Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Did God Allow Slavery to Exist in the Bible?
For many people, the very mention of slavery invokes thoughts and emotions of cruel and unfair treatment. The emotional wounds of slavery in the hearts of black men and women in America can still be felt among many today. Such a sensitive and controversial subject must be addressed carefully without compromising the truth. Therefore, if God did allow slavery in the Bible, then it should raise a few questions. For instance, what type of slavery was it? Who was enslaved during those early biblical times? Were there any laws or regulations involved? These are the types of questions one must ask before drawing a conclusion based on hearsay. Our goal is to provide you with sound biblical insight in hope that the truth may resonate within your own heart.
I remember when I first began searching for truth, I studied almost anything I thought would help lift me from a low place in my life. Then one day I found God. As I began my walk and turning to the Holy Scriptures, I was often questioned about following a religion that was not for people of color. I also began to ask myself, was God really allowing slavery amongst African Americans? I remember being told, “Slave masters used the Bible to justify slavery and so used it to keep blacks in America submissive to their slave owners”. Now from what I recall in studying black history, blacks were not allowed to read. Therefore, slave masters could have twisted the Scriptures to make it say anything they wanted it to say in order to manipulate others. So, although that may have some level of validity, I’m glad our ancestors didn’t allow the lies to prevent them from learning how to read and study the Bible for themselves.
The very Bible that many blacks in America reject today, is the same Bible that revealed the truth to our ancestors. Moreover, the truth in God’s Word is what gave blacks a greater determination and drive to fight for their freedom, which in turn paved the way for the freedom of blacks living in America today! If God was for men holding someone else against their human will in an unjust manner, then why do we see stories in the Bible where God delivered Joseph from slavery, the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt, or Paul and Silas from prison. We can clearly see that God is in the business of setting the captives free.
Consider the Source
Some people will take a Scripture verse and use it out of context in order to justify their reason for living opposite to God’s righteous laws; while leading others astray who are shallow in their thinking. They often run with the first thing that validates their preconceived notions without studying the truth in its entirety. Be not deceived, Satan has his agents whose assignment is to cause doubt and confusion amongst those that are young in faith; so that the Word of God will not take root in their hearts. Satan has been using this same tactic since the Garden of Eden. That is, to twist the Word of God to deceive mankind.
Early Biblical Slavery versus American slavery
When you hear the word slavery, what comes to your mind? Is it bondage, cruelty, whips, and chains? You must understand that slavery was very different during the time in which the Bible was written. Slavery during those times was unlike the cruelty of American slavery, involving Africans who were brought over to American colonies by force.
Let’s look at few Scriptures below from the Old Testament where God established some guidelines for slavery in dealing with the Hebrew (Israel) nation.
If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty handed, you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you… (Deuteronomy 15: 12-15).
He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death (Deuteronomy 21:16)
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. (Exodus 21:20)
Below Are 3 Key Points I would like to Highlight:
1. There were established guidelines for slavery from a biblical standpoint.
2.Kidnapping another human being against their will was unlawful by God.
3.There were laws in place to restrict physical abuse and there was a set time to allow slaves their freedom.
Servanthood: A Word Study
If you look up the word “slavery” in the dictionary, you will see some of the following synonyms: bondage, hard labor, and servitude. The word servitude is another word for servanthood. This is very important, because some people are unaware that the words servant and slave are used interchangeably throughout the Bible (Deut. 15:12-18). Let’s look at the Old Testament uses of the Hebrew terms that we translate as “servant,” each one presenting a slightly different picture of a servant.
1. Sharath: someone who will perform menial tasks to accomplish an overall goal (Ex. 28:35-43).
2. Sakyir: a hired servant who works for pay, by day or by year (Lev. 25:39-42).
3. Abad: one who gives up personal rights in order to work in the fields or tabernacle (Num. 18:7,23).
4. Ebed: a love-slave or servant. This term describes someone who is at the complete disposal of another (Deut. 15:12-18).
The Underprivileged Members of Society
If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed. (Deut. 15:12)
Although this law concerning bondservants was addressed to Hebrews, the early settlers in America who represented the church, also held to biblical beliefs. Therefore, indentured servants who entered America typically worked four to seven years in exchange for passage into colonies, basic food, water, clothes and shelter. The idea of indentured servitude was born of a need for cheap labor. While the life of an indentured servant was harsh and restrictive, it wasn’t the type of African slavery that took place against a person’s free will.
The difference between African slaves and indentured servants is that the Africans could be purchased outright for life. Whereas, indentured servants worked for a season, as there were laws that protected some of their rights.
System of Economics: Biblical Times vs. Our Modern Day
During early biblical times, there was no need for money, as most trade was done through the barter system. Since there was no need for money, there was no wage labor. Instead, labor was created through a system of slavery (servanthood) or through a system of reciprocal duties and obligations. Each tribe tended to specialize in certain fields of agriculture or manufacture, which necessitated a constant trade between all of them. Today, if you have an employer, then you are providing your service in exchange for pay, which in turn provides resources for food, clothes, and shelter.
In summary, God does not allow men and women to be taken away captive into slavery against their human will. The guidelines for slavery deals with servanthood, not the exploitation of people. The Kingdom of God thrives on servanthood. Therefore, we labor out of God’s love for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, whether you serve an employer through your profession or serve through charity, you should be doing it unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). Blessings!
Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36)
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