In a recent debate on facebook I posed a challenge to Anthony (a Christian-theist) to address the injustices perpetrated in the Bible, starting with slavery. Anthony graciously accepted and the following essay is Anthony’s apologetics on slavery. In response to Anthony’s claims I have written my own essay concerning the anti-apologetics on slavery. When you are finished reading Anthony’s discussion, please click on the this link for my rebuttal: Anti-Apologetics on Slavery
Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the debate.
Andy says:” However, we don’t need a history lesson to see all the injustices contained in the Bible, like slavery, rape, child murder, and genocide.”
I will tackle these in the order that you present them.
1. Slavery - I will deal with the New Testament reference to slavery you gave first. I believe this was Ephesians 6. Nothing in the context of the chapter is condoning slavery or condemning slavery. Paul is commanding slaves to serve their masters as they would serve Christ and not half-heartedly. Why? “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is BONDSERVANT OR FREE” (v. 8), and he continues to tell the masters to do the SAME to the slaves and even tells the masters to stop threatening (v. 9) because, “knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (v.9).
Paul is simply reminding these slaves that whether they are in bondage, or not, the right thing to do is to serve with their whole hearts. And to the master to be kind to his slaves. Paul was not endorsing slavery, but slavery was a reality in ancient Rome and most of the world at the time. Would you prefer Paul to have advised these men to possibility risk their lives by revolting or possibly be subjected to severe punishment under the pagan Roman law (There is actually a very short book of the Bible called Philemon about a slave who ran away)? (I would say that this instance of the word DOULOS would have been better translated bondservant anyway. But, since I stated that that word is usually mistranslated as a servant when it should be slave, we can leave it standing as forced labor if you wish. The point is still just as powerful). Christianity was a new RELIGION (or fulfillment of Judaism) that looked forward to a redeemed world to come; not a political system to right all the wrongs. (Need Scripture references)
The fact is, this is a letter from the early church Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus (and the entire surrounding region if I am not mistaken) instructive on many things including the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone (Chapter 2:1-10) among other things, including how we should walk in love, how wives and husbands should live, how the relationship between children and parents should go in Christian homes, and since slavery was part of the world at that time, how slaves and masters should get along (Chapters 5-6). There is no treatment of slavery in this book at all. Just a recognition that it exists and how it should be dealt with as a part of life.
You also said that Jesus was interestingly silent on the topic. This actually is not so. Jesus is notrecorded as directly addressing the topic by name. However, just because it was not recorded does not mean that He never talked about it.
Secondly, He did indirectly address it in the gospel account of Matthew, chapter 7:12, as well as Luke 6:31 in a parallel passage:
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
- Matthew 7:12
“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”
- Luke 6:31
Both of these verses are from Jesus’ sermon known as the “Sermon on the Mount” where He exposits the Ten Commandments and reveals that they are not about outward behavior, but the intentions of the heart.
If we are not to even bear false witness to a fellow man or woman, then logic would dictate that slavery would certainly not be acceptable. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” And in the greater context of all Scripture, 1 John 3:15 says, “He who hates his brother is a murderer….”
If hatred is seen as murder in God’s sight, then slavery most certainly is seen as nothing less than hatred. Especially the kind of slavery you accuse the Bible of condoning and supporting.
He was correcting their flawed understanding of the Ten Commandments. It is possible that the Jewish leaders of the day may have used the apparent silence of slavery in the Ten Commandments to feel that it was okay. Jesus would have destroyed this notion with his summary referenced before, known commonly as “The Golden Rule”.
The third reason that Jesus may not have spoken of slavery in specific was because He did not come as a politician. The Jewish leaders certainly had expected a Messiah who would come and crush Rome and liberate them based on what they made of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. But Jesus said “..the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” He did not come to change the world politically, but to save the lost and redeem mankind to God. I know that Luke 2:14 is sometimes taken to mean peace on earth, and therefore, Jesus was not the Messiah because we have not seen world peace. But notice how it is worded, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! (NKJV)” The ESV renders it, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Jesus was to bring peace between God and those who would believe. Jesus was concerned with our eternal destination. Not how well life goes in this world.
What about Luke 12:43-48 you might ask. Here it is:
“Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,” and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at that hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will as the more.”
This is not support for beating slaves. This is in the context of a parable, which were stories that Jesus told to help us understand spiritual truths. Another example of this would be a parable Jesus told likening God to an unjust judge (Luke 18:1-5). The point of that was not in order for us to see God as unjust, but to tell us to be persistent in prayer. Likewise, the parable of the master and servant had the point that we should be on the lookout and be ready for his second coming: believers will receive their reward, unbelievers will receive eternal punishment.
Hardships and atrocities come on believers as well as unbelievers. Think about early Christians who were persecuted by the Roman pagan empire in the first and second centuries. They themselves were enslaved at the hands of Romans and fed to lions and burned alive as torches and suffered many other horrible fates under Nero. Jesus even warned that this would happen to believers: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” (John 15:20-21). See also Matthew 10:16-39.
And then a few centuries later, the atrocities Christians suffered at the hands of the Roman Catholic church. William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, John Knox, etc. were burned at the stake and suffered other atrocities by the Roman Church mostly for translating the Bible into a language the common people could read. Not to mention the various other things that would happen as part of the Protestant reformation (Check out Fox’s Book of Martyrs for many of these).
When you speak of the church doing things for political gain, this mostly was the Roman Church, if not entirely. I will get to that later when I come to the point you made about the early church and how the Bible came into being.
Christians themselves are held as slaves even as we speak in various parts of the world. Check out www.voiceofthemartyrs.com to see some of the atrocities Christians are suffering around the world this very moment.
Now to the slightly more challenging Old Testament references of slavery.
Passages in Leviticus show us the importance of treating “aliens” and foreigners well and how they even become part of the people of God if they believe. Ruth and Rahab were two examples of this in the historical writings of the Old Testament. Also, slavery in Leviticus shows us the importance of redemption. Read the chapters dealing with slavery in full context.
The New Testament writers point out that we are slaves of sin (please keep in mind, Andy, this is not about whether we being slaves of sin is a true statement or not, but rather, within he theological framework the Bible is working within and building upon in its pages, is it in fact endorsing slavery and what use is the Bible actually making of slavery), but are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Such slavery is a living allegory, and does not justify race based slavery practiced from the 16th to 19th centuries, as some supposed Christians of the past may have twisted the text to mean.
Slavery was common in the Middle East as far back as ancient Egypt and if God had simply ignored it, there would have been no rules on how to treat slaves and servants and they would have had no rights whatsoever. God given rules and rights show that God cared for them.
I submit that you have misunderstood this as a Biblical endorsement of harsh forced slavery. It is not. God (or Paul if you will. Remember, we Christians, consider the entire Bible, cover to cover, as the Word of God) said slave trading is one of the worst sins. Consider 1 Timothy 1:10 were “enslavers” are considered lawless and disobedient. And this is not unique to the New Testament. Moses himself did not seem very fond of forced labor slavery. Consider these verses:
Exodus 21:16- He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.
The punishment of Egypt was indeed very severe for enslaving the Hebrews. According to the Biblical record, Egypt was destroyed completely for it. God also had predicted this well in advance.
“Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.’” (Genesis 15:13-14).
If God didn’t protect the slaves and bondservants with the commands He gave involving them, then the people surrounding them who did keep very harsh slavery would have loved to move in where there were no governing principles on the treatment of slaves. It would have attracted those slave owners like flies. These laws discouraged such things.
In fact, the fact (that was redundant) that there were even laws controlling slavery suggests that it was not a good thing.
Pastor Matthew Anderson put it this way:
“In giving laws to regulate slavery, God is not saying it is a good thing. In fact, by giving laws about it at all, He is plainly stating it is a bad thing. We don’t make laws to limit or regulate good things. After all, you won’t find laws that tell us it is wrong to be too healthy or that if water is too clean we have to add pollution to it. Therefore, the fact slavery is included in the regulations of the Old Testament at all assumes that it is a bad thing which needs regulation to prevent the damage from being too great.”
Obviously, many passages are used in the Old Testament by yourself and others to try and suggest that the Old Testament condones harsh slavery. But read one of these in context:
“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever’ (Exodus 21:2-6)
Before going any further, let’s see what the Hebrew word for “buy” means here. The word is qanahand in this context obviously means to “acquire”. (It would save us Christians a lot of trouble from atheists if the translators would just get it right the first time!)
A slave under forced slavery would have no money to pay; therefore, verse two would make absolutely no sense when it says “he shall pay nothing”. Of course he would pay nothing. Also, it says “if he comes in by himself”. This obviously implies he comes of his own accord. It does not say “if he were BROUGHT in” or “SOLD”. Moses prescribed the death penalty for such a thing (Ex. 21:16 He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death).
It therefore makes more sense to see this as a type of bankruptcy. A government doesn’t step in, but this person has lost himself or herself to debt and only has one thing left to sell: his/her ability to work. This is a loan. And it says also that REGARDLESS of the debt, he is to be held no longer than six years unless he so chooses. Bondservants who did this made a wage, had their debt covered, had a home to stay in, on-the-job training, and did it for only six years.
Regarding Exodus 21:4, if the bondservant is willing to walk away from his wife or kids (who were already bondservants to the master to begin with) then it is his own fault. It is not the master’s responsibility to forgive her debt, though it certainly does not forbid him to do so if he pleases. But if the male servant did walk away without them, he would be in defiance of the law of marriage. He has every right to stay with his family. His wife however is obligated to pay her debt until the master lets her free (keep in mind this is not to exceed 6 years legally). Otherwise a woman could deceitfully rack up debt, sell herself into slavery to cover her debt, only to marry somebody with a short time left on his term, and then go free with him. That would be cruel to the master who was trying to help her out by letting her work her debt off. This provision is to protect those who are trying to HELP, not enslave harshly and indefinitely.
Keep in mind also that this is not a forced agreement. The bondservants enter into service on their own accord. A foreigner can also sell himself or herself into servitude. The rules are slightly different, but it would still be by their own accord in light of Ex. 21:16: He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. (I repeat this verse on purpose).
The verses that follow shortly after 21:16 (skipping only verse 17 actually, having to do with cursing father or mother), we read:
“If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but is confined to his bed, if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted. He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed. And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is property (Exodus 21:18-21).”
This comes just after Moses banned slave traders in verse 16, as I said. Verses 18 and 19 are shown to show the parallel to servants among Israelites. The rules would still apply for their protection if they already have servants or if someone sells himself or herself into service.
Regarding vv. 20-21, consider how many of these who sold themselves into servitude who had lost everything, indicating that they often could’ve been “lazy”, and required discipline to get them up to par on a working level. The Bible does teach discipline with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 23:13. Even I was spanked as a child and I lived and am not emotionally “scarred” from it). So being disciplined with a rod or branch was not harsh but was required for discipline. Paul himself was beaten on 3 occasions (2 Corinthians 11:25) and he didn’t die from it. This was common in the ancient world. And this is discipline, not to be confused with extreme punishment, such as scourging, which the Romans practiced (without restrictions except for Roman citizens), as well as the Jews (40 lashes minus 1 so that they would be sure not to miscount and exceed God’s maximum of 40. Another sign of God’s kindness).
Verses 20 and 21 says that if a master beat his servant so badly that he/she died, the master would be punished for it. That was the law. If the servant survived a couple of days, it was probable that the master was disciplining him and did not intend to kill him, or that he may have died from another cause. In such a case, there is no penalty except that the master lost his temporary property and he himself suffers his loss.
*And it should be noted that there is some debate over the proper translation of verse 21. Several versions (NIV, HCSB, NLT) translate it as “…if the servant recovers after a day or two,” rather than “remains alive a day or two.” If this is the proper translation, it obviously makes this a moot point.
You also have accused the Bible of being sexist in its treatment of “slaves” (but I do believe I have made a very good case that “servant” would be a better word to use).
“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her.” (Exodus 21:7-8, ESV)
A Hebrew female could be sold into servitude with permission of her father for marriage, not labor purposes. Verse 8 discusses breaking faith with her; different language than used with the males. This would be a marriage covenant or betrothal (see Malachi 2:14). If God approved of her leaving after six years, marriage would no longer be a life-long covenant. Therefore, God is upholding the sanctity of marriage here.
If this rule was not in place, it would mean that men would have free reign to marry a woman for six years, divorce her, and get another wife. The Bible does not approve of this. So it is being consistent.
Let’s take a look at Leviticus 25:38-46 now:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be you God. And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God. And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have—from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.”
God made sure to preface this passage with a reminder that He had just saved them from bondage in Egypt (real, forced labor, and cruel bondage). And again, if one becomes poor he may sell himself into servitude to pay off debt as discussed already.
Verse 44 discusses slaves that they may already have from nations around them. They may indeed be bought and sold.
It does not say or permit them to seek out new slaves or have forced slavery. So it is not endorsing an outright slave trade. The Israelites had just come out of slavery themselves, and were about to enter into the Holy Land. They would not have had many slaves/servants at this point, but they obviously had some because Moses saw fit to regulate it. It still does not restrict people from other nations selling themselves (or seeking an employer if you will). And we have already covered at some length that the Bible provides for proper treatment of them.
Later on in Biblical history, some Israelite kings did indeed try to institute forced slavery. Solomon is an example in 1 Kings 9:15, as well as Adoniram in 1 Kings 12:18. Both ended up falling from favor in the Lord’s sight and were found to follow after evil (1 Kings 11:6; 2 Chronicles 12:14).
One more point to consider. All the laws regulating slavery/indentured servitude are found in the Pentateuch (meaning Five Scrolls), or Five Books of Moses. These books were given as Israel was coming out of bondage to possess the land that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants hundreds of years earlier in the book of Genesis. These books told the Israelites how the world was created, how sin had entered the world, about their forefathers, Adam, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc. on up to the birth of Moses, and how they had ended up in slavery on through to record the very events that they had witnessed in God delivering them from the hands of Egypt and Pharaoh, among many other things.
These books also contained laws. Christians handle these laws as three separate laws:
The judicial law or constitution of the new nation of Israel.
The Moral Law, or the 10 Commandments, if you will.
Ceremonial Law, i.e. the Religious Law
Israel was indeed a theocracy, unlike modern times.
The Judicial laws are what governed and regulated the practice of selling oneself into servitude to pay a debt, or having bondservants. Therefore, these laws do not command Christians in modern times to do such a thing as even have bondservants. These were the rules for the nation of Israel; they indeed are all addressed to Israel. Not Americans in the 21st century. In fact, the Jews didn’t even seem to hold to ALL of these rules even in Jesus’ time and yet Jesus did not condemn them for it. Jesus never made a big beef about these laws. The Romans were the political power in charge at the time, and they had much harsher slavery laws and were more brutal in just about every other way imaginable.
Even though the law given may not apply to us directly, we can draw principles out of them because God never changes. At least not the Biblical God. They are still useful to Christians today in their own religious practices. I would get into the fact that it was the Bible and a Christian conscience that led to the fight against forced slavery in the States. But we can argue that another time. The only known places on earth at the moment where slavery exists are either atheistic communist countries, or Muslim countries. It is just a fact, but I will not bother trying to back it up. I do believe that it is very easy to find that out for yourself.
It is simply not intellectually honest to charge the Bible with condoning slavery. As the point made earlier on in this discussion, the very fact that there were regulations imply this. The Bible does not command owning slaves, nor does it condemn being kinder than the rules set forth. Nowhere does it command the masters that they must keep their slaves for a fixed amount of time. To the contrary, since God is a kind God, He would actually have preferred masters and lenders to be forgiving of the debts. But, since He is a just God, and the servants were indebted, He would not force the forgiving of debt. Indeed it was actually very merciful that God required this provision. Otherwise, as in other surrounding nations, they very well may have faced an outright forced-labor, life-long bondage in slavery without compensation at all, and to be bought and sold as had happened to Joseph by his own brothers to the Ishmaelites in the book of Genesis. If not this, then death could have been a penalty.
The New Testament makes good use of this imagery to show how kind God really is. We have been found wanting when it comes to the moral law that we have broken, the 10 Commandments, the law that always stands (which actually serves as a mirror to show us the internal reality that we even desire to do such things within our hearts and that alone exposes that we were given over before we ever even actually committed a sin).
We are therefore given over to and slaves of sin and justly deserve eternal hell because we owe a price that we simply cannot pay. The eternal and perfect justice of God demands a payment, as the bondservants are required to pay their debt.
But the God-Man Himself came to earth, lived a sinless, perfect life, and died by being nailed to a cross in our place after being beaten and mocked, in order to pay the debt that we owe God, and to satisfy His own justice on our behalf, and be resurrected from the dead to prove that there is a future resurrection, and that we can know that God accepted His payment.
And anyone who will repent and trust in Him will be set free from sin to be a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ, Whom we were originally created for in the first place.
I believe this lays to rest the notion that God and the Bible condone slavery. And I really do find it hard to believe that you have not heard this if you have listened to any real apologists.
*For more reading check out:
We see how much it took to hand this topic. I will deal next with the allegation that the Bible condones rape and child murder and genocide with just as much thoroughness in my next post.
Please follow the link to my response: Anti-Apologetics on Slavery