Bennett made an excellent point in saying that we could benefit from considering God's purposes in all issues. Mary Lou and Dale made very profound points in their comments which dealt with generally why the certain forms of slavery existed. Slavery,they projected,was not the end result as it served as a temporary means to bring about freedom from debt,freedom from severe circumstances--just FREEDOM FROM SOME FORM OF CAPTIVITY. This certainly reveals and displays a glorious spiritual truth that God purposes,and it was always His sole intention, to give us freedom and liberty resulting from any sort of negative physical or spiritual enslavement. How can good be demonstrated without the appearance of the bad?

Mary Lou made an excellent explanation about the term “Slavery”. We seem to look at the term “Slavery” in the bible in the same light as we see slavery in our recent American History. That in itself is an error in interpreting biblical scripture by using our own current views to impose on scripture. Rather the proper way of addressing scripture is to address it from that current culture and time when the text was written.

Today we call our employer our boss; does that mean that we are slaves? In reality we are slaves even till today. Don’t we buy a home that is beyond our capability to pay in cash and finance it? If we do not work; we cannot pay for that house; in essence we have become slaves to our purchase. So when someone asks if God approves of slavery; one should ask what form?

Arthur,very good assessment. You're right on point. I was still hoping to get some feedback on how Paul,Peter and John used the term "slavery" throughout the New Testament scriptures. It's very interesting yet profound how they used the slavery term in scripture to symbolize and signify the greater spiritual truths. We see words like "slaves of righteousness" "slave of sin" "bondservant of Christ". Unlike,other books or information paperbacks,the scriptures always have deeper spiritual truths attached to it because it's the inspired words of the Most High God,so we should always expect that when we prepare to come before Him that He will reveal Himself on a much much higher plain than that of our human capacity.

God would not want us to revel in the negative concepts of slavery,but in seeing and visualizing the physical aspect of slavery in the different forms,God predetermines that it will open up our understanding to grasping what captivity truly is on a higher plain so that we can wholeheartedly embrace the end of result of deliverance,freedom and liberty from negative association and fully comprehend what a truly loving,merciful,compassionate Creator that He is in all things.

Negative occurances and aspects of slavery are found all over--even in the Bible. There's no getting around it,but the essence is not the form of slavery itself. The essence lies in how the form of slavery came about; What was the reason behind it being a last resort? What circumstances and conditions caused it to be implemented upon the persons involved? Was it possible that there were other things considered as a replacement before the slavery originators decided to take that route? Assuming it to be temporary,what the expected end result? When we look at it without considering the above questions,we close ourselves to receiving the understanding from God's view because we just conclude that there's no other way to comprehend it. God does not want us to look at the negative impact of the slavery itself; God wants us to elevate ourselves pass that to learn of what it means to hope for freedom; the negative things we do in life that cause or would cause that condition of slavery to exist. God wants to reveal to us how to overcome and to be delivered from all forms of defeat,negativity,setback,obstacles resulting from CIRCUMSTANCES or MISTAKES,and the icing on the cake is that we would never want to get oursleves into that situation ever again. God's end result is for us to embrace deliverence,freedom,and liberty through repentence from all negativity,and through excessive learning and testing through the tribulation of negative capacity that we all come out as pure as GOLD,COMPLETE,FULFILLED,SUCCESSIVE,ALWAYS PREPARED AND READY TO ENCOUNTER AND DEFEAT ALL FORMS OF NEGATIVITY AND EVIL. God,through all things whether good or evil,always intends for all people to travel on the road to complete perfection. Perfection does not mean that were never knocked down. Perfection means that we have diligently sought to acquire all the tools and equipment to possess for every situation or circumstance: When you fall,you have the tools to get up; When you are down and desperate,you will know how to keep from severely harming yourself; When you are taken captive,made to be enslaved in a negative form,you are equipped with the tools of wisdom and understanding and through learning experience you understand that a day of deliverence and freedom from such is sure to come. Perfection is not defined by having no flaws in the game of life. It's defined by how you diligently learn and overcome them all at any given situation. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ LEARNED OBEDIENCE BY WHAT HE HAD SUFFERED. The Bible said He was tempted and tried in all things yet He did not sin.

I will come back and speak briefly on Paul's regard to slavery very soon..

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