Slaving Away

Read at your own risk!

It’s been on my mind a lot lately that The Bible seems to condone and even support slavery. I mean we were able to determine that “owning” another human being is just wrong, so why couldn’t god figure that one out? In fact he made that whole list of ten things we just shouldn’t do and slavery isn’t even mentioned. Christians hate talking about this because, admittedly, it’s uncomfortable. It’s tough to admit that your holy book supports a practice that most modern people find abhorrent. In fact, it’s so tough that most try to explain it away by saying that biblical slavery is somehow “different” than what we understand slavery to be. Slavery back then was some kind of indentured servitude, they insist. Slaves were held until a debt was paid off or a specific time limit was reached.

“Nooooo… it wasn’t like that!.. it was the good kind of slavery!”

The web site got, a biblical “answer” site, puts it like this:

Question: “Does the Bible condone slavery?”

Answer:There is a tendency to look at slavery as something of the past. But it is estimated that there are today over 27 million people in the world who are subject to slavery: forced labor, sex trade, inheritable property, etc. As those who have been redeemed from the slavery of sin, followers of Jesus Christ should be the foremost champions of ending human slavery in the world today. The question arises, though, why does the Bible not speak out strongly against slavery? Why does the Bible, in fact, seem to support the practice of human slavery?

The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. It gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15;Ephesians 6:9;Colossians 4:1), but does not outlaw slavery altogether. Many see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery. What many fail to understand is that slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin. In Bible times, slavery was based more on economics; it was a matter of social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. In New Testament times, sometimes doctors, lawyers, and even politicians were slaves of someone else. Some people actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their masters.

Read more:

Yeah. Sure it does. Interestingly, this “answer” leaves out Exodus 20:20-21 which states

If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.”

So, it is permissible to beat your slaves literally within an inch of their lives, as long as you don’t actually kill them. That would be wrong. There are also specific rules set forth for the wives and children of slaves.

Exodus 21:2-6 (NASB):

2If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. 3If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. 4If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. 5But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ 6then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.

Seems legit.

I can hear them now. “The Bible does NOT condone slavery!”

“This guy just hates god!”

“This guy just hates the Bible!”


Well,… yeah.

I don’t actually hate god any more than I could “hate” Lord Voldermort or Darth Vader or Count Dracula or Hannibal Lecter or Freddy Kruger or any other fictional baddie. The Bible? Yeah, I hate it. I hate that its looked at as a handbook for morality when, in fact, it is anything but moral. I hate that, even today, it is used as an excuse to justify hateful behavior and the exclusion of certain people from the same rights that everyone else enjoys.

But I suppose that’s just me.

I mentioned that I recently started a new job. Well the other day (some time last week, anyway, a few days after I started) we had one of those “meet and greet” type affairs where the “coaches” (supervisors) came in to meet us new hires who will be working for them directly in a couple of weeks. One of these said something like, “I’m just here to do my job and bring glory to god. And that’s all I expect of you.”

Really? It’s not enough that I have to work for your shitty company for slave wages, now I have to support your corrupt deity too?

Hopefully she’ll understand if I take a pass on that.





  1. Godless Cranium · June 26, 2014

    Of course it supports slavery. Instead of saying not to do it, god supplies directions on how to do it.

  2. humanisthuman · June 26, 2014

    Slavery is abhorrent. Sadly, I find it more shocking that babies must be boiled before being eaten. See 2 Kings 6:28-29

  3. tsaebxiii · June 26, 2014

    (Just as a quick starting point, you’ve got one of your Bible references wrong – pretty sure you meant Exodus 21:20-21, not Exodus 20.)

    With that out of the way, there are a few points to make in defence of the Biblical position on slavery. Firstly, authority and value are not, contrary to the understanding of the modern Western world, inherently linked in the Bible. Biblically, having authority over someone simply means that, by virtue of your present role, they are obliged to obey you and you are responsible for them; it does not mean that either of you is more valuable or more special. Slavery is inherently wrong if and only if authority equates with value because, if that is the case, allowing someone to be owned makes them less valuable than their owner. As abhorrent as you’ll likely find this, I would then argue that slavery is not inherently wrong. Now, please don’t confuse this with a justification of the way most people in most times and places have done slavery – for the most part, slaves have been treated as though they are inherently less valuable than their masters, and this approach is indeed abhorrent. However, this isn’t a problem with slavery, it’s a problem with slaveowners and their cultures. This is the basis for most of the New Testament commands regarding slavery; Christian slaveowners are commanded to treat their slaves as being equally valuable human beings, but they are not commanded to dissolve the authority relationships in place. As a point of comparison, the Christian doctrine of the Triune God teaches that all three Persons of the Trinity are equal in value. The Son and Spirit both submit to the authority of the Father, without ever compromising their inherent equality in value.

    Something to note about Exodus 21:20-21 is that there is quite a bit of dispute about how best to translate the Hebrew. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for translators to be conservative and follow the KJV translation, so most English translations use the version you’ve given above. One translation that has a tendency of completely ignoring tradition a lot of the time is HCSB, and they give this translation:
    “When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod, and the slave dies under his abuse, the owner must be punished. However, if the slave can stand up after a day or two, the owner should not be punished because he is his owner’s property.”
    Taking that translation, it allows masters to utilise corporal punishment, but the slave must recover within a short period of time. This fits better with verses 26-27 of the same chapter, in which any permanent damage dealt to a slave necessitates that the slave is set free in compensation. It also makes more sense in light of Deuteronomy 23:15-16, in which the Israelites are commanded not to return an escaped slave to their master, but to provide safe refuge for them. With this law in place, any master who was abusing their slaves could quickly expect to find themselves with a shortage of slaves. This law is almost unique in history (it could be argued that the conditions of the US Civil War could also be included), and highlights just how different the Biblical institution of slavery is.

    We could debate all day about what difference the Biblical commands make to slavery but, ultimately, we’ll end up coming back to the disagreement in my first paragraph. If you equate inherent authority with inherent difference in value, you will always believe that slavery is wrong, no matter what restrictions are placed upon it. In Christianity, inherent authority is independent of inherent value, and therefore it is the Biblical restrictions upon slavery that distinguish Biblical slavery as moral from the immoral, abhorrent way slavery has been done in other times and places.

  4. Pingback: Moral Leadership from Slavers – So Hateful, and So Disrespectful of Life. So Sad. | humanist human being

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s