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Slavery in the Bible - was it, as some suggest, a synergistic, mutually benefiting relationship?

Let's lay it all out on the table.  Slavery is condoned in the Bible.  There are many mentions of it in the Bible, with directions on the sale and treatment of slaves, especially in the OT.  The mentions of slavery in the NT are more ambiguous, but even there, it still appears to be an accepted institution, and slaves are regarded as inferior beings. 

It has been asserted in this debate section that the slaves were merely indentured servants who only allowed to be kept as "slaves" for no more than seven years, as payment for debts.  That is true - but only in the case of Hebrew servants (Exodus 21:2). If the master gives the "indentured servant" (temporary Hebrew slave) a wife, however, and that wife has children, the wife and her children become the property of the slave-owner (Exodus 21:4), even after the time that the indentured servant is to go free - if he wants his freedom while his family remains in captivity (Exodus 21:5).  If that indentured servant decides to remain with his family, he can become the master's forever slave (Exodus 21:6).

There are clear instructions about how to sell one's daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7-8), and what to do if she doesn't "please" her master (many believe that "please" means in a sexual way).

In all other directions about slave buying, selling and treatment, it is clear that it is not a loving, mutually respectful relationship.  Slaves are kept for life and those lifelong slaves must be heathen, or "strangers" (Leviticus 25:44). Any offspring of the slaves become the property of the slave owner (Leviticus 25:45), and those slaves and their children may be passed on to the owner's children as an inheritance (Leviticus 25:46):.  Slaves may be beaten, but not to death (Exodus 21:20-21). 

So, the question isn't whether slavery was a big part of civilizations in biblical times.  It was - and of course, that's true of most societies, whether of the Abrahamic traditions, or of others.  The question is why people would try to deny it.  The simple reason is that slavery is considered an abhorrent practice.  The idea of people owning people sickens most of us.  Because of that visceral, negative reaction, those who want to believe that the Bible is the word of the Abrahamic god want to deny that such a practice was condoned by their god - and also because it would bring into question their beliefs regarding other aspects of the Bible, as with how it pertains to homosexuality or women's rights.

On an interesting note, depending on the translation and how modern it is, "slave" may be translated to "bondsman" or "servant".  The implication is still clear.  Those are weak synonyms for what they really represent, which is the ownership of people by people - in other words, "slaves".

Again - I understand that most civilizations of the Bronze age had slaves, and that it wasn't an institution exclusive to those of the Abrahamic traditions.  This isn't to point a finger at Jews, or to suggest that they were the only slaveholders.  It's to clear up the misconception that they didn't have slaves.  They did.  So did many other civilizations of that time.  The point is that many traditions of that time are no longer supported in this century, and that maybe, just maybe, the books, laws and traditions of that civilization cannot be supported today, except as a glimpse into history and the beliefs of that time long, long ago.  We can learn from our ancestors and accept their failings, but we don't have to live by the rules that guided their Bronze-age lives.


Answer Question

Asked by jsbenkert at 11:19 AM on May. 1, 2012 in Religious Debate

Level 37 (89,331 Credits)
Answers (65)
  • I think to try to rationalize the horrid practice of slavery is an attempt to rationilize how one's god could "allow" it to happen. There is no rationale for simply was something people did when they did not know better.(how they couldn't know better is beyond me-but whatever)

    Slavery is horrible. Period. The end. I don't give a shit WHEN it was practiced-it was not a loving, respectful rrelationship-ever.

    Answer by sahmamax2 at 11:37 AM on May. 1, 2012

  • Oh, the serendipity.  I shouldn't be surprised that so much attention is being given to the topic of slavery, considering that the speech given by Dan Savage has gone viral.  This Zinnia Jones video was shared in another group I'm in, and it's amazing.  I admit, I had to work to get past this person's unusual speech patterns, but she makes such excellent points that it's so worth the seven or eight minutes to listen to her discuss the topics of Dan Savage, slavery, and hypocrisy.  I hope you'll all watch it.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 11:43 AM on May. 1, 2012

  • If you believe that the Bible is a big ol' fairy tale why does it matter what is in it and what good does it do to debate it?

    Every culture has owned and mistreated other people, why is it such a big deal that it was written down in a book you don't believe in?  We all know that slavery is/was REAL. 


    Answer by amazinggrace83 at 11:59 AM on May. 1, 2012

  • slavery WAS condoned, for whatever reason.
    big difference in WAS and IS.

    until that is addressed and agreed upon, i'm out, because that's like saying minority discrimination and lack of women's rights IS condoned. seriously.

    Answer by dullscissors at 12:06 PM on May. 1, 2012

  • If you believe that the Bible is a big ol' fairy tale why does it matter what is in it and what good does it do to debate it?

    I'll tell you why:  It's because there are many people who still use the Bible as a way to control others.  There are people who still believe in the gods and goddesses of Ancient Rome.  I don't worry about them because they use those beliefs to guide their personal lives, and don't use them to try to control others.  If those who follow the beliefs of the Bible, or other Abrahamic beliefs, were to keep them personal, rather than to use them to legislate in our country or in other parts of the world, I wouldn't care.  As it stands, though, religion is used to subjugate and deny rights of other people, so I'll continue to debate it.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 12:15 PM on May. 1, 2012

  • I read the bible as a child and I also went to church whenever I could to what ever faith it was it didn't matter to me. In this adventure I learned that the bible is more like a guideline for living life at that time. While a lot of what is written is just plain old common sense some of it just does not make sense in today's society. If we were to live by the ot or nt either way we would most definitely be living in the stone age. The fact that some people want to glaze over the negative and go straight to the positive is just a testament to their beliefs. It's like parents who think their children can do no wrong and even when proof is right in their face they still put their kids on a pedistool. They can not help themselves it is part of having blind faith. Unfortunately I was one of those children that asked why a lot and if the answer given to me didn't satisfy me I would ask why again.

    Answer by onekidmom at 12:45 PM on May. 1, 2012

  • I found myself asking the people around me these questions and they had no solid answer. I went out on my own and decided that the ten commandments are a very good set of rules to live by. Whether they were written by god himself or just a man ahead of his time they are simple, to the point, and most of all good common sense.

    Answer by onekidmom at 12:49 PM on May. 1, 2012

  • It's because there are many people who still use the Bible as a way to control others.
    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) 20 minutes ago

    I use the Bible to control MY life and do not use it to dictate what others may do. I have NEVER seen a Christian say, well the Bible talked about slavery so hey let's get that back into practice again.

    Answer by amazinggrace83 at 12:52 PM on May. 1, 2012

  • Man, you really don't know when to bow out gracefully and leave well enough alone, do you?
    So let's take point by point:
    First statement, the ever famous anti-religionists cry of war: (insert Darth Vader-like voice here) "The Bible condones slavery!" (end creepy voice). Again, please define "slavery" before making a t-shirt with that slogan to wear at the next special Olympics. I continue to patiently wait.

    Second, the "many" mentions in the Bible on buying and selling slaves. I would LOVE to see those. And remember, the recently deleted fiasco that started this whole hoopla doesn't really qualify as the Bible's going rate for slaves as it had nothing to do with slavery...

    Third, so now you add nepotism to your list of objections? Sure, Hebrew slaves were treated differently, but unless you can tell us in all sincerely that you treat your children, patents and siblings exactly as you treat a stranger, your indignation

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 12:52 PM on May. 1, 2012

  • Amazing, you are missing the point. No one is suggesting that slavery is good and should be reinstated. The point is that slavery, like many other traditions that were accepted in the Bronze Age, are no longer followed or seen as healthy living today. No one is going to say (in this century, but it was argued in the 19th Century) that slavery should be legal because it's supported in the Bible. What people say is that slavery was supported in the Bible because the Bible was written in ancient times when slavery was accepted. Those same people will use the Bible, however, to defend their stance on homosexuality. The very same books in the Bible that people use to defend their homophobia are the same books that instruct on the proper acquisition and keeping of slaves.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 1:00 PM on May. 1, 2012

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