What does the Bible say about slavery?

This question came up this past week in VOX and so we wanted to cover it a little more in depth.  Slavery in your mind is not what the Old Testament calls slavery.  We see a better explanation in Deuteronomy 15:12-18 of what’s going on.

People who got into debt or who could no longer support their family, would sometimes sell themselves to someone to help bail them out.  So a person in debt would give themselves as free labor in exchange that the person paid their debts.  Or they would work for half pay, as long as the master paid for the essentials like food, clothing and a place to sleep.  Biblical slavery was created to help the slave. After 6 years, God would make the masters set them free. And, he made the masters give stuff to the slaves so that they left better off than when they became slaves!

That is definitely not the slavery we think of.  We think of kidnapping people based on discrimination and forcing them into harsh conditions while being allowed to beat them like they weren’t human.  But God says kidnapping and selling people is worthy of a death penalty in  Exodus 21:16  (in 1 Timothy 1:8-10 he compares slave traders to murderers).  God says that none of us are better than anyone else in Galatians 3:28.  So color discrimination is completely anti-God. And so is getting aggressive (Ephesians 6:9)

Historically, by the time the New Testament was being written (40-90 AD), the Roman government wasn’t controlled by God-loving people.  So while the Old Testament tells Israel how to help people in debt get free in 6 years the New Testament is different.  The New Testament tells christian slaves and christian masters how to make the best of it until something changes (1 Timothy 6:1-2Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1).

See God is a God who wants to set people free. He says in Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Because God wanted our freedom, God sent his son Jesus. In Jesus, we can be free!


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