Old Testament “Slaves” Were Employees!

Why did the Old Testament give so many rules for “slaves” in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy? Doesn’t this show that God approved of slavery?

Theodore Dwight Weld

This link leads to an article written by the great abolitionist, Theodore Dwight Weld, called “The Bible Against Slavery.” Weld was a disciple of the great evangelist of the Second Great Awakening, Charles Finney, and was the editor of the abolitionist newspaper called The Emancipator.

http://medicolegal.tripod.com/weldbas.htm#p49s

 It goes into great detail to explain that God never condoned slavery in the Old Testament. He claims instead that the Bible is referring to a system where men would hire themselves out in a type of employment agreement. According to the link:

“Rev. Weld rebuts pro-slavery “eisegesis” (imposing a predetermined meaning on words) as opposed to “exegesis” (deducing word meaning from context) with respect to the Bible. Pro-slavers did “eisegesis,” i.e., imposed their pre-determined ‘minds-made-up-in-advance’ pro-slavery views on the Bible.” 

If southern type slavery was condoned by God, Weld argued,  it makes no sense that He would say this in Exodus:

 “HE THAT STEALETH A MAN AND SELLETH HIM, OR IF HE BE FOUND IN HIS HAND, HE SHALL SURELY BE PUT TO DEATH. (Exodus 21:16)

And if a person wanted to be released from his obligation to his employer, this was the rule:

“THOU SHALT NOT DELIVER UNTO HIS MASTER THE SERVANT WHICH IS ESCAPED FROM HIS MASTER UNTO THEE; HE SHALL DWELL WITH THEE, EVEN AMONG YOU, IN THAT PLACE WHICH HE SHALL CHOOSE IN ONE OF THY GATES WHERE IT LIKETH HIM BEST: THOU SHALL NOT OPPRESS HIM.” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)

There would be no “Fugitive Slave Act” in ancient Israel.

Rather than writing out a detailed article on the subject, I thought I would just post this link. Perhaps this will kill two birds with one stone since I know of an atheist who claims that abolitionists (or any other of the great Christian heroes) were inspired by secular concerns when they did their great feats, not the Bible–since the Bible is supposedly an evil book encouraging slavery, stoning, genocide, and the like. Hopefully this will at least prove to him that the abolitionists were inspired to oppose slavery by what they read in the Bible. The abolitionists had a desire to defend God and to make sure the Bible was read in a consistent way, by “rightly dividing the Word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15) The southern slaveholder cherry-picked the scriptures, using those verses that appeared to support their cause, but not looking at the Bible as a whole.

After all, how could the God that delivered the Israelites from the “bondage of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2) now turn around and condone taking others into bondage? How could Jesus claim that he “came to set the captives free” (Luke 4:18) and then turn around and encourage captivity? How could Paul ask Philemon to set Onesimus free (Philemon 1:16) and then encourage men to become slavemasters? There have to be answers if we are to defend the Christian faith–and there are . . . as this article by Weld shows.

There are many more abolitionists who used the Bible as their source for encouraging freedom and equality. In fact,  Christianity is even the main reason that slavery in the ancient world was abolished.

Surely these words of Jesus were true – “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed!” (John 8:36)

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2 Comments

  1. “However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners” — Leviticus 25: 44 SLAVES

    “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year” — Exodus 21:2 (If you can dictate to them their freedom they are) SLAVES

    “But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever” — Exodus 21:3-6.
    This does deserve a little more discussion, I admit. So, children can be born into the possession of their father’s owner: SLAVES (and property). After that you can, admittedly, volunteer to stay. Notice how a man can talk for his wife… but I digress. The translation does say SLAVE and MASTER and BELONG. This is undoubtedly the talk of owning people. SLAVES

    “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.” — Exodus 21:7-8
    Notice a general trend: a daughter can belong to her father to the extent to which she can be sold. Moral? The daughter must “please” the man that bought her. Notice ‘serve’ would have done. It’s not conclusively sex-slavery, but it’s interesting to see how the lexis always changes around women in the Bible. Remember: the women that have not known a man by lying with them… (Numbers 31:18). But I digress again… human being sold from one person to another: SLAVE.

    “But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.” — Exodus 21:9-11. Even if you change the word “slave” her to “employee” it’s pretty sinister. It’s not demonstrably slavery, although it’s pretty close. Notice how, without breach of contract, freedom would normally come at a payment: SLAVE.

    “When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property” — Exodus 21:20-21. They are his own property, he may beat them so long as they don’t die. SLAVERY.

    “Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them” — 1 Timothy 6:1-2. Notice we’re into the New Testament now. SLAVE.

    ” Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” — Ephesians 6:5. SLAVE. (it’s the FEAR element that makes the shift from maltreated employee to slavery.

    “The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it” — Luke 12:47-48.

    That is all.

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