Surely this above picture is quite disgusting, slavery is one of the most cruel, inhuman crimes by far… The slavery during the Colonialist era stand as one of the saddest pages of human history, thankfully it has been finally abolished (at least in the paper, because in reality, it still occurs all over the world…), and, due to this disgusting barbarity, many people look down on the bible, disdaining and condemning it as an evil book, and thus, accusing God of condoning it.. But what was the reality behind slavery/servitude (note: ebed (עֶ֫בֶד) is a Hebraic word used in bible and refers to both equally)? Was “biblical” slavery equal to that made on black people?
In OT times, there was no social welfare paid by government, retirement, pension, like we have today in countries like USA, Sweden, Finland, etc.. People lived on plantation, livestock, things totally dependent on abundant water, favorable climate, etc.. It would occurs that a drought took place, devastating crops, killing cattle, and/or thieves, bands could come and steal family’s yield.. Thus, family’s livelihood would be totally lost, and they obviously would starving to death.
The only, radical solution was therefore sell themselves and/or any relative as servants (Exodus 21:7; Leviticus 25:39, 2 Kings 4.1 for example) to richer families or slave traders. So, obviously, God hasn’t started, rectified slavery, He only implemented laws for the benefit of those servants/slaves! He has solely regulated what the humankind used to practice in those eras.
In Jesus’ time, during Roman Empire of course, the servitude was even easier, softer, and occurred mostly for the same reasons like that of OT times, and also by Roman and other nations joining battles, whence the conquered people were taken as spoil, and sold as slaves.
Let’s read this piece of an article write on Bible.org website:
“1. Slavery in the first century was quite different from slavery in early American history. For one thing, Roman slaves were either taken as the spoils of war or were such because they sold themselves into slavery (known as “bond-servant”). They were often well-educated (cf. Gal 3:24 in which the “tutor” or better “disciplinarian” or “guide” of the children was usually a slave). The normal word for “slave” in the New Testament is the term dou’lo”, a term that in earlier centuries usually referred to one who sold himself into slavery; later on, it was used especially of those who became slaves as the spoils of war.
2. Although the masters had absolute rights over their slaves, they generally showed them respect, very unlike the South in the days of Lincoln. They often treated them with human dignity and, although they could beat them, such does not seem to be as regular a practice as it was in America. Slaves could marry, accumulate wealth, purchase their own freedom, run a business, etc. Cicero noted that a slave could usually be set free within seven years; in any case, under Roman law a slave would normally be set free by age 30. All this can be overstated, however. The revolt led by Spartacus in 73 BC caused Rome to treat slaves from the western regions more harshly (very similar to how black slaves were treated). Eastern slaves, however, enjoyed much greater freedom.
3. As much as two thirds of the Roman empire were slaves (before the first century it was as high as 90%). By the first century AD an increasingly large number of slaves were being freed?so much so that Caesar had to write up laws that governed the procedure! Quite different from the Old South where only South Carolina had more slaves than freemen (so far as I know).”
Surely this explains why have Jesus and the apostles seemed mostly silent in regard of this delicate subject, and even looked like they were demanding submission from the slaves to their owners!
The Lord in fact worried much more about the worst slavery of all: slavery of sin:
“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” (John 8:34)
Else, take a look in this verse:
“And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21.16)
See? With only this verse we can obliterate any accusation of bible condoning of slavery. But, there are some other intriguing verses, such as:
“Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor.” (Leviticus 25.44-46)
Is God xenophobic? No way! Even in OT period He held a esteem for non-Israelite people:
“You shall not wrong an alien, neither shall you oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22.21)
“‘If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.” (Leviticus 19.33)
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap into the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest: you shall leave them for the poor, and for the foreigner. I am Yahweh your God.'” (Lev 23.22)
“One law and one ordinance shall be for you, and for the stranger who lives as a foreigner with you.'” (Numbers 15.16)
“I commanded your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the foreigner who is living with him.” (Deuteronomy 1.16)
“He (The LORD) does execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the foreigner, in giving him food and clothing.” (Deut 10.18)
“You shall not wrest the justice due to the foreigner, or to the fatherless, nor take the widow’s clothing to pledge;” (Deut. 24.17)
“Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Deut. 27.19)
“Then hear thou from the heavens, even from thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for; that all people of the earth may know thy name, and fear thee, as doth thy people Israel, and may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name.” (2 Chronicles 6:33)
“(the foreigner has not lodged in the street, but I have opened my doors to the traveler);” (Job 31.32)
“3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56)
God loves each human equally, and demands justice equally, whether Jew or Gentile… So, what was the purpose of allowing His people to buy foreigner slaves?
Well, we must remind that those foreigner were captured, and sold by other foreigner people (which did not knew God’s commandment against slave-trading), and were to be sold to another stranger nations, and being at risk of maltreating, abusing, and worse, knowing local paganism and lost their salvation.
Being bought by Israelite persons, they at least could live in a society endowed with laws dealing with servant/slave rights, as we’ll see later, and also, know the only God, and get salvation.
And don’t get worried with the expression “and they shall be your possession.”, surely the servants were meant to live forever with their owners, almost like relatives, domestic,
however if they suffered any trouble, offense, violence, abuse, they could easily flee, leave, and different to the situation that of black slaves (which should, by law, be catched and reclaimed, returned to his/her owner):
“15 You shall not deliver to his master a servant who is escaped from his master to you:
16 he shall dwell with you, in the midst of you, in the place which he shall choose within one of your gates, where it pleases him best: you shall not oppress him.” (Deuteronomy 23)
Another verses commonly pointed by critics of bible is the following:
“If a man strikes his servant or his maid with a rod, and he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished.
Notwithstanding, if he gets up after a day or two, he shall not be punished, for he is his property.” (Exodus 21.20,21)
They claim that God is allowing wantom violence towards slaves, but, is that the case?
Surely it isn’t true, when we look back to the 21th chapter of Exodus, from the beginning, we notice that the chapter is listing ordinances concerning many subjects, and, from the 12th verse on it’s describing different crimes and also penalties, punishments, which includes the 20 and 21 verses. If God condoned violence against slaves, He would not declare the following words, in the same chapter :
“If a man strikes his servant’s eye, or his maid’s eye, and blinds it, he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.
If he strikes out his male servant’s tooth, or his female servant’s tooth, he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake. (Exodus 21.26,27)
Automatic, unconditionalmanumission in the case of injury…
Well, let’s see a summary of other benefits and rights that the servant/slave had according to OT:
“but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your MALE SERVANT, nor your FEMALE SERVANT, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates;” (Exodus 20.10 and other verses)
Every 7th day of the week was a full day of rest even for servants/slaves.
3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits;
4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to Yahweh. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.
5 What grows of itself in your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.
6 The Sabbath of the land shall be for food for you; for yourself, for your SERVANT, for your maid, for your hired SERVANT, and for your stranger, who lives as a foreigner with you. (Leviticus 25)
Each 7th year was a Sabbatic year, an entire one without sowing, cropping, seeding, work on fields!
11 then it shall happen that to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the wave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow to Yahweh.
12 You shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you, and your sons, and your daughters, and your MALE SERVANTS, and your FEMALE SERVANTS, and the Levite who is within your gates, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you.(Deuteronomy 12)
The servants had the right to join the offerings, sacrifices, and REJOICE with their owners, like any blood relative did!
“Abram said, “Lord Yahweh, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2 )
Look, a servant (Eliezer) could even inherit their owners, in certain cases.
“13 “If I have despised the cause of my male SERVANT or of my female SERVANT, when they contended with me;
14 What then shall I do when God rises up? When he visits, what shall I answer him?
15 Didn’t he who made me in the womb make him? Didn’t one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31)
The bible never considered servants/slaves, women and foreigners like a lower category, even servants were/are equally qualified to be heard, cared by God, Who created everyone according to His own image. (meanwhile, even renowned persons like Lincoln, Arthur Jensen, Francis Galton, Carl Linnaeus, Georges Cuvier, Christoph Meiners, Voltaire, Benjamin Rush, Charles White and others held an unequal vision, even racist ideas)
At the New Testament:
“You masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him.”(Ephesians 6:9)
Here, Paul is ordaining the Christian owners of slaves as to how they should treat them (of course he has not directed the order to non-Christian slave owners, for they obviously did not obey the bible)
“Masters, give to your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4.1)
Paul reasserts here the commandment concerning Christian slave owners.
Paul wrote to Philemon the following:
8 Therefore, though I have all boldness in Christ TO COMMAND YOU THAT WHICH IS APPROPRIATE,
9 yet for love’s sake I rather beg, being such a one as Paul, the aged, but also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
10 I BEG FOR MY CHILD, whom I have become the father of in my chains, Onesimus,
11 who once WAS USELESS TO YOU, but now is useful to you and to me.
12 I am sending him back. Therefore receive him, that is, my own heart,
13 whom I desired to keep with me, that on your behalf he might serve me in my chains for the Good News.
14 But I was willing to do nothing without your consent, that your goodness would not be as of necessity, but of free will.
15 For perhaps he was therefore separated from you for a while, that you would have him forever,
16 NO LONGER AS A SLAVE, but more than a SLAVE a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much rather to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Plain simple: Paul was subtly, keenly (unwilling to make use of his apostolic authority over Philemon) advising Philemon that he should free Onesimus, his slave, and receive him as a brother!
Well, I think this small article is enough to solve this complicated subject in the bible, don’t notice my grammar, linguistic errors, and may God bless you and your family!