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Is Slavery In the Bible?

Donna Morley


Over the years, I have heard comments about slavery being in the Bible.  Many claim this is why they don’t believe in God, and certainly they don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word (that is, if He exists).  After all, how could your God approve such a horrific thing?  How could He approve of this racism?

My response to such people is:  While there were nineteenth century pastors who were against the slavery of their day; and others who wrongly considered it biblical, we have to look at what the Bible says.  Did it truly approve of nineteenth century slavery, as we think of it?  The answer is "of course not."  In order to understand the use of the word in the Bible, we must look at how it was used.  The word "slavery" was synonymous with "servant."  A slave in the Bible was someone's "servant."

Who Became “Slaves?”

Biblically speaking, who became these "slaves"?  The “slaves” were petty criminals (rather than murderers) who couldn't pay back  their crime. Back in the Old Testament times, and during the times of Christ (and the apostle Paul) there were lots of these criminals---many of them were  thieves (and most of the time, fellow Jews, so, this had nothing to do with racism).

When the thieves were arrested, they had a choice—to either pay back the amount of money or assets they stole, or work off their crime.  Due to the fact they didn't have the money to pay the victim back, the injured party was able to take the thief as their "slave" and to work off their crime. 

The Old Testament said that the injured party couldn't have the thief for more than 6 years.  Here's one of the many verses: "If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing" (Exodus :21:2).  "Free for nothing means that the "slave" (or thief) has paid off his debt.

Now, not all victims wanted to have the thief living with them to pay off his debt.  What these people did was sell this "slave" for the amount of money the slave owed.  In turn, the "slave" had to work for the one who paid off his debt to the injured party.

God's would be completely against the type of slavery that was in the United States during the nineteenth century.  Regarding nineteenth century slavery, we have this rebuke from God:  "…he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:16).  This is what John Newton use to do.  He would kidnap many Africans and then sell them to people in the United States.  Thankfully, God showed Newton his sinful ways.  Newton repented of his sins, became a pastor and wrote the song, “Amazing Grace.”

We see in the Old Testament,  and the New, the criminal "slaves" were protected. Those who had these people (again, between 1-6 years, depending upon the crime), were obligated to treat these people well. Paul the apostle exhorted those who had the criminals in their care:


And masters, treat your slaves in the same way.  Do not threaten them,

since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven,

and there is no favoritism with him (Ephesians 6:9).


Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair,

because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1).


While there are several Old Testament verses that show protection for the slave, here is a sample of one:

"Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God" (Leviticus 25:43).



Last, I would like to say:

PLEASE don't credit "Christianity,"

for the nineteenth century slavery.

The credit belongs to sinful men.



© by Donna Morley 2014