Anyone that has ever had a theological conversation has certainly touched upon the subject of slavery. There are a number of common arguments that Christians use to explain away the fact the Bible appears to promote the enslavement of other human beings, and this video will provide the anti-apologetics to those arguments. The format of this video is a dialog between a Christian and an atheist, much of which has been taken from my personal debates as well as contemporary Christian apologetics.
Recently I have been getting a lot of requests to help people with theological debates as well as the best way to announce their atheism. To any atheists concerned about how they should reveal their disbelief in God to their friends or family, my advice would be to do it slowly, over time. Do not rush right into a heated theological debate. Personally speaking, I would start to slowly raise legitimate concerns about the Bible, similar to the process that most likely lead to your disbelief in the first place.
However, eventually you will need to defend your position and debate your believing friends and family about your atheism. I find the best place to start is to raise issues about the atrocities found in the Bible, and the topic of slavery has always been one of the biggest hurdles for me to reconcile with the notion that the God of Abraham is a just and loving God. My advice before getting into the details of a debate is to first agree with your opponent on some common ground. For the purposes of the debate on slavery, agree on three things.
1.) The God of the Bible exists.
2.) Morality is fixed, unchanging, and prescribed by God.
3.) Slavery is immoral.
Do not worry if you disagree with the first two points. What you are doing is establishing what your opponent believes, so eventually you can expose the inconsistencies in their moral reasoning. You will notice throughout my dialog that I equate the immoral practice of slavery with prostitution. Although it is my personal view that sex between two consenting adults for money should not be illegal, I still cite this example to demonstrate the theist’s moral inconsistency. Often during debates about morality believers will claim atheists do not have morals and therefore they cannot bring into question the immorality of a practice such as slavery. However, do not let them get away with this trick. For the purposes of this debate you are completely relying on theistic morality, so do not get side tracked with defending secular morality.
Remember to keep focused and do not move on to other subjects until the issue you are debating has been resolved. And one final point, always make sure you have a Bible handy when debating an issue like slavery, because you will need to look up passages to demonstrate what the Bible actually says. Memorize or write down the chapter numbers of important passages, such as Exodus 21, Leviticus 25, Luke 12, and 1 Peter 2, for they will be crucial in showing how slavery is both promoted and justified throughout the Old and New Testaments. And now for my anti-apologetics on Biblical slavery:
The reason I have difficulty believing the God of Abraham is the benevolent, all-loving God that he is claimed to be, is because the practice of slavery appears to be endorsed throughout the Bible.
The Bible does not endorse slavery, but slavery was a common practice throughout the ancient world. Slavery often served a vital purpose, such as allowing people to pay of debts, as in the case of indentured servants. Without all the bankruptcy and foreclosure laws, as well as debt consolidation companies that we have today, there would have been no way for people living in the ancient world to recover their debts.
Before we go any further, I would like to reach an agreement so we can have a basis upon which to build. For the purposes of this discussion I will agree that the Biblical God does exist. Let’s also agree that morality is fixed, unchanging, and prescribed by God. And finally, I do not think anyone believes the practice of slavery is actually moral, so let’s both agree that the 13th Amendment should be upheld.
With that said, if you agree slavery is immoral, what difference would it make how pervasive the practice or in what fashion slavery was used? Instead of slavery, what if men and women throughout the ancient world used sex as a tool to recover their debts? Would that make the act of premarital sex, or even adultery, any less immoral? Not according to a Christian world-view. Therefore, why do you make such arbitrary concessions when it comes to the practice of slavery?
Again, it does not matter in what manner slavery was used or how much it was ingrained in everyday life, for we have agreed that God defines morality according to fixed absolutes. Therefore, if something is immoral, it is ALWAYS immoral. We must be consistent in our understanding of moral principles, for without consistency morality becomes meaningless.
Even though the Bible describes some Israelites and Christians as owning slaves, slavery in Biblical times was not the same thing as slavery as it was practiced in America before 1865. In fact, the Bible actually tells Christian masters to treat their slaves with kindness and to look out for their welfare. For example, in Ephesians 6 Paul commands slaves to serve their masters as they would serve Christ and not half-heartedly. This is because “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is slave or free.” Paul goes on to tell the masters to do the SAME to the slaves and even tells the masters to not threaten their slaves because, “since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is slave or free. 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 6:5-9)
Yes, but is slavery moral? If you agree that enslaving someone is not a moral practice, then what difference would it make how the slaves were treated? I will refer to my previous analogy of prostitution. What if we could guarantee prostitutes would only be treated with utmost respect in a controlled setting with security, monthly blood screenings, and so on? In fact, we could even legalize prostitution, creating an environment where the only parties involved would be consenting adults, and prostitutes have full control over the men they choose to be their clients.
What does the fact that women are being treated kindly by their brothels have to say about the Christian perception of prostitution? If you believe prostitution is immoral, then it is ALWAYS immoral — no matter how much we regulate it, limit it, or how well we treat its participants. Likewise, if slavery is immoral, then it is ALWAYS immoral — no matter how a master might treat his slaves or what are the reasons for enslaving them, there is no justification that can be given to explain away the enslavement of a class or race of people. Even if you, as a slave master, were the kindest slave master in the history of humankind, it would do nothing to legitimize the practice of slavery. You could be the nicest crack dealer in the world as well, but it would not excuse the fact you directly profit from the exploitation of other human beings. Instead of telling Christians to be kind to their slaves, why didn’t Paul just come right out and completely denounce the practice of slavery all together?
Paul was not endorsing slavery, but slavery was a reality in ancient Rome as well as 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? 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.
Why would Paul have advised the SLAVES to do anything? Why couldn’t Paul advise the slave MASTERS, who retained all the power? Or better yet, simply speak out against slavery as being the moral injustice that it was!
Never mind Paul’s attempt to REGULATE slavery by writing letters to the Ephesians, the mere fact this immoral act was allowed to continue in ANY fashion demonstrates his inhumane indifference to the suffering of millions of innocent people. What if something like bestiality were just as pervasive as slavery, don’t you think Paul would have stood in direct opposition to its practice?
Are you really attempting to suggest Jesus’ and Paul’s hands were completely tied with regard to speaking out against the issue of slavery? Are we to expect Christianity to stand up for what is right and just, despite slavery being a common practice? Are we to expect Paul to have spoken out against slavery because it is fundamentally immoral, despite whether or not an anti-slavery position was unpopular for its time? The answer is, “Yes!” Is Jesus and the apostles standing up for what is moral and championing the rights of an unjustly persecuted class of people too great an expectation?
You claim Biblical slavery unjustly persecuted an entire class of people, but how do you even known the form of slavery being practiced by Christians during the time of Jesus was so unjust? These slaves were indentured servants, paying off a debt, and as we have already seen, Paul even tells the Ephesians to treat their slaves well.
Let’s take a look at 1 Peter 2:
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:18-21)
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest apostles, tells slaves to submit to their masters, even “those who are harsh”. Peter actually uses the words “unjust suffering” to describe the predicament of the slaves. Here we can plainly see that Peter, in full conscience, KNOWS the act of slavery is unjust and that it causes suffering! Peter even compares the unjust suffering of slaves to the unjust suffering of Christ, and that such suffering is holy in the eyes of God.
The slaves being address in this passage are not under contract to pay off a debt, they are being worked and unjustly beaten. Furthermore, there is no attempt to even condemn the unjust beatings. This passage serves to excuse the exploitation of millions of people in bondage, telling them to just deal with their suffering by following the example of Christ.
To say that slavery was merely an accepted part of life and no one was able to speak in direct opposition to this vile practice is similar to saying something equally absurd, like: “Because the ancient world widely accepted prostitution and adultery, Christianity could not have taken a firm stance against them, because it was merely an upstart religion with no political affiliation.”
An objective moral truth is true no matter what time period you happen to live in. If slavery is objectively wrong in the present, then it must have been objectively wrong in the past, according to our previously agreed upon standard of God’s fixed moral absolutes. If slavery was indeed viewed as an injustice to Peter, Jesus, or any of the other apostles (as is clearly the case), and they did not say or do anything to rectify this matter, then they are just as morally accountable as the slave masters. That’s called aiding and abetting — you cannot know someone is responsible for a crime and say nothing or withhold information from the police.
Jesus is certainly vocal about his opinions on adultery and murder. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to equate lust with adultery and hate with murder. With such opinionated, conservative views on these two issues, why the apathetic indifference to the issue of slavery?
Although Jesus is not recorded as directly addressing the immorality of slavery by name, just because it was not recorded does not mean Jesus never talked about it.
I am not in a position to assume anything about any historical figures, especially one living 2,000 years ago. Are you? Therefore, if Jesus’ true views on slavery were not recorded, then the point is moot. But we are not discussing the POSSIBILITY of Jesus having said something. Sure, Jesus could have talked about the immorality of slavery, just as easily as he could have flown to the moon and back. However, we are not discussing hypothetical scenarios, we are discussing the written record and the very real implications the record had on the suffering of countless millions of men, women, and children at the hands of Christian slave masters.
Although it might be true slaves suffered unjustly, as you pointed out in 1 Peter 2, Jesus was ultimately concerned with our eternal destination. Not how well life goes in this world.
If that is true, then wouldn’t performing an immoral act such as slavery lead one down a road to eternal damnation? Was the irrevocable damage to the immortal souls of Christian slave masters of no concern to Jesus Christ? Furthermore, there are no other immoral acts that could be worse than slavery, because for so many people slavery was a fate much worse than even being murdered.
African American literature of the 19th Century describes in great detail the magnitude of what many slaves were forced to endure throughout the course of their lives. Slaves were treated like animals that needed to be tamed and their spirits broken, much like the domestication process of a wild animal. In fact, the same methods of dehumanization was used by the Nazis in concentration camps during World War II.
In reading the works of Frederick Douglass, his fear and desperation are palpable in his recounting of the extreme brutality and senseless acts of violence daily visited upon him and his fellow slaves as their spirits where shattered. Douglass describes slaves being treated no better than livestock, and in many instances far, far worse.
“I have often been awakened by the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there hush and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and participant. It struck me with awful force. It was t he blood-stained fate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was the most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.”
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (page 14)
But to add insult to injury, after receiving their beating the slaves would be often treated to readings from Scripture. This just further demonstrates that these horrendous acts were perpetrated by devout believers in the Christian God, who adamantly adhered to Scripture, and justified the practice of keeping slaves through Scripture.
“Every year brings with it multitudes of this [mixed race] class of slaves. It was doubtless in consequence of a knowledge of this fact, that one great statesmen of the south predicted the downfall of slavery by the inevitable laws of population. Whether this prophecy is ever fulfilled or not, it is nevertheless plain that a very different looking class of people are springing up at the south, and are now held in slavery from those originally brought to this country from Africa; and if their increase do no other good, it will do away the force of the argument, that God cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right.”
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (page 13)
Here Douglass is referring to the common argument take from the Bible to justify the enslavement people with darker sin. In Genesis chapter 9 verse 25 Noah places a curse on Canaan, Ham’s son and Noah’s grandson.
“And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”(Genesis 9:25)
There is no question the form of slavery that was practiced by Americas was very cruel, but how these Christians misused the Bible is not the Bible’s fault. The Christians that engaged in the European and American slave trade twisted Scripture to fit their own agenda, and thus were not true Christians.
Although it might be true that Christians twisted or reinterpreted Scripture to fit their own agenda, that would only be the case if the Bible actually bothered speaking in direct opposition to the practice slavery. With such potential for abuse, Jesus and the apostles could not afford to remain silent on this issue.
Surely the with the power of omniscience at his command, God could foresee all the pain and suffering at the hands of the American and European slave trades, and how the very same passages Jesus preached, and the apostles took down with pen, would be used to justify one of the most horrendous evils ever perpetrated upon the Earth.
Therefore, instead of remaining ambiguous on this subject, and even using slavery to illustrate parables, why didn’t Jesus come right out and condemn slavery directly, making no bones about it — slavery is wrong and we should not do it. If Jesus had come out in direct opposition to slavery, then at the very least the ambiguous passages found in the Bible could not have been manipulated in such a way as to appear to justify the practice of slavery. Jesus Christ could have easily addressed this issue on numerous occasions, and only He, as the Son of God, was in the unique position to do so.
The reason Jesus may not have directly opposed slavery was because He did not come as a politician. The Jewish leaders certainly had expected a Messiah who would come to crush Rome and liberate them based on their understanding of Old Testament prophecies. But Jesus said “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” (Matthew 18:11) Jesus did not come to change the world politically, but to save the lost and redeem mankind to God.
Do we not make laws with regard to moral issues? We certainly have laws against cold-blooded murder, which I will safely assume we can both agree is immoral as well as illegal. Why then do you continue to make concessions for slavery on this point? Even if Jesus came back to abolish the sacrificial, dietary, and judicial laws of the Nation of Israel, he would still be bound to the moral law. Therefore, if slavery is immoral, then Jesus was dutifully bound to speak in opposition to it, regardless if this position was unpopular at the time.
It does not matter if Jesus did not come as a politician, for slavery is a moral issue and Jesus is well-known for his moral instruction. So why weren’t he and the apostles proselytizing against slavery and denying slave masters access to heaven for engaging in this practice? Because Jesus did not want the religion to become politicized? Is that honestly what you believe? If that is true, and Jesus had the ear of every Christian slaveholder throughout time but would rather let millions suffer under the oppression of slavery because he “did not come to change the world politically”, then Jesus was far from the moral teacher Christians make him out to be and Christian morality is essentially bankrupt.
However, slavery is a social injustice, not a political issue to be debated or voted upon — a fact that is curiously overlooked unless the slaves in question happen to be God’s “Chosen People”. God went to such lengths to free the Hebrews from bondage that He kills every first born child in Egypt, from princes to livestock.
“All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die.”
At least we can give God credit for being consistent, or rather indiscriminate, when it comes to acts of infanticide. But are we really to believe that somehow God cannot maintain consistency with his views on slavery? God certainly did not view Hebrew liberty from Egyptian bondage as a “political” issue that should remain untouched and allowed to be resolved on its own.
If we are all God’s children, why shouldn’t all people enjoy the same rights? Christ came to unite all people under that message. No longer were the Jews God’s Chosen People, because Christianity was a religion for everyone, Jew and gentile alike. So why wasn’t God’s position on slavery regarding the Hebrews in Exodus extended to ALL slaves, such as those found in the Gospels?
The right to not be beaten, to not work without pay, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are human rights that all humans must be free to enjoy. The Declaration of Independence labels these as unalienable Rights given to us by the Creator, but as we can see that is certainly not the case. God never extends these rights to slaves, and neither did the Founding Fathers. Christian men used the Bible as motivation and justification to enslave an entire RACE of people.
Jesus had the opportunity to stop the practice of slavery in its tracks, to prevent the exploitation of millions of men, women and children throughout history, but he did not. We are not talking about politics or social reform, we are talking about establishing a moral and ethical code of conduct that would ring throughout the centuries to come. Jesus knew his teachings would be written down and learned from, yet STILL made no attempt to circumvent the injustices perpetrated under slavery. If slavery is immoral now then slavery was immoral in the past, unless I am missing something and morality is completely arbitrary.
Although Jesus did not speak in direct opposition to slavery, He did indirectly address slavery in the gospel account of Matthew, as well as Luke with 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 the “Sermon on the Mount”, where Jesus 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 against a fellow man or woman, then logic would dictate that slavery would certainly not be acceptable.
Jesus says, “He who hates his brother is a murderer…” (1 John 3:15). If hatred is seen as murder in God’s eye, then slavery most certainly is seen as nothing less than hatred. Especially the kind of slavery you accuse the Bible of condoning and supporting.
I don’t think it’s possible to find a more ambiguous verse than Matthew 7 or Luke 6 regarding the very clear issue of slavery. Although you cite Luke 6 as evidence that Jesus indirectly speaks against slavery, in Luke 12 we find a record of Jesus addressing the issue of slavery DIRECTLY.
The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”
“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:42-48)
But this passage does not support 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 the parable where Jesus likens God to an unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). The point is not for us to see God as unjust, but to tell us to be persistent in prayer. Likewise, the parable of the master and servant tells us we should be on the lookout and be ready for Jesus’ second coming: believers will receive their reward, unbelievers will receive their eternal punishment.
Although it is a parable, Jesus himself directly speaks about the well-known practice of viciously beating slaves, and yet again, denies himself the opportunity to condemn these actions. Notice how the parable does not address the immoral practice of slavery itself, but rather, Jesus is using the practice of slavery to form an analogy between a slave master (God) horrendously punishing his servants (us) for not being ready upon his return.
If Jesus was against slavery wouldn’t it have made better sense to equate the practice of slavery with hell, and by not following God’s Word the sinners are like slaves, toiling away their existence with no hope of escape? Then Jesus could have stated something like, “Liberation from slavery is similar to salvation through Christ. All men deserve to be free and thus all men deserve their heavenly rewards, which can only be obtained by liberating themselves from slavery to sin.”
It took me two minutes to come up with an infinitely more applicable parable than Jesus. So why didn’t Jesus say something to that affect? Because Jesus IS excusing the practice of slavery. Jesus is claiming GOD will do unto US what MASTERS do to their SLAVES. If God is within his limits to punish us for not following His Word, then why aren’t slave masters equally as justified? If that were not the case, and slave masters do not have the right to beat their slaves, then this parable would not make any sense.
What if instead of slavery Jesus used a parable of a prostitute and her pimp? “Prostitutes that are not prepared when their pimps unexpectedly call on them will be severely beaten, so too will you be punished if unprepared for the Lord’s return.” Does this parable make ANY sense? Of course not!
Why would Jesus make reference to a blatantly immoral act in order to demonstrate a holy message? You first must have a frame of reference in order for a parable to be applicable. If Jesus believes slavery is immoral, then referencing the act of beating slaves in positive affirmation of the plans he has made for us would be a complete contradiction! However, we have many more passages regarding the unjust practice of slavery to choose from, which are neither ambiguous nor in parable form. For instance, take 1 Timothy 6:
“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.” (1 Timothy 6:1-2)
Here we find very descriptive language regarding slavery. We see that slaves are treated as chattel — human animals to be placed under a “yoke” and made to work and serve their masters. In fact, if you’re the unfortunate slave of a Christian slave master you are commanded to serve them even better. How do you expect slaves belonging to Christian masters to ever get out of bondage? What would you have told an American slave master that used this passage to justify his right to own slaves? How could you possibly convince him otherwise? Nowhere are concessions made for slaves of Christian masters to become free men. In fact, this passage appears to explicitly speak against slaves ever obtaining their freedom!
Now, I realize this passage also states that slave masters are “devoted to the welfare of their slaves”, but we have already discussed this issue. It does not matter if some slave masters looked after the welfare of their slaves or not, for this passage clearly justifies a practice that we have already determined to be unjust. If you want to justify the immoral act of slavery simply upon the grounds of how slaves were treated, then let’s justify prostitution by how well we treat prostitutes and let’s justify the practice of bestiality by how well we the treat animals. Consistency is essential with regard to morality. If we cannot be consistent in our understanding of moral issues, then morality is not fixed, it is not absolute, and right and wrong are completely arbitrary.
Slavery was common throughout the Middle East as far back as ancient Egypt and if God had simply ignored it, then there wouldn’t have been rules on how to treat slaves and servants; therefore, they would have had no rights whatsoever. God’s rules regarding slavery show that God cared for slaves.
If God didn’t protect the slaves and bondservants with his commands, then people who did want to practice harsh slavery would love to move into an area where there were no governing principles on the treatment of slaves. It would have attracted those slave owners like flies; therefore, God’s laws discouraged such things.
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.
Driving a car is certainly a “good thing”, but we place regulations on driving so it does not become hazardous.
Safe food is also certainly a “good thing”, but we regulate how food is to be handled in order to prevent hazards to one’s health. This is also the reason we have health inspections in restaurants.
Laws develop in response to a need — laws are not ALWAYS there to limit “bad things”. We make laws to ensure safety when driving a car or handling food, not because these actions are inherently wrong. Likewise, regulations were placed on slavery not because the act itself was wrong in the Hebrews’ eyes, but rather, to regulate the practice so it would not become hazardous to the Hebrews engaging in it.
If the Israelites had really view of slavery as being a dangerously immoral practice, they would have completely outlawed slavery instead of merely making laws to regulate it. Indeed, all concessions in the Torah on the practice of slavery are only given to other Hebrews, in order to limit the numbers of their own tribes being enslaves, but slaves from other nations never have any rights.
Not only does the Bible provide laws to regulate slavery, Moses even attempts ban slave traders in Exodus 21, where he states, “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.” (Exodus 21:16)
Yes, this was obviously a valuable law at the time, preventing bandits and highway robbers from kidnapping people and ransoming or selling them. But this passage does not, as you say, show “Moses banned slave traders”, for this passage is addressing kidnappers. You must look to the book of Leviticus to find laws regarding the slave trade, where Moses gives very specific stipulations by which to obtain “kosher” slaves. Keep in mind, the book of Leviticus comes AFTER Exodus.
“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members from their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.” (Leviticus 25:44-46)
There is no kidnapping going on here. These slaves are legally purchased from other nations or from foreign tribes living within Israel. How these slaves arrived on the auction block is no concern under Hebrew law, for these are foreigners. These slaves could have been kidnapped, captured in war, or even born into slavery. There are no regulations on how slaves purchased from other nations are to be initially placed into bondage.
This is the most difficult passage for theists to explain, because it ticks every single one of the boxes under the definition of slavery. Slaves are to be “inherited property” that can be passed down to one’s children. We are directly told how to obtain new slaves, as they are to “come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.” The passage also stipulates that we have the authority to “rule over” slaves, meaning they are controlled by a master and forced to do his bidding without any promise of reimbursement.
Does this passage appear to place regulations on slavery because, as you claim, “the fact slavery is included in the regulations of the Old Testament at all assumes that it is a bad thing”? Leviticus is not trying to regulate the injustices of slavery, quite the contrary — it is promoting the practice while focusing the injustices onto people belonging to outside nations. Essentially what Leviticus 25 is telling us is that you can have slaves, just make sure they are not Hebrews. But if you happen to have Israelite slaves, do not be cruel to them.
As we can plainly see, slaves taken from “the nations around you” and “temporary residents living among you and members from their clans born in your country” have no rights as human beings. In fact, every instance the practice of slavery is mentioned throughout Mosaic Law, preference is ALWAYS given to “fellow Israelites”.
“‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.” (Leviticus 25:39-43)
God makes sure to preface the passage in Leviticus 25 with a reminder that He had just saved the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt, which was real, forced labor, and cruel bondage. 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 or servants at this point, but they obviously had some because Moses saw fit to regulate it. However, it still does not restrict people from other nations selling themselves.
In fact, Exodus 21 gives instructions on how a bondservant must be treated:
“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)
This is an example of an ancient form of bankruptcy, where a 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, the bondservant is to be held no longer than six years unless he so chooses.
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 amount time left on his term, and then go free with him. That would be cruel to the master who was allow her to work off her debt. This provision is to protect those who are trying to HELP, not enslave harshly and indefinitely.
You are completely misinterpreting this passage! Nowhere does it imply the woman provided to the Hebrew servant his a “bondservant” as well. The passage clearly states the woman “BELONGS” to the master, a.k.a. she is his slave. Exodus 21 does not claim she is a Hebrew woman that is engaging in her six years of servitude to pay off a debt, otherwise she could go free after her time is up! Exactly what would be preventing her from leaving with her husband and all of her children if she was not a permanent slave of her master? After six years the MALE Hebrew servant can go free, but the master is not going to give up his property just because the male servant has sired children with her.
You said, “if the bondservant is willing to walk away from his wife or kids then it is his own fault”.
No it’s not, because this is tantamount to blackmail! The Hebrew servant has one of two options, to give up his wife and children so he can be free or remain with his wife and children and continue being a “slave”. The passage clearly states that if the servant says, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free”, then “his master shall pierce his ear with an awl”, thus forever branding him a slave.
Although there is a way out of bondage for the Hebrew servant, if he chooses “love” over freedom, then he and his entire family are to be slaves “FOREVER”. Whatever choice the Hebrew servant makes, the Bible is very clear about what happens to the children born of his union.
We see that children born to a Hebrew bondservant are not extended the same rights as their father under Mosaic law. The rights of the slave master trumps those of the children born to a member of the Nation of Israel, due to the simple fact of where the bondservant is at the time of his children’s conception. These children are not considered citizens of the Nation, not even by birth! Children born of a bondservant, who at the time is merely paying off a debt, are to suffer as slaves for the rest of their lives.
Essentially what is taking place is the Torah is providing the slave master with a loophole to breed more slaves. But to make matters worse, the father is blackmailed with the love for his children. If he is a cold-hearted bastard, then sure he can go free. But if he does the right thing and stays with his family, then the Torah allows the slave master to profit by gaining an additional adult male slave. HOW is this moral? How can any moral society or benevolent God turn a blind eye to this level of injustice, let alone make laws to enforce it?!
In addition, this passage serves to further demonstrate my previous point, that the ONLY time slavery is ever mentioned with any leniency is in reference to OTHER Israelites. However, the Torah is very clear when it comes to slaves that are captured from other nations. Foreign-born slaves NEVER have any rights and once placed in bondage they are to remain “SLAVES FOR LIFE”. If you feel I am in error, I challenge you to cite a single passage that specifically references NON-ISRAELITE slaves and the manner by which they can be legally freed from servitude.
Although no such passage exists, even if it did it would not matter, because, as we have already determined throughout the course of this discussion, slavery is immoral. Just because you might find a passage the gives stipulations for how one might obtain their freedom, that does not excuse the fact an immoral practice is being allowed to go on in the first place, no matter how tightly regulated it might be.
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.
The Judicial laws are what governed and regulated the practice of selling oneself into servitude to pay a debt. 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. Indeed, the laws are all addressed to Israel, not Americans of the 21st century. In fact, the Jews didn’t even seem to hold to ALL of these rules even in Jesus’ time, yet Jesus did not condemn them for it. 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 Mosaic laws given may not apply to us directly, we can draw principles out of them because God never changes. At least not the Biblical God. Therefore, the laws are still useful to Christians today in their own religious practices.
Even though slavery was regulated by judicial laws, that does not absolve its moral implications. Jesus absolved many Hebrew judicial laws regarding murder, does that mean murder is no longer immoral? Although Christians of the 16th-19th Centuries were not bound to the judicial laws regulating slavery in the Old Testament, they were perfectly within their rights to create NEW laws, and that’s just what they did. The fact Jesus never directly spoke in opposition to slavery meant, as far as the Christians of the 16th-19th Centuries were concerned, slavery was perfectly acceptable within Christianity.
You said, “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.”
Yes, exactly! The laws regarding slavery were not given to us directly, but these laws clearly demonstrate slavery is an acceptable practice so long as the proper regulations are in place. Great! So modern-day Christians can make new laws and go right on keeping slaves. Do you not see a problem with this logic? When something is immoral it does not matter how you regulate it. If, as you claim, “God never changes” then the act of slavery should have never been allowed to occur in the first place, or we should still have slavery today. The fact that slavery was widely practiced throughout the ancient world by Jews and Christians alike, but is currently an outlawed practice today, suggests a serious disconnect in the theistic understanding of morality.
What we need to realize is that slavery, among many other sensitive subjects in the Bible, has always been a dilemma among men in our sin-cursed world all through out history. The Bible was not written to reform society, but instead, to reform our souls with God’s salvation. The Bible attacks all of life’s plagues proactively from the inside out. Think about it: When someone accepts the true salvation of God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace, their soul is reformed. Someone who is truly saved by God’s grace and lives like Christ, will treat others with gracious love. The cure to slavery, and the cure to all the plagues in the world, is curing the heart of men, which is the Bible’s purpose. If you can change a man’s heart and soul, you don’t need to outlaw slavery, because a man of God would never treat another man harshly, against his will, to profit from their inhumane labor. That is the Bible’s approach to slavery, as well as, all of life’s evils.
As we have seen, the Bible only attempts to regulate slavery and to focus the injustices on foreign-born slaves. Neither Mosaic Law nor Jesus Christ make any attempt to outlaw the practice all together.
You claim, “The cure to slavery, and the cure to all the plagues in the world, is curing the hearts of men, which is the Bible’s purpose.”
So now you speak of slavery as if it were a plague upon humankind, when throughout this entire conversation you’ve been making excuses for it’s practice. If, as you describe, slavery really was such a plague, then why does Jesus, Paul, Peter, Matthew, Luke, Timothy and everyone else that mentions slavery in the Bible treat this issue with such disregard.
Although you claim slavery was a judicial matter that Jesus Christ served to abolish, slavery was also a matter of morality, thus Jesus was bound to uphold the moral law. If there is indeed such a thing as a fix standard of absolute morality, then Jesus did not live up to his role as a moral teacher. It is clear from Jesus’ sermons that he was far more concerned about suppressing our natural instinct to mate (also known as lust), than he was in suppressing the immoral act of profiting from the inhumane exploitation of millions of men, women, and children across the world and throughout time.
1 Peter 2:18-21 tells us that slaves suffer unjustly and 1 Timothy 6:1-2 shows us that slaves should serve their Christian masters even better, making no room for them to escape bondage.
The only evidence you can provide in opposition to slavery are extremely ambiguous verses that do not mention slavery by name. However, when Jesus and the apostles DO mention slavery directly, it is NEVER in opposition or condemnation.
But the final nail in the coffin is that the Bible flat out allows and even regulates slavery. If slavery is immoral, then it does not matter how well the Bible regulates it, because it still means the Bible is promoting or regulating an immoral practice. You can make whatever regulations you want to prostitution, bestiality, or illicit drug use — it still would not change the fact that according to Christian doctrine these practices are inherently immoral.
Numerous times throughout this discussion you’ve made massive concessions for slavery, while failing to be consistent in your understanding that God’s moral standard is absolute.
If God is by nature “just and right”, then it would be against his very nature to inflict such horribly cruel injustices upon the world, or at the very least he must restrain himself upon moral principle. However, all throughout the Bible we see God’s unbridled fury, jealously, and rage — inflicting incalculable harm on both his followers as well as non-believers.
When I read about moral injustices in the Bible, I find it abhorrent and in total opposition to everything I hold dear. Under Secular Humanism such Biblical atrocities as slavery would never be allowed to occur, let alone have laws made to regulate it!
I do not feel we should have to make excuses for God, thus the sheer amount of immoral acts the Bible permits and regulates forces me to constantly question the Bible’s integrity and authenticity. If I am to be honest with myself and follow a consistent code of moral and ethical conduct, then questions about the moral injustices contained in the pages of the Holy Bible must be accounted for.
Ultimately, defending the Bible with apologetics is a fool’s errand, for there is no conceivable way one could ever hope to justify the acts of slavery, rape, infanticide, and genocide found in the Bible. Either we accept these acts as being in accordance with the will of God and thereby concede morality is arbitrary, or we reject these acts and as a result, reject the Bible itself.