Slavery in the Bible

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Old Testament

General culture

  • Ancient peoples distinguished between foreigners (OK to enslave them) and citizens (not OK).
  • Prisoners taken in war were enslaved as a standard operating procedure for the age. If you won the battle, you took slaves; if you lost, you became a slave.
  • A father could sell his children into slavery.

Specific laws

  • Self-sale into slavery--a way to clear debts. The slavery was limited to six years, but the person could choose to remain in bondage in perpetuity.
    • Ex 21:1-6
    • Dt 15:12 ff
    • Lv 25:35 ff--all slaves must be set free in the Jubilee.
  • Children of slaves were enslaved.
  • A thief who could not repay could be enslaved (Ex 22:3).
  • Slaves were mated, not married. The mate and children could stay in bondage even if the other was freed.
  • There was a distinction between killing a slave and killing a free person.
    • Ex 21:32
    • Ex 21:20 penalties for killing a slave
    • Ex 21:26 release of slave injured by the owner
  • Women could be bought and sold as sex-slaves (concubines).
    • Ex 21:7-11
    • Dt 21:10-14
    • Gen 16:1 ff, 30:3, 9
  • A slave could marry a free woman (1 Ch 2:35).

New Testament

  • Eph 6:5-9
  • Col 3:22-4:1
  • 1 Tim 6:1 ff
  • 1 Pet 2:18
  • Philemon!

But:

  • 1 Cor 7:21-23 -- the Lord owns us all.
  • 1 Cor 12:13: "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit."
  • Gal 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
  • Gal 5:1: "For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery."
  • Col 3:11

"Historically, Christianity has been the only effective destroyer of slavery" (McKenzie).

Slavery in the United States

Thirteenth Amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

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