Does God Sanction Slavery?

    By Bill Flavell | 29 May 2016

    Slavery is rather an embarrassment for Christians. After all, it’s hard to claim your god is the author of absolute morality and simultaneously know that he sanctioned slavery. Some try to get around this obvious contradiction by claiming that the sort of slavery practiced by the Hebrews, and sanctioned by God, was different from the slavery seen in the USA before the civil war.

    They say slavery 3,000 years ago was indentured servitude — a safe refuge for people in serious debt so they could pay back what they owed. I have never seen Christians produce any evidence of this — all I have seen is assertions. So let’s look at what God did sanction according to the Bible.

    The Bible makes it clear that slaves are a person’s property. They may be bought and sold and they may be passed on to the master’s children when he dies.

    If a slave has a baby, that child also becomes the master’s property. If a slave couple have children and are later allowed to go free, the children remain the property of the master.

    A master was permitted to beat his slaves. Indeed, according to the Bible, he may lawfully beat them to death, provided they live a few days after the beating. And he may brand them so they can be recognised as his property.

    In a clear illustration of the status of slaves, if a slave is gored by a bull, the master must be compensated — not the slave.

    In addition to trading in slaves, the Bible also permits slaves to be taken forcibly by the victors after a battle.

    All this closely mirrors the type of slavery seen in the USA. But, in fact, Biblical slavery was worse. Hebrews could enslave Hebrews but Americans were not permitted to enslave Americans. God even allowed men to sell their daughters as concubines, which was not permitted in the USA.

    Honestly, there is more that could be said but this is enough. If God is the author of absolute morality, we are terribly wrong to have abolished slavery. But, if we are right, God is wrong.

    How COULD God be wrong? Simple, the Bible was written by Iron Age men and embodied their primitive moral values. If we are right that slavery is immoral, God is ancient fiction, nothing more.

    Reprinted with permission from the author.

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    1. Along with the moral and ceremonial law, the ancient Israelites had case law to list punishments for crimes. The passage about beating a bond servant is such case law and not an affirmation or instruction to do so. Bond servants, if beaten, had recourses in the courts or could run away. (Returning a servant to the bond holder was illegal.) The beating of a “slave” was never prescribed in the Bible.‬

      ‪All of the passages about indentured servitude were case law, recorded in God’s word, given to a certain people in a certain socioeconomic staus in a certain area for an interim due to their failure to conform to God’s moral law.‬ It was completely unlike the antebellum South.

      God did not invent chattel slavery. We did.

      Of course, anyone is free to disagree with the Bible and God, but they should be intellectually honest enough not to misrepresent both…now and in the future.


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