Slavery and the Bible

Old Testament

The "just and righteous" Noah (Gen.6:9, 7:1) plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and lies around naked in his tent. His son, Ham, happens to see his father in this condition. When Noah sobers up and hears "what his young son had done unto him" (what did he do besides look at him?), he curses not Ham, who "saw the nakedness of his father," but Ham's son, Canaan. "A servant of servants shall he [Canaan] be unto his brethren." This is a typical case of biblical justice, and is one of many Bible passages that have been used to justify slavery.

And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. ... And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. Gen.9:20-25

God tells Abram that all males must be circumcised, even those whom Abram had bought with money.

He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised. Gen.17:12-13

And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money ... and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin. Gen.17:23

And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised. Gen.17:27

Rules for buying and keeping slaves

But every man's servant that is bought for money.... Ex.12:44

In the Bible, slaves (servants in the KJV) are the rightful property of slave-owners; they are his possessions -- like an ox or an ass

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant.... Ex.20:17

God sets down the rules regarding Hebrew slaves. You can buy one, but you must set him free on the seventh year. But if you have "given" him a wife and she bears children, then you get to keep the wife and kids. If he refuses to leave his family when his seven years are up, then bore a hole though his ear and keep him forever. (That sounds fair!)

If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever. Ex.21:2-6

How to sell your daughter -- and what to do if she fails to please her new master.

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master.... Ex.21:7-8

Slavery is approved by God, and those who steal slaves must be killed.

And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. Ex.21:16

It's OK with God if you slowly beat your slaves to death. After all, they are your money.

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money. Ex.21:20-21

It's okay to beat your slaves; even if they die you won't be punished, just as long as they survive a day or two after the beating (see Ex.21:20-21). But avoid excessive damage to their eyes or teeth. Otherwise you may have to set them free. Oh well, it's a heck of a lot better than what would happen to you if you did it to a non-slave. (See verses 21:24-25)

And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake. And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake. Ex.21:26-27

If a thief is caught and is too poor to make a complete restitution, then he is to be sold to pay for his theft.

If a thief ... have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. Ex.22:2-3

It must be OK to buy slaves; even priests do it.

If the priest buy any soul with his money.... Lev.22:11

God's instructions for buying your brother for a slave.

And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee.... Lev.25:39

God tells the Israelites to make slaves out of their neighbors. The "heathens" and "strangers" are to be their possessions forever.

Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever. Lev.25:44-46

New Testament

Paul, who aproves of slavery, orders slaves "honor their masters" and to obey their them "in all things as unto Christ."

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ. Eph.6:5

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. Col.3:22

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. 1 Tim.6:1

Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. Titus 2:10-11

Peter says that all slaves should "be subject to [their] masters with all fear," to the bad and cruel as well as the "good and gentle."

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 1 Pet.2:18