As I’ve been preparing for this weeks show on human trafficking an interesting question came up. Does the Bible promote or condone slavery? There are after all passages in the Bible (Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18) where it tells slaves to obey their masters. How does one explain this to someone caught in slavery today? It could seem that the Bible does condone the institution, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Once again Hank Hanegraaf has an answer in his book “The Complete Bible Answer Book”
Does the Bible Promote Slavery?
A myth propped up by secular skeptics is that Scripture sanctions slavery. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
First, it should be noted that far from extolling the virtues of slavery, the Bible denounces slavery as sin. The New Testament goes so far as to put slave traders in the same category as murderers, adulterers, perverts, and liars (1 Timothy 1:10).
Furthermore, slavery within the Old Testament context was sanctioned due to economic realities rather than racial or sexual prejudices. Because bankruptcy laws did not exist, people would voluntarily sell themselves into slavery. A craftsman could thus use his skills in servitude to discharge a debt. Even a convicted thief could make restitution by serving as a slave (Exodus 22:3).
Finally, while the Bible as a whole recognizes the reality of slavery, it never promotes the practice of slavery. In fact, it was the application of biblical principles that ultimately led to the overthrow of slavery, both in ancient Israel and in the United States of America. Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt became the model for the liberation of slaves in general. In America, many are beginning to wake up to the liberating biblical truth that all people are created by God with innate equality (Genesis 1:27; Acts 17:26–28; Galatians 3:28).
For further study, see Paul Copan, That’s Just Your Interpretation:Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 171–178. See also Hank Hanegraaff, “President Bartlett’s Fallacious Diatribe.” Available from CRI at www.equip.org.
1 Timothy 1:8–11
“We know that the law is good if one
uses it properly. We also know that law is made not
for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels,
the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious;
for those who kill their fathers
or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts,
for slave traders and liars and perjurers––
and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine
that conforms to the glorious gospel
of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”