Slavery in the Bible

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Romans 6:15-23


I.         At times you will run into people who attempt to discredit the Bible by stating that some aspect of its teaching was immoral or at least shady.

            A.        The idea is that if it was wrong about one concept, then it can be wrong about everything else.

                        1.         That idea alone is a general fallacy, but God does claim that His law is perfect - II Timothy 3:16-17

                        2.         It would be a strike against the authority of the Scriptures if it was proven to be morally wrong.

            B.        One issue that is raised is slavery. Slavery has been thoroughly rejected in the United States and in most of the world. But slavery existed in the Bible.

                        1.         The argument is: What kind of moral code could the Bible have if supported slavery?

            C.        Beyond the defense of the Scriptures, we ought to understand the concept of slavery in biblical times because it is used to illustrate

                        1.         The nature of sin and righteousness - Romans 6:16-18

                        2.         The apostle’s view of their lives - Romans 1:1

                        3.         Our relationship to God - Luke 17:10

                        4.         And so much more

II.        Slavery in the Old Testament

            A.        Classes

                        1.         Israelite slaves

                        2.         Gentile slaves

            B.        Causes of Slavery

                        1.         Crimes

                                    a.         Some crimes carried monetary fines. If the person could not pay the fine, he was sold as a slave - Exodus 22:1-3

                                    b.         Thus instead of imprisonment as we have today were society support the criminal. The criminal pays off his debt to society through work.

                        2.         Debt

                                    a.         Unable to pay bills, could voluntarily sell himself - Leviticus 25:39-41

                                    b.         Family members could be sold into slavery to pay off debt - Exodus 21:7

                        3.         Slaves from other nations - Leviticus 25:44

                        4.         Forced slavery was a crime - Exodus 21:16

            C.        Treatment of Slaves

                        1.         Slave owners were restricted in their behavior - Leviticus 25:43

                                    a.         It was a situation where both benefitted - Job 31:13-15

                                                (1)       Notice the view that masters and slaves were equal in God’s sight.

                                                (2)       Notice that slaves had rights

                        2.         Like everyone, slaves had a day off every week - Exodus 20:10

                                    a.         They also could participate in the feasts - Deuteronomy 16:9-12

                        3.         An unruly slave could be beaten, but not put to death - Exodus 21:20-21

                                    a.         In those days there wasn’t sophisticated analysis of the cause of death. Thus judges were given a simple rule, if a slave was beaten and dies soon after, the slave owner was put to death as a murder.

                                    b.         If the slave lived for several days, then the assumption is the death was due to other causes and was a coincidence

                                    c.         But realize that people die of old age, disease, or unsuspected ailments. Such a law would give a slave owner reason to pause and act with restraint.

                        4.         If a slave owner caused permanent injury, the slave was immediately freed - Exodus 21:26-27

                                    a.         This is likely in addition to the normal punishment inflicted on an abuser - Deuteronomy 19:21

                        5.         A runaway slave could not be forced to return to his master - Deuteronomy 23:15-16

                        6.         Slaves could inherit from a childless master - Genesis 15:2-3

                        7.         Freed slaves were given provisions - Deuteronomy 15:12-14

            D.        Duration of Slavery

                        1.         Slaves could be redeemed - Leviticus 25:47-49

                        2.         An Israelites slave could only be held for six years - Exodus 21:2

                                    a.         In addition, every 50 years was the year of Jubilee where all Israelite slaves were set free regardless of their length of service - Leviticus 25:10, 39-41

                                    b.         They had the option of remaining with their current master permanently - Deuteronomy 15:16-17

                                                (1)       Slaves enjoyed many rights and were fed and clothed

                                                (2)       Life as a slave could be preferable to making it on your own.

                        3.         Gentile slaves did not have rights to automatic freedom, but all other rights and protections remained.

III.       The New Testament on Slavery

            A.        In Christianity, all people are equal - Galatians 3:28

                        1.         We are all from one blood - Acts 17:26

            B.        Like the Old Testament, slave trading (kidnaping and selling people) was condemned - I Timothy 1:9-10

            C.        Roman slave laws were not a generous as the Law of Moses.

            D.        Slavery was seen as a fact of life and Christians were to live within the system and not fight it - I Corinthians 7:21-24

                        1.         Don’t seek out slavery, and if you have an opportunity to be free, take it. But don’t force an exit either.

                        2.         Give good service as if working for the Lord - Colossians 3:22; Ephesians 6:5-8

                        3.         Quality of master doesn’t matter - I Peter 2:18-20

            E.        Masters were to treat their slaves well - Ephesians 6:9

IV.      What about slavery in the United States in the past?

            A.        It was based on ethnic background. The laws were not applied equally to all people.

            B.        It was based on kidnaping and slave trading, something specifically condemned in the Bible.

            C.        It had no exit. It gave the slaves no rights. A slave could not leave if he wanted to do so.

V.        It is important to understand the concept of slavery - Romans 15:4

            A.        Slavery hasn’t ended, it has just changed forms

                        1.         We are still tied to our jobs

            B.        But there are people who enslave themselves with drugs, sex, and other sins

                        1.         Like Old Testament slavery, it is voluntary

                        2.         And it is something you can run away from, if you so choose

            C.        Jesus offers freedom from sin - John 8:31-36

            D.        Won’t you be free from the burden of sin?

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