While debating a skeptic on whether or not the God of the bible is good, I was asked if I morally agreed with the practice of slavery. In my mind I was thinking of the slavery that the Israelites endured for 400 years in Egypt or more recently the slavery that Africans were forced into for nearly 400 years. My reply was, “I do not morally agree with the practice of slavery.” He then presents his argument for why he believes the bible, “unambiguously condones and supports” slavery. Admittedly, I was taken back by his well supported response. In fact, I couldn’t offer a retort of my own so I asked for some time to look into the topic to develop a clear concise and unbiased perspective on the subject matter.
(Side note, in any instance where you are baffled by a statement someone makes while questioning your faith, try not to get angry or chalk it up to, “oh I just have faith that God is good and I don’t understand all of His ways.” In most instances there is a good counterargument. After being stumped, it becomes your obligation as a follower of Christ to find the answer to their perplexing argument. There is nothing wrong with being stumped it is simply a stumbling block placed in front of you meant to strengthen your faith and bring enlightenment to you. It is God pushing you toward the location of truth. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed or let God down. The information you obtain could be useful for ministering to someone in the future. There is no way you will know everything at any given moment, so always remain humble and patient, wisdom comes with time and God’s preparation.)
While researching the topic I found that the modern and common view on slavery is not the only form of slavery. There are many, but for the sake of this article I will only address two as they are the only ones with relevancy.
The first of the two is the form of slavery that we are all most familiar with, which is enslavement or forced labor. Forced labor is any work or services which people are forced to do against their will under the threat of some form of punishment. This is what comes to mind when the subject of slavery is brought up and what the skeptic was referring to.
The second of the two, is a form of slavery called contractual slavery. In ancient times voluntary slavery was commonplace. If an individual had no means to provide for his or herself, they would partake in “self-sale”. They would work for their “masters” and in turn would be provided for.
Now that we understand that there is a different less volatile and cruel form of slavery we can deduce that this is the one that the bible speaks of and condones right? Wrong.
To simply apply this method without diving deeper into the subject matter, would be unfounded, unreasonable, and unjustifiable. Especially with the abundance of evidence that seems to tower in favor of the, “God is an unjust God” perspective. Not only that, but the bible is always 100 percent honest and upfront about itself, so we do not need to sugar coat things to protect the image of the word of God. So lets search scripture to see exactly what it is that God condones and supports.
Three books were mentioned in this discussion I had. One of which was Leviticus, specifically chapter 25 verses 44-46, the skeptic stated, “This sets the ground rules for how you may buy slaves from surrounding nations, and how you may keep them forever, and bequeath them to your children.” The key word here is buy. Most of us figure in order to buy something someone must be selling the merchandise to us and because this merchandise happens to be people, we conclude that Israelites were told by God they could purchase someone who was enslaved. But when we search scripture we find that God would not allow this. Exodus is a book in the bible written before Leviticus and in Exodus 21:16 God says, “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” Here, we see that God does not condone forced labor, He condemns it. Therefore the conclusion to be drawn is that God instructed the Israelites in Leviticus 25 to purchase those who were destitute not enslaved. Furthermore, in Exodus chapter 23 verse 9, God commands, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” So be it a fellow Israelite or foreigner, slaves were not to be treated harshly.
(Side note: It is a common perspective that taking a bible verse from one place in the bible and asserting that the verse accommodates a passage elsewhere in the bible is something that is done to twist the word of God to fit a predetermined narrative. I disagree, verses are brought up from elsewhere in the bible to illustrate God’s perspective in context, to display the overall picture. The reason why this is okay is because God asserts that He is unchanging several times throughout the bible. For example, Numbers 23:19, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” With this in mind we can deduce that what God states in one place holds ground in another.)
The second book mentioned was Exodus. The passages called into question are chapter 21 verses 2-6 and 20-21.
Exodus 21:2-6 is believed to be a passage where God condones and supports an Israelite coercing someone into being their slave forever because it states, “And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free… he shall serve him for ever.” This is clearly not a matter of coercion or God condoning the behavior, but to put this argument to rest it is later stated in chapter 23 verse 8, “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” This clearly illustrates God’s ill will towards coercion and it is well known that the God of the bible hates all forms of lying, Proverbs 12:22, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.“
Now Exodus 21 verses 20-21 is possibly the most controversial passage in regards to this subject matter, as it seemingly supports the beating of a slave as long as the slave does not die within a day or two. Based off of the verse I listed earlier Exodus 23:9 we can conclude that this is not God giving anyone the right to beat a slave willy nilly, just because they felt like it. With that being said, we can assume foul play was involved on the behalf of the slave and consequently disciplinary action was taken. It is also stated in Exodus 21:26-27, “…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.” So now we see that God does not condone beating a slave to death or even to the point of injury. God if anything is condoning defending oneself or disciplining against a nefarious act of a servant.
The last book mentioned was 1 Peter. The verse called into question was 1 Peter 2:18. This passage was used to declare that even in the new testament God condoned slavery, which is supposed to rule out the, “oh that was in the old testament” response. At this point we now understand that God did not condone the oppressive enslavement of an individual, He condoned the sale of oneself in order to be provided for.
All of these arguments made were taken out of context. Any singular passage from any book in the world can be taken out of context and twisted to fit and opposing narrative. People often say, “owning a person is immoral period no matter what” and that perspective makes up part of the foundation for why they don’t believe in God, even though it does not disprove God’s existence the slightest bit. But if God doesn’t exist and this universe created itself, wouldn’t owning a dog be considered slavery since we all developed from the same life form, or is it okay because they aren’t as intellectually developed as humans? The God of the bible is good and without Him there is no such thing!
All that was said was with Love and compassion. God bless!