Slavery in the Bible

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Slavery is the condition of bondage or ownership of persons.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:


Old Testament

Slavery is implicitly condoned in the Old Testament in several instances.

  • Exodus 21:20-21 Bible-icon.png and Exodus 21:26-27 Bible-icon.png regulates the beating of slaves, and states that the owner may not be punished if the slave survives for at least two days after the beating.
  • Leviticus 19:20-22 Bible-icon.png gives instructions about the sacrifices that should be made if a slave owner has sex with or rapes an engaged female slave. The slave herself is punished with whipping, but no sacrifices or punishment are required if the slave is not engaged.
  • In Leviticus 25:44-46 Bible-icon.png, the Israelites were allowed to buy slaves from other nations, and then hand them down as an inheritance.
  • In Leviticus 25:39 Bible-icon.png, buying your brother as a slave is allowed.

New Testament

The second part of the Bible recognizes that the institution of slavery exists, but it doesn't make any attempt to criticize it.

  • In Luke 12:45-48 Bible-icon.png, the Parable of the Faithful Servant, Jesus discusses the punishment of slaves, and says that a slave may be punished for not doing something he wasn't instructed to do.
  • In Ephesians 6:5-9 Bible-icon.png, Paul instructs the slaves to be obedient.
  • Colossians 4:1 Bible-icon.png and 1 Timothy 6:1-3 Bible-icon.png also admonish slaves to obey their masters.
  • In his Epistle to Philemon, Paul is allegedly returning a runaway slave to his owner.
  • In Mark 18:25 Bible-icon.png, priests are described as holding slaves.
  • In Matthew 18:25 Bible-icon.png, people and their children are described as being sold into slavery.
  • Colossians 3:11 Bible-icon.png, 1 Corinthians 12:13 Bible-icon.png and Galatians 3:28 Bible-icon.png are sometimes used to defend NT, to show that it supports some form of egalitarianism.

Historical defense of American slavery

Religious opinion on slavery was split in the 19th century. Many Christians were abolitionists, while many supporters of slavery also justified their arguments with reference to Bible verses like those listed above.

For example, in 1856 Reverend Thomas Stringfellow, a Baptist minister from Culpepper County in Virginia, wrote an essay called "A Scriptural View of Slavery", which is full of passages that support his opinion, such as:

"Job himself was a great slave-holder, and, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, won no small portion of his claims to character with God and men from the manner in which he discharged his duty to his slaves."
"It is certain that God interposed to give Joseph the power in Egypt, which he used, to create a state, or condition, among the Egyptians, which substantially agrees with patriarchal and modern slavery."
"If, therefore, doing to others as we would they should do to us, means precisely what loving our neighbor as ourself means, then Jesus has added no new moral principle above those in the law of Moses, to prohibit slavery, for in his law is found this principle, and slavery also."

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