Terrible Parts Of The Bible: Part 4 – Slavery

Surely the Bible, the book filled with goodness and light would never condone an institution as evil as slavery? Surely God would condemn this and set people free? Surely Jesus, perfect Jesus would condemn slavery? After all, didn’t Moses free his people from slavery? However there is not a single line condemning slavery in the Bible. In fact the only laws regarding it deal with regulating it.

“You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.”  (Leviticus 25:44-46)

The Bible does ban slaves but only if they are Israeli. Foreigners are fair game and so are their children. Just in case there was any doubt they are to be treated not like people, but like property. This is the book; mind you that we are supposed to base our morality upon.

Like every part of the Bible, this part is filled with contradictions. Another part says you can have a “Hebrew” male slave, but you must set him free after “only” six years. (Exodus 21:2). Female slaves can be kept for an indefinite period and the master may sleep with them if he wishes. His only requirement is that he feeds and clothes her (in other words masters are free to do what they want with their slaves and the Bible won’t complain). (Exodus 21:7-11)

In fact you are even allowed to beat your slave to death so long as it takes them longer than a day to die (I don’t know how that is any better). This is justified as the slave is a piece of property.

“When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.”  (Exodus 21:20-21)

But some would argue this is all out dated Old Testament nonsense. Surely Jesus with his message of love would set this straight. But no, the New Testament is no better than the old one. Jesus told many parables involving slaves but apparently he had nothing to say about their treatment. He must not have thought it was that big a deal. The few mentions of slavery are ones promoting that great Christian virtue of obedience.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.”  (Ephesians 6:5)

“Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed.  If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful.  You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts.” (1 Timothy 6:1-2)

Just in case anyone thinks this is harmless talk in obscure and long forgotten chapters, remember that the Bible was used to justify slaveholding during the American Civil War.

“[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.” Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.

“There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral.” Rev. Alexander Campbell

Christians do point to positive commentary about slaves such as Galatians 3:28 or Colossians 3:11 which say that slaves will be reward in the afterlife just as much as free people. Good as this is, it’s not much good for the here and now. While Deuteronomy 23:15 does say you are under no obligation to return escaped slaves, it does not condemn the institution itself. Colossians 4:1 does appeal to slave owners, saying “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.” This sounds quite hollow when you remember the brutal way in which slaves were treated.

All this makes you wonder. If the Bible has absolutely no complaints about slavery, one of the greatest injustices of the world, how can it possibly be called the good book?

Terrible Parts Of The Bible Part 1 – Genocide

Terrible Parts Of The Bible Part 2 – Sexism

Terrible Parts Of The Bible Part 3 – Homophobia

Terrible Parts Of The Bible Part 4 – Slavery

Terrible Parts Of The Bible Part 5 – Racism

Terrible Parts Of The Bible Part 6 – Anti-Semitism


Filed under Religion

10 responses to “Terrible Parts Of The Bible: Part 4 – Slavery

  1. You are incorrect to say that there is “not a single line condemning slavery in the Bible.”
    First Timothy 1:10 mentions “slave traders” in the same verse with adulterers, perverts and liars.
    In Paul’s Letter to Philemon, Paul urges the slaveholder Philemon to receive back an escaped slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”
    Revelation 18 speaks of the fall of the wicked city of Babylon, symbolic of the evil materialistic society, and among other things it mentioned that they wicked trade included the “bodies and souls of men,” a reference to slavery, in Revelation 18:13.

  2. Regarding Paul’s letter to Philemon, I actually considered including that as an example to prove my point. Paul returned a slave rather than keeping him free, indicting he didn’t have a problem with the institution itself. He did include a “please be nice to him” note which is pretty empty considering the fact most slaves are kept in brutal conditions.

    Timothy 1:10 describes “them that defile themselves with mankind”, which is often translated to mean homosexuals (not perverts), so I don’t think its the best verses. A line comparing slave owners to gays doesn’t really help your case. http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/1tim/1.html

    From my reading of Revelation 18:13, it seems to be more a description of the city. It seems to say there are slaves in the city without passing judgement on them.

  3. Michael

    Reblogged this on Rantings of an Atheist and commented:
    An Interesting post by a fellow blogger on slavery in the bible.

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  5. Agnostic4lyfe

    I suspect slavery was accepted in the bible simply because it was a useful institution, one which the slave owners needed to be accepted by the masses. I think its fair to say at the time, the rich and powerful were the slave owners. only proving to me that it was not divinely inspired, but a contamination of what the bible could have become. One of many.

  6. dalton

    robert, ive been wanting to put together an essay regarding all of the baboonery in the bible, and you got some awesome points, would you mind if i used your quotes and info in my essay? and like you said , you could go on and on, if you have any more info on this topic, could you post it or email it to me ummagumma@hotmail.ca. it was 1 in the morning and i couldnt stop reading your topics.

    i havent seen anyone on any of your bible topics argue a good point. it seems that when someone who goes by the bible reads this, they just start throwing fists and not making a real point.

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