DOES THE BIBLE SUPPORT SLAVERY AS WE KNOW IT?

“Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled?”
(Jeremiah 2:14)

“And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: The merchandise of… slaves, and souls of men.”
(Revelation 18:11 – 13)

I read an article in which the author, one Dr. Rose Nkechi Uchem, claimed the Bible supported slavery. She used this to defend a point that seeing slavery is no longer acceptable the Bible is no longer suitable for the present times because it supports slavery. She said a number of other things to try to prove that the Bible needs be updated to suit the purpose of the now. To be more specific, it needs to be updated to meet the requirements of the MDGs. I will just focus on her claim concerning slavery here. I will write on other claims she made in some other articles.

To claim that the Bible supports slavery is to display sheer ignorance. First, the Bible (KJB) only used the word slave twice. One in the Old Testament and the other in the New. And these verses were not to show support for it in any way. Then how can it be said that the Bible supports slavery?

The Bible however uses the word “servant” a lot. But slave and servant are not the same thing. Slavery was abolished but owning a servant was not. So there is nothing wrong with owning a servant. And there’s nothing wrong with the Bible’s support for it.

When you go through the Laws of Moses, you’d see the care that is given in the commandments to ensure that servants are not abused. There are even commandments to ensure that animals are not abused not to mention men. Some verses that defended the interests of servants so that they are not abused are as follows:

  1. “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” (Exodus 20:10). Both servants and animals were mentioned here to ensure that they get at least one day of full rest per week. And it is quite interesting that the penalty for violating this law was so stringent that it involves a capital punishment.
  2. “And if there remain but few years unto the year of jubilee, then he shall count with him, and according unto his years shall he give him again the price of his redemption. And as a yearly hired servant shall he be with him: and the other shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight.” (Leviticus 25:52 – 53). Here we see God commanding that a servant should not be ruled over with rigour. And seeing it says he should be treated as a hired servant, it means he should be paid for his services. That is not in any way slavery. A slave on a normal ground doesn’t get paid wages.
  3. “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 shalt not oppress him.” (Deuteronomy 23:15 – 16). When, due to oppression, a servant escapes from his master, God said he must not be delivered to his master. This ensures that no servant shall be ruled over with rigour or abused in an unbearable way. This ensures there will be no oppression in any way.

Apart from these and a host of others, there is a year of jubilee where all servants are to be set free without charge. The jubilee happens once every fifty years I guess. While this is a very long time, it ensures that no man spends his whole life as a servant. So while the Bible does not support slavery at all, it supports servanthood, but has things in place to ensure that servants are not abused in any way.

Now, we may say if you pay for someone to work on the terms that he’s not free until a particular time is one and the same as slavery. That is just the form of contracts of those days. Jacob willingly offered himself to work fourteen years for both Leah and Rebecca. At the end of fourteen years he became exceedingly rich. Athletes too are bought and sold contractually today. Does that make them slaves? No! So also the servants of Biblical days were not slaves. In fact they could break the contract and run away and be given protection.

Now has slavery really been abolished? I guess not. In the name, yes. In actuality, no. Here’s why. The slavery that was abolished was not in any way like that of the Bible days. It was far more terrible than the servanthood presented in the Bible but not so terrible as people think. Yes in the plantations of Northern America slaves were terribly abused. But elsewhere they faired better than the average Nigerian. I got to realise this at one point when I was working for as low as N25,000. Sometimes we worked till 9:00pm and to save money had to trek long distance both coming to work and going back home. We were owed salaries for several months but our spirits were kept up with promises. It was while I was in this sorry state I got to read the account of Olaudah Equiano, the slave who was kidnapped as a child from about the regions of Nigeria, and sold to different masters before he could eventually purchase his freedom. He gave account of his experience in different countries. Slavery in some places was just a life of ease. They were treated nicely, did basic jobs like store keeping, they were provided shelter, and their meals were guaranteed. They earned money for their work. They earned so much money that some bought their freedom. Only that they don’t get to mingle so closely with the free and had few other restrictions. How many people in today’s Nigeria would be given shelter in close proximity to their office and the provision for their feeding guaranteed for being a store keeper? You must be day dreaming. Yet people that were tagged slaves enjoyed these privileges. And this form of slavery was part of what was abolished.

In Nigeria where the minimum wage was N15,000 and to bring it up to N30,000 it seems the nation wants to come to an end, can people really afford, with their salary, houses in close proximity to their work. Even governors if they were to rely on their legal renumeration could not afford to live in town comfortably. Come to town in the morning and you’d see people trooping to town from the outskirts and even other states as they’re rushing to work. It’s busy and bustling, but come to it at night, it’s like a ghost town. The workers have returned to their holes from where they came. Almost no one can afford to live in town within close proximity to their work.

If slaves were abused even sexually, are employees not being abused by their employers? We’ve heard reports of even foreign employers abusing their workers, both sexually and otherwise. Yet these employees can’t leave for there seems to be nowhere to run to. Were this not one and the same as slavery?

The only reason why we could say that people aren’t slaves after the manner of the slavery that was abolished is the freedom to learn. But we can’t find this kind of restriction in the Bible towards servants. The only manner of education prescribed in the Bible is the learning of God’s ways and commands, which among other things contains civic and religious duties. These commands were commanded to be taught to everyone without any form of restriction. So the servants of Bible days were as free to learn as any man today is free.

Don’t let the amount of cars you see people drive make you think that we are faring well. Our roads are covered with cars to the extent that there are hold up everywhere and everyday, but look again. How many of those cars are sound. How many are clean? How many we’re bought as brand new? People use cars in other countries and when they don’t wish to use it anymore they ship them here and we buy them like gold. Like when a man should eat and throw the rest to dogs. Of course we are not dogs, far from me to say that, but we shouldn’t think that in buying used cars we are faring well. By the way I’m not a fan of each individual owning a car, rather I hope that someday we would have an efficient mass transit system and do away with most of these private cars.

While mentioning a guaranteed source of meals would seem like mentioning what is irrelevant, but many are so poor that they can’t have proper meals for fear of spending too much. Yet, in a world that boasts to have ended slavery, ought not the person on the most minimum wage to fare far better than the slaves subject to the form of slavery that was abolished? It’s a pity. Slavery was only abolished in the name.

Ranking from Biblical servanthood, the slavery in some places that was abolished (as narrated by Olaudah Equiano), and the present realities of an average Nigerian freemen, the Biblical servanthood was the best with servants being very protected from abuse, next was the slavery that was abolished, and last is the state of the Nigerian freemen.

So let our dear article writer think again. If she were concerned about slavery, the slavery of her own people under the oppression of the elites and foreigners require to be combated. She should leave our noble scriptures and turn her attention to the suffering of her people, who though they be free, are subject to penury.

The Bible never supported slavery as we know it. And servants were protected by the commandments laid down for the people of Israel. While we may boast that slavery has been abolished, there is still actual wicked bond slavery going on in Libya and some other parts of the world. And even in the free world, many scarcely fair better than the slaves of the time when the abolishment took place.

Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, we are grateful for the care you show to all your creation as we see in your word. As you took utmost care to give commands that protects the vulnerable, whether they be servants, widows, strangers, orphans, etc., we pray that in this days you grant that the world may know true freedom from slavery. And help us not to bring ridiculous allegations against your holy word. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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