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Slavery in the Bible



          The topic of slavery in modern times usually sends a chill down the spine.  Is God crazy to endorse slavery?  Most people think of slavery as an evil and wicked practice, but did God really tell us to practice this evil thing?  The truth of the matter is this, God does endorse slavery in the Bible and it is a practice that we should still practice today.  The problem we have with slavery is we do not understand it from God's perspective.  If we understood the purpose behind slavery in the Bible then we would most likely be more acceptable of it.  The purpose of this article is to identify slavery and how it is to be practiced from a scriptural viewpoint.  This might seem odd, but I contend that every law that God invented is for our good (Deut. 6:24) and should be practiced today (Deut. 10:12).  Perhaps if we better understood the laws of slavery in the scripture we might gain an appreciation of the benefits of practicing slavery.


Modern Slavery:


          Modern slavery is different than slavery in the past.  Today, our understanding is very skewed by the history of slavery in the United States.  To tell the truth, slavery that was practiced in the United States in the 1700s and 1800s was not slavery at all, but something entirely different.  We practiced kidnapping, not slavery, here in America.  Early Americans went to Africa and took men and women without cause and against their will to be slaves here in America.  This is not biblical slavery at all.  This is what the Bible calls man steeling (Ex. 21:16).  In fact, kidnapping another human being was a capital offense and the penalty was stoning.  This is not scriptural at all and God no where endorses what America did in its early years. 

          The truth is America removed biblical slavery as a result of the civil war, and this was against the will of God.  America has been paying the price of this move ever since.  After the civil war, the United States enacted the 13th amendment.  This amendment removed slavery and involuntary servitude from our laws.  Here is the text as written in the amendment:

  • Section 1:  Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

  • Section 2:  Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

          The consequences to our legislation are interesting.  The problem we had was that of kidnapping, which was already illegal.  The result of the kidnapping was an illegal slavery.  It has been said that the civil war was fought to eradicate slavery, but in reality it should have been fought to eradicate kidnapping.  Slavery has always been a valid social status under the Common Law.  Removing this valid social status only hinders us as free people and as a result, Americans lost some of their rights.  This might sound strange, but continue reading and this will become clear.


Defining Scriptural Terms:


          Before we continue it is important to define some scriptural terms.  After all, many times we read in the scriptures of a certain topic, but we understand that topic from our modern times.  Here are some terms to consider.

  • Servants/Hired:  Servants in the scripture are different than we might think.  The word servant has a very negative connotation today, but it shouldn't.  Being a servant is simply a social status.  Here are a few laws regarding servants:

    • Servants can serve for only six years.  The seventh year they are set free (Ex. 21:2).

    • When set free, a servant departs with all he had prior to his service (Ex. 21:3-4).

    • If a servant is injured by his master he is to be set free (Ex. 21:26-27).

    • The wages of the servant are to be paid the same day (Lev. 19:13).

    • Servants are not to be ruled over with rigor (Lev. 25:43).

    • Servants are not to be released empty handed (Deut. 15:13-14).

    • Servants are not to be oppressed by their masters (Deut. 24:14-15).

    • Servants are voluntary (Ex. 21:5-6).

  • Slaves/Bondservants:  Slavery in the scripture is much different than what we think of slavery today.  Today we see slavery as an evil activity that is illegal.  Here are a few laws regarding slavery:

    • Brethren cannot be compelled into slavery, but must be treated as servants (Lev. 25:39).

    • Slaves from foreign nations can be forever (Lev. 25:46).

    • Foreign slaves cannot be extradited (Deut. 23:15-16).

    • We are not to mistreat a foreign slave (Deut. 23:15-16).

          Based upon the previous description of servant and slave we can make a few determinations.  A servant is someone who is paid (Lev. 19:13), has a sabbatical (Ex. 21:2), has injury protection (Ex. 21:26-27) has employee rights (Lev. 25:43), and receives a serverance package when he leaves (Deut. 15:13-14).  Does this sound familiar? If you work for wages and have an employer you are what the scripture calls a servant.  This is a social status God created and is necessary for a nation to survive.  The other option is for you to have a private business and work for yourself.  What the scripture calls a servant is what we currently call employment today.

          The same is true of slavery.  Slavery is a social status that God created and is governed by laws.  If someone owes a debt they cannot pay, a trial takes place to determine guilt (Deut. 17:6).  If guilty and the guilty party cannot pay, a sentence of slavery is given (Ex. 22:3).  This sentence is to last until the debt is paid or until the year of release.  This is a very different slavery than what was practiced in early America.  This is the difference between Strict Liability and Limited Liability.


Strict Liability vs. Limited Liability:


          The law identifies the difference between slavery in the scripture and slavery in America.  The law of God endorses Strict Liability while America has moved from Strict Liability to Limited Liability.  The difference between the two is significant.  When one is convicted of a crime/sin, the scripture makes the guilty party solely responsible (Eze. 18:18-19).  He has to pay in full.  If he does not have the means to do so he will have to sell himself into slavery, or bond servitude, to the damaged party and make a full restitution.  This status is not permanent for the enslaved must be released every seven years.  This is the law of the year of release (Deut. 15:1-3).  Slavery in the scripture has a purpose.  That purpose is to make full restitution to a damaged party.  In America, if a criminal cannot pay he is placed in prison and everyone in America now has to pay for his life in prison.  This causes the population to have to pay for his crimes.  This is why God does not allow for prisons.  Instead, slavery makes the guilty party solely responsible.

          In America, we practice limited liability.  Limited liability is more commonly called insurance.  Insurance is the act where we pay someone to be responsible for our crimes.  There is a fixed amount that damages cannot go over.  Corporations have this in their corporate charter.  The corporation can be sued at a fixed amount, but not the president or owner of the corporation.  This is limited liability.  The scripture does not allow for limited liability.  The reason is obvious.  God expects each person to be individually responsible for their crimes/sins (Eze. 18:18-19).  This will cause each person to be careful and diligent to respect the rights of others. 




          Slavery has a very negative connotation today, but if we saw slavery as the scripture does, this negative connotation would disappear.  Slavery is simply a social status that a Hebrew could have for causing a damage he could not pay.  If he were found guilty of a crime/sin, but could not pay, he would become a slave until all was paid for, or until the year of release.  America used to practice this, until we removed this law of God with our 13th amendment.  Bond Servitude is different than slavery.  It is a social status for the poor and a right given by God Himself.  A poor Hebrew could sell himself into servitude/employment to make a living.  This gives the poor a chance to better themselves.  We call this employment today.  A higher status than employment is that of a private business (one who works for himself).  Abraham worked for himself as a cattleman (Gen. 13:2).  He had hired servants to do his work (Gen. 14:14).  His status was much higher than that of his hired servants.  Bill Gates works for himself as a software developer.  He also has many hired servants/employees.  Bill Gates statutus in America is much higher than that of his employees.  We have changed the meaning of these terms and have started calling them by different words.  Biblical slavery was a social status for someone who could not pay his debt, while American slavery was really kidnapping.  Biblical bond servitude is the same as what we call employment today.  Both are social statuses acceptable to God and should be practiced today.  Maybe some day America will recognize this and return to the Law of God.


By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV