One accusation often launched at the Bible is that it promotes slavery and when critics bring up the subject, they attempt to tie the slavery in the Bible to the same type of slavery perpetrated on Africans by the European and Transatlantic slave trade. However, the accusers often quote the passages out of context and in isolation so as to attempt to paint Israel’s theocracy and the God of their theocracy as evil, merciless human rights violators. An honest closer look at the entirety of scripture proves their criticisms are without merit.
When God used Moses to establish his laws over Israel, Israel had just escaped from over 400 years of harsh bondage from Egypt. Therefore, God took great care in making sure Israel did not repeat the same type of bondage to those who would be their servants. In the land of Israel servants, bondmen, and bondmaids were hired servants who were paid a living wage. That is one stark difference between slavery in that time and the slavery in the Western Hemisphere.
The Mosaic law had many caveats and details when it came to relationships between master and servant, which protected all parties involved as shown by the following:
- Hebrew servants served only 6 years & were freed in the 7th (Ex. 21:2). When the Israelites became disobedient God-haters, they violated this and other laws for their servants (see Jeremiah 34:13-17).
- Those who were married at the time of becoming servants left with their wives in that 7th year (Ex. 21:3).
- Those who got married after they became servants could leave by themselves in the 7th year and wait until their spouse was freed in their 7th year or remain servants with their spouse and children until they all were freed (Ex. 31:4).
- A man could marry his female servant, but if he divorced her, he had to free her. If she were given in marriage to his son, she had all the rights of a daughter. If he chose not to have her as part of his family, she left in the 7th year (Ex. 21:7-11).
- Any servant who ran away from their master could not be returned and the city to which they fled was obligated to let them live where they wanted with all the rights of other citizens (Deut. 23:15).
- Oppressing any servant, whether Hebrew or foreigner, was against the law and they were to be paid at the end of every work day (Deut. 24:14-15).
- Every 50th year was the year of jubilee and all servants were freed regardless of how long they served (Lev. 25:10).
- If a Hebrew became servant to a rich foreigner in Israel, any relative could pay to redeem them out of servanthood (Lev. 25:48-52).
- Masters were not allowed to overwork their servants (Lev. 25:43, 53).
- Masters who killed their servants had to be punished (Ex. 21:20).
- Masters who caused a disabling injury to servants had to free them immediately (Ex. 21:26-27).
In the New Testament the apostle Paul explained in 1 Timothy 1:10 that God’s laws were against the menstealing (kidnapping) type of slavery that was perpetrated on Africans. Once again in their rush to slam God’s word, the critics haven’t been truthful.
Harry A. Gaylord