I am in high school and we are doing a report on why slavery is or is not okay. A lot of my peers have been saying that the bible says there is nothing wrong with slavery. Is this really true?

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    This doesn't really fit this site. We're more about processing claims that are made in notable circumstances. Other sites, like Christianity.SE might fit this question better. Or you could just check Google results, like Wikipedia.
    – Brythan
    Sep 14, 2017 at 2:21
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    Weird that a lot of references seem to treat this as a religious issue rather than a factual one. While religious leaders who observe the Bible as a religious text could understandably have an interest in discussing interpretation, the simple content of the Bible itself is definitely within the realm of factual analysis.
    – Nat
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:56
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    This site is about asking factual claims, not about interpreting the bible. We can say whether a specific passage is in the bible, but we don't interpret what it means. That is absolutely subjective.
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 14, 2017 at 7:48
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    It is about facts, except that many people use a version of the Bible which has an appendix where Jesus comes along and comes up with new rules that supersede the old rules, except that he says he isn't doing that, except some people explain the Bible shouldn't be read that way, except some people still prefer the old version, except some people have made different translations. We have tried this before - we get bogged down really quickly by many centuries of opinionated exegism.
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 14, 2017 at 10:40
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    The question isn't "Does this translation of the Bible contain this passage?" It is "What meaning do you infer from all the relevant Bible passages from all the relevant Bibles?"
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 14, 2017 at 10:42

2 Answers 2


I don't know if there is a verse in the Bible which states that slavery is good - or bad, for that matter.

However, there are many verses that treat slavery as a normal, and explain how slaves should be treated. It should be kept in mind that slaves were treated in different ways by different societies and at different times. For example, in may societies, including Greek, Roman and Jewish, slaves could be freed, and often were. Before the emergence of democracy, most civilisations permitted the use of slavery in some form or other, so the Bible is not exceptional, it just reflects the way people behaved in those days.

There are many other biblical practices that we would not condone any more, for example the stoning of adulteresses. Other practices, such as the death penalty, still occur but are gradually disappearing. It just shows that the Bible reflects the morality of the Israelites at the time.

This site has a list of verses that detail the rules applicable to the treatment of slaves.

Other verses, like Exodus 21:16 make it clear that Israelites must not be sold into slavery.

Wikipedia also has a good article about slavery and the Bible.

  • 1 Tim 1:9-10 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for [...] slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine
    – Wyrmwood
    Sep 15, 2017 at 23:01
  • @Wyrmwood The King James Bible Online says "menstealers". In another translation it reads "kidnappers".
    – hdhondt
    Sep 16, 2017 at 1:33
  • Perhaps a modern translation would say "human trafficker". The point is simply that there is indeed a verse that emphatically condemns the practice.
    – Wyrmwood
    Sep 18, 2017 at 16:25
  • @Wyrmwood It all depends on your translation. In modern terms, a human trafficker is certainly not the same as a slave trader. The refugees transported feel (wrongly perhaps) that they are being done a favour. So no, I do not see that verse as condemning slavery.
    – hdhondt
    Sep 18, 2017 at 23:41
  • Do a search on those terms and you will find them all related to slavery. Not sure how else I can help. Good luck.
    – Wyrmwood
    Sep 19, 2017 at 15:45

TLDR: The Christian Bible never says slavery is good but it doesn't explicitly forbid it. The commandments concerning slavery define minimum working conditions for slaves which makes them very close to what we would call employees, at least for Hebrew males.

Biblical slavery is very different from slavery as it was known in the 19th century.

For example: Biblically, male Hebrew slaves can only be held for 6 years:

If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. - Exodus 21:2

Biblically, Hebrew slaves can't be taken by force:

He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death. Exodus 21:16

They can't be injured and if they are, they must be released:

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

Slaves can't be killed:

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

In fact, the Bible commands that slaves can't be treated worse than a hired worker:

They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly. Leviticus 25:53

Also the conditions for holding slaves was very different, Biblically, it was not unheard of for a slave to voluntarily stay a slave after being freed.

But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently. - Exodus 21:5,6

You can sell yourself into slavery to pay off your debt and you can make money while a slave:

If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan... if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. Leviticus 25:47,49

Biblically, you or your family can buy your freedom:

An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or ... they may redeem themselves. Leviticus 25:49

The first Biblical example of what could be called slavery was voluntary:

Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Genesis 29

Biblical slavery, at least for Hebrew males, is much closer to what we would call employment. It's voluntary, temporary, you have certain protections, you get treated like an employee, you can be paid or make money and you get some sort of payment usually of debts.

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    Leviticus 25:44-46 (NIV): "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly." This seems pretty clearly to say it is okay, does it not? The word "may" is used consistently for behavior which is permitted. Sep 14, 2017 at 2:13
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    Exodus 21:2 seems specific to Hebrew slaves, as presumably the following lines may be. Given the quote from Leviticus cited by @NateEldredge in which they talk about foreigners as slaves, it seems like the rules in Exodus were for treatment of Hebrew slaves in specific.
    – Nat
    Sep 14, 2017 at 2:19
  • Deuteronomy 15:1,3: "At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. [...] You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you." This notion of releasing debts owed by Hebrews after 7 years seems to be consistent with the notion of releasing Hebrew servants after 7 years, though apparently it didn't apply to foreigners.
    – Nat
    Sep 14, 2017 at 2:28
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    Also, slaves earning money and buying their freedom was not unusual in slave-holding societies. For instance, a talented Roman slave could become wealthy, buy freedom, and become a slaveowner himself. Likewise in the antebellum US, slaves could learn skilled trades and accumulate money.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:47
  • Why the downvote?
    – peterG
    Sep 14, 2017 at 19:33

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