Does the Bible Support Slavery?

Scripture clearly condemns the type of slavery that was found in America and other countries. This short devotion explains.

No one can use Scripture to justify American slavery because it involved "man-stealing" which was forbidden in both Old and New Testaments and punishable by death (Exodus 21:16; 1 Timothy 1:8-10).(1)

God allowed some forms of slavery in Old Testament times, but it did not involve kidnapping people from their homeland.

It's hard for us to understand certain aspects of Old Testament social structures, and slavery is one of them. Even though Israelites were commanded to treat their slaves fairly (Exodus 21:26-27), slavery (just like polygamy) was not part of God's perfect will for mankind.(2)

New Testament references to slavery are easier to understand because slavery during that period was usually voluntary indentured servanthood.(3)  It was more like a modern employer-employee relationship. 

Paul addressed slaves as fellow believers and encouraged them to gain their freedom if possible (Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 7:21). He also warned Christian slave-owners to treat slaves fairly (Colossians 4:1).

It's natural for us to wonder why Scripture doesn't clearly condemn all forms of slavery. It's something we can't quite grasp (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

But we know that God's ultimate purpose is our salvation. God does not approve of mistreatment or cause it, but He often uses it to bring people to Himself (Acts 17:26-28; Romans 8:28). 

Even though we have unanswered questions about slavery, we can trust God's love and wisdom (Proverbs 3:5). And we can be confident that Scripture does not approve of the type of slavery that existed in America.

Scripture clearly condemns the type of slavery that was found in America and other countries. This short devotion explains.

Footnotes and Resources

(1) "Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death." Exodus 21:16

The Hebrew word used in this verse would literally be translated "he who steals a man," but most modern translations use the modern term "kidnap." 

Notice that both the slave-trader and the person who purchased the slave were given the death sentence.

(2) We need to remember that some things God allowed in the Old Testament were not part of His original design but were temporarily permitted due to the hardness of men's hearts. See Matthew 19:8 and Does God Change His Mind: Polygamy

(3) The short book of Philemon is a letter from Paul encouraging Philemon to forgive his run-away slave Onesimus and treat him as a brother in Christ. 


Helpful Articles:

Four Differences Between New Testament Servitude and New World Slavery  

Why Would God Have Permitted Any Form of Servitude and Slavery?  

Why it’s Wrong to Say the Bible is Pro-slavery

Helpful Videos:

An excellent 2-minute video: Slavery and the Bible

An excellent 3-minute video by an African-American: The Bible that Did Support Slavery.

An excellent 4-minute video: Slave Trading Punishable by Death in the Bible.  

An excellent 5-minute video by an African-American: Does the Bible Support Slavery? 
An excellent 45-minute video: Slavery and the Bible? Explained!

Bible Love Notes

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