Monthly Archives: September 2011

Did God Command Slavery, or Merely Tolerate It?

[Warning: This post is a Beagle’s Bark. Follow the link to learn what that means!]

In the previous post of this series, I outlined several forms of slavery that are at least tolerated in the Bible:

  • Indentured servitude for a set period of time (Exodus 21:2-6).
  • Selling one’s daughter as a “servant” to a man who could “select her” for himself or one of his sons (Exodus 21:7-11). We might call this arrangement servant-with-benefits.
  • Buying foreign slaves for life (Leviticus 25:44-46) and regarding them as property and therefore subject to extremely harsh punishment (Exodus 21:20-21).
  • Capturing and enslaving foreign women and children, after killing their menfolk. The luckiest women would be forced into sham “marriages” that the Hebrew men could terminate anytime they wished. The unlucky ones remained “plunder” (Deuteronomy 20:10-15Deuteronomy 21:10-14). Numbers 31 is another passage that features taking women as “spoils” — but without any mention of marriage.

Some of those practices are worse than others. The question for this post is very simple: which practices, if any, did the God of the Bible explicitly command?

The first two practices, indentured servitude and servant-with-benefits, are the most benign. In the passages cited, God does not command them but merely says, “If you do such-and-such this is how you are to do it.” He tolerates, but does not command.

The third practice, buying foreign slaves for life and treating them as property, is worse. In this case, surprisingly, God gives specific permission: “You may purchase male and female slaves from the nations around you.”

The last practice, enslaving an entire city and taking the women and children as “plunder” is surely the worst. And this is the practice that the God of the Bible specifically commands. Deuteronomy 20:15 says,”This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you”. In Numbers 31:25-35, we learn that “Moses…did as the Lord commanded” when he distributed 32,000 virgins as “spoils” of war, including half to his soldiers and a certain percentage to the priests.

Did you notice the trend? The more evil the practice, the more actively God encouraged it! Christian, does that bother you just a little?

I realize that our discussion is not over. You may be holding onto some rationalizations; I shall discuss the many I’ve heard in future posts.

In the meantime, I hope I’ve convinced you that the God of the Bible does command slavery; he does not merely tolerate it. Christian writers who tell you otherwise are lying to you.

Next time: Were some biblical slaves merely prisoners of war?