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Question about Slavery

Posted by Matt Postiff June 7, 2022 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Society  Bible Texts 

A website visitor asked the following:

I would like to know if slavery was ordained by God and tehreby existed in the Old and New Testament to reflect God's order (like marriage)? Or, was slavery man-made, and, thus, more of a reflection of culture and man-made traditions? Which is it?

I prepared a brief answer that I shared last Sunday evening. Basically, this is it: Slavery was not created by God to reflect creation order. It is therefore unlike marriage. God did not "institute" slavery in the way that most westerners understand slavery. It came about as a result of the sin of man. Slavery was therefore man-made.

However, everything that comes to pass is ordained/permitted by God, so we would have to say that in some sense, God did ordain slavery, just like he did all other sins. I understand slavery to be unlike marriage, but more like divorce in that slavery and divorce were not instituted by God but God permitted and regulated them because of the sinfulness of the human heart.

The Law which God gave through Moses did make provision for a kind of slavery that we could call debt-servitude. It was used instead of what we have—modern bankruptcy—and to avoid imprisonment for petty thieves. Instead, they had to work off their restitution if they could not pay it up front.

Probably the most important passage on the subject—at least for a modern westerner—is this: Exodus 21:16. In that section, God outlaws man-stealing. The entire slave trade in early American history was based on this method of obtaining and selling and buying slaves. It was an abominable enterprise from start to finish—and God made it clear by assigning it the death penalty.

Here are the messages I preached on this subject in 2016:

The Bible and Slavery, Part 1

The Bible and Slavery, Part 2

The Bible and Slavery, Part 3

Another brief but helpful resource.

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