In the Bible in Exodus 21 the guidelines for the buying, selling and treatment of slaves is given. God says in?

verse 4 that if a male slave marries, his wife and children shall remain with the master when the slave departs because technically speaking they belong to the master. Paul, the earliest Christian Evangelist and a contemporary of Jesus expresses his unqualified support for the institution of human slavery by instructing slaves to obey their masters in several passages: Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1 and again in Titus 2: 9-10. Is it fair to conclude from these (and other very similar) passages that according to the Bible and Christianity slavery is okay?

17 Answers

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    I really think that people who raise this objection are missing the point. If you'll permit me, I'll set the stage by talking about slavery, ancient and modern, because in our culture the issue is understandably charged with overtones that it didn't have in the ancient world. In his book "Race and Culture," African-American scholar Thomas Sowell points out that every major world culture until modern period, without exception, has had slavery. While it could be be tied to military conquest, usually slavery served an economic function. They didn't have bankruptcy laws, so if you got yourself into terrible hock, you sold yourself and/or your family into slavery. As it was discharging a debt, slavery was also providing work. It wasn't necessarily all bad; at least it was an option for survival. Please understand me: I'm not trying to romanticize slavery in any way. However, in Roman times there were menial laborers who were slaves, and there were also others who were the equivalent of distinguished Ph.D.'s who were teaching families. And there was no association of a particular race with slavery. In American slavery, though, all blacks and only blacks were slaves. That was one of the peculiar horrors of it, and it generated an unfair sense of black inferiority that many of us continue to fight to this day. Now let's look at the Bible. In Jewish society, under the Law everyone was to be freed every Jubilee. In other words, there was a slavery ban every seventh year. Whether or not things actually worked out that way, this was nevertheless what God said, and this was the framework in which Jesus was brought up. But you have to keep your eye on Jesus' mission. Essentially, he did not come to overturn the Roman economic system, which included slavery. He came to free men and women from their sins. And here's my point: What his message does is transform people so they begin to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves. Naturally, that has an impact on the idea of slavery. Look at what the apostle Paul says in his letter to Philemon concerning a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul doesn't say to overthrow slavery, because all that would do would be to get him executed. Instead he tells Philemon he'd better treat Onesimus as a brother in Christ, just as he would treat Paul himself. And then, to make matters perfectly clear, Paul emphasizes, "Remember, you owe your whole life to me because of the gospel." The overthrowing of slavery, then, is through the transformation of men and women by the gospel rather than through merely changing an economic system and impose a new order. The whole communist dream was to have a revolutionary man followed by the new man. Trouble is, they never found new man. The got rid of the oppressors of the peasants, but that didn't mean the peasants were suddenly free. They were just under a new regime of darkness. In the final analysis, if you want lasting change, you've got to transform the hearts of human beings. And that was Jesus' mission. It's also worth asking the question: How did slavery stop? The driving impetus for the abolition of slavery was the evangelical awakening in England. Christians rammed abolition through Parliament in the beginning of the nineteenth century and then eventually used British gunboats to stop the slave trade across the Atlantic. While there were about eleven million African who were shipped to America, and many didn't make it, there were about thirteen million Africans Africans shipped become slaves in the Arab world. Again it was the British, prompted by people whose hearts had been changed by Christ, who sent their gunboats to the Persian Gulf to oppose this.

  • 1 decade ago

    This is way out of context. Of course slavery was okay in the time when the passage you quote was written. It was okay with everybody, everywhere. Every single culture had slavery at some point. It is really only in the past 100 years that slavery became obsolete and was eventually abolished world-wide. The US was actually one of the very last countries to abolish slavery.

    In other words, in the time that Paul wrote his part, slavery was an accepted practice, not just by Jews or Christians but by everyone.

    Source(s): Atheist who knows history
  • 1 decade ago


    You left out a very important verse.

    I Corinthians 7:21

    "If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity."

    No doubt you simply missed this one, rather than knowingly left it out of your thesis.

    Paul was for legal procurement of freedom, and stood against those things considered illegal.

    It is very true that in the Roman world, slavery was very different than what we consider it to be.

    Many people sold themseves into slavery when they had no means of support, and would later buy themselves back out of it again.

    Many slaves did not even live with their masters or even work for them, but would work an occupation elsewhere, slowly buying their freedom, and making money for their master.

    Many slaves were actually the heirs of their masters and inherited their masters estates when they died.

    As far as the Jews were concerned, the killing of a slave brought the same penalty for killing a free person - death. (Exodus 21:20.)

    Deuteronomy tells us that slaves were to be given the Sabbath and all the Holy Days for rest, and all slaves were to be freed on the Day of Jubilee.

    Nonetheless, slavery is still slavery for the most part, the buying and selling of humans, but the Bible also says that marketing in manflesh, (slave trade,) is wrong.

    Like many other issues, slavery was a fact of life in old times that the Bible does not center upon. Even Jesus did not seek to change any political issues, only the redemption of all mankind in the eternal setting.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Of course Christianity substantially led to an END of slavery several years later...

    Galatians 3:28 There is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female. Because you belong to Christ Jesus, you are all one.

    Slavery was simply a fact of life in New Testament times. Had the church leaders come out and said "slavery must end," the cultural backlash would have probably dramatically slowed the spread of Christianity. What they did was spread a message of personal equality and freedom. As a result, the lives of Jews, slaves, women,... all changed,

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  • Amy
    Lv 4
    5 years ago

    The Bible is more like a set of know like a retail suggested price. If you condone the selling of daughters, then you should have no problems with the killing of ones brother for growing 2 different crops together. Or lets see the killing of ones mother for wearing two different types of materials. Or that you should be struck down for eating shellfish. See all of these little jewels and more are in the bible. And yes the whole homosexuality part of the bible is outdated as is the rest of the bible. Imagine that a book that was written centuries ago could be outdated and totally irrelevant. If religion works for you...more power to you, but don't give up your freedom of thought due to it.

  • 1 decade ago

    You miss the point of "slavery". Go back to school and study what slavery was in Roman times. It was not what became slavery in America.

    There was no welfare system. You either worked or you died. If you had no education, no family, were stolen as a child or whatever.... you could ask to be "indentured" under man and serve his household. People were not necessarily bought and sold into slavery. People actually ASKED to become slaves. Like the caste system - it was a level of society. Very low society, but it "was a living".

    And are we all not called to treat each other with respect and dignity and love?

  • H S
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    Exodus 21 comes in the context of Old Testament slavery, which is dramatically different to slavery in the classical world, or to slavery in the new world. A slave in the Old Testament would have a maximum of six years in slavery, because in the seventh year, all slaves were liberated. Depending on when in the cycle someone became a slave, they might be enslaved for only a couple of years. During that time, the master would be subject to law himself for his treatment of the slave; the master did not have the power of life and death over the slave.

    On a plantation in the Caribbean, or in the American South, and in a household in ancient Rome or Athens, slaves had none of these protections, so although we use the same word 'slave', the institutions are radically different. Many modern translations use the word 'servant' for passages like Exodus 21, which is understandable. The point is not the label, but the nature of the life.

    The scenario in Exodus 21 is that the slave is to be freed in the seventh year, but that he would choose to stay with the household. The example given is that he has been allowed to marry while a slave, and wishes to stay with his wife and children. The first words the passage puts into the slave's mouth are 'I love my master' ... and so choose to stay.

    Arguably the relationship in Exodus 21 is less of a parallel with classical or new world slavery, and more a parallel with slavery in a modern D/s relationship (dominance and submission). Such relationships are often based on very much more than sex, and may be centred on the notion of service or care, and with mutual respect. There is a close parallel between the ceremony with the slave in Exodus 21, where his ear is bored through into the doorpost of the house, and a modern collaring ceremony. Both clearly owe something to the idea of marriage. Both are clearly consensual.

    To say that Paul expresses 'unqualified support for the institution of human slavery' is bizarre. Firstly, there is no such thing as 'the institution of human slavery'; the nature of slavery is hugely variable. Secondly, the passages which encourage slaves to submit to their masters are predominantly about submission generally, wives to husbands, children to parents, everyone to the authorities. They place restraints or counter-responsibilities on the parents, husbands, master, etc. And they primarily enjoin submission of everyone to Christ. With that general principle, Paul's treatment of Philemon makes it clear that he saw it as preferable for someone to be free, rather than to be a slave, and he clearly hopes that Philemon's master will a) not punish him for running away, and b) set him free. If you stick with the notion of Paul's unqualified support for slavery, then you just make yourself look like a troll.

    So, is it fair to conclude that slavery is ok? If it is freely chosen service, with mutual respect between slave and master, with care and even affection between them, then yes. Whether 'slavery' is really the best word for that, I don't know. There isn't a word I know of between 'servant' and 'slave' that really fits the bill.

    If you mean slavery as in classical times, or as in the Atlantic trade, or as in modern trafficking ... something founded on violence and the disregard of human rights, something abusive and destructive, which makes the owner into a little god, not accountable to anyone ... then no. But you don't need to look at passages explicitly about slavery to see that. And by the way, if you live anywhere in Western Europe or North America, in a town of around 10,000 or more, then close by you is a brothel with real slaves in it, trafficked into sexual slavery from who knows where in the world; and you've almost certainly met someone who uses the women in that brothel. This is not theoretical.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Yes, the passages you have uncovered prove that, in the Roman empire, slavery was permissible for Christians. Notice, though, that *permissible* is not quite the same thing as "approved". Slavery was condoned, not encouraged or approved, by the New Testament.


  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    No, the Bible is saying that if you are a slave, you should do what your master tells you if it agrees with what God tells you to do. Like if your master said go to the post office for me or something, you should do it. But if your master says go kill my enemy, you should not do it because Gods says not to kill. This isn't saying that slavery is OK. Would you rather God acted like it doesn't exist? I hope that answers your question.

    Source(s): The bible
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Yes, every single atrocity-condoning piece of scripture you take out of context and slap a "OMG XTIANITY IS TEH EVILZ" sticker onto automatically becomes part of the new laws that Jesus replaced the OT garbage with.

    Next time you're looking up "incriminating Christian scripture" on Google, provide word filters for the chapters of all the books in the Old Testament. Yeah, sorry bub.

    - atheist

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