Slavery in the Bible - Is the Bible Immoral? (Ex 21, Lev 25)

Some argue that it was wrong for God to give laws about slavery in Exodus 21:20-21 and Leviticus 25:44. Learn how to answer this objection against the Bible.
Bible "contradictions"
Is God good?
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Quick answer

It was not wrong for God to give laws about treating a slave as property because God sometimes gave laws that took into account people's "hardness of heart." Jesus iterated this concept when He responded to a question about divorce. He said, in Matthew 19:8, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." So, just like divorce, "from the beginning it was not so," but due to fallen humanity, God provided laws about slavery to minimize injustice.

The argument

Some argue that God is wrong to have given laws concerning treating a slave as property. The argument is that since slavery is wrong, God must be wrong to give laws about slavery. Here are two passages that are used to support this argument:

Exodus 21:20-21 - 20 When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.
Leviticus 25:44 - As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you.

The answer

"Because of your hardness of heart"

A key principle in dealing with passages like this comes from Matthew 19:8, where Jesus answers a question concerning divorce. When asked about divorce, Jesus gives this answer:

He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matthew 19:8)

Essentially, Jesus is saying that divorce is wrong ("from the beginning it was not so"), but God (through Moses) allowed the Israelites to "divorce your wives" due to "your hardness of heart." In other words, God did not always eliminate sin altogether, but sometimes merely worked within fallen humanity to minimize the abuse of sin.

The same principle that Jesus provides concerning divorce can also be applied to the issue of slavery in the Bible. Slavery is wrong ("from the beginning it was not so"), but in the Bible, God gives laws concerning slavery to minimize its abuses.

Some people may not agree that God's laws concerning slavery are right, but that is merely their opinion. They have no standard upon which to judge God's laws as wrong or immoral. As Christians, we can simply say that God's laws about slavery gave slaves protection against abuse.

Slavery was sometimes used as punishment

Sin deserves punishment, and sometimes God used slavery as an earthly means of punishing sinners. God even punished His own people, Israel, with slavery multiple times, and for extended periods of time.

Similarly, God sometimes punished pagan nations for their unbelief and sin by allowing the Israelites to capture their cities and enslave their people.

Again, some people would argue that it was wrong for God to do this, but we must ask them, "By what standard do you judge God to be wrong in doing this?" They have no objective moral standard other than the Bible itself.

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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