A Christian response to the unbeliever regarding the condoning of slavery in the Old Testament
There will always be critics of scriptural truths. The unbeliever will always have some critique of what the Bible says regarding one subject or another simply because of their lack of proper training in scriptural text. This is what will always happen when you just ‘pick up’ the Bible and read it at face value without any consideration of its textural and historical context and sometimes, when necessary referring to the original language in which it was written.
As an example, one common misconception is the subject of slavery which the critics will tell you that the Old Testament clearly condones. Yes, the Old Testament does in fact talk about and give laws regarding slavery. However…… it is not the ‘slavery’ that you and I understand it to be when we compare it to slavery that was common in America back in the 17th century. The Old Testament does not condone acts of kidnapping anyone (especially because of their race) then selling them to others who force them to hard labor or severe living conditions. In fact, the Old Testament specifically forbids such acts;
“He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. Exodus 21:16
The Hebrew word for slavery (eh’-bed) was servant. In Old Testament times, servants and laws regarding them were for economic reasons. If a person stole from another, that person was required to pay back his or her transgression by serving the one they stole from. Another reason is a voluntary action by one or a family because they were poor. In this way, they would be cared for by their Master.
….“Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. Exodus 22:3
In either case, the rules for slaves was clearly given. Unlike the slaves of American history, biblical time slaves were never to be mistreated;
If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. Exodus 21:20
If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out
a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth. Exodus 21:26-27
Lastly, anyone in debt to another could only be a servant for a period of six years. On the seventh year, they were to be released. And when they were released, they were to be provided for also;
If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you and serve you six years, in the seventh year you must let them go free. And when you release them, do not send them away empty-handed. Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today. Deuteronomy 15:12-15
So the next time you hear the argument that the Old Testament endorsed barbaric things like slavery, remind those who take this stance, that ‘things are not always as they appear’.