Does the Bible teach Slavery?

“Does the Bible support the practice of human slavery?”

The short answer is no, the Bible does not support slavery, it undermines it. In fact, it was mainly committed followers of Jesus (such as William Wilberforce, Clarkson and Charles Finney) who ended the slave trade and abolished slavery.

Jesus never kept slaves, while other prophets like Abraham and Muhammad (p) had many slaves. The Injil clearly teaches the equality of all people:

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

However, some passages of the Bible seem to accept slavery. Why is that? Mainly because ancient slavery (generally indentured servitude) was very different than modern slavery:

  • It was not based on skin color.
  • Often it was voluntary, poor people who couldn’t provide for their families or repay debts would put themselves under the indentured servitude of a wealthier family to secure their future.
  • Indeed slaves could own land and property, and some were doctors and lawyers.
  • Some chose to remain slaves permanently because they liked their masters.
  • A king’s subjects could be called his ‘slaves’.

All these things show us that this was very different from chattel slavery of more recent times. Since hardships in ancient times led many to voluntarily become slaves to protect themselves, the Bible does not forbid it, but instead gives many rules to masters about how they must treat their slaves with dignity and respect (Lev 25.35-43, Ephesians 6:9)

The Bible does strongly condemn forced slavery or ‘man stealing’, and it was punishable by death (Exodus 21:16, 1 Timothy 1:10).

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